bilrus

CityZen, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel - 2008 James Beard Award Winner Eric Ziebold - Closed Dec 7, 2014

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Not to copy our fearless leader, and I'm not going to do it often, but I thought I might copy a post of mine from eGullet after my recent dinner there, just to add to the DR.com literature about Cityzen.

I'm in agreement with Sietsema and others on this one. Based on my meal last month I would put Cityzen in the same league as the other four stars. But there is something missing and not quite as special and I can't quite put my finger on it, even after thinking about it for two days. Somewhere above the best three star, but maybe not quite at the level of the four stars.

Aside from one OK entree, the food at Cityzen was outstanding - nearly flawless actually. The service was also excellent - friendly but polished exactly the way I prefer it. They pull out all the stops - two amuses, a pre-dessert, a small cookie plate after the dessert - maybe even more than the other places. Cityzen's presentation is more like Per Se (French Laundry has a much different feel because of its setting - like comparing the Inn to Citronelle - just different) in style than any restaurant that I've been to in the city. They even claim to only turn the tables once and that appeared to be the case.

But if you asked me which is the better restaurant I'd say Citronelle or Maestro. Maybe it is the confidence coming out of the kitchen or the sense of whimsy on the plate while still turning out serious food.

These are things that can, and I think will, come with time at Cityzen, though.

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Not to copy our fearless leader, and I'm not going to do it often, but I thought I might copy Bilrus...

My previously posted experience at Cityzen last fall, about 1 month after they opened:

(Caution: this is long!)

For first impressions, the staff at the front of the hotel certainly does make quite the impression, both in sheer numbers and helpfulness. After valet parking the car (free with validation from the restaurant), we were escorted into CityZen, to a table in their lounge (there is also another lounge in the main lobby of the hotel that has a better view), and our escort even informed the hostess of our presence so she could inquire to our reservation name & time. Very smooth.

I won’t go into the lounge menu since Mr. Rocks described it already, but I do want to say that it is entertaining reading. In fact, I think the cocktail waitress was a little exasperated with us because we were too busy being amused and were not making any decisions as to what we wanted to drink.

Now, for full disclosure, I’d better stop here and say that I was prepared to find fault with CityZen. Not because I’m a pessimist, but because our dining companions were my oldest sister and her husband. My sis is a big foodie, a huge Thomas Keller/French Laundry fan, and her preconceived notion was that the evening could not be anything other than absolutely perfect. So, in order to have the fodder for our requisite arguing, I was cast in the role of skeptic. But on to the food…

We all ordered the 5-course tasting menu for $90. Officially it was: Appetizer, Fish Course, Meat Course, Cheese Course, Dessert. But in reality is was: pre-Amuse, Amuse, Appetizer, Fish Course, Meat Course, Cheese Course, Sorbet, Dessert, Petit Fours. The meat that night was ribeye and I eat very little red meat (and never steak), but they were more than happy to allow me to substitute a chicken dish off the regular menu.

After we ordered, we met Christopher Hile, the sommelier. What a sweetheart! Very personable & approachable and obviously passionate about his job. He totally impressed my sister by picking out the exact two wines she would have chosen herself.

Then they brought the pre-amuse which was a chinese-style soup-spoon containing a layer of red beet aspic on the bottom, covered with a small mound of yellow beet cubes and topped with a bit of horseradish mousse. The beets were great – not overly “earthy” tasting as they sometimes are, but I personally would have preferred a bit more kick to the horseradish mousse. The only downside was that the gelled red layer was very firmly stuck to the spoon with no utensils present and no lady-like way to get it out. Our husbands had the same problem I did, but my sis said that hers came out of the spoon fine. (We later decided it was because she has a big mouth. :P )

Next was the amuse – a gratin of sunchokes with Osetra caviar on top. It was excellent. The low-notes of the gratin really balanced well with the salty-fishy of the caviar. My second favorite dish of the night.

Oh, I almost forgot to comment on the bread! :P Three choices served out of what appeared to be a little wooden treasure chest (very appropriate reverence for bread, IMO). A nice tasting sourdough, although we native Californians who were raised on S.F-style sourdough thought it a bit too holey of crumb and ciabatta-like. The second option was an excellent cheese (I never did hear what kind – Asiago?) and bacon bread. The third bread was a rye. It was a light, deli-style rye (but no hint of onion that I could tell) and was a bit lackluster for my taste and outshone by the other two breads. Also served with the bread were a salted French butter and an unsalted Virginia butter. This lead to some interesting discussion on ones’ patriotic loyalties, but the bottom line was that the Virginia butter had a much fresher taste and was favored by all but my sister.

