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Michel Richard's Citronelle


vengroff
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really? The time I went, my friend took me and said she had "made reservations," and that "it was necessary." HMm... haha I've been had?

anina, what do you mean by "Let's see: I'm wondering how I could include an article I wrote about Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle. How do I do that?"

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  • 1 month later...

Classic DC Citronelle

Our nation's capital is a town of borrowed bliss. What pleasure that is available originates elsewhere: Rembrandts, cherry blossoms, injera. In culinary terms, do not search for Potomac cuisine, only cuisine on the Potomac.

My recent dinner at the estimable Citronelle illustrated the point. Citronelle is a restaurant easy to admire, hard to adore. It presents an updated classicism, like so much Washington architecture. Michel Richard's Citronelle aims for three-point-five stars, well-satisfied in its deserved achievement. But it is achievement. Still, a tourist wonders whether Chef Richard is still the creative force or whether the kitchen is fully governed by Chef de Cuisine David Deshaies.

When one describes a restaurant as bustling, one often means that customers cram the corners. Citronelle is an establishment in which bustling describes the staff. There are a dizzying and dazzling number of staff charging through the dining room. Each is competent and thoroughly trained (one described lemon as lime, and immediately returned to correct the flub). But Citronelle is one of those restaurants in which the relationship of the dinner and her server is downplayed. Look up and a new face is hovering above. The open dining room - with views of the wine cave and kitchen - was comfortable, although today when architects and designers compete with chefs, Citronelle will not receive attention from Architectural Digest.

I selected the tasting menu (labeled the promenade gourmande) and the well-chosen wine degustation. Considering that several courses were composed of a trio of tastes, this consisted of fourteen courses. Three dishes were magnificent; two were unappealing (both small courses), and the remainder were exactingly prepared, impressive, if not dazzling. What is most notable is that Citronelle doesn't ignored the past, the classic. Perhaps as a result, mesmerizing innovation was a minor component of the tasting menu. The degustation menu felt as if it was not newly minted; the goal was to keep the gustatory machine purring smoothly: both a virtue and a limitation.

The amusi were three tastes: a barrel of laughs. Least successful was what was labeled the "egg surprise," hopefully not because of the taste. Perched on a sculptural spoon was what appeared to be a wedge of hard-boiled egg - composition of mozzarella and yellow tomato puree, a cube of translucent tomato confit, and crisped rice. While the ingredients seemed eager to please, the amalgam had an odd, perhaps from the confit, perhaps from the expectation of egg. The idea of the construction bettered the execution. The second entree, a "mushroom cigar" surrounded by a pool of ginger sauce, was a Francophile take on the egg roll. I endorse the two crackly, earthy bites. But the best of the trio - and perhaps the high-point of the meal was a marvelously herbal "haricots verts tartar": a combination of baby green beans and shallots: traditional ingredients with a happy twist. I didn't discover the nature of the dressing, but the dish was simply sublime and sublimely simple. A few classic ingredients, carefully chosen, can reach rapture.

The tasting menu began with a robust Roasted Chestnut and Peanut Soup. This is not the transparent liquor of modernist cuisine, but a real soup with a rich meaty base. The empty bowl was decorated with foie gras dots surrounding a mound of duck confit. The most distinctive taste was smoky pork, although the chestnut and duck notes were clearly evident. There was less evidence of peanuts than I had expected. It was more meaty than nutty. A soup that might have been a tribute to the Virginia goober country bowed to old Paris.

The next dish, as if to mock my Chicago residence, also contained foie gras. This was an elegant Foie Gras-Beet Opera Cake (with a celery root layer) with accompaniments of beet brunois and celery root salad. The dish was more interesting visually than in strictly gustatory terms. The flavors were not sufficiently bright as to make the cake exemplary.

The first seafood dish was the most evocative course of the night: Rockfish with Vegetable Pearls (Rutabaga, Zucchini, and Carrot) and Lemon Verbena Emulsion with Crispy Rice. The perfectly-cooked rockfish benefitted from the verbena emulsion, adding a subtle complexity to the otherwise mild fish, and the rice and pearls added an intriguing, modernist textural contrast. This dish revealed the Chef Richard's debt to classical French cuisine with a light and contemporary sensibility. A triumph.

