Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CityZen and the Art of Food Preparation

Bobby: For Valentine's Day, Giada and I went to the much-acclaimed CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Eric Ziebold was out hobnobing with the Valentine's Day diners, the food was excellent, and the setting was nice as always. All and all, an excellent way to spend a frosty Valentine's Day.

Giada: I have to admit, when Bobby told me where we were going for Valentine's Day, I did a little dance. I mean, who wouldn't be excited to see what sort of menu Mr. Eric Zebold himself would prepare for what's supposed to be one of the most romantic days of the year?

Bobby: The first thing that bares mentioning about the evening is that when we arrived Giada had a present waiting on the table for yours truly. She made a rather bold move and got me a pair of white socks, being quite the romantic girl. Just kidding, she got me tickets to the sold out Decemberists show. Me being a huge fan of indie rock, and nautical-themed songs in particular, this was just about the perfect present.

Giada: Aw, that's sweet. And props to the staff at CityZen for being great about setting out the gift before we arrived. I'd stopped off earlier that day to make my request, saying that I relized it was a busy night for them and would understand if the gift was brought out later, rather than waiting upon arrival. But, like seemingly everything else at CityZen, it was executed flawlessly.


Bobby: If I were a writer for Elle Decor magazine, I would describe the stylings of CityZen as dramatic, yet inviting. Since I am not, I will just call it nice. It has a very large space, with tall ceilings, cool beams throughout the restaurant, and snazzy looking tables.

Giada: What I like best about CityZen is while it's a very large space with especially high ceilings, the decor is done in a way to make it feel special, but not overwhelming, and not stark either. I imagine it's a challenge to decorate such a large space without overfilling it with enormous pieces, or going the other way and leaving it sparse. While CityZen doesn't feel intimate, it certainly feels special.

Bobby's Decor Rating: 9 out of 10
Giada's Decor Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Bobby: The food for this particular evening came in the form of a tasting menu. The first course was a pickled oyster with ginseng gelee. I don't really like oysters, but this little bit was quite good. The taste was quite different from any other oyster I've ever had and it looked wonderful on the plate.

Giada: I thought the oyster was ok, but the flavor was a little tart. Anyway, for the second course, we enjoyed a napoleon of dover sole and yukon gold potato, with dill creme fraiche and smoked steelhead trout roe. And by enjoy, I mean it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. Really. I know that a combo of sole and potato sounds like it might be a little bland, but this was just beyond good.

Bobby: For the third course, the big E came up with sauteed moulard duck foie gras with melted sweet onions, beer battered shallots, and onion gastrique. Again, I'm not much of a fan of foie gras. It's the most overdone dish in all of the world. But this dish tasted spectacular. Really, the second and third courses were the highlight of the meal. I feel this is often true with tasting menus. The earlier courses are the best. The main courses are generally less innovative and rarely live up to one's expectations.

Giada: The fourth course was sweet butter poached lobster with meyer lemon and fennel bulb marmalade in a pernod emulsion. It was lobster, it was butter, enough said. Well, ok, maybe a little more bears being said. It was, IMHO, the standard presentation of lobster that comes on most first-class tasting menus. But did I enjoy it? Sure did.

Bobby: For the fifth course, we feasted on roasted quail, stuffed with veal sweetbreads, melted savoy cabbage, and perigold truffles. Now, I'm not really sure how melted savoy cabbage differs from regular cabbage. I always just thought cabbage was cabbage. But this tasted better. An insightful comment a minute out of this one-man think tank. Anyway, I liked the dish.

Giada: We were next presented with herb roasted veal, with caramelized garlic chiboast, yellow foot chanterelles, and beurre colbert. Before I give my opinion, I should say that Bobby really liked this course. I, however, didn't. To me, it was sorta just the slab of veal on a plate, and mostly reminded me of the sort of thing you eat a family dinner prepared by someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Sorry, Eric.

Bobby: Then we got to the main event of any meal: dessert. We were brought a poached bartlett pear and flowering quince tart, with candied hazelnuts, confit navel orange, toasted cantucinni, and grand marnier sabayon. A little underwhelming. It tasted good and was well-prepared and all. But where was the chocolate? As Giada often says, whither the chocolate for the main dessert on tasting menus. Indeed.

Giada: And for the last, we received a tray of CityZen chocolates. A sweet way to end a very memorable meal.

Bobby's Food Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Giada's Food Rating: 9 out of 10


Bobby: The service at the restaurant portion of CityZen is much what you would expect at any high-end establishment. The waiters brought out the food promptly, handled our questions adequately, and generally did a good job of not being too obtrusive. The staff isn't as good as the wonderful staff at Restaurant Eve, but it is better than the staff at Citronelle.

Giada: Yeah, the staff at Citronelle can be a little snooty at times. However, I have a pretty big bone to pick with one particular server at CZ. So it's Valentine's Day and yes, the restaurant is busy. But that is no reason to remove the parker house rolls from the table before I am finished with them. You hear me, lady? NO REASON.

Bobby: After dinner we decided to get a drink at the bar. Now, we were pretty much the only people at the bar and we ordered two simple drinks. I had a White Russian, being fond of girly drinks, and Giada had a cocktail off the menu. It took the waiter from the bar over 20 minutes to bring the drinks to the table we were sitting at, which was absolutely maddening.

Bobby's Service Rating : 6.5 (deducting 2 points for the bar staff's incompetence)
Giada's Service Rating: 8.0 (being generous by not deducting more points from the lady who stole my rolls)

Dining Companions

Bobby: We had couples on both sides of us for this meal. On one side, we had a couple that chatted fairly normally and at a moderate decibel level. This couple belonged to the quickly dying group known as normal people.

Giada: Do you think we're a part of that group?

Bobby: No. But it's mostly because of me, so don't feel bad.

Giada: Yeah, I could see that.

Bobby: On the other side, we had a couple that belonged to a quickly multiplying group known as complete and utter Neds. Seriously, this couple definitely been to some Star Trek conventions. Their conversation touched subjects that were objectively not that weird--it was just that they're take on the subject screamed socially inept since birth. But at least they weren't mean. So they had that going for them.

Giada: I thought they were kinda cute. He'd brought like 6 cards for her, all with a different little present inside. Also, they apparently dine at CZ quite often and when seated at a table not to their liking, asked to be moved (next to us, of course, because Bobby and I got PRIME REAL ESTATE), but did so politely, which I thought was pretty cool.

Bobby's Dining Companion Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Giada's Dining Companion Rating: 8.5 out of 10


Aside for the hiccup at the bar, the Case of the Stolen Rolls [Bobby: Let if go, Giada] and the fact that it took forever to get a cab, the evening was splendid. The food at its best--during the second and third courses--was among the finest we've ever had. The place felt both special and cool--a feat that is not easy to accomplish and we got to keep the menu at the end. Although we wish Eric Zebold had come to our table to chat as he did to some others. Maybe he was intimidated because of our famous blog. And Bobby thinks because of his "guns." Giada thinks not so much.

Bobby's Overall Rating: 9 out of 10
Giada's Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Mandarin Hotel
1330 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20024

CityZen website

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