Restaurant Review: CityZen

To celebrate my brother’s 30th birthday, we went to CityZen, located in the Mandarin Oriental.  I can’t think of a better way to have ushered him into his fourth decade than this.

We sat down and were immediately greeted by our server.  He welcomed us to the restaurant and immediately took our drink orders.  Soon thereafter, our beverages arrived and our new friend was ready to start answering questions and telling us about our choices.

He was very knowledgeable.

The restaurant offers three choices for dinner—a six course tasting menu, a three course menu, and a six course vegetarian menu.  With the six course, you do not get to make any choices; you eat what you are served.   We each opted for the three course menu so that we had some control over our choices.

Side note:  because, when making the reservation, we told them it was my brother’s birthday, the server took a moment, after taking our orders, to hand my brother a birthday card signed by the entire staff of the restaurant.  A nice gesture, we thought.

Before the appetizers arrived, we were treated to several canapés.  Slightly bigger than an amuse bouche but smaller than a traditional hors d’oeuvre, these surprises were all fantastically marvelous.  The first was a sous vide lobster custard.  Usually, when you think custard, you think sweet.  This savory custard was a masterpiece and we all savored every last drop.  The custard was smooth and creamy and, because it was prepared using lobster shells, the flavor was deep and authentic.  Topped with a tiny round brioche, and a lobster infused oil, this was a canapé worth every last calorie.

The second canapé was an olive oil custard.  This was tasty, as well, but extremely rich.  It tasted much like a soft boiled egg so, if you’re not into that taste or texture, this may not be the choice for you.  I ate the whole thing [of course] but could have been fine without it.

Another side note:  the iced tea came with simple syrup.  Nothing better than true sugar water.  Splenda be damned.

As we finished our canapés, we were surprised with another treat:  the travelling bread basket!  We were given a choice of white, wheat, or ciabatta bread (and could have as many slices as we wanted!).  The best part of the bread experience was the butter.  We were given two kinds of soft butter—a sweet butter (which tasted fabulous on the wheat bread) and soft salted butter.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

Finally, our first courses arrived.  I had the potato blintzes with smoke salmon and salmon mousse.  As one of my dining partners stated, “It tastes like a Jewish holiday.”  The potato was a fabulous puree that was smooth and creamy.  The blintzes reminded me more of a taquito in terms of their texture on the outside and the fact that they were rolled in a tube shape.  There was a generous amount of salmon mousse set atop the two blintzes.

My brother, of course, ordered the pork jowl confit.  He always chooses the “weird” meats.  It was so tender and melted in your mouth, though, so not a bad choice on his part.  There was a sweet sauce, pomegranate seeds, and pine nuts that decorated the plate.

The other appetizer that appeared before us was the artichoke agnolotti.  The pillows of pasta were stuffed with a creamy puree of artichoke.  Not generally a fan of artichoke, even I had appetizer anxiety and envy over this one.  The agnolotti was topped with beautifully seasoned chanterelle mushrooms.  There was just enough sauce to cover the pasta and to leave a bit for ciabatta dipping.

On to the entrees.  Three of the four of us ordered the veal.  Served with a rich jus, the veal was so tender it did not even need a knife.  Served alongside was a potato concoction that was mashed potatoes (with cheese mixed in) that were pattied and fried.  The potatoes had a hint of nutmeg that added a fall feel to the meal.  The veal also came accompanied by mushrooms and some kind of green.

Our last entrée was the beef option.  The cut was “that delicious fatty piece that comes in the corner of a ribeye.”  I can’t get more technical than that.  Living up to our server’s promise, the beef was cooked to perfection (medium rare) and, like all the other red meat we had sampled that night, melted in your mouth.  This entrée was served with fruits of the harvest—pumpkin, most notably.

Oh my goodness I almost forgot to tell you about the rolls!  Each side of the table was presented with its own small, wooden box filled with mini, house made, buttered, and salted Parker House rolls.  First of all, they were the cutest little buns from the oven ever.  And they seriously melted in your mouth.  We couldn’t get enough—but made do with our provision of eight [for each side of the table].

Prior to dessert, our server came by our table with complimentary prosecco (or sparkling grape juice for those who weren’t drinking) to toast the birthday boy.  Another nice—and welcome—gesture.

Much to our delight, the parade of servers came around after our dinner dishes had been cleared and offered us a pre-dessert canapé/palate cleanser.  Set before us was a Concord grape sorbet with lemon chiffon cake and lemon curd.  Amazing.  The tartness of the lemon in the cake and accompanying curd went well with the sweetness of the grape sorbet (which was a surprising taste in and of itself).  The sorbet, too, had a slight tang, so all the flavors really worked well together.  Much like the lobster custard canapé, we kind of wish we had just one more bite.

But we needn’t have been greedy, because our own, full-sized, delicious desserts arrive shortly thereafter.  Three of the four of us ordered the CityZen SkyBar, the restaurant’s signature dessert.  Here’s what it was—the description says it all—milk chocolate biscuit with Valrhona fudge, caramel candied peanuts, and Tahitian vanilla mousse.  The biscuit was really more of a circular vessel that held within it the layers of peanuts and mousse.  The description leaves out the mini scoop of bitter, dark chocolate ice cream (atop some dark chocolate cocoa) that came on the side.  It wasn’t too sweet, don’t worry.

Another side note:  as if our servers hadn’t done enough to make us feel welcomed already, my brother was given another birthday treat–his very own, very special red velvet cupcake with sour cream frosting, served on a cake platter emblazoned with a chocolate message saying “Happy Birthday.”  He did not share his cupcake.  Not even a taste of the frosting!  His defense?  “It was an amuse bouche!”  Our acceptance?  “Fine, it’s your birthday.”

Oh yeah, our fourth dessert was an apple tart.  Green apples, flaky crust…it was tasty but clearly didn’t stand out.  Luckily for its recipient, those of us who ordered the SkyBar were willing to share.

As if that weren’t enough, with our bill came more dessert!  Served on a slate “platter,” we had more dessert choices–four each of a Mission fig macaroon, dark chocolate truffles filled with orange and cinnamon, and a pear gelee.

The meal was fabulous.  At $80/person for a three course tasting menu with several extra mini courses, the price was comparable to other upscale area restaurants.  As our server and new BFF told us, fancy food doesn’t have to be fancy.  It’s about taste and texture and the experience.

“Gourmet,” he said, “is just another word for delicious.”

Definitely gourmet.

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