Food

CityZen

Eric Ziebold reaches for perfection at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's gleaming restaurant.

From January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants

Photograph by Kathryn Norwood.

THE SCENE. The young, Vogue-ish crowd that populated the front-of-the-room banquettes in the early going have given way to more-familiar DC scenemakers: lawyers, art collectors, and media mavens who trek to the Mandarin Oriental for Eric Ziebold's carefully sourced ingredients and witty creations.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. Minimalists will thrill to the dining room's modernist vibe–stone pillars, chocolate-leather banquettes, and gourd-shape red-orange lanterns–and the mesmerizing wall of fire behind the bar. Foodies will revel in the glorious tidbits from the kitchen that appear throughout the meal, including Ziebold's miniature Parker House rolls, sheened with butter and tucked into a spring-loaded wooden box. Service is informed and correct but never stuffy.

WHAT YOU WON'T. Ziebold's menu changes at least once a month, meaning a dish you loved–the exquisite chicken and buttermilk dumplings, say–won't be around next time. The unrelenting experimentation occasionally results in dishes that aren't as tightly calibrated as you'd expect. Some may find the soaring space of stone and wood a bit cold.

BEST DISHES. Lychee Limey Libation, a zingy cocktail of Ketel One, fresh lime juice, and lychee purée; tiny wild-mushroom fritters; savory brûlées of foie gras with olive oil and red pepper; silky lamb's brain made festive with pickled green tomatoes and cranberry beans; sublimely tender pan-roasted rib-eye of veal with caramelized cauliflower; pumpkin tart with mini-turrets of Swiss meringue and caramel ice cream; and biscuit au chocolat, a cross between a soufflé and cake that oozes a flood of chocolate and is all the better for the thyme ice cream and crystals of fleur de sel that come with it.

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