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Saw this banner walking home from Barracks Row the other day. 735 8th St SE, pretty much right across from the barracks. Can't find much other information besides their Facebook page which says they're opening this December. Anyone have any other info?

(Sorry if there's already an entry on this somewhere; I searched and searched and couldn't find it.)

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I was on my way to Cava last night, but noticed that Zest is now open (in fact, last night was opening night).

The first thing you'll notice about Zest is that it's a small, sit-down, family-oriented restaurant on a street full of bars (Belga Cafe and Trattoria Alberto being a couple exceptions that leap to mind, and yes, Matchbox and Cava are too, although they make a substantial percentage of their gross receipts on alcohol sales).

Not only is it a restaurant, it's also bright and cheery-looking with its light-wood floors and tables. 8th Street SE must have the darkest restaurants in town, but this is an exception - it's pleasant to walk into.

The wine list is unfortunate, but there are some good beers - Victory Prima Pils, Brooklyn Lager, etc. The menu is simple, with the theme being lightly treated proteins with a starch and a vegetable, although there are some exceptions to that rule.

A Grilled Tuna Club ($12.50) with curried slaw and garlic aioli is essentially a BLT, quartered into triangles, and served with good, thin fries. The tuna on my sandwich was so thin that it was overwhelmed by the rather strong slaw, and the sandwich as a whole gave the impression of undue sweetness. If I were Zest, I would rethink both the amount of tuna, and the assertive flavors masking it.

But you don't need to worry about that, because you should be going straight for the Smoked and Grilled Hanger Steak ($18.95), cooked to a perfect medium rare, and sliced atop an absolutely addicting cumin- red-wine reduction. It came with a mound of some of the best fried yucca I've had - I doubt I've ever had fried fresh yucca, but this was seasoned so well that I didn't care it was frozen. It was an inspired match with the hanger steak and its sauce. The only problem on the plate was the pureed garlic spinach, which was (probably) frozen, cold, and boring - it looked like chimichurri, and it would have been riveting had it been. Nevertheless, as Meat Loaf once said, two out of three ain't bad. I would get this dish again (note also that you can get the yucca as a side order).

It will be interesting to see where Zest is six months from now, but for the moment, it is a refreshing change of pace for Barracks Row. Congratulations to everyone at Zest on the opening, and I'll look forward to seeing you again.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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The wine list is unfortunate

It's annoying that this seems to be a theme in my neighborhood (well, other than a few notable exceptions). I should probably switch to liquor. :angry:

(note also that you can get the yucca as a side order)

I'm really tempted to go do that tonight, truth be told. As in, right now. Yum. I've been walking by as they've been building for weeks now, and it really is a very pretty space. It will be nice if they can stick it out and become a less bar-oriented neighboorhood place worth frequenting.
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My full write up of my first impressions of Zest is up over at The Hill is Home, but I will say that for the most part, I thought it was terrific. I liked that it was so much lighter (literally) than every place else on Barracks Row - I could actually see what I was eating! I liked that even though the service was a bit slow, they were extremely accommodating to our continually expanding group (as word got out where we were eating, my initial table of four expanded to six). I loved the blood orange Manhattan. I really loved my lamb shank with polenta and 24 hour tomatoes. I did not love the extremely limited and uninventive vegetarian options. I was disappointed to see a lack of seasonality reflected in the menu. And there is no excuse for the goat cheese biscotti that accompanied the equally unfortunate, out of season carmelized beet and heirloom tomato salad.

But, overall, I think this is going to be a welcome improvement to the Barracks Row dining scene - especially with prices as reasonable as Zest's. There is room for improvement for sure, but I'm thrilled to have another choice on the Hill.

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But, overall, I think this is going to be a welcome improvement to the Barracks Row dining scene - especially with prices as reasonable as Zest's. There is room for improvement for sure, but I'm thrilled to have another choice on the Hill.

Another Hill resident friend wants to meet there tonight for a drink -- I believe her exact words were, "I want to be as close as I can to home without having to stand three-deep at the bar." (Although it's a Friday, so who knows...) Another choice on the Hill is indeed welcome, and we'll see how they do tonight!

ETA: Or my friend could totally bail on me. No report.

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I had lunch at Zest last week. Why did this place have to open right next to my old office only 2 months after I left the neighborhood?

First off I'm pretty impressed with the space. It's nothing fancy but feels cozy and they took a former law office and turned it in to a restaurant. I watched the progress and think it looks good inside. The service was great...they were really friendly and happy to have folks in the neighorhood (my former co-worker) in there for lunch.

