If you want to see what separates the good from the great, book a table at this coolly elegant restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Lots of chefs are smart enough to serve a plate of tomatoes when the fruit is perfect and call it an appetizer. Eric Ziebold expands on the notion by offering an elegant carpaccio with a wee scoop of green tomato sorbet and a single Mandarin tomato tucked into a dimpled shumai. Maine lobster poached in olive oil and exhibited on shimmering parsley coulis is lovely by itself, finer with its complements of eggplant marmalade and chickpea fries that are the tiniest, and the best, version I’ve ever encountered.
Rosy rib-eye massaged with Old Bay rests on a pool of sweet corn and picks up delicate crunch from grilled okra; only when you lift a sail of bean curd hovering over the centerpiece do you see the fancy picnic. “Eastern Shore BBQ Beef,” the menu describes the fifth of the six courses in September’s $120 tasting menu.
Buttery risotto with generous bites of seared duck foie gras is overkill to my taste, although the addition of sweet figs tries to keep the indulgence in check.
The cooking is part of what makes this restaurant exceptional. Andy Myers slips humor and history into every wine he pours, and the uniformed servers, led by host Jarad Slipp, seem to know what you need before you do. It was heartening on a recent visit to see so many young faces in the congregation, some of whom I heard telling staff they were getting their first taste of CityZen — not to mention a master class in the good life.