Photo courtesy of CityZen
Like Zeke Emanuel, I was knocked out the first time I dined at CityZen. It's the kind of place I'm often allergic to--an imposing, somber, room (just look at the picture they sent ut), in a super-luxurious hotel, with waiters who seem both attentive and scared something penurious will happen if they don't jump to your command.
The food wasn't what I expected: meticulous, yes, and carefully served, but by friendly waiters not the least bit shy about expressing their own personalities. That bold friendliness might have come from the chef, Eric Ziebold, an Iowa boy (you can read more about him here) who knew and cared about local farms--that was the part that got me, rather than the French Laundy/Spago/Per Se training that seems to wow everyone else.
The difference this time was the menus. Zeke hadn't ordered in advance, and he and several of his guests opted for the default tasting menu. It turned out to be rich in rich proteins--Japanese-style fatty beef, lobster, lamb--the kind that denote luxury and high prices (without wine, the six courses cost $95; wine in "sommelier's pairing" is $75 extra).
Encouraged by the waitress (though we're not allowed to use that term anymore), with her alluring accent--one of our group asked if she was Brazilian, and she said "Yes, once you know the accent it's easy to recognize"--a few of his guests started admitting different preferences. Some were kosher, some preferred to avoid meat, others butter sauces (that would be me). The needs of just about every request could be met, it turned out, by the alternative vegetarian tasting menu, even if no one that I recall was actually vegetarian. Both, for illustration, are here.