The appetizer was a matsutake mushroom tart topped with shavings of parmesan, arugula sprouts and sea salt. This was my favorite of the evening. The thin, thin, thin crust had an incredibly buttery flavor while retaining just the right amount of bite. The balance of flavors was exceptional with nothing overpowering anything else. The mushrooms were plentiful, the parmesan was young & not too strong and the sprouts were surprisingly flavorful.

On to the fish course… Salmon-themed. In the middle of the plate was a piece of butter-poached salmon (as I was informed by my sister, who knows all things Keller) sitting on top of a puddle of melted onions & chives. To one side were a couple of medium-thin slices of house-cured gravlax and on the other side a tempura-like puff of roe (FYI – trying to determine what waiter with a French-accent is saying when he says “puff of roe” is not easy). The gravlax had nice texture and a very subtle taste – you definitely want that to be the first thing you eat on the plate. The poached salmon really was perfection. Tender and flavorful with no hint of fishiness. The roe puff was fine, executed well and I really like that taste, but I thought it slightly repetitive after the caviar on the amuse.

As this point, we waited. All along there had been decent pauses between courses, but in a good way – enough so the meal didn’t feel rushed. However, this time the interval between courses was about 5-10 minutes longer. :lol: We were then informed that the chef was “unhappy with the way our meat course had looked and it was being redone”. We were the last table seated that night and I suspect that as things slowed down in the kitchen Chef Ziebold had the time to perfect some of his staff’s technique. (Or it was a great excuse for the kitchen being slow – that Far Side cartoon with the airplane pilot and the “turbulence” comes to mind).

As I noted previously, I deviated from the rest of the table at this point. My meat course was chicken and dumplings with celery, tiny (<1/2”) pearl onions & black truffle slices sitting in a pool of oh-so-buttery chicken gravy. A very home-y flavor overall. The only downside was that the chicken was almost too salty. It was fine for me because I like a lot of salt, but I suspect that many people would not have been happy with it.

Everyone else at the table received the ribeye that was served with baby turnips, two slices of potatoes Anna with a dried plum in between and a plum-based sauce. When my brother-in-law finished off my sister’s ribeye he noted that hers was salted more than his and tasted much better. My husband later said that his ribeye lacked taste which makes me wonder if it was also undersalted.

With the meat course was a “last-minute chef’s surprise” box of mini parker house rolls. Little one-inch, butter-drenched balls of goodness served in a ~3”x8” wooden jewelry box with a hinged lid (after we quickly devoured the rolls, my woodworker/engineer husband had to examine the construction of the box – he pronounced it “nicely made” :P ). I think the chef’s “whim” may have been a bit more planned than implied because the rolls had that wonderful yeasty flavor that only comes from a long, cold rise.

Now for the moment my sister had been waiting for all evening – the cheese course. The cheeses were a triple-cream brie from France, a pecorino, a cabrales and a goat from Adante (a small cheesemaker in California who currently only produces enough cheese to sell to select wholesale outlets & restaurants). The cheeses were accompanied by warm, toasted raisin bread, an apricot jam for the pecorino and a smear of fig puree for the cabrales. The goat cheese was, without doubt, the highlight of the plate. I found the other cheeses good, but nothing spectacular. In fact, I have the same exact pecorino (that I bought at a military commissary) sitting in my refrigerator right now.

At this point, pretty much everyone was getting quite full and not sure if we really wanted anymore, but out came the sorbet. Intensely green apple-flavored and accompanied by a tonic jelly. I could only eat a bit of the jelly – the bitterness was great for refreshing the palate, but a little went a long way.

And for dessert… A “fudgesicle” made up of a hazelnut/chocolate crisp wafer topped with a rectangle of semi-frozen chocolate mousse and covered with a couple spoonfuls of warm chocolate sauce that hardened into wonderful chewiness once it was spooned (tableside) onto the mousse. There was also a smear of hazelnut syrup on the plate and a little quenelle of crème fraiche. It was all very good, but not being a big chocolate lover, my favorite part was the wafer. :P

So were we done yet? No. Last was a plate of petit fours: blueberry financiers, chocolate truffles, french macaroons, florentines and raspberry jellies. All excellent, but frankly, we were all just a bit too stuffed to really enjoy them. However, we did hear a gentleman at the next table stating that he could have eaten more! (He was told the 5-course menu can be supplemented with additional courses if desired.)

