Tom Sietsema wrote about Zest Bistro for a March 2010 First Bite column.
Eleven years as a general manager with the Deluxe Restaurant Group in Washington explains the poise with which Amanda Briggs now watches over a more personal project, the nearly three-month-old Zest Bistro on Barracks Row. Hers is often the sunny voice on the other end of the line when you call to book a table, and hers is frequently the beaming face at the door when you show up.
Why the new place? "We live on Capitol Hill, we have two kids and we wanted to be part of the neighborhood," says the restaurateur, whose husband, Stephen Briggs, is the co-owner.
There's no dedicated chef here. Designed by a local consultant, Zest's American menu is executed by a kitchen manager who supervises a cooking staff of about eight. Even so, some dishes display plenty of personality. Tomato soup with floating cheesy croutons is robust, a perfect winter-chaser. Baked chicken pockets bring the tropics to the Hill; the snacks are filled with jerk-seasoned minced chicken and cooled with mango sauce on the plate. A lamb shank prompts gasps when it lands on the table (it's enormous), but size doesn't translate into major flavor. More pleasing: cod poached in olive oil, bedded on pearly Israeli couscous and brightened with red pepper sauce.
The brick walls of the narrow dining room display photographs of Washington landmarks; the scenes have been spiffed up with vivid oil paint. An expanse of gold-colored fabric near the back of the 74-seat bistro hides a secret: There's soundproofing material behind it. The owners also have made it a point to be green. Zest's tables are made of wood reclaimed from the former occupant, a court reporting agency, and the floors are sustainable bamboo.
Families are encouraged to visit (there's a kids' menu), but only adults can take advantage of one of Zest's good deals: 25 percent off bottles of wine from 9 p.m. till closing time, Sundays through Thursdays.
Dinner entrees, $11.50-$21.95.