If there was ever any question about the health of the area’s fine dining climate, it looks as though it’s thriving. Despite the threat of a looming blizzard, Georgetown’s iconic restaurant, Citronelle, was fully committed on this frosty Friday evening. Even the in-kitchen Chef’s Table had two extra seats added to accommodate that party’s overflow. The evening was full of both the expected and the unexpected. Upon arrival we were greeted warmly and coats taken—then ushered through the simple yet elegant dining room through a sea of white-clothed tables to our seats with a view of the kitchen. Impressive. Dinner and a show. Two dining menus were offered—an a la carte and an eight course chef’s tasting menu (which must be served to the entire table). We opted for a combination of both, asking for four courses for the entire table, a request which was amiably accepted even with accommodations made for one of our group who had dietary restrictions. We were reminded that “The 2009 Black Truffles Have Arrived!” Suffice it to say we were elated by this news. Since we were safely putting our culinary lives in the hands of the gifted chef Michel Richard, we also elected to trust the wine selections to the very capable Kathryn Morgan, the restaurant’s knowledgeable sommelier. We congratulated ourselves on both decisions—the only ones we would have to make all evening long. Although based in the classics, the menu features a variety of influences from French to Mediterranean to Asian to American Pop. There are nods to playful. The meal began with an amuse bouche, a trio of delicious bites of which included a lightly smoked salmon and trout terrine which almost melted upon hitting the tongue and a tiny vegetable taco. Next to arrive was a plate of perfectly cooked Nantucket Bay scallops with celery—a combination that was surprising, yet delicious—the thinly sliced celery giving the dish a pleasant crunch and fresh flavor followed by firm-textured Cobia with a vegetable tart and aromatic lobster-saffron sauce. These were paired with Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Domaine de Vieux Telegraphe 2008, a wonderfully dry vintage with hints of citrus and hazelnut. Perfect. After that, a healthy portion of perfectly creamy risotto awash with black truffles—so many that the entire surface of the dish was covered in the earthy black gold. Although already nearing capacity, no one could resist the signature prime short rib, which is braised a melt-in-your-mouth 72 hours and served with a raison-peppercorn sauce and ‘tator tots. “ The meat is cooked sous-vide, (French for ‘under vacuum”) which allows for perfect pink color and consistency. We barely needed a knife. And if ‘tator tots’ actually came from the frozen food section like this, few would eat anything else These dishes were married with a minerally fruity Chateau Olivier Grande Cru Classe, Pessac-Leognan, 2003. Again, a perfect match. Not that we were still hungry, but we all managed to finish a selection of three cheeses, an a holiday dessert of delicious homemade vanilla ice cream under a meringue ‘Santa cap’ with whipped cream, a variety of fresh fruits and chocolate ‘fans.’ While normally this may sound heavy, and it is rich, the ice cream felt almost light and was not cloyingly sweet. How all that was accomplished is anyone’s guess. The expected—wonderful service, fabulous food, beautiful ambiance, perfect ingredients—we did, in fact, receive all. The unexpected—along with being perfectly professional, the servers and Maitre ‘D were accommodating, warm and even amusing. While one might expect a restaurant of this ilk to be a little uncomfortably stuffy, it isn’t. And who would expect to see things like ‘tater tots,’ lobster burgers and even Pho on the menu? Given, this is Chef Richard’s version of these dishes, and perhaps a notch or five above the norm, but as legendary as he is, it’s nice to see he doesn’t take himself too seriously not to ‘play with his food.’ Citronelle is located adjacent to the Latham Hotel, 3000 M Street, NW. For further information and reservations, call 202-625-2150 or log into www.citronelledc.com.
Photo by Moshe Zusman