As to the décor, it was very well done and the atmosphere was quite comfortable (although a tad too loud). Lots of wood, marble, and stone accented with just the right amount of metal. The tablecloths and napkins were a weighty non-lint-shedding (a pet peeve of mine since I often wear black) raw-linen looking material in beige and caramel tones that added to the organic feel of the decor. And there was an overall opulent heft to everything – the menus were huge in dimensions and heavy due to metal decoration on the exterior (I’m glad I lift weights!) and the various plates our courses came on pretty much ranged from big to giant.

Throughout the evening, things ran surprising smoothly for such a new restaurant. There were a few minor signs that routines needed to settle in a bit more, especially in the front of the house (I had my back to the glass-fronted kitchen, so I could not see what level chaos was going on in there). The waiters often appeared to be playing musical chairs when they came with our various courses -- always two of them (each with a plate in hand), they would stand opposite each other and then put the plates down. However, there often seemed to be some jockeying for exactly which side of our round table each was to stand. But this was more entertaining that anything else. And there was an error with our check – we were charged for 8 tasting menus instead of 4! Yikes! I’ve never seen such a dumbfounded look on my husband’s face as when he initially looked at the $800+ bill. Of course, everything was graciously corrected once our relief-induced giggles ceased and we brought the overcharge to the staff’s attention.

Overall – an excellent meal that I felt was worth the money, especially once all the high-end trappings and service are factored in. Will we go back? Yes. Soon? No, we’re just poor military folk. Was my sister right in her high expectations? Yes, damn her. ;)

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my wife and i had the pleasure of dining at cityzen on saturday night for our 1 year anniversary. and while i dont need to go into detail course-by-course, I will say that this is a great restaurant.

my overall impressions were that ziebolds flavors are clean and bright and singular; and his use of ingredients second to none (think sheepshead, pied de cuchon, lambs tongue, etc...). his dishes almost have a refined rusticness (if that makes any sense at all). to make a comparision just for reference sake, i will say that to compare ev erything i ate here to maestro, maestro probably had the best dish. cityzen's food however was a little more to my liking (not better, just his flavor palette more inline with my own). i would say that in dining at maestro you would be more apt to say "man, how did fabio do this?" or "what is going on in this dish?" but again, the flavors at cityzen, for me, outshine those of maestro, with a few exceptions.

as for service, it was the best i have had. better than the Inn and better than maestro.impeccable. no hiccups. and lastly the wine service, also impeccable. every glass of wine i had, from the opening champagne, to the dessert wines were at just the right temperature.

i am definitely looking forward to checking back in on ziebold in a year or so. it is an exciting restaurant and he is an exciting chef for DC to have. and think, he and fabio aren't even 35 yet...

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I had dinner last night with 3 fellow DR.com dining companions. My three companions did the 5-course tasting menu, I opted for the 3-course menu. Since I have not dined at either Citronelle or Maestro, I cannot compare it to them. I have dined at Eve, Komi and Corduroy so I have some basis for comparison. Describing this meal will be somewhat tricky.

1. Service-superb.

2. Food-Wonderful

3. Price tag-Breathtaking

1. Service--It can't help but be superb given the number of people who appear to be on staff. How they are all able to coordinate their activities is beyond my, but coordinate they do. All aspects of the service were efficient and unobtrusive. There was no rushing or any attempt to turn the table. Our reservations were for 7:00 and we were there until around 11:00. (I for one have trouble sitting still for that long).

2. Food--I ordered the CityZen Cochetti, Canard au Vin and the cheese course. This was supplemented by 2 amuse: a tiny mushroom fritter with a truffle sauce and a little cup of olive oil custard topped with a tomato/pepper butter. Both of the amuse were exquisite. The mushroom flavor of the fritter was intense and went will with the smidge of truffle sauce. The creamy mildness of the custard contrasted nicely with the spiciness of the butter.

