I keep a running list in my notebook of all of the new restaurants that open up around town that I want to try. Zest American Bistro on Barrack's Row has been on my list for some time now, so I was happy to head out to Capitol Hill last night to try something new. I was pleasantly surprised to walk into the charming restaurant space which features exposed brick and a simple interior that is very inviting and comfortable. It feels like a perfect neighborhood spot and from surveying the diners around us, it appeared that many of them lived down the street. I was immediately happy to see that they had one of my favorite wines, Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay on the menu by the glass. My friend Meg sprung for an Olivetini which she was attracted to for the ham stuffed olives with feta cheese. We ordered the spicy ahi tuna tartare for our appetizer and waited while we enjoyed our drinks and the atmosphere.
The tuna did not disappoint. It came beautifully plated with an avocado and mango salsa and wonton chips. The citrus flavors went so well with the tuna and the crunch of the wonton chips made it a really satsfying start to the meal. We were feeling good and excited to try our entrees. I often complain that there are very limited options in town if you want to enjoy a big salad for dinner. But, Zest offers a number of entree salads that are substantial in their ingredients and size so I was excited to try one. In addition, Zest's menu offerings are pretty basic with sandwiches, pastas, fishes, and meats, however their dishes seem to have interesting twists which makes them simple and familiar yet inventive. In addition, all of the prices are incredibly reasonable making it very easy to have a full meal without spending a fortune. I ordered the chicken milanese salad and my friend went for the miso cod and both of us licked our plates clean.
The chicken milanese salad was wonderful. The chicken was crusted nicely with a thin layer of crispy breading and was topped with pinenuts, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese over a lightly dressed bed of arugula. I loved this dish, and I felt full but not as if I had overeaten when the plate was empty. Meg's cod was buttery and served in a miso broth over a fried udon noodle cake with shitake mushrooms and asparagus. The portion size was generous, and the components of the dish were all individually delicious, yet also worked very well together to create a lovely entree. As we finished our meal we decided we could not make a fair assessment of Zest without at least ordering one dessert to share. For the readers of EatMore DrinkMore, we had to try something! So, we went for the pears foster bread pudding with a bourbon brown sugar sauce. I was so glad we decided to order dessert because it came out of the kitchen piping hot and was just so incredibly good we had to eat the whole thing. The bread was moist yet dense, and the sweetness of the sauce made it pretty fantastic.
Zest American Bisto is a perfect neighborhood spot, but I also think it is worth a trip for those of us who live in other parts of town. If anything, the Barrack's Row area continues to flourish and add new and exciting places on a regular basis which is always a good excuse to venture out. I have heard the brunch at Zest is great so I plan to head over there soon to check it out, but in the meantime I will definitely be going back and encourage everyone to give it a try.