Lobster Burger with homemade potato chips was a conceit. By now such a dish seems routine, and not the most inspired use of a succulent crayfish. This was about all that a lobster burger could be in a fine dining room, but, without sea spray, it never stood a prayer against a perfect Down East lobster roll. A good but wasted course.

Squab "minute steak" with potato fried rice and citrus-ginger emulsion was another conceit, although more successful in that the comparison with a minute steak was primarily visual. The citrus-ginger sauce - and why not call a sauce a sauce - brought out the slight "gaminess" of the squab without overpowering the quiet poultry taste.

The cheese course presented four well-selected - and classic - selections: epoisse, blue, rachette, and Camembert, served with pistachio raisin toast.

The star dessert followed: Raspberry Vacherin accompanied by raspberry meringue, fresh strawberries and meringue sticks. The photo indicates the craftsmanship of the construction, but the dessert was more than architecture. It was deeply fruity and luscious. This vacherin matched the main courses in its debt to classic cuisine and in its nod to a lightened contemporary taste.

The final course (not including the petit fours) - Chocolate Three Ways - consisted of a rich and smooth chocolate ice cream, an excellent, evocative and buttery coconut macaroon cake with an elegantly swirling chocolate cookie, and a chocolate panna cotta with coffee topping, with jarring, "off" flavors. (Confession: coffee is not my preferred flavor).

Chef David Deshaies is the Chef de Cuisine of Michel Richard's Citronelle, and his talent is not to be denied. Of the foremost American restaurants, few now rely on classic culinary inspiration as much as Citronelle. The finest dishes - notably the monkfish and the vacherin - are contemporary inspirations of the classic. And yet this debt tethers Citronelle to the past, rather than opening the door to an amazing cornucopia of the future. Still, Citronelle reminds us that contemporary cuisine stands on the shoulders of giants.

Citronelle

3000 M Street, NW

Washington, DC (Georgetown)

202-625-2150

http://www.citronelledc.com

Photos available on:

Vealcheeks

Edited by gaf (log)
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Classic DC  Citronelle

Our nation's capital is a town of borrowed bliss. What pleasure that is available originates elsewhere: Rembrandts, cherry blossoms, injera. In culinary terms, do not search for Potomac cuisine, only cuisine on the Potomac.

My recent dinner at the estimable Citronelle illustrated the point. Citronelle is a restaurant easy to admire, hard to adore. It presents an updated classicism, like so much Washington architecture. Michel Richard's Citronelle aims for three-point-five stars, well-satisfied in its deserved achievement. But it is achievement. Still, a tourist wonders whether Chef Richard is still the creative force or whether the kitchen is fully governed by Chef de Cuisine David Deshaies.

Wait, there were cliches you forgot to add: "transient," "northern charm and southern efficiency," something about "Inside the Beltway."

It sounds as though you found exactly what you were looking for: a restaurant you could damn with faint praise, in a town you see with a tourist's two-dimensional eye.

Not to quibble with your review -- I didn't share your meal -- but I am curious why you are so convinced that Richard is no longer the driving force?

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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  • 4 weeks later...

In the past few weeks I’ve eaten at both Komi and Citronelle. Before addressing Citronelle, where I had the same menu as Gary, a couple of words about Komi. I know it’s been said, but Komi has to be one of the most exciting, interesting restaurants anywhere right now. Komi is the restaurant to go to if you only have one meal in DC. It’s an absolute joy and is serving a style of food that I have never seen before, call it Aegean. Also, I’m wondering if Johnny Monis has recently picked up the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook – the foie gras croquette, pigs trotter croustillant, and venison brought me right back to Montreal.