When perusing the menu, one of the questions I had was "what's cochetti?" I closed my menu and put a smile on my face when I learned that cochetti is the housemade sausage. I totally tuned out whatever else it was the server said about it, I was sold. Damn, as it good. It came with three chunks of sausage, one drizzled with a sauce, one atop a layered roasted red pepper and onion device, and the third atop a small pile of fennel. The sausage was excellent and the three accompaniments each made it taste a little different.

The "wild Scottish duck" came with sliced seared breast and some braised leg. This was atop a bed of tiny vegetables with a wine jus. Frankly, I thought some of the strong flavors of some of the vegetables overpowered the flavor of the duck. But, it was a wonderful dish nonetheless.

Our palates were cleared with a small serving of plum sorbet with an amaretto sauce, it really did the trick.

The cheese course is expertly presented. A cart comes out with an assortment of cheeses arranged with all of the bleus on one side and the the rest lined by my milk type. Those that selected the tasting menu got three cheeses while my 3-course dinner came with 5 cheeses. All excellent .

The wine list is very extensive (and expensive) but we stuck with the wines by the glass page. With my first course, I went with the Pegasus Pinot Noir from NZ which went well with the sausage. For me second glass, I ordered a glass of the grenache. To my amazement, when presented with a taste of the grenache, I, for the first time in my life, detected a corked wine. One of my dining companions confirmed my diagnosis and I refused the glass (the bottle it came from was half empty). This catch was fortuitous as 2 of the others had ordered the same wine. The sommelier confirmed the diagnosis and opened a fresh bottle. The aroma was much different than the first and the wine went will with my duck.

For an after dinner drink, I asked to see the drink list. I was puzzled to see that there was no calvados on the list so I ordered an Armagnac. When the server came by a moment later I said you have no calvados. He said "we do too." I said "it's not on the menu." He said, "you're right." I said "could you cancel the Armagnac and bring me the calvados." He said "sure."

3. Price--My share of the tab, with three glasses of wine (I had a glass at the bar which was transferred to the dinner check) was $186. The price of the 3-course dinner I think was $75. The wines by the glass are all in the $12-16 ranges and the glass of calvados was about $15. This is a bit hefty in my view. Since I have not dined at Citronelle or Maestro, I can't comment on whether the food, service and ambiance are up to the price tag, but my feeling is that I could have had a comparable meal (albeit a different meal) at any one of the other three restaurants I referred to above for 1/2 to 2/3 of the price (Eve, Komi and Corduroy). I will let the other three chime in with their impressions but for me, the other three places have a better price/quality ratio. The tab would have been much higher if I had not been so restrained on the wine.

Edited by Jacques Gastreaux

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Joe, I'm not sure whether you agree or disagree with me. I just thought $186 for a 3 course meal with a couple of glasses of wine and an after dinner drink was a little steep. Since I have not been to the Lab, Maestro or Citronelle (except to have a lobster burger at the bar) I don't know whether CityZen is out of line. All I know is based on what I had for dinner last night and what I paid, I'd rather go to Komi, Eve or Corduroy and have what I consider a comparable meal and drink more and better wine for a few less $.

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I just thought $186 for a 3 course meal with a couple of glasses of wine and an after dinner drink was a little steep.  Since I have not been to the Lab, Maestro or Citronelle (except to have a lobster burger at the bar) I don't know whether CityZen is out of line.  All I know is based on what I had for dinner last night and what I paid, I'd rather go to Komi, Eve or Corduroy and have what I consider a comparable meal and drink more and better wine for a few less $.

Unless you were drinking expensive wine, that does seem a bit steep. We went last fall and I don't remember spending quite that much per person going with the three course option, but it very well could have been close.

Beyond a certain point it is only possible to incrementally improve the fine-dining experience. Komi, Eve and Corduroy are all excellent restaurants but there is a certain extra level of pampering and luxury that goes on in the very few places that are one step above those (Maestro, Citronelle, etc.) and I'd put Cityzen a half step above - somewhere between those two sets of restaurants.

Is an additional $25 or $50 worth it for the incremental extra luxury? I'd answer "occasionally." But for some that answer would surely be 'No."

Edited by bilrus

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Unless you were drinking expensive wine, that does seem a bit steep.  We went last fall and I don't remember spending quite that much per person going with the three course option, but it was probably close.

Beyond a certain point it is only possible to incrementally improve the fine-dining experience.  Komi, Eve and Corduroy are all excellent restaurants but there is a certain extra level of pampering and luxury that goes on in the very few places that are one step above those (Maestro, Citronelle, etc.) and I'd put Cityzen a half step above. 

