Comfort in Vegetables at CityZen

Chef Eric Ziebold, a culinary stand-out in the District, celebrates 10 years at the helm of CityZen restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW. Photo: Mandarin Oriental, Washington, DC

If you follow an urban cul de sac off the 1300 block of Maryland Avenue in Southwest and enter the grand expanse of the Mandarin Oriental, you’ll find one of the District’s culinary gems in CityZen. With chef Eric Ziebold at the helm, the menu reflects his creative American focus with classic French technique.

Ziebold grew up in Iowa, the son of a teacher. He learned to cook at his mom’s side as she prepared dinner that was served promptly at six every night. Not influenced by one particular fad, Ziebold says that his mom always paid attention to new developments in the culinary world. “She tried out recipes she found in magazines – she’d follow food trends. It made me realize how impressionable we are as a dining public.”

After graduating with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America, Ziebold went on to work in kitchens with culinary notables – in the District at Jeffery Buben’s Vidalia, at Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley-based French Laundry, and then was called on to help open Keller’s Per Se near Lincoln Center in New York.

While not so much a trend for him, Ziebold has been engaged in a focus of healthful eating ever since he was a high school wrestler. At an early age he learned the importance of what you eat and how it makes you feel – the impact on your overall health and wellbeing. He has participated in the Cleveland Clinic’s annual “Medical Innovation Summit,” discussing and demonstrating how improving the quality of a diet is at the front lines of public health – and how “healthful” and “delicious” aren’t mutually exclusive. He truly understands the approach of “everything in moderation.”

Part of how the chef brings distinctive flavor to his cooking is that he has a focus on spices during winter and herbs through the warmer months, with a range of textures no matter the season. His menu changes every six weeks, so guests are frequently tempted by something new throughout the year.

Since opening CityZen in 2004 Ziebold has crafted offerings that compose the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which might include seasonally-inspired Maine lobster pierogi served with a Pernod-lobster emulsion or a pan-roasted New Zealand venison with butternut squash and chestnut truffle macaroons, as well asà la carteappetizers (look for crispy Rohan duck leg confit or curry-cured big-eye tuna) and entrees like sautéed filet of New Zealand John Dory with black trumpet mushrooms, salsify puree, and anise hyssop coulis, or a pan-roasted prime Virginia beef strip loin served with red flannel hash and Frankie’s original horseradish soubise. On the regular menu the chef typically serves something vegetarian at intermezzo as a refreshing interlude between courses.

His time at CityZen helped Ziebold realize there was a segment of the population looking for vegetarian options. One summer he had the staff adopt a vegetarian diet for a few weeks. When it was a particular challenge for some, he noted that part of the issue was they had a limited sense of satiety. “Satiety is really what we want to accomplish, to have people feel as if they really went out to dinner. I realized that we needed to serve a vegetarian who came to eat at the restaurant and have them be physically, emotionally, artistically, and intellectually satiated – as they would be if they were eating a meal that included meat or fish,” says Ziebold.

As the number of vegetarians has grown, whether for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, or just as a change of pace, it makes sense that chefs are more excited to prepare foods addressing this segment of the population, being more creative with their menus.

When you look at Chef Ziebold’s vegetarian tasting menu you’ll notice the choreographed components of the various dishes – one might be crisp, another cold or salty. You’ll always find a couple of dishes that pair well with red wine too. With a round-up that might include red beet and caramelized sunchoke cannelloni (with poached clementine, frissee, and clove crème fraiche), or celeriac scallopine (with celery branch, Périgord truffle salad, and truffle mousseline), or turmeric-braised celtuce with melted carrots, cilantro, and French green lentils (see recipe below), even confirmed carnivores won’t miss the meat.

This September marks the tenth anniversary of CityZen, and to this Chef Ziebold remarks, “to be relevant a decade later is really flattering, having guests continue to enjoy the experience. For me, being in the hospitality business is to make people more comfortable than they ever would expect.”

The comfortable and elegant 60-seat restaurant is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday; reservations strongly suggested. CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW, 202-554-8588, mandarinoriental.com.

Turmeric-Braised Celtuce with Glazed Carrots, Cilantro, and Crisp Lentils

Turmeric not only lends great flavor to this dish, but an outstanding vibrant yellow color. When grating the root protect your hands with latex gloves, as the stain will remain for up to a week. You can easily find celtuce (also called celery lettuce, Chinese lettuce, or stem lettuce) and turmeric in root form at Asian markets around the District. Try Great Wall Supermarket in Rockville, Md., or Falls Church, Va., or Grand Mart in Gaithersburg, Md., or Alexandria, Va.

Turmeric-braised celtuce is a good shoulder-season dish, providing spice with hints of color to welcome warmer weather. Chef Ziebold says that you might transition this preparation for the warmer months by substituting a trio of seasonal zucchini, baby squash, and eggplant for winter-friendly carrots and celtuce, and replacing lentils with cooked (not fried) farro.

Yield: 8 tasting or appetizer portions

Turmeric stock

2-3 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound carrots
1 pound leeks
1 pound onions
1 gallon water
3 ounces turmeric (root), grated

Clean and roughly chop the carrots, leeks, and onions. In a large stock pot over medium high heat add canola oil and when hot add carrots, leeks, and onions. When vegetables start to soften add turmeric and water; bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes and strain. Reduce the liquid until you have about 10-12 cups.

Turmeric oil

1/8 cup turmeric powder
1 cup canola oil

Place turmeric in a small sauté pan and heat gently over moderate heat until it starts to release its aroma. In a blender add canola oil and the heated turmeric on a medium speed for about 1 minute. Pour into a container, seal, and allow sit one day before using.

Turmeric sauce

5 cups turmeric stock
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup turmeric oil

Thicken 4 cups of warmed turmeric stock with a few tablespoons of cornstarch until it forms a light nappe (the liquid mixture holds on the back of a spoon). Put the thickened stock in a blender and, while the machine is running, add the oil until well blended and emulsified.

Fried lentils

1 cup green or brown lentils
2 cups turmeric stock
3-4 tablespoons canola oil
sea salt

Warm stock in a 2-quart saucepan over medium high heat. Add lentils and bring to rapid simmer, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes, adding more water or stock if necessary. Drain lentils well and pat dry before frying.

In a sauté pan add canola oil and heat over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add lentils and stir while cooking until they become crisp. Remove from pan with slotted spoon; drain well on paper towels and lightly salt.

Celtuce

8 celtuce, approximately half-pound each
4 cups turmeric stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Trim ends of celtuce and peel until you get just past the fibrous layer. Place in a single layer in the bottom of a baking pan, add the turmeric stock. Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven until tender, approximately 45 minutes.

Final assembly

8 braised celtuce
4 cups turmeric sauce
2½ cups carrot juice
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1½ cups thinly sliced cooked carrots
2 tablespoons cilantro, chiffonade
1 teaspoon fried lentils per serving

Gently reheat celtuce in turmeric sauce in a large sauté pan.

Reduce carrot juice to approximately ¾ cup; add cooked carrots, and gently warm. Slowly stir in the butter so that it emulsifies into the carrot juice. Add cilantro and lemon juice and immediately spoon into bottom of serving dish.

Place celtuce in middle of carrots and sprinkle celtuce with fried lentils.


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