What to look for when navigating some of D.C.’s famous spots

What experiences can people expect when eating out at small plates restaurants? Knowing what to look for when reading the menu is a start. This is not your typical listing of appetizers, entrées and desserts. Let’s look at some of the famous ones, shall we?

Jaleo

If you’ve lived in the D.C. Metro area for a while, then you have most likely heard about José Andrés showcasing tapas in his restaurant Jaleo.

This restaurant has multiple branches, including one in Las Vegas. The original is in D.C.’s Penn Quarter, so I think that’s the most relevant menu to look at here.

Most categories are listed in Spanish without any English translations, but the translated parts make it possible to understand. For example, “Verduras” emphasizes vegetables. However, the section “Conos, latas y más” can be confusing, even when the reader is pretty sure the title translates into “Cones, canned foods and more.”

The question is, how to make the right combinations? There are dishes that honor the countryside’s eating customs, such as “Ensalada campera” (“Salad of the countryside”). But you also have “Huevo frito con caviar” (“Fried egg with caviar”), which suggests luxury with its use of sturgeon caviar.

The “Chef’s tasting” section can help answer that question, but it will cost a lot more than doing trial and error.

Where: 480 7th Street NW Washington, DC 20004

Prices: Prices vary widely, with some items that are under $5 and a selection totaling $95

Items I would order off the menu: Rossejat ($14) and Pan de cristal con tomate ($8)

Zaytinya

José Andrés and partner Rob Wilder have other restaurants besides Jaleo. If you thought the exposure to Spanish was an adjustment, this Gallery Place/Chinatown restaurant’s mezzes menu demonstrates that more acrobatics are needed. Greek, Turkish and Arabic terms ask to expand restaurant patrons’ minds in addition to their palates. While it is a good thing to go beyond the more well-known spanakopita, imam bayildi and falafel dishes, the menu shatters the belief that Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisines are sufficiently exposed in the D.C. Metro area. They’re not.

The wine list has the occasional French and Spanish drinks, but it mostly consists of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese drinks. There are also some drinks from Israel. How far you want to go in stretching your taste buds is really up to you.

For lunch, there is the option of mezze lunches, which serve multiple dishes for $25. Even though a large part of the lunch and dinner menus separates mezzes by main ingredients such as seafood, the list of dishes might be a lot to take in.

Where: 701 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

Prices: The prices are moderate at lunchtime, but the dinner menu can be more expensive

Items I would order off the menu: Mercimek köftesi ($9) and Patates tiginantes me yiaourti ($5.50)

Kapnos

The restaurant owner, Mike Isabella, is famous because he competed on “Top Chef” and “Top Chef All-Stars.” It turns out that he worked in Zaytinya, too.

This U Street restaurant doesn’t serve lunch menus, but has dinner options. The list of Greek mezzes, even though I don’t know the translations of the dish titles, is easier to navigate than Zaytinya’s.

The list of ingredients might be unusual, such as using honshemeji mushrooms, a Japanese ingredient, to accompany a bass dish. However, this might be something worth trying here. The menu lists classic specials, too, such as moussaka.

Where: 2201 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

Prices: Moderate to expensive, with the “chef tasting” menu as high as $65

Items I would order off the menu: Marinated olives ($7) and Thalassa ($14)

Graffiato

This small plates restaurant shows a fancier side to Mike Isabella’s work, but he seems to emphasize simplicity in his dishes as well.

The menu at Graffiato’s is spare, with an emphasis on using wood ovens. However, I am left wondering if this menu could have been more specific in how these dishes create a small plates experience. Dish titles like “Broccolini” and “Ravioli” don’t give me a clear idea on what to expect.

The more detailed ingredients make those simple titles more appealing. Adding “red pepper relish” to the broccolini piques my interest.

There is a heavy emphasis on Italian foods, but also a nod to the restaurant’s location in Gallery Place/Chinatown with dishes such as “Chinatown Ribs.”

There is a disclaimer that menu items “change frequently,” so some unpredictability can enter the dining experience.

Where: 707 6th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

Prices: Most prices are moderate, but can be expensive for the same reason as Kapnos

Items I would order off the menu: Broccolini ($7) and Hanger steak ($15)

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