Sometime next month -- possibly as early as Sept. 15 -- the Mandarin Oriental hotel (1330 Maryland Ave. SW) plans to unveil its 74-seat signature restaurant, CityZen. Overseeing the menu will be 32-year-old Eric Ziebold, an Iowa native who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1994 and went on to cook at Vidalia in Washington and Spago in Los Angeles. For the past 81/2 years, he worked at the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., the fabled wine country restaurant created by star chef Thomas Keller. We caught up with Ziebold, who moved back here in June, as he was training his new staff earlier this month.
What's the story behind the title CityZen?
The name is both a play on the word "citizen" and a reference to the hotel's Asian origin.
Why would a chef ever want to leave the French Laundry?
Because the French Laundry isn't located in Washington, D.C. I lived here in the early '90s and always thought of coming back.
What did you learn from Thomas Keller that you hope to bring to your new job?
There's a lot of collaboration in his restaurants. It's more than about him. It's about the guests, the staff, the producers. For someone in his position, he's very open to listening to other people's ideas. And: If you're going to do something, do the very best you can.
Name three dishes on your forthcoming menu that diners shouldn't miss.
Foie gras risotto (atypical, in that the flavors are more savory than sweet); pork jowl (a twist on the classic marriage of prosciutto and melon); and truffle pot-au-feu (I wanted to come up with something other than pasta for vegetarians).
In the kitchen, are you a quiet chef or a screamer?
I bring a certain amount of intensity to what's going on. But I'm not into beating people up. At the end of the day, it's not very productive.
Who's on your team?
My pastry chef is Jewel Zimmer, who previously worked at Fifth Floor in San Francisco. My sous chef is her husband, Aaron Zimmer, who had that position at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
You've been back in Washington two months now. What do you think of the dining scene here?
To be honest with you, I haven't been able to get out much! I had a great dinner at Maestro. And I love Michel Richard's cooking at Citronelle. If any comparisons were to be made, my style is most like his.
CityZen will offer a three-course menu for $70 and a five-course tasting menu for $90. Call 202-787-6868 for reservations.