Sunday, March 04, 2007

Philistines in Chinatown, Go to Zola

If you love the city for its edge and cultural vibrance, then don't go to Gallery Place/Chinatown on a Friday or Saturday night. Stay away especially if there's a game at the MCI Center. Because anything colorful or authentic is overshadowed by doughy massification. Matt and I had to fight hordes of loud, corn-fed Philistines--likely from greater northern Virginia, including Dumfries, and the hinterlands of "murlin"--to find a place to eat. It was awful. We were bombarded with gleeful, crazy-eyed-night-in-the-big-city interlopers wearing their effing hockey jerseys and Blue Tooth earsets (closing that very important Tokyo deal, I'm certain).

Anyway, not that you would ever even think about doing it, but you will wait forever at the unfortunate chains that have cropped up everywhere in the Chinatown neighborhood. Great casual eateries such as Matchbox and tapas restaurant, Zaytinya, will also be completely overcrowded with hip hunters. So your best bet, if you find yourself stuck in the neighborhood on such an evening, is something a little pricier (or hidden away from the too-touristy H & 7th street area) such as Zola or Poste.

Zola--despite being next door to the Spy Museum--offers anti-banal fare, is never egregiously packed, has a good cocktail menu, and very cool surrounds. The service is great. For example, the tables are set with the usual utensils and white napkins. However, if you happen to be wearing dark trousers, your server may offer you a dark napkin so as to avoid the obvious lint that a white napkin would leave. Now, *that* is great service. Anyhoo, there is also a separate and cozy bar area with table seating if you don't have reservations.

We were fortunate enough to grab a corner table in the windows in the bar area the other evening. Great view. Plush, cushiony chairs, and a quiet environment. It was a much-needed respite from the street. The menu, although decent, didn't seem to inspire us that night. So, we created our own tapas out of the appetizers. They have *great* appetizers at Zola including:

lobster macaroni & cheese
mussels with garlic and sesame noodles
lox on flatbread with cream cheese and micro arugala
FRIES with basil mayo

We also got the beet salad, but there are better places to have this dish. (BTW, they offer an extensive wine menu by the full, half, and glass.) Nice.
In general, the Gallery Place/Chinatown/Penn Quarter area caters to visitors. As such, it is a little shinier, more contrived, and bling-a-ling, than other neighborhoods. You will not find "neighborhood" restaurants or a lot of locals here on weekends. But it does have its virtues.

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