NOTE: Chef Bryan Moscatello, formerly of Indigo Landing, has taken over the kitchen at Zola
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, October 19, 2003
The theme from "Mission: Impossible" keeps you company if your call is put on hold, and sly design details suggest the CIA had a hand in this restaurant's blueprint. Notice the windows by the red velvet booths, the ones that allow you to spy on the kitchen, and vice versa? The declassified intelligence documents sandwiched between Plexiglas? Zola may be a neighbor to the Spy Museum, but it would be wrong to paint it as a typical theme restaurant. It took some time for the waiters and cooks to hit their stride, but they're performing with plenty of confidence these days. Most happily, new chef Frank Morales, late of the Oval Room downtown, has transformed a mixed American menu into something focused and fresh. A dense tuna tartare may taste flat, and chicken with raisin-tomato sauce is merely okay. But dishes like those are outnumbered by plates that encourage you to return: fat prawns draped in sun-dried tomato sauce and set on gingery grits; succulent grilled veal accessorized with crisp green beans, favas and a light jus; a first-class lobster roll that's missing only the sand beneath your feet. And a sense of humor crops up in "Buffalo" chicken croquettes flanked with blue cheese dip and vegetable sticks. Try 'em, you'll like 'em. Desserts here have never been better. The kitchen makes it tough to choose between the towering chocolate bombe, the fetching pineapple upside-down cake with a velvety scoop of ice cream, and a cookie plate that blasts much of the competition out of the water with, among other treats, melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies flecked with citrus zest. The oval wine displays in the center of each small dining room aren't just handsome props but serious collections of treats from around the world.