Some of my favorite restaurants in DC start with a letter Z: Zaytinya (great for lunch or dinner), Zengo (stick to Happy Hour or dinner) and Zola. It's been years since I've dined at Zola, but I fondly remember a few dinners I had there, the Bomb, Chocolate Bomb dessert and the spiked hot chocolate.
When I received an invitation from Lindley of Heather Freeman PR to try out Zola's new menu, I could not wait! My friend Nicole was happy to join me on this eating adventure.
After a comedy of errors due to some misunderstanding about our reservations, we were seated in a plush booth and invited to look over a five course menu ($89). The lighting was moody, the wood was dark grained, and attention to detail with black napkins, white dishes and pretty place mats was spot on. Because Zola is located right next to the Spy Museum, it has elements of mystery and suspense. The booth where Nicole and I were sitting had a window through which we could "spy" onto chefs, servers, etc.
First up, drinks. I asked for something pretty, sparkly and sweet and was told to get a Passion cocktail. The cocktail is no longer on the menu, but if you ask for it, you are likely to receive it. Isn't it pretty? It tasted just as good as it looked: passion fruit juice, sparkling wine, mango rum and sugar on the rim of the glass.
Before we started on our five course menu, we received a little fennel brioche with creme fraiche, cured salmon and Osetra caviar. Growing up in Russia, black caviar was a special treat for joyous occasions, so this amuse bouche set the right kind of a mood for the meal to come.
For my first course I had Lobster, Caviar and Oyster with cucumber, potato, kumquat and chives. Just so that I don't have to say it every single time I mention a new dish, everything was plated masterfully! I really liked the sweet tender lobster wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber and the accompanying oyster. To be honest, I could have had 10 more oysters...but then I had 4 more courses and a dessert waiting for me.
The second course was Goat Ricotta Dumplings with sauteed Swiss chard, red beets and amaranth grain crisps. Dumplings can go two ways: they can either be hard as a puck or light and pillowy. These were definitely light and pillowy. The goat cheese did not have an overpowering flavor and mixed well with the beets.
The photo on the left is one of Nicole's dishes: Valentine Miller Farms Veal with fennel puree, pearl onions, smoked sweet breads and blood orange glaze. The veal was tender and silky, the fennel puree was a bit more substantial than the mashed potatoes would have been (and a bit more adventurous) and the blood orange glaze, which was poured table-side, completed the dish well.
The photo on the right is my third course: Lamb with sunchoke puree, red onion jelly roll, and lamb pancetta. I'm not used to lamb served this way: I like it in a form of kabobs, shank (try lamb shank at Agora: amazing!) or as a chop. These slices were too thin for my liking, and I took most of them home. Turns out, they were actually pretty good cold on top of a salad. What I did really like about this dish, however, was the crispy lamb pancetta: definitely a step above from bacon.
Nicole decided to be adventurous and ordered baklava.
While we waited, we received a mini raspberry cheesecake: it was delightful! Not overly sweet, light, and so pretty looking. This could have been the end of the meal, and I would have been happy.
Here are our actual desserts (mine on the left and Nicole's on the right). I'm glad I did not go with baklava: the taste of tahini was too strong for my liking. My dessert, on the other hand, was well balanced: the spicy ginger was offset by the sweet pears. The tender sweet poached pears were contrasted by crispy pear chips. Overall, it was a success.
At the end of the meal, we received a Thank You card from the staff at Zola. I'm not sure if this is something everyone gets, or if it was a special treat as we were invited by Heather and Lindley. I am going to guess that everyone receives a small box of sweets!
Overall, I was happy with the meal. It's definitely not something you'd do every week, but a great place for a special occasion. If you don't want to splurge on Zola's five course menu, there are plenty of other options: bar menu, cocktails, or dessert.