Last night Janet and I made our first visit to CityZen. On the whole, and especially in that they have only been open for a few weeks, this new venue looks exceedingly promising. It is evident the Mandarin Oriental folks are putting their chips on the table to make this a success.
Before mentioning food, I can report that the decor is very modern, with 20' or so ceilings and everything BIG. The exposed wine cellar, in the "private" area behind glass walls with sliding glass doors all the way to the ceiling (they must weigh a ton) was most impressive. The exposed kitchen is integral, but is at one end of the room so decent views of the action are limited to a few tables (Table 49 is closest--it's a 2 top). Service was excellent, much better than would be expected so early. I noticed no flaws. Very gracious and attentive without being overbearing.
The wine list is extensive, concentrating on California and France but with some representation from Australia and a few others. Very few really old bottles. Some DRC among the Burgundies. About 19-20 pages long with about 25 per page. Priced reasonably for the setting--good things can be had in the $50 range. We couldn't drink much so settled for a very basic half-bot. of Calera Pinot Noir at $22, about the cheapest on the list. It was perfect. There is also a good selection of by-the-glass wines from $8 to $15.
The menu has a $95 five course fixed tasting menu, and a $70 three course where you get to choose from about six options for each course. The tasting menu didn't appeal to us (Irish salmon app. and ribeye main, plus a mushroom tart to start, cheese, and a "fudgesicle" desert), so we went with the 3 course. I asked for two apps. and to skip desert and that was fine.
It started with two amuse bouches, a spoon of jellied borsch with horseradish cream, and a lovely anchovy and butter in a panna cotta-like cream. Bread was served from a box--three choices and two types of butter, one US and one French.
My apps were the baked yukon gold potato with smoked salmon mousse, gnocchi, and salmon emulsion. Very well prepared. My second was tripe "weiner schnitzel," a piece of tripe breaded and sauteed, served on a bed of smithfield ham and baby kale, with Virginia peanuts and croutons. Worked very well. Janet chose best tho, with a duck foie gras risotto; the rice was a bit soupy and crunchy, and the foie gras was cubed and perfect. Other choices were a squash soup with sweetbreads, a fennel dish, and Japanese hada.
My main course was rabbit in a ragout of beans; the beans were the star of this dish, full of flavor with an intense little reduction for flavor (Ziebold seems to like reductions, and he does them well---also vegetables in general). Janet chose chicken and dumplings, which was less successful in my judgement. Somewhat bland overall but creamy if you like it. Other choices included several fishes, lobster mushrooms, and saddle of lamb. This course also included a serving of tiny "Parker House" rolls which were very rich indeed.
For dessert Janet had apple consomme, which was ok. They presented me with a taste of another dessert, roasted pineapple with coconut shavings, which was very nice. Neither dessert was overly sweet, which suited me fine. They also brought out plates of little nibble cookies and cakes, all of which (the ones I tried) were excellent.
On the whole, it is clear that Eric Ziebold is a serious and extremely competent cook, and this restaurant will be an important addition to the highest levels of our local scene. I expect CityZen to motivate our other local stars to even greater heights of culinary ambition, and the fallout can only further improve DC as a restaurant town.
We will be going back soon.
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