There was never a question about where my husband and I would dine in celebration of our 29th wedding anniversary. At least not in my mind. It is CityZen Restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental all the way. Never mind that it is the only restaurant in DC with a AAA Five Diamond Award, ranked #6 in Washingtonian‘s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2012, and that Chef Eric Ziebold is inarguably one of DC’s finest chefs. That’s important, of course. But a driving factor in the decision is that we’re long overdue to dine here after last summer’s dessert tasting with CityZen’s pastry chef Matthew Petersen, who was featured on Top Chef Just Desserts. Matthew’s desserts and his charm won him fan favorite and $10,000. (Here’s a link to my post if you missed it.) How did it take this long for me to get here for dinner? Inexplicable!
The restaurant is aware that it is our anniversary and they know that I am a food blogger. I am not really sure that our server knows, or cares. I mean this in a good way. She is extremely competent and professional. I am only hoping for one thing in my non-anonymity. Seriously. I want to have the chance to say hello to Matthew.
My husband and I each decide to do a six course tasting menu. Me: chef’s tasting menu. Husband: vegetarian tasting menu. I’ve decided to cop out and not write my sentiments about each and every dish. This would take more adjectives and superlatives than my vocabulary can bear. Instead I am providing a pictorial diary of our meal. See for yourself the wonder that is dinner at CityZen.
Chef’s Tasting Menu
1. Pacific Hiramasa sashimi with marinated yama imo, salted kohlrabi, navel orange, and wilted spinach salad
2. Soft boiled Path Valley Farms hen egg with scrapple and red eye gravy
Just this once I am going to say something about a specific dish, since it may be my favorite of the savory dishes. It is basically breakfast, featuring gravy made with coffee and bits of ham. I am wary since I don’t normally like soft boiled eggs, and the description doesn’t actually appeal to me. But I decide to be a big girl and make an exception. It’s a good decision, as this dish is exceptional. I need to remember to go outside of the box more often.
5. Slow cooked prime Midwestern beef ribeye with corned beef tongue, savoy cabbage, baby carrots and mustard sabayon. (Lest you think the4 corned beef and cabbage may be a touch odd- this dinner takes place on St. Patrick’s Day.)
Chef’s vegetarian tasting menu
1. Marinated takenoko carpaccio with avocado, water chestnuts, kohlrabi, micro chives, and yuzu shichimi
2. Spring garlic risotto herb roasted hen of the woods mushroom
3. Belgian endive pappardelle with poached kumquats, pickled turnip, crystallized tarragon and almond milk
4. Roasted brussels sprouts pierogi with whipped Kendall Farms creme fraiche and apple cider broth
5. Cityzen knoedel with a fricasee of black eye peas, Carolina gold rice, and braised kale
I must rhapsodize about the Parker House rolls made by Chef Petersen, which accompany course five. They are presented with a well-deserved flourish. They are melt in your mouth buttery and oh so irresistible. I want to eat more, but I don’t dare. But looking at the photo makes me want to return to CityZen….now.
Dessert is an event all on its own. First there is a pre-dessert of greengage sorbet topped with forbidden rice. This prepares our palate for the rest of the desserts that follow. I am well aware that I am now eating food prepared by Chef Petersen, and that I still haven’t actually spoken to him, although I’ve spotted him working in the open kitchen. Suddenly I look up and he is at our table, with a beautiful plate in his hand. It is not the desserts we actually ordered, which are also served to us, but instead a special anniversary dessert consisting of a vanilla chiboust (pastry cream) with cherries and crystallized ginger. Be-still my heart.
My “real” dessert is pine nut semifreddo with whipped lemonade, sugared beignet, and champagne vinegar caramel. Matthew tells us that it is a new offering which they have been tinkering with. After we chat with him for a few minutes he departs, and leaves us to enjoy his work. I am totally focused on the flavors when I notice him peering at me from the open kitchen awaiting my reaction. Thumbs up! I particularly love the candied pine nuts, which provide a delicious crunch. The whipped lemonade is slightly tart, and not too sweet. I think this dessert is a keeper!
My husband has kalamansi lime souffle with ginger streusel and whole milk ice cream. As someone who adores the pairing of ginger and citrus, I am quite the fan of this dessert.
We are not quite done. The post dessert features a small selection of truffles and candied gels. Now it’s a perfect ending.
Six courses are each impeccably executed and display a level of consistent finesse that is difficult to attain. The savory dishes are matched wonderfully with the sweet in both caliber and sophistication. While every single dish has its own distinct flavor profile, each dish has complexity, and a beautiful interplay of textures and tastes. I am almost relieved that Chef Ziebold and Chef Petersen have lived up to the high expectations I have set for them, even though I knew they would.
We are sent home with a parting gift in honor of our anniversary: a gift bag containing a coffee cake and tea for us to enjoy in the morning. I like that I get to anticipate the lingering satisfaction of the meal for a little while longer. I can’t imagine a sweeter or more special way to celebrate our anniversary. The memories will never desert us.
CityZen, 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC
Washington Post review
Washingtonian‘s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2012, #6, 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)