Chef José Andrés is known both for his work as the founder of the association World Central Cuisinewhich aims to provide meals amid global crises, and for its hospitality businesses, which currently working throughout North America and the Bahamas. The latter earned him a US National Medal of Humanities; the old one, Beard and michelin acknowledgement. After returning from near space last year, billionaire Jeff Bezos gifted Andrés the brand new Courage and Civility Award, which comes with a $100 million prize.
Zaytinya d’Andrés opened in DC in 2002 and has two and a half stars (“good/excellent”) in The Washington Post from 2016. The Turkish, Greek and Lebanese influenced restaurant A NYC outpost has opened in Manhattan with chef-partner Michael Costa and chef Jose Ayalathis month of July. His location at the Ritz-Carlton, Nomad, would be fine shortly after arriving in the out-of-town area, a little tired, but still eager to get out before a big day tomorrow.
Around dinner, the 140-seat space is always bright, perhaps not yet calibrated for the new sunsets that arrive beyond the large windows outside. Restaurants, in general, are best served to reflect celestial patterns. Things darken a bit later, but by then you’re already calibrated for a dining room that seems more lit for brunch than for the evening feast.
Those low highlights are a little more pronounced at the bar, where, don’t we all want to look kissed by twilight, at most? (Who’s ever looked good holding a Manhattan in the sun? That’s not rhetorical; I need to know that.) The area is pretty, though, curving up to the high ceiling with shades of blue enclosed in circles influenced by the evil eye. Most drinks from Zaytinya are ok. Its Ankara Rye Club ($19) is too strong on vermouth but otherwise, unless you’re really looking forward to its promise of thyme, cumin and seemingly absent aromatic bitters. The Sidecar to Tanger ($19) is also a useful mix of the Greek Metaxa spirit, honey, lemon, orange liqueur and a “spice mix,” which more or less equals a cocktail.
Unfortunately it also serves one of the worst cocktails I have ever ordered, made or served. (Including the time I mistakenly shook a daiquiri with old milk instead of lime.) That cocktail is the Just on Thyme ($19) (thyme-infused gin, green Chartreuse, lemon, pistachio, aquafaba), and it’s very bad.
At the table, and a few days later, I politely described it as dishwater, but more visceral descriptions came and came to mind. It’s at least a talking point, raising questions like how quickly aquafaba (usually chickpea water, frequently used as a substitute for egg white foam) goes bad, and that could he be the culprit? Best-case scenario, Zaytinya keeps the unappetizing drink on the menu, inspires a TikTok challenge, and laughs straight to the bank.
Mediterranean wine selections are the safest bet to pair with mezze, which is divided into spreads, flatbreads, cures and cheeses, soups and salads, vegetables, seafood, and meats and poultry. Zaytinya recommends tthree or four plates per person.
The taramosalata ($11) is terrific, brimming with titular tiny dried carp roe suspended in a blanket of mashed potatoes. It’s vibrant and fun to eat, spread on a steaming freshly baked pita. The Turkish Pastrama ($11) is also interesting; four thin transparent slices are rich, tangy and exceptionally tender. There’s nothing else like it in New York at the moment, but the possibility of counting the addition of apricots (pretty tasty) and pine nuts (4 and maybe about ten, respectively) seems a bit stingy for $3 more. But, if these are pretty good, why the two stars, which in Free time language means “not good”? Many Zaytinya NYC dishes hovers around average and, with the above exceptions, rarely zags to even good shallows.
His hommus ($11) is a “c’est bon!”, with a solidly medium texture and quite expected proportions of chickpeas, garlic and tahini. Six small, dense falafel balls ($14) also inspire unwelcome comparisons to street favorites, though their accompanying tahini is nicer than most. Four scallops ($21) are admirably prepared for successful undercooking that many kitchens, especially in hotels, would shy away from. But apart from crossing the low bar bar without a notch or beard, even their pleasant accompaniment the chilled corn tzatziki with crispy chili harissa and chives doesn’t do enough to liven up the morsels or make them worthy of table space. And the lamb baharat ($16), well that’s fine (!) too, if it’s oddly indistinguishable from ‘red meat’ in general, despite lamb’s typical distinctiveness.
There’s a bit of a home team spirit that comes into play when spending money, and that feeling is amplified when spending it with a known and respected entity. If it’s not “good”, or the frequent and exaggerated replacement of good, “great”, it looks like a defeat. You can’t win them all, but Zaytinya NYC is best left in the visitors’ section.
The atmosphere: Bright and spacious spanning 130 seats with a mostly pale color scheme and some vibrant splashes. A hotel restaurant that looks more or less like a hotel restaurant.
The food: JTurkish, Greek and Lebanese influenced mezze. The restaurant recommends 3-4 plates per person.
The drinks: Rather correct cocktails (avoid the Right on Thyme), wine and beer.
Timing tip: José Andrés’ attractive cocktail bar, Nubeluzopened even more recently on the roof of the hotel.
Zaytinya is located at 25 West 28th Street. It is open for dinner Monday through Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Thursday through Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.