Seek no further

Every once in a while, a restaurant strikes you with its elegant, welcoming décor; impeccable service; and an original, yet familiar menu. From beginning to end, the meal is flawless. It’s a dining experience that is fondly remembered and fondly sought again and again. Not all upscale restaurants provide such a treasurable experience, but City Treasure, appropriately, does.

Facing the darkness of L Street on one side and the quiet of 18th Street on the other, the restaurant is easy to overlook if you don’t know of its existence. It might be said that its unassuming exterior goes so far as to cloak the comfortable elegance within.

City Treasure is Michael and Cathy Stumbos’ first restaurant, and it has been open for nearly a decade. Chef Brian Mizner arrived at City Treasure four years ago. Originally the sous chef, Mizner took over as executive chef just a few months ago.

A bar occupies one side of the restaurant, a cozy dining room the other. Both rooms are filled with warm tones and prolific art. Custom-designed drop-down lights and wood-trimmed, copper table tops—sporting a burnished hue made by a blowtorch—are just a few of the details that make the dining room so inviting. Exposed black industrial piping lends a contemporary, open feel to the space and offsets the colorful hand-painted banquettes and the local landscape paintings on the walls—courtesy of local artists Lisa Carpenter, Miles Herman and Jean Lamoure.

The eclectic menu offers everything from house-smoked salmon fettuccini, seafood stew, chicken saltimbocca, and jambalaya, to classics like New York steak and braised lamb shank. Contemporary Asian dishes such as seared ahi tuna and soba-noodle salads also appear on the menu.

An extensive wine list features more than 200 wines from California. There are a couple dozen pinot noirs, a couple dozen zinfandels and several syrahs among the more dominant cabernets sauvignon. Several offerings under the Bordeaux and Meritage categories, as well as the gamut of whites, round out an ample selection from which to choose. Many are priced in the $20-$30 range, in addition to the more high-end options. The wine list also offers a healthy selection of wines by the glass and dessert wines.

For our dinner, we ordered a 2000 pinot noir from Husch Vineyards in Anderson Valley. At $30, it was about a 60-percent markup from the retail price. The wine was reputed to be earthy and soft, with holiday overtones.

Of the starters, we ordered seared scallops and the Humboldt Fog goat-cheese plate. Humboldt Fog is a mold-ripened cheese that hails from Cypress Grove Chèvre in McKinleyville. It’s really something to look at. The interior looks like a classic white goat cheese—dense and cottony. A layer of ash runs through the center, which is surrounded by a layer of brie encased with a white exterior mold. It looks like fog; hence the name. A beautiful slice, as large as a slice of cake, was accompanied by caramelized sweet onions, roasted peppers, a head of garlic cloves roasted in their skins, olives, crostini and drizzles of balsamic vinegar. It was delicious and perfect.

Likewise, the seared-scallop starter was impressive. Three medium-sized scallops, cooked to perfection, encircled one crispy risotto cake. The risotto was cooked al dente and made spicy with tiny chilies. The fresh, lively, garlic-speckled cilantro pesto tied everything together nicely.

We were infinitely pleased and sated with just the starters. We could have left at that point, but we stayed for our entrees, which came directly. Of the three, the sautéed salmon was arguably the prize. A modest filet of tender salmon was topped with a rich mixture of caramelized onions and bacon. (After this, there can be no doubt that bacon makes everything taste better.) The accompanying polenta was truly exceptional. It was grilled crispy on the outside, with a creamy Parmesan explosion on the inside.

The braised short ribs also proved to be an excellent choice. Each bite of short rib revealed the perfect texture of melt-in-your-mouth meat, with just the right touch of fat to give it extra depth. The sweet, rich demi-glace was hardly needed but delicious nonetheless. Stewed endive and perfectly mashed garlic potatoes balanced the plate.

If there was any question of whether we were merely lucky thus far, the third entree dispelled any such notion. The jerk-spiced pork tenderloin was incredibly tender. Generous portions of tenderloin were spread amid a sea of black beans, which held a subtle spice. The chutney offered small chunks of intact fruit, which sweetened the black beans and gave the pork a sweet, fruity backdrop.

It is not an exaggeration to say we would not have enjoyed the meal half so much without the faultless service. Great food is easy enough to find—an entree here, an appetizer there—but it’s not every day you find a restaurant with service that matches the food, or food that is excellent from beginning to end. There is nothing hit-and-miss about City Treasure. It is a pure gem, to be fondly remembered and fondly sought again and again.