Trip report, including CityZen vs. Komi
Just back from a long weekend in D.C., and here are some reflections on the sit-down chow consumed, in order of consumption:
Bread Line: All the good things you read on this board are true. Two sandwiches (BBQ pork, and salami with cheese on baguette) made for a terrific and quick lunch under the sun on the sidewalk patio.
CityZen: A mixed experience. The food was very fine and artfully presented. The wine list is excellent and the sommelier knows it thoroughly. Standout dishes from the tasting menu were the sturgeon with hedgehog mushroom wrapped in a thin cabbage packet, and the veal with caramelized sunchoke. However…the two other savoury courses and the dessert lacked inspiration. For example, the main element of the first course was a soft-boiled hen egg. Nothing wrong with it, but more is expected at this level. Also, the room lacks warmth and over-emphasizes the kitchen. The weakest link was our server, who came across as detached and too comfortable with her steady income of expense-account tips. Overall, I agree with an earlier poster on this board that CityZen is solid but not operating at an international level.
Jaleo: A flavourful and varied lunch at a convenient location near the Mall. Among the seven plates sampled, highlights were the omelet with potatoes and onions and the surprisingly tender lamb chops. The sangria was much better than expected, not falling into the usual trap of excess fruit/juice/ice filler. The only weak dish was an overly salty bacalao salad. We were also not impressed to have been charged $1.00 for two extra anchovy fillets on a spinach salad. Nevertheless, I’d highly recommend Jaleo.
Teaism: Fine for an afternoon snack. The salty oat cookie was very good, as expected. The curried lentil soup was hearty and fine, but insufficiently seasoned. The chai was too sweet and the service too slow.
Komi: If Johnny Monis ever launches a restaurant in Toronto, I’ll be there on opening night. This dinner was the highlight of our trip. An hour-long parade of mezzethakia was astonishing in its creativity and consistency. The macaronia (pappardelle with goat ragu, and gorgonzola raviolini) were thin and perfectly cooked, accented but not overwhelmed by their sauces and fillings. The bronzini was substantial and fresh, and sauced to let the fish do the talking. Greek doughnuts with chocolate-mascarpone mousse finished things off with just the right amount of sweetness. Compared to CityZen, the food at Komi was sometimes less delicate, but it was more consistent and more creative. And it was 35% less expensive. Also, the service at Komi was outstanding – personal and genuine – and the room was comfortable and welcoming. Room for improvement? The wine list, I suppose, but even so the value there was good and the sommelier did find an excellent and unusual match for the bronzini.
Tabard Inn: A brunch that stays with you all day. A basket of mini carrot-currant muffins and sliced focaccia was delicious and bottomless, just like the coffee. The signature doughnuts were very fresh and the perfect vehicle for the vanilla whipped cream served alongside. Poached eggs were impeccably cooked, but the quiche with shrimp suffered from excessive cheese and the side of sausages was merely average. Lots of character here and efficient service as well.
Thanks to everyone on this board for the many tips that went into our chosen chow.
An interesting point. I'm not sure most diners, especially visitors, have a good way to judge what a restaurant is striving to do. Even if you read all the press about both places and follow the boards, ultimately, the diner really determines the "competitive set" regardless of how the restaurant views itself. Our experience as consumers causes us to form cognitive categories for those experiences. When you eat at two relatively upscale places back-to-back, it's natural to compare the two and ranking them is just part of the sport of chowing. I've not been to CityZen (yet), but have enjoyed Komi on several occasions. I frequently use Komi as my benchmark when describing other restaurants, even those in other cities. I enjoy reading these kinds of reviews, and I appreciate the poster's descriptions.
Glad to hear that you enjoyed the trip; sad to hear of your experience at Cityzen. I agree that the room lacks warmth but the service and the food have always been outstanding on my many [non-expense-account] visits. I agree with comments re Komi; it is outstanding--one of my favorite places.