Walking into The Star in Frisco, the Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya glows purple inside, recreating the dreamy skies from Aladdin’s magic carpet ride. The restaurant feels ethereal with its enchanting Turkish-style interior and delicate terra cotta dinnerware, and that feeling only grows with every eclectic entree served. The word Zaytinya translates to “olive oil” in Turkish and the restaurant explores Lebanese, Turkish and Greek cuisines.

Zaytinya’s interior // photos Esther Huynh

On Feb. 5 renowned Chef José Andrés opened Zaytinya in Frisco – its first location in Texas and second location overall, following Washington D.C. So far, the Frisco menu stays true to D.C., but Head Chef Jon Thompson said he is hoping to change that by adding “a little Texas character into it – a unique flare here and there” with foods that are specific to this geographic location.

Chef Jon – who is as well-versed in cooking as the cuisine’s historical origins – explains how Greek and Turkish food was traditionally similar back when the countries were a part of the Ottoman Empire. After the countries separated, the Greeks removed Turkish influences and reestablished their cuisine. Yet, at Zaytinya, it’s clear that despite their historical differences, they still go hand-in-hand on the menu, like a match made in heaven. In every plate, there’s a piece of history – a familiar thread to the past, and also an authenticity that lures us back to the present.   

Zaytinya’s Gin & Tonic

Jon was drawn to Mediterranean food in 2009, when he worked with Chef Stephan Pyles at the restaurant Samar in Dallas. Samar’s three separate menus – Spanish, Eastern Mediterranean and Indian – exposed Jon to new cuisines that were typically reserved to high level restaurants or mom-and-pop businesses, and he embraced the chance to learn as much as he could, a chef at heart.

Before starting his culinary career, he earned a business degree and considered getting his M.B.A. when it dawned on him that he spent more time studying cookbooks than business. Jon was someone who had known deep down he wanted to become a chef since the age of 15, and so, he finally did.

Bantinjan Bil Laban (eggplant)

At Zaytinya, Jon graciously represents the kitchen staff, and carefully constructs meals that are memorable. He’s all about finding the balance between creating something out of the ordinary, something his guests have never seen before, and still making sure the food is a comfort to the soul.

One of his favorite entrees on Zaytinya’s menu is the Lamb Kleftico, which he tasted for the first time at his trial for Zaytinya. He describes the dish like he was still dreaming, still savoring its subtlest flavors.

“It’s succulent, perfect lamb wrapped in this crispy feel, feta cheese, and you know, you just can’t make it at home,” Jon said, smiling. 

Following a filling meal, dessert is designed to be light and refreshing. It’s meant to complement the entrée – to finish it off with a touch of tranquility. Jon’s personal favorite is the Greek Yogurt and Apricots, which he later learned was inspiration for Samar’s Apricot Lemonade Pudding.

To everyone’s surprise, the best part is yet to come. After dessert, Turkish coffee is made available in small, elegant teacups that sparkle in shades of gold, and somehow, a sip says it all: there’s magic in this moment and place.

Zaytinya >

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