On my birthday, Amy surprised me by taking me to Michel Richard
Citronelle. I know -- it's quite a present isn't it? I'm going to
atttempt to give you a good picture of the entire experience through my
writing, although it will be challenging to express what was going
through my mind while all that exited my mouth was a lot of oohs and
ahs throughout the night.
If you've never been to Citronelle before (and just so you know, before my birthday, I'd never been either), you basically have two choices for dinner: the eight-course tasting menu and the three-course tasting menu. The eight-course tasting menu is a set menu (called the Promenade Gourmande) -- you get all eight dishes and there's no substituting, although I'm sure they would if you had a food allergy or something.
The portions are very reasonably sized and well spaced. With the three-course tasting menu, there are many dishes to choose from for each course, but you only get three of them: an appetizer, entree, and dessert. We decided to throw all caution to the wind and ordered the eight course tasting menu which was $150 per person -- plus ordering the wine pairing for myself for an additional $80.
To start, service is perfect -- no question -- it was probably the best service I've ever received. The waiters are friendly and conversational. The manager comes around to check on every single table and I found no evidence of snooty service like I've read on chats or user reviews on The Post. The only problem I experienced was that the wine tasting wasn't consistently poured before the next course came out -- OH THE HORROR!
Our table had a view of the kitchen, which is open for most to see. Inside, we could see the chefs (Michel Richard was sadly missing) who all moved with the efficiency and grace of synchronized swimmers. Each had their own job they were performing whether it be plating a certain dish or preparing the dorade. The kitchen was spotless - I could've eaten off the floor.
The night we were there the menu looked like this:
Amuse Bouche with egg surprise, mushroom cigar, haricot vert tartar
Asparagus Vichyssoise, served cold
Foie Gras with red onion pickles
Dorade Royale with roasted, fingerling potatoes & leeks, black bean sauce
Lobster Medallion with citronelle sauce, japanese eggplant
Squab served three ways
Imported Cheese Selection
Chocolate served three ways
I'll concentrate on describing to you the dishes that put me in gastronomic extacy.
First, the foie gras...The foie gras was seared with pickled red onions, beets, and beet sauce (I think it was beet sauce) and had to be the most delicious morsel of food I've ever eaten. I've eaten other foie gras, and this, in my humble opinion, is the optimal way it should be served. I prolonged this course as long as possible, taking small delicate bites and mixing each with a tiny amounts of the pickled red onions, all along trying to avoid the inevitable conclusion that the final bite would come. Cooked to perfection, as you cut into the foie gras with your fork, the slightly pink juices from the liver would run out onto the plate and you could see the fat-engorged flesh of the foie gras -- it was literally bursting with flavor. The texture was soft and melted as it touched my tongue -- no chewing was needed.
If the only dish of the night had been the foie gras, then I would have been satisfied, but the list continues. The "squab three ways" was probably my second-favorite dish. What is squab you ask? From the Epicurious Food Dictionary, squab is:
"a young (about 4 weeks old) domesticated pigeon that has never flown and is therefore extremely tender."
The squab steak was the whole breast, filleted and grilled, which gave it the appearance of being steak-like. However, it didn't taste anything like a steak. Since squab is a game bird, the meat is fairly dense -- I found it to have a mild flavor like a cornish game hen.
The second form that the squab took was a very simple crispy wing which didn't have an abundance of meat on it, but was good nonetheless. The skin was extra crispy and the meat was so tender you just sucked it right off the skinny bone.
By far the best part of the squab dish, though, was the homemade sausage with squab, foie gras, squab foie gras, and mushrooms. The perfume of it was like the most aromatic liver pate ever -- nutty and peppery. If the portion of this were larger and made up a whole dish, I would have had a hard time determining what was better: this or the seared foie gras.
The amuse bouche (French for amuse the mouth and defined as "A small bite before the meal begins". Thanks Amuse Bouche for the definition.) was an egg surprise, mushroom cigar, and haricot vert tartar. The word that came to mind when it was first brought to the table was "dainty." These three tiny portions of food were very colorful and all delicately arranged on a single plate. The egg surprise was actually tomato and mozzarella -- it looked like a sliced hard boiled egg, and it was served with tomato gelee and basil oil. The ingredients came all thoughtfully arranged on a spoon for ease of eating. Melts in the mouth.
The mushroom cigar literally looked like a cigar, but sure didn't smell like one. If you're a mushroom lover like me, this is for you. The center is filled with cooked, pureed mushrooms; the wrapping made with fillo dough; and served with ginger sauce. This one wasn't so colorful, but what was lost in the visual senses was gained back in the flavor. The strong, pungent flavor of the mushrooms was well-matched by the silky ginger sauce.
The rest of the dishes were all excellent, but not mind-blowingly so. As far as desserts go, the chocolate three ways was probably some of the best chocolate desserts I've ever had. The cheeses were...well, they were cheeses. I've had better, but I imagine if we could've allowed them to bring out raw milk cheeses, that they would've been better.
I shouldn't leave out the wine pairing, which was six half glasses of wine to go with the eight courses. Each was paired perfectly with the course it went with. At one point, they brought out a sweet Spanish dessert wine to go with one of my courses (I forget which one), which puzzled me, but once I drank it with the food, it made complete sense. The right wine always makes good food even better.
Now the bad part, the check: Two tasting menus at $150 each, the wine pairing at $80, and two bottles of water for $7 each. It all came to $433 after tax. Cough. Clear throught. Try to keep composure. After the 20% tip -- $520. This meal was at least twice as expensive as any we've had before.
Was it twice as good? The answer is a very simple, "No." The 7-course tasting menu at Komi comes to mind where we both had the wine tasting and probably remains to this day the best meal we've ever eaten, was only $250 (and I think I'm overestimating). I think if I were going to go back to Citronelle, I wouldn't get the 8-course tasting menu. I'd probably get the 3 course tasting menu, order the Foie Gras, the Squab, and Chocolate Three Ways, and a good bottle of wine. Of course the menu changes quite often, so those dishes might not be on the menu anymore, but you get the picture.
Michel Richard Citronelle
3000 M Street NW
(202) 625-2150 Map
Breakfast in Lounge
Daily 6:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.
Monday - Thursday 6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 6:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sunday 6:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m
Served Monday through Friday
Dress Code: Dressy. Jackets required for men. Business attire required for lunch.
Smoking: No clue. Probably allowed in the lounge.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Valet parking for $10. Parking on the street is difficult in Georgetown.
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very Clean and Immaculate.