After living on Barracks Row for 18 months, it is amazing to reflect on the changes in the neighborhood as I move a few blocks east. I wish there was some way to uncover recent photos of a less-developed neighborhood somewhere. Oh hey, Google maps hasn’t updated their street view for awhile…I promise, no rants here, just the facts on the restaurants which became my new neighbors. See parts one, two.
Before: Court reporting? I swear this place was invisible; impossible to notice. There is plenty of vacant office space on Barracks Row, so when this space suddenly turned into a restaurant, there was nothing stopping them if the court reporters wanted to stay nearby. In terms of street vibrancy, I never saw anyone enter or leave this building. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t people working here — and perhaps lunching at the Fire House Cafe up the street — but this place wasn’t exactly putting too many eyes on the street.
After: The first in a recent restaurant boomlet in Southern Cap Thrill, Zest has been operating for almost a year. Sometimes, Zest is packed, other times it can look barren. This building is almost on I Street, and Zest is a pioneer, extending the restaurant scene by half a block when it opened. This marks a move closer and closer to the Southeast Freeway, which stifles all activity and separates Barracks Row from Navy Yard and it’s small commercial cluster. Believe, there will come a time when they will need to pretty up the freeway to induce hopping between the two neighborhoods. And I ain’t talking about the new parking lot under the overpass.
As far as food goes, Zest is an able restaurant, and Sietsema agrees. Not an automatic home run, but plenty of extra-base hits. The soups are a ground-rule double: An asparagus gazpacho during the summer was refreshing and flavorful, in winter the clam chowder was savory and chunky with seafood. The fish generally goes swimmingly and is served creatively, one dish with a red pepper sauce that though I didn’t favor, was new to me. The sandwiches are average — stick to the entrees. The dessert, including sour cream ice cream, is pricey but worth it…if someone else is paying the $6 for a slice of cake. Zest is capable, affordable especially if one abstains from drinking, and a cozy space that was my favorite new Barracks Row restaurant in 2010. Here’s hoping it stays open through 2011.