Monday, February 2, 2009

CityZen, Washington, D.C.

CityZen, Washington, DC (
November 13, 2008

Bar Tasting Menu (prix fixe)
Wines (paired with courses for an additional prix fixe)

Amuse Bouche
Mushroom Fritter with white truffle oil

First Course
KABKABOU - Sautéed Filet of Mediterranean Rouget with Saffron Braised Potatoes, Picholine Olives, Spanish Capers and Salted Lemon
W - Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Braised Duck Breast and Duck Sausage with lentils, caramelized onions, carrots
W - Grenache

Third Course
CityZen Dreamsicle – Fromage Blanc Soufflé Glacé on an Almond Biscuit with Naval Oranges and Orange-Licorice Emulsion
W - Desert Wine from Virginia (like a Riesling, but not – and I can’t remember the name)

Another trip to DC. Another meal sans friends and coworkers. C’est la vie. I decided to scratch another chef off my ever-growing bucket list of restaurants. Tonight I chose CityZen, home of Eric Ziebold, who previously worked with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry and helped open Per Se in NYC. Chef Ziebold won the 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef – Mid-Atlantic region.

I checked for a reservation on Wednesday nite. No luck. Checked again Thursday after my meeting. Again, no luck. I decided to test fate and pay them a visit anyway. I noticed a bar menu online, and I figured I could get there early enough to beat the crowd and get a seat at the bar, where I would feel more comfortable as a single, and be able to test the waters for less than half the regular fare. You see, the Chef’s tasting menu (6 courses) is $110 per person, plus $75 for the wine pairing. You can taste three courses for $50 at the bar, and $25 for the wine pairing. Not cheap, but worth a shot, based on the reputation of Ziebold.

So I thought I would leave my suburban VA hotel (not staying there by choice, but out of necessity) arrive around 6:30pm, and cozy up to the bar. The traffic Gods had another idea. So did the navigation Gods. It seems that traffic INTO Washington DC from VA at 6pm is just as bad as traffic OUT of DC at the same hour. And when you turn on 14th street from Constitution, instead of 12th street (as you should have remembered from the Google directions that you chose not to write down, because they were SOOO EASY) it happens to put you onto Interstate 395, where it also happens that 2.5 million other people are making their mass exodus from downtown. Traffic tip of the day: Just head to the airport and make a U-turn if you find yourself in this situation. From there, I have no idea how to get to 12th and Maryland Avenue SW, except to ride around the Smithsonian a few times, make three U-turns on some lettered streets (G and C – I think), then happen upon the correct right turn into the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where it happens that the street sign is no larger than a license plate.

Then there’s the parking issue. The adjacent public parking closes at 8pm. When you are planning on a tasting menu from a guy who used to work at the French Laundry, and you think about how long it took you to eat 9 courses at the French Laundry last year, you don’t expect to be done in an hour and fifteen minutes at this place. The public parking wasn’t a safe bet. I kept my cool long enough to get a curbside spot on 12th, and walk the ½ block to CityZen.

Décor. Very modern chic. Lots of metal, wood, and fire – something about the elements is the intended theme. No wind, thank God. It works, although I’m not a theme person. History suits me better than PoMo (Postmodern) theme design.

The food was pretty much what I expected. Intense flavors, great presentation, and portions large enough to not make you need to stop at Krystal on the way home, even after only three tasting courses. I imagine the six course Chef’s Tasting Menu has smaller portions. I tried to peek over someone’s shoulder to see, but my perspective was skewed from the bar area, and my 40-something eyesight is apparently failing.

Amuse Bouche, Mushroom Fritter. The mushroom fritter wasn’t fried, but rolled in what appeared to be dried mushroom crumbs. It was served on a three-inch square white plate with a bit of mushroom sauce enhanced with white truffle oil, tailed on the top edge like a Nike swoosh. The fritter itself looked sorta like a mini-wheat without the cross hatching. One bite. It wasn’t intensely mushroomy. I imagine the mushroom-hating segment of the population would have been inclined to try it, and probably would have liked it.

First Course, Kabkabou. The Kabkabou would have been sufficient as a main course. The fish was Mediterranean Rouget, which I had never tried, or really ever heard of before. It was filleted, cut into a uniform rectangle, and placed crispy-skin side up over a bed of thinly sliced fingerling potatoes, and a very small bit of olive slivers – which was all it needed. The fish reminded me of Sea Bass – slightly sweet and buttery. Olives can be overpowering, but these were perfectly proportioned.

Second course, (menu description not available). The second course was a thick slice of duck breast, accompanied by a duck sausage link, on a bed of lentils which appeared to be cooked with a standard Keller 1/16th inch mirepoix (carrots, onions, leeks) and a veal stock (or maybe duck stock) as a base. The reason I say “appeared to be” is based on the fact that the mirepoix carrots stood out, not for the flavor, but because of the contrasting color with the leeks. Caramelized onions were also involved. Like the first course, this dish was also quite tasty; however the duck breast had a layer of silverskin, which I found a bit tough, and not very Kelleresque. I made mention to the barkeep re. the silverskin, and he let the kitchen know. When he returned from the kitchen, there wasn’t a “yeah, I mentioned it to Eric, and he admitted that they screwed up” moment. The kitchen and barkeep seemed indifferent to the silverskin. I enjoyed it, regardless.

Third course, CityZen Dreamsicle. The Dreamsicle was a Fromage Blanc Soufflé Glacé (a frozen crème fraiche mixture with the viscosity and texture of ice cream) on an almond biscuit (kinda like a round lady finger) topped with naval oranges, a paper-thin slice of candied orange, sitting in an orange-licorice emulsion. It was not too sweet, very satisfying as a dessert and the barkeep obviously had experience pairing with the Virginia wine, which really opened up after tasting the dessert. I intend to try this one at home.

Overall, I enjoyed the food, wine, and the environment. I especially appreciated the fact that the kitchen was completely open to the dining area, without much more than a counter-height wall for a barrier. I have been to a number of “award-winning” restaurants, none of which open the kitchen to the dining experience the way Ziebold has done. The lasting impression I will have of this design is the frequent, amazing, and surprisingly loud whisk scraping against a stainless steel bowl at the speed of light that occurred in the most visible (and audible) compartment of the kitchen. It wasn’t unnerving, disturbing, or chalk-board dissonant. It was like a muffled helicopter rotor. I think I was simply surprised at the speed at which one can whisk without the assistance of a product made by KitchenAid.

1 comment:

JW said...

Can't wait to hear about Ripert's place...salivating...Great post!