Is an additional $25 or $50 worth it for the incremental extra luxury?  I'd answer "occasionally."  But for some that answer would be 'No."

We were drinking wines from the "wine by the glass" list which, in my experience, are usually from the lower part of the mid-range. I pretty much agree with the rest of your post. I'd agree the CityZen is a half-step above those other restaurants when it comes to luxury and pampering. For me, I'd rather plough that extra half-step into the meal/wine. At Komi, Eve and Corduroy, it would take some work to spend more than what I did at CityZen last night.

Edited by Jacques Gastreaux

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$186.00 per person for a dinner is a lot of money to 99% of the populace, including rabid food lovers with middle-class income people like myself included. I've spent that much, and more, many times. Only a few times have I even regretted the cost, and that always told me that the experience was not worth it.

Whether or not the costs are commensurate with Maestro or Citronelle, Per Se, Tallivent, wherever is kind is irrelevant unless you've experienced it, and left gloriously satisfied, or, sometimes, kind of eh.

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I guess I missed all the fun! Well it is not too late for me to offer my opinion.

Dinner last night was as JG described it, exceptional. I chose the 5 course tasting option and enjoyed each course that was presented.

Since I do not recall the exact preparations of each course I will comment on the ones that stood out to me.

The mushroom fritter had an amazing amount of flavor packed into a very small package. I got to taste some of the olive oil custard amuse that JG was served and it was sublime. Those little tastes were definitely a precursor of what was going to follow. Of the 3 savory courses that followed the Lamb T-Bone was my favorite, followed by the seared foie. This is the first lamb dish that I have been served where the meat had that gamey lamb flavor that I adore.

The mini-parker house rolls that are served with the main savory dish are amazing in their buttery goodness!

While I had no problem with the final bill, it was on the high side in comparison with what I have had in other similar places. Would that stop me from going there again? No, but I still have Maestro and another visit to Citronelle on my list.

FYI, the 5-course meal is $95 with a wine pairing option for an additional $70. That is before tax and tip.

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Worst part about dining at CityZen? Trying to get a damn cab to take you home!! The Mandarin Oriental is squarely in the heart of D.C.'s No-Man's Land. Even if the restaurant calls for a cab on your behalf, it can still take forever for a taxi to show up. (On the other hand: That little butter roll box they bring to the table ... wow.)

Qualitatively speaking, the thing that I found most disappointing about CityZen was that the quality of the ingredients wasn't quite what I'd hope for/expect from a Thomas Keller disciple. At French Laundry, it seems like just about everything on the plate has a Best of Breed-ness about it, from the rabbits and fish and foie and butter to, of course, the produce, which is consistently, breathtakingly great. At CityZen, none of the ingredients jumped out; they were good, for sure, but not great.

But, then, Eric Zeibold isn't wholly to blame on that front. As a recent transplant from the West Coast myself, I have to say that the hardest thing about moving to this area is realizing that this ain't exactly the cradle of agriculture. Eric pretty much said the same thing when he came out to chat at the end of our meal. He talked at length, in fact, about the difficulty in foraging great produce around here. (He'd just sent back an entire shipment of peaches, if I recall correctly, explaining to the supplier that they weren't even close to the ripeness and quality he was looking for.) I do hope he can land some great sources, because the guy can clearly cook.

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Worst part about dining at CityZen? Trying to get a damn cab to take you home!!

Or what if you're a cheap fuck and you get too drunk to find your car.

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But, then, Eric Zeibold isn't wholly to blame on that front. As a recent transplant from the West Coast myself, I have to say that the hardest thing about moving to this area is realizing that this ain't exactly the cradle of agriculture. Eric pretty much said the same thing when he came out to chat at the end of our meal. He talked at length, in fact, about the difficulty in foraging great produce around here. (He'd just sent back an entire shipment of peaches, if I recall correctly, explaining to the supplier that they weren't even close to the ripeness and quality he was looking for.) I do hope he can land some great sources, because the guy can clearly cook.

I don't agree with your assertation that "this area ain't exactly the cradle of agriculture." Have you ever been to the Eastern Shore of Maryland? Have you ever seen the operation at Westmoreland Farms in the Rapahannock Valley, have you ever been to the orchards in the shadow of the Blue Ridge? Sure, things around here are more seasonal for the simple reason that we have seasons. Zeibold just needs to look harder, good stuff is there. Sourcing great local produce occupies a great deal of time for chefs like Cathal Armstrong. If you want to see some stuff, you should head out to the Lankford farm this weekend with Camille-Beau and her crew.

