The highly anticipated second location of Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur José Andrés’ D.C. restaurant Zaytinya is now open at The Star in Frisco. It had its first dinner service last night.
Since opening in 2002, the understatedly glamorous spot has been recognized, lauded for its Middle Eastern small plates—spit-roasted lamb, the pillowy flatbreads called pide, the bevvy of vibrant mezze, and the arak cocktails and Israeli, Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese wines. Andrés has been recognized by James Beard awards, his restaurant by the Michelin Guide.
Jon Thompson, who opened Stephan Pyles’ now-shuttered Mediterranean restaurant Samar, and worked at Stampede 66 and Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen, is lead chef. Citing Zaytinya as one of his favorite restaurants when he worked in D.C. was one of the ways Thompson snagged his position at Samar. Now, fast-forward a few years, and working at Samar was part of the résumé that made him stand out, in a beautiful example of things coming full circle. Thompson has been working with D.C.’s Zaytinya’s concept chef, Michael Costa, who himself studied under Dallas Greek legend Gus Katsigris and then with Kent Rathbun. Start sorting out the fortuitous connections, and the choice of Frisco doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
The menu is a replica of what diners have been nibbling in D.C., save one important difference. Building permitting at The Star allow for a wood-burning oven, grill, and rotisserie, providing a nuance absent from the flagship. Pork belly skewers and doner kebab roast on spits over embers. Octopus basks in the woodfired oven. Homemade phyllo dough wraps the spanakopita and parcels of spit-roasted lamb, feta, lemon, and herbs that also get swaddled in the warmth of the woodfired oven.
And the spit-roasted lamb reigns in the open kitchen. “There’s so much lamb,” Thompson says, “Much more than beef. Every part of it you can imagine.”
“For us,” Thompson says, “the sourcing is [part of] what’s setting it apart.” Even the yogurt and tahini has been selected, most of the products imported.
This was all part of what Andrés wanted to create with the original Zaytinya. It was the early 2000s. The chef from Asturias, Spain (far out on the north-western end of the Iberian peninsula) had opened his funky tapas restaurant Jaleo, and it was doing well.
“D.C. was warming up to [the idea of small plates],” Andrés says. “People were talking about sharing. Jaleo became one of the main places. We didn’t invent [the idea of small plates], but we pushed it to the limit.”
Zaytinya, then, was taking that idea and extrapolating it, using the notion of olive oil as connecting motif as he embroidered on the cuisines of Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. He wanted cooking that was simple. From the Greek island of Santorini he drew the language of blue and white, the domed roofs.
The day before the opening, Andrés watched the Super Bowl on a giant screen at The Star. He comments on the colors. The blue and white of the Cowboys. “We fit right in,” he says, laughing. Yet more fortuitous circumstances. The stunning blue and white domes of Santorini over an equally stunning blue Aegean Sea, the white, blue, silver of the sports arena they now call home: “We chose smart colors,” he says.