After more than a year of media buzz preceding its Texas debut, Zaytinya finally opened at The Star in Frisco on Monday, serving a wide selection of small Mediterranean plates and a few Texas-size platters.
It's the first outpost of Washington D.C.'s famous Zaytinya, conceived by superstar chef José Andrés and his Think FoodGroup team. Serving Turkish, Greek and Lebanese mezze in a stylish, casual environment, Zaytinya was an instant hit in the capital. Frisco's Zaytinya -- born of a partnership between Think FoodGroup and the D.Ream restaurant group based in Turkey -- will follow the same blueprint as the original, but with a few Texas tweaks.
Sitting at a table in the new Frisco restaurant, 90 minutes before its official opening, Andrés looks tired but satisfied. He's confident about Texas being a good bet for Zaytinya.
Frisco "has a growing economy -- and our Turkish partners and friends had interests and connections (here)," he explains, adding that the opportunity in Frisco was "a good deal."
"Twenty years ago, it would be risky in the suburbs, but it's not so risky now," says chef José Andrés.
Andres' acumen for risk-reward payoffs dates back to 1993, when he opened Jaleo, his wildly successful restaurant in Washington D.C., featuring the small plates of his native Spain. "When we opened Jaleo it was in the middle of nowhere," he says, referring to D.C.'s Penn Quarter, now a thriving entertainment and restaurant district.
By contrast, the Frisco location is smack in the middle of a new, 91-acre campus that's home to the Dallas Cowboys headquarters and many other restaurants.
Andrés' success with tapas at Jaleo made for an easy leap to mezze -- the small, shareable plates of the Eastern Mediterranean that the chef loves. "I'm a Mediterranean boy. I grew up in Barcelona eating that way. I like the informality of eating in a relaxed environment, like the mezze-style dining you see in tavernas if you visit Turkey or Greece," he says.
Unlike common tavernas, Zaytinya has an alluring modern, décor, with graceful white arches evocative of Turkish architecture, and blue accents in hues that conjure the Mediterranean ocean.
The Frisco location's core menu is the same as that of the original, with one exception: more meat, "because Texas is a meat-loving state," Andres says. "And we added a custom-made kebab grill," he says, along with a wood-fired rotisserie grill and wood burning oven -- equipment that the D.C. location doesn't have. Among the Texas-only menu items are a some extra-large "family-style plates," such as spit-roasted lamb shoulder and a 24-ounce Texas Wagyu Ribeye, sourced from A Bar N Ranch, just 15 miles north of Frisco.
Zaytinya's menu delivers far more than the greatest hits of Mediterranean cuisine. Crudos, dips with piping hot house-made "pide" bread, unusual salads, and vibrantly flavored vegetable mezze are among the lighter plates. Many -- like griddled haloumi cheese with dates, cara cara oranges, pomegranate seeds and mint -- come artfully plated. Heartier plates include grilled octopus with yellow split pea puree and marinated onions; hunkar begendi (sultan's delight) a fork-tender, wine-braised lamb shank served over a velvety eggplant and sheep cheese puree; and a wide variety of grilled kebabs.
Andrés is proud of his Texas team, helmed by executive chef Jon Thompson, who opened Samar and Stampede 66 while working for Stephan Pyles. "We will see what connections they make with local farmers," Andrés says. For months, Thompson has worked closely with Zaytinya's concept chef Michael Costa, who oversees logistics and the consistency of Zaytinya's recipes. Although the integrity of Zaytinya recipes is important, Thompson and Costa say they are bringing local ingredients to the menu like Capra Lamb, ranched in Goldthwaite, Texas, and Gulf Coast redfish in place of the Blue Catfish featured on the D.C. menu.
The chefs say that translating Zaytinya to Texas has been many months in the making, with extensive planning, training and logisitics involved. But if any leader can pull it off, it's Andrés, who overcame obstacles to lead relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Within a week of his arrival on the island, he was serving 25,000 meals a day; to date, his operation has served 3.2 million meals through 21 kitchens, manned by 18,000 volunteers, he says. "To this day, we are still cooking," Andres adds. "I never imagined that we'd be in charge of such a big operation," he says.
After a Herculean effort to feed Puerto Rico amid a crumbled infrastructure, surely Andrés team can pull off a win in the Dallas Cowboys' backyard.