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I don't agree with your assertation that "this area ain't exactly the cradle of agriculture."  Have you ever been to the Eastern Shore of Maryland?  Have you ever seen the operation at Westmoreland Farms in the Rapahannock Valley, have you ever been to the orchards in the shadow of the Blue Ridge?  Sure, things around here are more seasonal for the simple reason that we have seasons.  Zeibold just needs to look harder, good stuff is there.  Sourcing great local produce occupies a great deal of time for chefs like Cathal Armstrong.  If you want to see some stuff, you should head out to the Lankford farm this weekend with Camille-Beau and her crew.

Eastern Shore? Nope. Westmoreland Farms? Nope. Shadow of the Blue Ridge? Nope. All I know is that a guy who should have access to the best stuff available says he's been disappointed by what he's found so far, at least vis-a-vis what was available to him in Califorina. And I've been badly disappointed by the produce that's available to me, Joe Consumer, who dosn't really have the time/wherewithal to drive forever just to find a nice piece of summer stonefruit or the perfect heirloom tomato. Overstatement on my part? Yeah, maybe. But hey, Hyperbolic is my middle name.* (* or so I'm saying for the purposes of this post.)

Let's look at this another way: If you can get the very, very, very best seasonal produce that's available locally, where will your meals be better -- here, or in Northern California?

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Eastern Shore? Nope. Westmoreland Farms? Nope. Shadow of the Blue Ridge? Nope. All I know is that a guy who should have access to the best stuff available says he's been disappointed by what he's found so far, at least vis-a-vis what was available to him in Califorina. And I've been badly disappointed by the produce that's available to me, Joe Consumer, who dosn't really have the time/wherewithal to drive forever just to find a nice piece of summer stonefruit or the perfect heirloom tomato. Overstatement on my part? Yeah, maybe. But hey, Hyperbolic is my middle name.* (* or so I'm saying for the purposes of this post.)

Let's look at this another way: If you can get the very, very, very best seasonal produce that's available locally, where will your meals be better -- here, or in Northern California?

I've sat in Gary Danko and overheard the person next to me say that the last time they were at Danko it was excellent. But not quite as good as what they had in Washington at Michel Richard's place.

I would also argue that areas of the Blue Ridge mountains are the equal of the Carmel Valley for beauty. That heirloom tomatoes from a farmstand at the Shell station on route 7 about six miles west of Leesburg or one of about twelve varieties of sweet white corn near Poolesville, Maryland or blueberries from Linden Vineyards off of I 66 ten miles past Gainesville or ......

I would rather have all of these right here where I grew up. No offense to San Francisco but I prefer downtown Washington, D. C. I'll also put Maestro one on one with the French Laundry and take Laboratorio over any SF Italian or even Valentino in Santa Monica in the Southland.

Perhaps we should talk about cream, pasteurized cream, like Lewes Dairy or... Well, I think you get the point. There is nothing in northern CA that is superior to the Washington, D. C. area other than wine.

If he really said this to you then I suspect that he really hasn't looked too hard. Knowing that he brought his own seeds with him when he moved here I would be surprised if he hasn't yet found soil to grow them in.

By the way, there's a farm in northern OH ( http://www.culinaryvegetableinstitute.com/ ) called "Veggie U." that grows some of the vegetables and herbs for the French Laundry. It's about five miles south of Sandusky. In Ohio.

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I agree with both of you too. Of course the variety and seasonal availablity of produce in California will far exceed that which is found in this region. However, there are some kinds of produce sourced here that could go toe-to-toe with anything grown in California. Sure, it may take a little trial and error on the part of Chef Ziebold, but the stuff is out there. Nora Pouillon's Restaurant Nora was the first certified organic restaurant in the country and Nora has been sourcing excellent produce for a quarter of a century.

As for us mere Joe Consumers, since you are a recent transplant, jdl (and welcome, by the way) this board has a thread on farmers markets, which I hope will be a good starting point for helping you find the great seasonal produce you're looking for around here, without having to drive out into farm country. There are also some good local grocers, but I agree that you sure as heck won't find what you are looking for at the local Giant or Safeway.