As for Citronelle, I think that Gary’s evaluations of the meal are pretty much spot-on. Although my meal was excellent, there were a few missteps and ‘huh?’ moments. Take the amuses: the mushroom cigar and fake egg were decidedly mediocre. Actually, the mushroom cigar was a poor opening to the meal. It tasted oily and muddy and not much like mushrooms. On the other hand, the green bean tartar was phenomenal. Served in a slightly larger portion and on its own it would be a world class amuse. With the two other components, the whole plate suffers.

The lobster burger was another difficult course. If the dish were served at Central (maybe it is, I haven’t been), I would be raving about it. Served at Citronelle, the burger seems almost discordant, especially coming after the elegant fish course preceding it. None of this is to say that there is no room for playfulness or humor in the dishes at Citronelle. The opera cake and minute steak captured this spirit. The lobster burger was just confusing.

Similarly confusing was the squab leg confit served with the minute steak. Under a fried philo thingy it was plainly unnecessary. Dry, kind of greasy, it detracted from the perfectly cooked, lightly gamey squab breast.

But, if not perfect, the meal was excllent. The soup, the foie course, the rockfish, the main portion of the squab, and both desserts (I didn’t find the coffee toping on the pannacotta ‘jarring’, I found it delicious) were as good as I expected them to be. The rockfish and the vacherin were better than I expected. The wine pairings were, unsurprisingly, perfect. I also enjoyed the debt the restaurant owed to the past. I don’t see classicism as a tether – in Citronelle’s case, I see it as a strength.

One final note, our sommelier for the night was great. I don’t think it was Mark – it was a younger guy who had previously served us at Komi some months ago. Because of the impression he left after that meal, my dad refers to him only as The Sommelier. We were actually disappointed that he wasn’t at Komi last time, although the new guy there is also great, so it was good to see him at Citronelle.

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Thanks for report. It leaves me wondering whether the opening of Central is affecting Citronelle.

(The current new guy at Komi is Derek Brown, who most recently at Citronelle. Don't know who you might have seen at Komi that's now at Richard's place, but it's easy to imagine that a gig practicing the craft with the great Mark Slater is in demand around here.)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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(The current new guy at Komi is Derek Brown, who most recently at Citronelle.  Don't know who you might have seen at Komi that's now at Richard's place, but it's easy to imagine that a gig practicing the craft with the great Mark Slater is in demand around here.)

Adam came to Citronelle from the Inn at Little Washington by way of Komi. Derek and Adam swapped jobs about 3 months ago.

Mark

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Congratulations to Chef Richard and mark Slater for their Beard Awards - Chef Richard for Outstanding Chef and Mark for Outstanding Wine Service Both of these awards are national and not just regional. Outstanding indeed!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Congratulations to Chef Richard and mark Slater for their Beard Awards - Chef Richard for Outstanding Chef and Mark for Outstanding Wine Service Both of these awards are national and not just regional. Outstanding indeed!

I wonder what wine Monsieur le Sommelier recommends on the occasion of receiving well-deserved national recognition. :laugh:

Congratulations to both Mark and Michel.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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  • 1 month later...

We ate at Central tonight for the first time. The Gougeres were perfect - exactly the right size, and served at the perfect temperature - that must be hard to do. With just enough cheese to be tasty without being overwhelming, they seemed like a "lighter" beginning to the meal than they really were (I know what's in them!) It was a great beginning.

We got good advice from our waiter to order the 72 hour short ribs. My husband loved them. Great flavor, and the grean beans that we ordered with them were the best green beans I've ever had in a restaurant.

So it was disappointing that my "fried chicken" was virtually inedible. It's meant to be an updated take on this disk, but it seems more like a panko coated chicken than "fried" chicken. It didn't look overcooked but I had to fight to cut through the stringiness of the chicken breast. I should have stuck with my instinct to order the Lobster Burger, which everyone raves about..

For dessert, (which the waiter comped us for), I ordered the Caramel Creme Brulee, which was well prepared - excellent sugar crust, but it didn't work for me. More of a personal issue than a preparation problem.

While the restaurant is attractive, the noise level seemed over the top. I wish restaurants would do more to bring this under control. I know they want the energy the noise brings, but there must be a compromise.

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