I had the lamb sandwich with carmelized onions and feta on flat bread. It said leg of lamb on the menu so I thought I would be getting slices of lamb, instead it was ground. I wasn't sure if I was going to like it at first but MAN was that a damn fine sandwich. Really juicy and layered with flavor. Really, really, really good. I got the side salad along with it which was nicely dressed.

I highly recommend checking out Zest for lunch. The price is affordable, the staff is friendly, and the sandwich I had was delicious. I look forward to returning.

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Had lunch at Zest today - overall fairly good with a few standout highlights.

The bread/baguette they brought out before the meal was pretty dry/stale - seemed like too long out in the open air before being served. My companion got the salty/spicy salmon, which was pretty unremarkable. Ordered medium, it arrived pretty much well done and didn't really have anything remarkable to offer in the way of flavor. It was accompanied by a "basil sauce" (basicly basil in a whole lot of olive oil), some cubes of very dry cooked/stewed beets and served atop a spinach risotto, which was fairly good but not game changing or anything.

I had the Lamb Shank, which was much better. Perfectly cooked - falling off the bone at tender enough to eat with a fork - and if the sauce/seasoning didn't really have anything distinguishing enough to recommend it, the flavor of the meat itself more than made up for it. It almost completely lacked the over-earthy undertones and greasiness that lamb can sometimes have. It was served atop a polenta (less successful and having the tell-tale "I've been sitting too long before being served" skin on it) and some "24 hour tomatoes" which were the highlight of the meal. Bursting with layers of flavor - I almost with I had gotten one of the appetizers with a side of these things instead.

Coffee after the meal was utterly undistinguished. A caffeine delivery system to stave off the oncoming food-induced coma and nothing more.

Overall worth the money for the few standout items - I have to asssume there are a few more gems hiding in the menu somewhere.

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It's been one of those weeks (oh, dear, it's only Wednesday) that is thisclose to getting you to throw in the towel and say, Screw it, I'm moving back to Lyon et personne ne puisse me faire changer d'avis.

In any case, I completely gave up on cooking tonight after having maybe three hours of sleep in the past four days, and decided to get a burger from Zest. I really just wanted a nicely char-grilled piece of meat (no jokes, y'all) with some fries and maybe a bit of greens to allow me to pretend there was a vegetable involved.

And Zest delivered. (Not literally.) Their website doesn't note that the default is a cheeseburger, but the cheddar melted onto the patty was inoffensive -- tasty enough to not have been Kraft, not too strident to detract from the meat. The burger itself was close to medium -- since I was getting take-out, I asked for medium-rare knowing it would dry a bit on the trek home -- and I happen to enjoy raw red onion thinly sliced with my burgers, so that went right onto my bun too.

The burger itself was tasty although not agressively seasoned -- yes, I still prefer the non-mini Matchbox burger up the street -- but it had a far better char on the outside, while remaining moist and not overcooked in the center, than I find at most casual burger joints within the bounds of the District. Too many thick burger patties, to retain their medium-rare/medium status, end up looking as though they weren't seared or grilled at all on the exterior; this had a great balance of char to tender interior (but was definitely cooked through -- no too-cool center here).

The fries were really far too limp (...no one say anything about that either) but I've seen them there in person before and they were anything but, so I'm completely chalking that up to travel. Their flavor was excellent, and if I'd been any more patient I'd have crisped them up in the toaster oven before wolfing them down.

I need to sleep for about twenty hours to become a functional adult again, but it's unlikely that will happen. At least I had sustenance that I would more than order again -- at $9.50 before tax and tip, this is a takeout burger I will probably rely on.

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I generally try to avoid dining out on Valentine's Day, but coming home from the National Gallery movies yesterday evening, I knew I wasn't in the mood to cook, and was angling for some carryout. As Bob and I wandered around the Hill, debating on what sounded promising, affordable, and quick, we decided to just peek into Zest to see how busy they were. Luckily, they were less than half full, so we requested a table away from the door (without a vestibule, it looks like the chances for drafty seats in the front of the restaurant are reasonably high). We were seated maybe a little too close to the open kitchen, but it was tolerable, if not as cozy as some of the rest of the spare, but attractive space. The friendly staff helped make it more comfortable.

We opted for a couple of the signature cocktails--Bob the blood orange manhattan, me the "Going Green" drink, which features green tea-infused Hendrick's, cucumber, and Midori, both $10. They were nicely made drinks, though both would be better served up, rather than on the rocks. The Going Green is a light, not-too-sweet concoction that would taste pretty refreshing come summer. We weren't super hungry, and on a short timetable, so we skipped appetizers and went right for entrees. Bob's lamb flatbread sandwich, as Elyssa mentioned above, was very tasty and good sized. My onion-crusted chicken, featured two large, moist boneless breasts, with a lightly savory pecorino gravy, a potato pancake mostly devoid of the promised horseradish, and four thin spears of asparagus. I was impressed both by the size of the dish and by the juicy flavor of the breasts and sauce--a fairly basic dish pulled off expertly.