Have I ever purchased an apricot or a fig in a store around here that tastes anything like what I used to pick off the trees in my backyard in California? No way. Ptoooey. Is there a cob of corn anywhere in California that is better than what I can get here at my local farm stand on any given Saturday morning in August? Show me.

To get back on topic: I don't have any complaints about the quality of the ingredients at CityZen - every bite of something new elicited at least a small moan of pleasure - the flavors, from the first bite of sea bass sashimi with chive creme fraiche, to the whallop of lambiness in the t-bone, to the last nibbles from the plate of post-dessert treats, were intense and well-balanced. The one quibble for me is the breads (other than those buttery mini-Parkerhouse rolls) which, while very good, didn't thrill. But that really is a quibble.

The Smithsonian Metro stop at 12th and Independence SW is about three easy, well-lit blocks from the restaurant. Hint: if you valet park, the parking will be validated and free (and they'll be able to find your car at the end of the evening). If you're a cheap f*** and decide to self-park, you no getta validation.

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The one quibble for me is the breads (other than those buttery mini-Parkerhouse rolls) which, while very good, didn't thrill.  But that really is a quibble. 

Aside from the same Parker House rolls at Per Se the bread didn't thrill me at either French Laundry or Per Se either. In both places I got the sense that it was an afterthought, coming after the famous salmon coronets and at least one other course. And it was more about the two types of excellent butter and the story about the fact that they can tell you the names of the cow the butter comes from.

I suspect that the same holds true at Cityzen.

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Westmoreland Farms? Do you mean Westmoreland Berry Farms? If so, then you're sorely mistaken. Thoroughly mediocre product.

[if you mean somewhere else, I'll remove this post]

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And I've been badly disappointed by the produce that's available to me, Joe Consumer, who dosn't really have the time/wherewithal to drive forever just to find a nice piece of summer stonefruit or the perfect heirloom tomato.

Say it ain't so, Joe! You'll be thrilled to know that you don't have to drive to Hell and back to find that stonefruit or tomato. They'll deliver it right to Courthouse on Saturdays, Dupont on Sundays, DOT on Tuesdays, Penn Quarter on Thursdays, USDA on Fridays (which Ziebold could probably make it to in about 8 minutes walk from the Mandarin, or about 24 minutes if he chose to do it on all fours just to see if he could!).

Has the product been kissed by California Sunshine and California Girls? Nope. But I can tell you that the cheese from Blue Ridge Dairy beat the pants off of anything from California in its categories from the American Cheese Society. Cowgirl Creamery, Vella, Whathaveyou Dairy included.

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Say it ain't so, Joe!  You'll be thrilled to know that you don't have to drive to Hell and back to find that stonefruit or tomato.  They'll deliver it right to Courthouse on Saturdays, Dupont on Sundays, DOT on Tuesdays, Penn Quarter on Thursdays, USDA on Fridays (which Ziebold could probably make it to in about 8 minutes walk from the Mandarin, or about 24 minutes if he chose to do it on all fours just to see if he could!).

Ah, but it IS so!

I've been to the Dupont and Penn Quarter farmer's markets, as well as various grocery stores recommended on this and other boards, and I've bought countless pounds of countless producethingys from countless growers/sources. And I consistently find myself saying, "There's no place like home." (Actually, what I usually say is: "Damn, this doesn't even come close." But same difference.) I did find some great bi-color corn, and I'm loving the apples. Especially the W.Va honey krisps. But the summer produce? Bzzzzzzt. And unfortunately, I'm one of those summer-produce people. (Alas, I wouldn't know/care about the cheese comparisons, as I'm not a Dear Dairy kinda guy. Go figure.)

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I've sat in Gary Danko and overheard the person next to me say that the last time they were at Danko it was excellent.  But not quite as good as what they had in Washington at Michel Richard's place.

Restaurant Gary Danko has never excited me, so this comparison doesn't mean much to me. Now, if you can find me a better meal here than the white-truffle dinner I had in early December in El Dorado Hills, Calif., where the ex-Valentino executive chef Angelo Auriana is working his magic in the kitchen at Masque -- well, you win the prize. But it ain't gonna happen.

