At the preview of the Grape Festival this year held in the last two weeks of September, I had the opportunity to speak with executive chef Michael Costa. Rather than a fancy, schmancy food critic, I'm just a political and news junkie with a big appetite. That's why I treasured my few minutes with this pro. To keep his culinary skills sharp, he frequently travels to the eastern Mediterranean. It is no surprise that at the end of this summer, he travelled to Turkey near the border with Syria to cook for one month. But given the recent conflict in the region and the current U.S. and allies military escalation, Chef Costa perfecting his braising technique and mouth-watering marinades piqued the attention of the customs agents at Dulles airport. They detained him for a while, peppering him with questions. After likely hearing the chef wax on about secret aromatic spices, fresh lamb, strained thick yogurt, and plump, sweet raisins, the officers let him go home. I thought I was "off the clock" and would exclusively savor delectable bites. I did, with a healthy dollop of politics.
It was also nice to return to Zaytinya. One of celebrity chef José Andrés' restaurants, it is both a pioneer and anchor of today's emerging Washington, D.C.--a city that has become a destination, our nation's capital on par in culture, arts, restaurants, and nightlife with any world metropolis. I was a regular when I first arrived in D.C. eight years ago. But over the years, Zaytinya has been bumped from my top go-to spots list, displaced by some of the upstart hot spots. The competition is stiff and concentrates in the white hot 14th Street and H Street corridors, the Bloomingdale neighborhood, or the Navy Yards area by the Nationals Ballpark.
Enjoy these pics of some of the samplings of the Grape Festival where this fruit inspires limited engagement dishes and drinks. I snapped the photos with my iPhone (5s in case anyone is wondering since my flip phone went up in smoke at the end of June. No iPhone 6 or 6 Plus for me) and run through my fave app--Instagram!
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xo ~ Viviana