CityZenQuick!  Name the top five restaurants in DC.  And I mean in DC…not just inside the Beltway (Sorry, Restaurant Eve…we still love you, we promise!).

Got ‘em?  Good.  Now take a look at your list.  There’s a pretty good chance that most of them can be found in Northwest, clustered around Penn Quarter, Georgetown, and maybe Dupont or Logan Circle.

But there’s likely to be one outlier, all by itself in Southwest.  Maybe you’ve heard of it…a little place in the Mandarin Oriental called CityZen.  There it is, front and center at #4 on Washingtonian’s Top 100 list for 2009 (and at #2 the year before).  And there it is in Tom Sietsema’s Fall Dining Guide in the Washington Post last year.  There’s Executive Chef Eric Ziebold, winning the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic last year – he’s also a Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef from 2005.  After Citronelle, Ben’s Chili Bowl - and possibly Minibar – this is probably the DC restaurant most known to non-Washingtonians.

We finally experienced CityZen for ourselves this weekend, as Elizabeth brought me to celebrate my birthday.   Right away, we were impressed.  After walking in the front door, we were immediately greeted and ushered past the bar and lounge into the main dining room.  With the high, vaulted ceilings, the oversized chandeliers, and the lighting fixtures along the walls that looked like enormous tablelamps, it was easy to imagine ourselves in a giant’s castle.

Menu SignedOur waitress immediately arrived to take our drink orders, but we definitely wanted to take the time to read through the numerous offerings before commiting to something right off the bat.  So we took a few minutes to review the wine and cocktail lists before settling on a sparkling wine (Elizabeth) and a big California Zinfandel (me) to start off.  That just left us to decide what to eat.

At CityZen, they take the concept of the chef’s tasting menu to its natural conclusion: each menu is hand-signed by Chef Ziebold, indicating that he has, in fact, approved the six-course menu that is being offered to you.  We had never seen anything quite like that, and if we hadn’t already been planning on the tasting menu we would almost certainly have been drawn to it as a result.

So what did the chef recommend?  And how was everything?  More descriptions and photos after the jump! (more…)