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Restaurant Review: Kinship

High-end Kinship features chef Ziebold’s dazzling cooking

For DC residents who had mourned the closing of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s classy CityZen restaurant and the departure of its iconic executive chef, Eric Ziebold, they can now rejoice: chef Ziebold is back in the kitchen—his kitchen at his own restaurant, Kinship. Located across the street from the Conference Center on upper 7th St., NW, Kinship boasts of an understated yet classy interior of wood floors, white chairs and walls, overhead spotlights, and small ceramic candleholders at each table. The welcoming hostess immediately reassures patrons that the coming experience will delight, and the extremely attentive staff, dressed in black slacks and vests with white shirts, are always ready to serve.

And serve they will, especially for patrons who cannot figure out the puzzling menu. It may seem obvious to some, but unlike standard menus, this one is not categorized by the usual “appetizer,” “entrée,” or “salad” sections. Instead, Chef Ziebold has picked out such headings as “Craft” and “History,” but under each of the five main headings he has listed a variety of offerings, from appetizers to desserts. Patrons may still need further clarity about such dishes as Duck Ballotine or Crepinette of Martin Ranch Lamb. And the waitstaff can talk patrons through the cocktail and extensive wine list—looks like chef Ziebold has searched out some of the world’s finest labels.

After you order and are sipping a fancy cocktail or glass of wine, enjoy your choice of breads and scoop of chilled butter on a marble base and gaze around the setting: couples, businessmen and women, and a few families grace the space, all nattily dressed—no sloppy jeans and T-shirts here! And then your appetizer comes, perhaps the Torchon of white mushrooms with a ladle of wild mushroom salad, all resting on a brushing of huckleberry gastrique. Or perhaps you have dedicated yourself to the Petit Sale, two slices of flavored crispy pork belly encircled by French green lentils—oh, the flavors and textures.

As you wallow in Kinship delights, out comes the entrée, accompanied by a box of chef’s famous bite-sized Parker House rolls. It’s no stretch to assume a single person could consume the entire boxful in one breath—they are so delicious….and go so well with the lamb, a fork-tender wedge perched on a bed of cauliflower couscous. What, you may wonder, can that be? Quite simply, kitchen staff have shaved off the white buds from a cauliflower head, steamed them, and compressed them into a “bed” of couscous. Note that this presentation is highlighted by a few curls of carrot.

Other entrée choices include shrimp boudin, Chesapeake Bay rockfish, and grilled veal sweetbreads—unless you sit at a table to share with others. Then you can enjoy monkfish a l’Espagnole, a roast chicken, rabbit, or dry-aged ribeye, presented in the skillet. That dish, enjoyed by a couple nearby, merited such exclamations as “awesome,” and “fabulous.”

As dinner winds down, patrons have several sweet choices, but few dishes can possibly outdo the salted caramel peanut bar. How to describe this? Imagine a high-end candy bar laced with caramel and sweetened with some swirls of chocolate and a scoop of bourbon ice cream. If truth be told, this may be the very best sweet in all of DC. Amazing…

And then, sadly, dinner is over and you make your way to the exit. But you vow silently to return again and again because so many other dishes await your samplings. Hmmmm, maybe a big splurge with the Maine lobster French toast followed by grilled Japanese Kuroge beef.

Kinship, 1015 7th St NW, Washington, DC Phone: 202-737-7700. Hours: Open daily from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.

Chef Profile: Eric Ziebold

Hailed by Food and Wine magazine in 2005 as one of America’s finest new chefs, Eric Ziebold is probably best known for his imaginative use of ingredients, inventing dishes that rely on basic techniques but turning out as something unpredictable. Take, for example, his Tocrhon of White Mushrooms on his Kinship restaurant’s menu—it looks and feels like an elegant goose liver pâté, but has the delicate flavors of lightly seasoned mushrooms. And all that is just one of many reasons to welcome—and hail—the return of Chef Ziebold to the city’s culinary scene after his many years at the iconic CityZen restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and trained at the now-closed Spago in New York, DC’s Vidalia, and Napa Valley’s The French Laundry with Thomas Keller, Ziebold has honed his skills and has clearly developed a culinary talent that lets him experiment. He recounted once the story of his trip to Japan and Thailand, where he sampled unusual fare and picked up new cooking utensils and some cooking inspirations. When he returned to his restaurant kitchen, he whipped up something he called a truffle consommé foie gras shabu shabu, inspired by his Asian tour.

Now that he is on his own, Ziebold feels emboldened to cook “something more in line with what motivates us,” he said. “We can refine and articulate what my values are and what is important to me in doing a restaurant.” That explains, too, how he came up with the name “Kinship.”

“I originally was going to call the restaurant American Kitchen,” he said, “but I wanted to celebrate American food as the melting pot.” Having traveled to Asia and seen America from a food standpoint, he assesses this country as very young and culturally creative and innovative. “That is what makes America’s dining great,” he said, “and I want to celebrate that. In Kinship, the menu has a fair amount of global influences, and we are celebrating being at a dinner table with other people.”

He concluded by noting that he is from Iowa, and today’s American food world seems a little surreal. But he wants to observe that the world is an amazing place. “We have brought it all together around the dining table,” he said.

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