While it's hard to judge on the basis of two drinks and two entrees, my initial impression is that Zest is close to the sort of place that Capitol Hill has needed for a long time, and is a rare bird in DC altogether: a modestly priced local bistro with a warm, modern ambiance and well-done, thoughtful American cooking. I hope that as they gain confidence, they will be more committed to local, seasonal ingredients (it's hard to feel confident with a winter menu that features tomatoes so prominently in several dishes). But the price point below Belga, Montmartre, etc. is a big draw for the overall quality, and at this point it's not as slammed as Matchbox and Cava can be (and which can both be pricier than you expect). This isn't world-beating food, or a place that will wow you with its creativity, or finesse. But it's several steps above the usual pub grub around the Hill, at close to the same price. What's not to like? I hope they succeed.

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Zest has some good things going for it, but brunch is not one of those things, at least not what I ate here yesterday. The Zest breakfast--scrambled eggs, hash browns, applewood smoked bacon, toast--was one of the most startingly blah meals I've had in a local restaurant recently. The eggs came out seemingly totally unseasoned; the wedge of shredded potatoes was mushy and unappealingly dominated by tarragon; the bacon was crisp but nothing special; the dry toast was perhaps the highlight. Even the fruit garnish looked wan. Bob's Eggs Benedict--on the same toast, with spinach, nicely poached eggs, and despite the same hash browns, looked much better, though I didn't taste it. If you like spicy bloody marys, this may be the place to get them, and they're good sized as well--but for my taste, they were really too heavy on the heat to be a pleasant companion even to a bland meal. A good server and a nice atmosphere help offset the mediocre food, but for the future I think I'll restrict my visits to Zest to lunch or dinner.

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I went to Zest with a few friends on Tuesday night. Based on the recommendations above, I got the lamb flatbread sandwich with a side of 24-hour tomatoes (instead of a salad or fries). The tomatoes were great. I thought the lamb was really good but the sandwich was a little too meat-heavy for me. I started adding the tomatoes to the sandwich about halfway through, and that helped.

We also got the trio of dips as an appetizer. The eggplant dip was good, the tomato dip was great (as good or maybe better than the 24-hour tomatoes--they were very similar to each other either way), and the spinach dip was sort of bland and dry.

I wanted to try the blood orange Manhattan, but I came to dinner straight from happy hour, so I didn't want anything too strong. Despite the warnings above about the wine list, I got a glass of the sauvignon blanc and thought it was fine.

We tried two desserts--the panna cotta (which is normally pear with blackberry puree, but on Tuesday the panna cotta was blackberry as well) and the bread pudding. The panna cotta was okay--I've definitely had better. I'm not really a bread pudding person but I tried it--it seemed decent to me but my friend didn't like it, and the restaurant kindly took it off our bill.

Next time I'll have to try the lamb shank.

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Visited Zest last night with two out-of-towners. I'd been meaning to try this place, and a pretty quiet night on Barracks Row meant that we were able to be seated a bit after 7:30 without a reservation.

Our main server was a trainee and we were a pretty laid-back group, so the little service slip-ups like mentioning the special right when we were ready to order were forgiven. We could tell she was nervous and she admitted we were her first table of the night, but as time went on she got more comfortable and was great about refilling water glasses. At the beginning another server was with her, but she didn't get involved.

The out-of-towners got the Mediterranean Penne Pasta and the Mixed Grill, and I got the Pan-Fried Blue Catfish with Orange Guajillo Sauce. The sauce was at first sweet, but then the heat showed up. I liked the dish. The Mixed Grill eater thought the steak was OK but enjoyed the rest of the dish (shrimp, potato croquettes, French beans). The pasta eater said she enjoyed her dish.

We split the brownie sundae, and the server poured the hot fudge over the brownie and ice cream until we told her to stop. It took a while for that to happen!

Wines were ordered by the glass, a Zinfandel (Artezin, California, 2010) and a Riesling (Sagelands, Oregon, 2008). I got the latter and enjoyed it; I prefer Rieslings that have some sweetness but aren't overly sweet, and this was just right.

Overall, two glasses of wine, three entrees, and one dessert was less than $100 before tip. I think Zest has some location challenges because they are the last restaurant on Barracks Row before I Street and the freeway overpass, so people coming from the Metro might not walk that far. But I'd go again. It's one of the more affordable dining options on 8th Street between the Metro station and the freeway.

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