The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
The elevator opens below ground, and you find yourself in a little jewel box, where you start your evening with drinks and snacks. This being the fine-dining lair of chef Eric Ziebold, the bites include a clear tomato consommé poured over sparkling herb granita and petite corn falafel, crumbs of which are brushed away with a thick Garnier-Thiebaut napkin. Any reservations I had about Métier in its early months were erased by a return dinner in September, seven courses that affirm Ziebold’s role as one of Washington’s premier talents. Does avocado toast need a makeover? The chef, visible behind a window in the dining room, adds a nicely chewy Japanese rice cake and a frame of dashi jelly. Until I tasted the combination, I didn’t know pork jowl and osetra caviar had such an affinity for compressed watermelon. Nor did I consider barbecue an appropriate application for lobster, tingling bites of seafood paired with white corn pudding and a garnish of okra tempura. Ziebold’s affection for Japan continues with a finger of premium kuroge beef, its richness foiled with shiso chimichurri and flattered with an elegant syrah (the 2014 Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas La Geynale). A dessert of “early fall fruits” gathers marbles of apple and pear, and small scoops of Concord grape sorbet and hazelnut ice cream, that together put autumn on a pedestal. As you depart, a server proffers a gift of kitchen-made honey-thyme vinaigrette (a big step up from the previous parting gesture, a bottle of water). Consider it a chance to dress your salad like a star back home.
3 1/2 stars
Métier: 1015 Seventh St. NW. 202-737-7500. metierdc.com .
Prices: Prix fixe $200.
Sound check: 69 decibels / Conversation is easy.
The following review was originally published June 22, 2016.
Métier review: Eric Ziebold’s newest attraction tickles more than it transports
The only question I had after eating at Kinship, the suave, a la carte American restaurant introduced by Eric Ziebold last winter: How would the chef try to top the experience at Métier, his more exclusive dining retreat that followed downstairs this spring? Kinship, after all, made an uncommon three-star impression, with dishes such as lobster French toast and a setting whipped up by a noted interior designer, Washington’s own Darryl Carter.
Now, with several meals at Métier under my ever-tighter belt, I can tell you the differences between the siblings are many and rich, sometimes even surprising. With Métier, for instance, you get an elevator ride from street level to basement that’s so slow and deliberate, you imagine your party ending up somewhere in China, tomorrow. Instead, the doors open to a high-ceilinged, softly lighted room that suggests a nobleman’s salon replete with low couches, flickering hearth, tables that fit together like pieces of a puzzle and men in jackets. Métier, named for the French word for skill in one’s job, is the rare restaurant that asks you to dress up for dinner.
The first face you are likely to see is that of Celia Laurent, the chef’s wife and business partner, who asks if you’d like a drink and a preview of the menu, then returns with canapes that have included a delicate falafel dabbed with cumin yogurt and a two-bite lobster roll: seafood heaven. While there’s no rush to leave the cocoon, the sumptuous snacks whet a diner’s curiosity for what awaits next door; soon enough, you’re led to a hushed dining room, fewer than 40 seats, where the chef and his crew are on display behind an expanse of glass.
Notice a pattern? Ziebold hopes the elevator ride and a spell in the salon allow guests time to decompress, while the sight of a band of cooks forges a bond between kitchen and customer. As the chef sees it, luxury dining is based, in part, on a sense of intimacy.
Unlike at Kinship, Métier doesn’t ask you to make food decisions. Most diners get the same seven-course, $200 dinner, part of which you pay for when you make a reservation. (No worries if you don’t eat meat or gluten; the kitchen can accommodate you.) The meal begins with theatrics: waiters bearing smoke-filled glass cloches that contain butter-braised fingerling potatoes on a puddle of lemony creme fraiche, a duo decked out with smoked bonito shavings that appear to wave from the plate. Caviar lends shine and a saline edge. Your brain recognizes the flavor profile, and you nod in amusement when a server says the dish is a riff on (yes!) a loaded baked potato.
A chef with aspirations knows conveyance vies with cooking for a diner’s attention these days, hence the little log that serves as backdrop for the second course: a salad composed of juniper-spiked meringue mushrooms and tiny mushroom fritters sprouting from the wood, with pickled mushrooms and smoked ham nestled in a flat bowl on one end of the limb. Equally clever and luscious is an ivory bar of poached halibut sharing its bowl with fragrant coconut rice and balls of foamy curry, a subtle tropical medley embellished by a pitcher of melted sea urchin butter. The hot stream explains the vessel, a black ceramic bowl modeled on the spiny shell of a sea urchin.
Sure, the recipes for some of these dishes would be nice, but I’d be just as happy with the contacts for Métier’s imaginative plate-makers.
The four-star Inn at Little Washington features a painter’s palette of vivid sorbets in tiny jars, presented with a thin cookie “brush.” Métier does something similar, albeit savory, with its fourth course, a round of maple decked out with shaved raw kuroge beef and contrasting condiments. A bite of the cool marbled beef, so pink you could mistake it for a watermelon radish, makes for heady feasting, especially when followed by the application of one of four accents (my favorite is a horseradish mousse).
Next comes a trolley with lamb rib-eye, because fancy dining means at least one course is going to be fussed over by a waiter, even if it doesn’t need to be. In this case, the roasted meat, fragrant from the hay in which it’s been cooked, is carved into succulent slices and presented with silken roasted peppers and an olive sauce. The dish is perfectly pleasant, but frankly, the lamb (rack, sausage and ballotine) I enjoyed at Kinship, flanked by similar peppers and dreamy grits, trumped this rendition.
Dessert is spread across two courses: brown sugar shortcakes with rhubarb sorbet followed by a frozen riff on s’mores using graham cracker cream and chocolate semifreddo. The first can be disappointing when the star attraction tastes overbaked. The latter, an elegant, not-too-sweet version of the campfire classic, keeps diners entertained as they watch their waiter singe marshmallow ice cream with a small blow torch.
Dessert plates are removed and replaced by ... just the bill. Almost anywhere else, that’s understandable. At a destination restaurant where you’ve already put down $150 per person — and wine upgrades can double the tab — the transaction feels as abrupt as when “The End” appears before you expect it, or the lights go up at a club in mid-rave. Métier’s in-town rival for our fine-dining dollars, Pineapple and Pearls, has solved the tricky problem by having diners pay for their $250 meal before they even show up for dinner. Métier’s competition on the Hill also sends diners home with a sweet treat for future enjoyment, a generous stroke.
Here near the convention center, you just get up and return to the elevator. Okay, the gesture waiting in your valet-parked car is a nice detail, but who wakes up after a big-deal dinner feeling delighted by a bottle of water?
Ask the chef to differentiate upstairs from downstairs, and he’ll tell you that Kinship is meant to feel like dinner in his home while Métier was created to be a restaurant pulling out all the stops. Cooking at the late CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental, Ziebold garnered four stars, my highest rating, for his efforts. But then the bar for fine-dining shifted.
Make no mistake. Métier is an impressive addition to the landscape. But for a place that’s asking a lot of its customers, patrons deserve to be more than tickled. They want to be transported.