Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column, including in the print editions of The Washington Post, misquoted the chef and co-owner of Zee's Restaurant. Zelina Ali-Aziz said, "I prefer quality over quantity," not "I prefer quality over quality." The column also misstated the Northwest Washington neighborhood in which Zee's is located. It is in Shaw, not Bloomingdale. This version has been corrected.
First Bite

Zee's gets an A for Trinidadian charm

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A mere eight entrees cut the decision-making time for diners at Zee's Restaurant in Shaw.

"I didn't want to overwhelm myself until the need is there," says Zelina Ali-Aziz, 67, chef and co-owner of the new Trinidadian storefront, which has no appetizers and a single dessert: mango mousse cake. "I prefer quality over quantity."

Zee's, which refers to the chef's American nickname, more or less delivers on both counts. Curried goat, cooked over a low fire until the meat is tender, is almost a meal for two when you factor in the accompanying lettuce salad, the chunky potatoes and the folded flatbread known as roti. Chicken stew, seasoned with thyme and other herbs, comes with a shovelful of pigeon peas that are flecked with carrot and corn. (They could use a sprinkle of salt.) Shrimp, oxtail, beef and mixed vegetables are among the featured ingredients that are either curried or stewed, take your pick, at Zee's.

Like it on the wild side? Spoon a dab of the chef's hot sauce on your plate - and be prepared to shed a few tears. Scotch bonnet peppers in the mix torch the tongue.

Ali-Aziz was a customer service representative for Kaiser Permanente for 20 years before opening Zee's in October, and she reprises that role every time she leaves the kitchen for the dining room to introduce herself to her patrons.

"They should know who is cooking their food," says the cheerful native of Trinidad, who operated a place called 2 Way Roti Shop there with her father before she left for the United States in 1979. Painted in Halloween colors (orange and black) and arranged with tall tables, the cozy Zee's turns out to be a family reunion; the chef's son, daughter and nephew all pitch in on a regular basis.

There's no beer or wine yet, although Ali-Aziz has applied for a license. In the meantime, a glass of her crimson, house-swirled sorrel - a West Indian drink made with hibiscus flowers and laced with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey - makes a welcome punch.

The holder in which the bill is delivered comes with a strategy to drum up more business: "Fan us on Facebook or write a review on Yelp," a slip of paper requests. Here's one admirer's alternative response.

600 Florida Ave. NW. 202-506-1897. Entrees, $9 to $12.75.

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