That's not even the point, though. I'm not trying to make this a here-versus-there iron cage death match in which restaurants, wine lists, maitre'ds, servers, dishware, sconces, banquettes, carpets, etc, are pitted against each other. My comments about the ingredients lacking at CityZen vis-a-vis French Laundry were just that: Comments about the ingredients lacking at CityZen vis-a-vis French Laundry. OK, so they included an accompanying whine about me not loving the produce here. But no need to defend the DC dining scene! Really. I do like it here. (Mostly.) What's not to love about living within crawling distance of Corduroy, which has quickly become a fave for me?

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Ah, but it IS so!

I've been to the Dupont and Penn Quarter farmer's markets, as well as various grocery stores recommended on this and other boards, and I've bought countless pounds of countless producethingys from countless growers/sources. And I consistently find myself saying, "There's no place like home." (Actually, what I usually say is: "Damn, this doesn't even come close." But same difference.) I did find some great bi-color corn, and I'm loving the apples. Especially the W.Va honey krisps. But the summer produce? Bzzzzzzt. And unfortunately, I'm one of those summer-produce people. (Alas, I wouldn't know/care about the cheese comparisons, as I'm not a Dear Dairy kinda guy. Go figure.)

Ok. Quality comparisons between CA and DC Metro produce is one thing. Easy availability of the best DC has to offer is a different discussion and the one I was following.

I completely agree with Crackers that each area has its geographic advantages for specific products and completely agree with you that California grows many ingredients a bazillion times better than what grows here. So I think the "who grows better produce?" argument is kinda silly. I'm sure there are plenty of Spaniards in California saying, "You call this an olive? That Sacramento Valley heat must be gettin' to you."

So, yeah, everyone has the products they do well, and it's no mystery that many of the ingredients you're used to are better in CA. But that doesn't mean the local produce here sucks. It just not what you're used to. And the best of what this area has to offer is easily available. And I'd rather have it cut fresh that morning locally and on my plate that night than have it shipped in from CA when it was harvested godknowswhen.

Except for the olives. Have you ever tried one of them Virginia olives? Bleah! :lol:

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Easy availability of the best DC has to offer is a different discussion and the one I was following.

You know, that's an interesting point. Maybe I'm looking for the wrong things at the markets. What are some of the in-season stars at the moment?

And yeah, California olives -- feh. There's a damn good reason most of them wind up in cans. :lol:

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You know, that's an interesting point. Maybe I'm looking for the wrong things at the markets. What are some of the in-season stars at the moment?

Perhaps the reason the summer produce tastes so much better to us around here is because we sort of go cold turkey right about now. All of the corn, tomatoes, and other fresh summer produce kind of disappear with the advent of autumn. When the stuff reappears in the summer, it's all you can do to get your fill of it before it goes away again. Unless, of course, you happen to stumble upon a restaurant that is a client of Dave Lankford; he seems to be able to pump out very fresh, almost summer tasting produce year 'round.

If you want to know what is fresh at the moment, just go to Wegmans and check out what is in the display right near the front door. This weekend, it was cauliflower, in regular, yellow and purple varieties (this is the first year I've seen the yellow variety and I've never seen purple anywhere else, it must come from a farm in PA near Harrisburg).

edited to add: This thread has veered in a direction unrelated to CityZen and it is just a matter of time before Rocks splits it off.

Edited by Jacques Gastreaux

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I also ate at CityZen last week and everything has pretty much already been said by my dining companions. I can only add that the slight unevenness in the execution of the dishes and a few glitches in the service that I experienced last year (when they’d been open less than a month) have certainly been smoothed away.

I ordered the 5-course vegetarian tasting menu for $80. In addition to the previously mentioned pre-amuse, amuse, and other extra courses, I had a grilled matsutake mushroom and cucumber salad, warm heirloom tomatoes with a fine dice of various winter and summer squash in a tomato water sauce, and a cauliflower dish in a garlic-y cream sauce.

The dessert that was supposed to come with the veg-tasting menu was forbidden rice pudding with pineapple and coconut sauce, but I am not a huge fan of rice pudding so I asked if I could substitute the delicious-sounding hazelnut griddlecake dessert off of the 3-course side of the menu. Luckily, it was not a problem to do so "since it was dessert and would not interrupt the designed flow of the tasting menu". That was great with me because the hazelnut griddlecakes turned out to be as good as they sounded.

(And what was the next thing I had to eat after my dinner at Cityzen? French fries from the Nathan's in the food court at the Leesburg outlets. :lol: )

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