A fresh, fabulous addition to downtownPublished 9:14pm Saturday, January 5, 2013
By CAROLINE COLLIE
I’ll be honest with you. I was a little concerned when, a few nights before Christmas, we first arrived at Zaitona (it rhymes with Daytona) to give the new restaurant-addition to downtown Washington a try. The place wasn’t too busy – although it was a little late in the evening. Our waiter seemed a little more jumpy than average, the lights seemed kind of bright, and when a boring-old filtered decaf cup of coffee arrived at my table, I was a little disappointed. I like good coffee.
We’d noticed the special board on the way in, advertising the opportunity to try four items from the buffet for less than a tenner. We were only there for dessert, but figured it would be worthwhile to go ahead and sample the cuisine, which would help us decide whether a return visit would be happening.
After a long day of chasing small people around my house, I didn’t feel like leaving the table, so I suggested that my husband go and see what was on the buffet and I’d be happy to try whatever he chose from the comfort of my seat. (They have a menu or buffet option, or if a couple of you are ordering the buffet, they’ll bring lots of items for you to share, like at a Tapas restaurant.)
I had mixed emotions after looking at the plate he brought to the table. I knew I’d enjoy the lamb kabob (a couple years in South Africa will give you a taste for lamb if you don’t have it already) and I was comfortable with the chicken wrap, but what were cabbage wraps doing on that plate?
Cabbage is very close to the top of the list of foods I like the least. I couldn’t believe he brought cabbage to the table. But, I spend my days encouraging my kids to be brave and that it’s fun to try new things, so I knew I had to eat my words – so to speak – and try everything on the table.
I am so very glad I did. The lamb kabobs were perfect – as expected. The chicken wrap, accompanied by Tzatziki dip was fabulous. (And I usually don’t like Tzatziki.) Whatever the third option was, I enjoyed it as well — but what stood out the most was — you guessed it, the cabbage wraps.
I absolutely loved them. Had we not already eaten dinner, I would’ve asked for seconds. Coming from a girl who wrote her vegetarian high school English teacher songs about how good meat is, if you can prepare cabbage in a way that makes me want to eat more of it, you probably deserve a badge and a cape or a trophy.
While finishing off our plates and digging into a couple of divine squares of baklava, we were introduced to the owner/chef who promised my South African husband that he’d prepare lamb chops for him any time. This is a big deal. The owner shared his passion for home cooking with us, and encouraged us that if we tried anything and didn’t like it, he’d be happy to switch it out and let us try something new. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. We were back at lunch time on Christmas Eve (since Bill’s Hot Dogs was closed) and more cabbage wraps were on my plate before Santa made his way down the chimney.
Zaitona boasts a very healthy menu and very reasonable prices. With great food, an absolutely perfect setting overlooking the waterfront, and the promise of a proper coffee bar coming soon — this new restaurant is definitely a fresh and fabulous addition to downtown Washington. Visit soon!
Disclaimer: Zaitona did not promise me free food for writing this article. But if they offered, I’d accept. I’m not above it.
Caroline Collie is the shorter half of local business, Quiver Tree Photography, and writes her heart out at carolinecollie.com. Her three small kids were born on three different continents, but she loves calling Washington, North Carolina home.