Meze is the term for small plate dishes served in the Middle East and Balkans. Ezmé (an anagram for meze) serves delicious Turkish dishes in this style. Usually I’m not a fan of small plates restaurants because they aren’t college-student-budget-friendly, but my mom was treating – Hvala Mama! – so I was well fed!
Although I’ve lived in DC for two years now, my mom was actually the one who introduced me to Ezmé. She discovered it while staying in Dupont for a conference a few years ago. Even though I am relatively new to Washington’s restaurant scene, I am well aware of DC’s mania for tapas restaurants. However, in a city in which celebrity chefs like José Andres dominate the food scene, it is easy to miss smaller-run operations like Ezmé. Sometimes it takes a DC outsider to introduce to you to some of the best food in the city!
Our party of four shared three spreads served with their homemade bread, two salads, one “garden” appetizer, four meat dishes and four desserts. It was the perfect amount of food and it was really fun to be able to try a little bit of everything. We asked for everything to be brought out at once so we could be in full control of mixing and matching all the dishes. This is a long post though, so I’m organizing it by appetizers, salads, meats and dessert to make navigation easier.
Ezmé is truly a hidden gem. The tiny restaurant is located on the bustling strip of P Street just west of Dupont Circle. Ezmé is easy to overlook amidst some of its flashier restaurant neighbors, but I highly recommend stopping in for a meal.
Bottles of wine line the brick walls of Ezmé, making you feel like you’re in a wine cellar. The charmingly small size of the restaurant creates an intimate and cozy atmosphere. Beautifully painted Turkish tiles add fun pops of color to this otherwise earth-toned establishment.
Ezmé’s menu is split into several categories including Spreads, Soups, Garden (veggie dishes), Sea (fish and other seafood) and Land (poultry, beef, lamb). All of the dishes come in small portions meant for sharing. The restaurant recommends ordering 4 or 5 dishes per person for a filling meal.
For our spreads, we ordered the Ezmé ($5.95), Muhammara ($6.95) and Babaganush ($6.45). They were served with a delicious, warm loaf of the restaurant’s homemade bread, which was cut in a matrix pattern, making it really simple to pull apart and share.
The Ezmé spread was made of diced tomatoes, red peppers and onions and was served with olive oil and crushed red peppers. It looked and tasted like pico de gallo.
The Muhammara spread was my favorite because I love roasted peppers. It was a roasted red pepper spread mixed with walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic served like a scoop of ice cream. Very delicious!
The Babaganush spread, a popular Mediterranean dish, was made of eggplants and tahini paste, flavored with garlic and red pepper sauce and garnished with an olive.
We also tried the Sigar Boregi ($5.95), which were described as, “Turkey’s favorite cigar-shaped pastr[ies] stuffed with feta cheese, parsley and dill.” Serbia was once ruled by the Ottoman Empire, so it made sense that this dish was similar to the cheese-and-phyllo dishes my grandma makes. Unlike my grandma’s dishes, however, I thought that the cheese in the boregi was way too bitter and overpowering.
For lighter fare, we ordered two salads. The Ispanak Salatasi ($7.95) was a spinach salad served with fresh strawberries, mozzarella and pine nuts, dressed with an olive oil-pomegranate dressing. It was decent, but was nothing special in comparison to the delicious Yesil Salata ($7.95). The Yesil Salata consisted of mixed greens, sun-dried apricots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and asparagus dressed with a basil vinaigrette. The apricots, a fruit not usually seen in salads, made this dish really special. They gave the salad a light touch of sweetness. The basil vinaigrette reminded me of pesto sauce, a favorite of mine, and made the salad even more amazing!
From the “Land” section, we ordered Kofte ($7.95), Tavuk Kebab ($6.95), Sis Kebab ($9.95) and Kulbasti ($9.95).
The Kofte were flattened beef and lamb meatballs that reminded me of mini versions of Serbian hamburgers, or pljeskavice.
The Tavuk Kebab was a grilled chicken dish served with a tomato relish on the side.
The Sis Kebab was a classic lamb skewer dish served with taztziki sauce.
All of the meat dishes were exceptionally fresh and delicious, but my favorite was the Kulbasti, a lamb dish served on hot lavash (a tortilla-like flatbread) and with a side of ezme salad. The meat was juicy and fresh. I really liked picking up the meat chunks with the lavash and dipping them into the ezme salad. It was kind of like a Turkish taco!
I didn’t think this meal could get any better, but when our desserts came out, it did.
I ordered the Kanafeh, a traditional Turkish dessert made of wheat noodles, cheese and pistachios, doused in syrup. I was a bit skeptical when ordering this dessert, but the menu claimed that once I’d tried it, I’d be hooked. The menu was not wrong. I was served a golden brown dish that looked like a noodle pancake. When the waitress poured syrup over it, the kanafeh sizzled and crackled, absorbing the sticky sweetness throughout. I ate the dessert with afork and knife, like a personal pizza sans crust. The cheese, which I was skeptical about in a dessert, was definitely prominent, but more for its texture than its flavor. The cheese had a light, neutral flavor that worked well with the dessert, acting as a binding agent to bring together all the flavors. The dish reminded me of a thin, sweet version of gibanica, Serbian cheese pie. Overall, the kanafeh was an amazing combination of textures – crunchy wheat noodles and gooey cheese – and tastes – smokey pistachios and saccharine syrup. This dessert is a must-try!
We had three more desserts on the table.
The Baklava was a tasty rendition of the Balkan favorite served with powdered sugar and a strawberry flower.
I don’t remember the actual name of the dessert pictured above, but it was basically a Greek Yogurt Parfait served with fresh strawberries and blackberries, sprinkled with ground pistachios and drizzled with honey. It’s a great and simple idea for a DIY parfait at home, but it was underwhelming as a restaurant dessert.
Another very memorable dessert was the Poached Pear, which was served with a scoop of lemon sorbet. The pear was soaked in wine and tasted like a cinnamon-spiced apple. The flavor was amazing and the fruit was so soft that you could scoop it with a spoon. The sorbet tasted homemade and was a nice complement to the pear.
The Bottom Line:
When people ask me what my favorite DC restaurants are, I mention Ezmé as one of the top contenders. Ezmé is truly one of DC’s best-kept secrets. I highly recommend everyone try the restaurant. The freshness of the dishes is unparalleled and the Turkish desserts are hard to find elsewhere.
2016 P St NW (Dupont Circle)
Washington, DC 20036