June 2006 Cheap Eats

Chef/restaurateur José Andrés has built his mini-empire by plucking authentic flavors from faraway cuisines, crafting them into small plates, and showcasing them in stunning settings. The formula works, and this homage to Greek, Turkish, and Mediterranean mezze might be his most consistent and rewarding.

The angular two-level space–a wash of stark white and Santorini blue that soars as high as a ship's mast–stays crowded and loud. The no-reservations policy during peak times means that waits for one of the sleek tables can be up to two hours, especially on weekends. The rush makes lingering difficult; servers tend to bring the little dishes out fast, sometimes all at once.

There are a few duds–such as the ouzo margarita–on the menu of overpriced cocktails. Go for a glass of crisp rosé instead. It's hard not to overload on perfectly flaky spanakopita, Santorini-style fava-bean purée, or slabs of milky feta with tomato marmalade. Garides me anitho–shrimp sautéed with dill and lemon–and hünkãr begendi, braised hunks of lamb over smooth eggplant purée, are both crowd pleasers.

Save room for pastry wiz Steve Klc's desserts, especially the Turkish Delight sundae, a wonderful layering of goat's-milk mousse, walnut ice cream, and honey-vanilla gelée, or the semolina cake with muscat cream.

Mezzes $3.50 to $9.95.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.