Friday, February 26, 2010

CityZen - 01/27/2010

Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20024
(202) 787-6006

Situated just south of the Washington Mall is CityZen, a restaurant whose very name suggests what the restaurant aspires to be, an isle of calm for those who walk the halls of power in our nation's capital. The restaurant is located in the Mandarin Oriental which offers a clear view of the Capitol building from the front door. The restaurant opens with a bar back lit with flames licking up a clear glass wall. The dining room seems almost cavernous with high ceilings and thick stone pillars, more foreboding than tranquil in my opinion. While the restaurant does not have a chef's table, the kitchen is in plain view. For diners who want to be close to the action, ask for table 49 when making a reservation. The kitchen is lead by Chef Eric Ziebold, who was at The French Laundry for 8 years prior to opening CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental. As of last year, he is also the executive chef at the DC Mandarin Oriental's more casual restaurant Sou'Wester.

CANAPE - Mushroom Fritter
First up was a mushroom fritter, the crispy texture of the toasted mushrooms contrasted sharply with the chewy gnocchi like interior while the dollop of sauce accentuated the natural earthiness of the mushrooms.

AMUSE - Shrimp Broth
The shrimp broth was similar to lobster bisque, elements of buttery richness combined with the pungency of shellfish coral.

CAULIFLOWER AND ROASTED GARLIC FLAN - with Meyer Lemon and Maine Sea Urchin
The flan itself reminded me of Japanese egg custard, exuding a meaty aroma instead of the slightly sweet characteristic flavor of cauliflower. The lighter flavors of the citrus and roe were instrumental in tempering the heavier flavor of the flan.

CONFIT OF MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS - Cranberry Stew, Star Anise Scented Pain Perdu, and Crystallized Orange
Aside from a lack of caramelization I couldn't really tell the difference between this and a seared preparation. The foie was pure semi-liquid fat the abundant use of sour fruit blunted the richness but added a bitter tang on the finish.

SWEET BUTTER POACHED MAINE LOBSTER - Poached Currants, Toasted Pine Nuts, and Anson Mills Lobster Bisque
Sweet and crisp just how good lobster is supposed to be. The toasty flavor of the pine nuts complimented the lobster nicely and the poaching helped take some of the floral sweetness off the currants, letting the buttery salinity of the bisque and lobster come to the fore.

GRILLED RIB-EYE OF DAKOTA FARMS BEEF - Russet Potato Dariole, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Red Wine Sauce
Another expertly and traditionally dressed course. The steak was strong enough to stand on its own but the pungent woodiness of the chanterelles and the cheesy zip of the potato were quite welcome. Ironically the most memorable part of the dish was the side of CityZen's signature Parker House Rolls, the warm bite-sized buttered rolls reminiscent of a savory Hawaiian bread.

PAN FRIED GABIETOU CRÊPE - with Périgord Truffle Coulis and Melted Leeks
The cheese course turned out to be the most distinctive dish of the evening. The gentle flavor of the Gabietou, took on an almost toasty dimension when served as a crepe while the truffle added an element of luxury and depth.

BARTLETT PEAR CHIBOUST - with Valrhona Milk Chocolate Sauce and Macallan's 12 Year Old Butterscotch Ice Cream
I'd liken this dessert to a grown up ice cream sundae. Pear desserts can be a bit dicey, coming out too syrupy for my tastes. However as a chiboust, the freshness of the pear was apparent sans the overwhelming sweetness, complimenting the rich burnt sugar and whiskey notes of the ice cream.

The meal closed with a very good example of three very classic mignardises.

Keller's influence is clear in Chef Ziebold's technically superb, classically constructed dishes. I just wish the kitchen took some more risk with the menu; instead I left this meal feeling the menu was straight out of a textbook. They definitely have the skills now if they just had the creativity to match.


sygyzy said...

"That's it"? - that's what I thought as I scrolled through your review. I couldn't believe the City Zen tasting menu was so short, then I went back and counted. It's actually a normal sized tasting menu but you wrote less than normal. I was expecting a bigger effort since City Zen is definitely an "important" (famous, award-winning) restaurant. I've been to DC twice in the last year and both times I regret missing out on dining there.

Epicuryan said...

Hey Sygyzy,

I agree that I wrote less than normal but it's not because I was lazy, rather I felt there was less to write about.

I felt the meal was entirely unremarkable. The food was enjoyable enough but felt completely formulaic; mix some foie gras, lobster, and a beef course and voi la. Believe me I wanted more and I sincerely hope that if you go that you get a better experience than I had. Honestly I had a hard time believing that CityZen could be a contender for best restaurant in DC.

Anonymous said...

Also thoroughly disappointed.
The service and atmosphere was very nice but the food and wine pairing was less than mediocre.

The five of us did the 7 course tasting menu with wine pairing at the waiters strong recommendation. Only two of the courses were good (and only good), the rest should have been sent back. Normally I would have but we were guests of out of town friends and unfortunately my wife recommended the restaurant based on all the outstanding reviews.

If you like lots of sweet wines and beer you'll love the wine pairing. Otherwise just get a couple of nice bottles and enjoy them.

We expected great things and all we got was a great big bill.

My recommendation: Steer clear of CityZen.