Sunday, April 18, 2010

Washington, DC: Citronelle

Citronelle, located in the Georgetown suburb of Washington, DC is considered one of the finest in French cuisine. In 2007, Citronelle was a recipent of a James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Michel Richard, and Outstanding Wine Service, Sommelier Mark Slater. At present, the kitchen is manned by Chef de Cuisine, David Deshaies, and wine service by Sommelier Kathryn Morgan.

During my week stay in DC a month ago, Citronelle was one of the places I wanted to visit since there was speculation that Citronelle may close. Given this may be my last DC trip, a visit to Citronelle was warrented. Booking a reservation here is not as difficult as minibar by Jose Andres. You can book an online reservation on OpenTable but prime dinner times tend to book quickly, such as 7pm. My reservation time was at 8:30pm which is not my ideal time to have dinner, especially since I wanted to conquer the Promenade Gourmande, a dining experience that would last three hours.

The atmosphere at Citronelle was relaxed and inviting. I dined here on a Friday evening and the place was PACKED. It seemed like the place to be on a Friday night. Even at 9:30-10pm, there were still people coming in. I saw near the back of the room were small intimate rooms used for private dining.

From one side of the dining room you can see the main attraction, the exhibition kitchen. Enclosed behind glass-windows, you can see the action of the kitchen. Within the kitchen, a chef's table with a seating of eight is available. But that night, it too was occupied by the luckiest to have landed the front row kitchen seats.

I arrived at the restaurant by cab at 8:15pm. I was told I will be seated near my dinner reservation at 8:30pm so I hung out at the bar lounge in the meantime. I like the fact that the bar is completely separated from the dining room. I hate it when the noise from the bar distracts me from my dining experience. I pay big bucks to dine here, I don't need people hoving over me while I eat.

While I waited, here is what I ordered. No surprises here.

Bubbly Mojito: rum, champagne, mint & lime - $13
Cheese sticks - complimentary

As 8:30pm rolls around, still no table. At 8:45pm, I go to the hostess desk and ask if I can still do the Promenade Gourmande since the website stated it was only served until 9pm. The hostess reassured me the timing was fine and I will be seated shortly. Finally at 9pm, I was seated. My rather long wait was rewarded with a unexpected surprise later in the evening.

As I was seated, my server knew what I was there for, the Promenade Gourmande, a 9-course tasting. I didn't bother looking at the menu because I wanted this entire experience to be a surprise to my palate and senses.

Table scape: Large white plates with Michel's signature on them.

Bread service: Sourdough with salted and unsalted butters.

Loved the bread. I actually had a few of them which I normally don't do. I can't help it when it's just sitting there on a plate. Funny thing that happen was the bread was so warm that the butter ended up sliding off the bread onto my lap. Luckily I had a dinner cloth over my lap.

1. Amuse Bouche
From top to bottom: Ratatouille Taco, Mini Crab Cake, Smoked Salmon with Basil Oil and Jicama Crepe with Potato and Procuitto

2. Chestnut Soup

3. Nantucket Bay Scallops, celery

4. Halibut, lobster saffron-broth

(left) Raspberry Caipirinha: cachaca, raspberry vodka, berries - $16

I've started to order caipirinhas as a beverage of choice ever since my first introduction to it at Saam at The Bazaar in Los Angeles. I'm becoming more accustom to vodka than rum and perhaps one day I may take mojitos off my cocktail list as with the cosmo. I treat cocktails like handbags. You use the same one for a few seasons until you find another that's more exciting and appealing. Caipirinha is my Balenciaga while Mojitos are my classic Gucci that I throw around. Cosmos are like Prada that sits in my closet collecting dust and a shot of Patron is a Coach bag (every college girl has one and owns tons of them). I digress.

5. Lobster Burger (right)

Arguable the best seafood burger I've had. I had a preview of this at Central, Michel Richard's bistro-like establishment in DC. Move over Salmon Burger, you have nothing on this lobster burger.

Get this, after I was done with the fifth course, guess who arrives to the restaurant? Chef Michel Richard! I saw him in the kitchen wearing a black chef's coat greeting the folks sitting at the Chef's Table, but I didn't think he would actually show up to my table. When he arrived at my table, I wasn't facing him, instead he gently pushed back my shoulders and when I thought he was sniffing my hair, he landed a kiss on my forehead! He then came around and introduced himself as the owner of the restaurant and we chatted for a minute. He was concerned that I was eating alone but I replied that I was in town on business. I enjoyed our brief encounter and his demeanor is classically French. His passion for food and making his guests happy is larger than life. Ok back to the food.

6. Lamb, rack, jalapeno-cumin sauce

To be honest, I'm not a lamb person. It's always a site to see when others order it but it is a bit gamey for me. This lamb preparation was simply palate-changing. It's probably because of "the sauce" but hey it's enough to get me to give lamb a second chance.

7. Short Rib, prime, braised 72 hours, raisin-peppercorn sauce

Cheese cart of domestic and imported cheeses

Four types of cheeses served with raisin-pistachio bread.

9. Eggs-Ceptional Lemon Meringue
10. Pear Chocolate Tart

11. Petits Fours
Raisin madeleine, chocolate cookies, chocolate-hazelnut bar and chocolate covered grape

At the end of the meal, I was given a copy of the menu.

As well as a book, Les Grande Tables Du Monde, 2010.

Afterthoughts: Michel Richard's interpretation of French cuisine is sumptuously playful and palate-changing. The staff maintained a very high level of service while being unpretentious and friendly. My server kept me on my toes the whole time. I was pretty lucky to have met Michel Richard and his pursuit to perfection can be seen by the smiles of satisfied guests that keep returning to this establishment day in and day out.

Things to know:
  • Citronelle is located in Georgetown which means it's not accessible by the Metro. Valet parking is available on-site and the attendants can flag you a cab.
  • Price Range: $$$$. 3-course menu is $105 and the Promenade Gourmande is $190, with wine pairing $280.
  • Reservations can be booked online or by calling the restaurant at 202.625.2150.
  • If you can't get into the dining room, the bar lounge area serves both the lounge and dining room menu. You must order the Lobster Burger!
  • Dress Code: Business chic or dressy, no jeans.
  • A signed copy of Chef Michel Richard's book, Happy in the Kitchen is available for $50.
3000 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007


kevinEats said...

Agree about "the sauce." It's epic. ;)

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