CityZen Soldiers

I’ve never been to CityZen over at the Mandarin Oriental in southwest D.C., but it’s racked up stars and critical acclaim ever since it opened. Not that we should be surprised—at the helm is Eric Ziebold, an eight-year French Laundry veteran and James Beard Award winner. Sarah Kaufman over at the Washington Post has an impressively long essay on the inner workings of CityZen, which is akin to watching a ballet:

In the kitchen, eight cooks are squeezed together like a submarine crew. Still, they swivel with ease from slicing to stirring, swinging stockpots onto burners, bending down to haul meat out of the lowboy fridge and springing back up to toss it into a pan.

Ryan Zimmerman fielding a grounder and firing it to first base has nothing on these toqued commandos, who glide through the same motions again and again. They’re a hairbreadth from ruin, mere seconds away from scorched shoat, lost lamb, overdone duck. All that separates them from expensive errors and trips to the hospital is timing, rehearsal and reflexive grace.

Two sous-chefs oversee the meat and fish orders: bearded, ponytailed Michael Malyniwsky and tall, slender Kerwin Tugas, who slips like an eel between the other cooks. Mike O’Brien, the meat cook, is the one with fingers full of bandages. The workhorses are the appetizer guys: Aleksandr Felickson, who assembles the cold plates of pickled shad or pink sashimi with a jeweler’s precision, and gangly Alex Brown, a one-man band of pots, whisks, spoons and saucepans, who makes the hot starters—the soft-boiled egg with gourmet scrapple and gravy, the risotto, the soup.

Tickets roll out of a machine on the counter. Ziebold tears them off and calls out the orders. He has a calm, smooth way of moving, no rushing, no lurching. He wields a long spatula like a conductor’s baton.

“Three egg, three tartare!”

Fun reading, if you’re into this sort of thing.

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