Citron Review, Providence, RI (long)
I recently finally went to Citron, the newly opened slick, organic restaruant, for the first time after my sister mentioned she noticed their great looking sign while walking home (it doesn't take much to get me to go out to eat).
In summary: it's mixed... I have a feeling that my ambivalent opinion of Citron is probably similar to those on this board who travelled to Wayland Square for Red Stripe and, not being neighborhood residents, they didn't have the rose colored glasses of someone like me who lives a block away. I bet if you live in Centerplace or the Cosmopolitan downtown within steps of Citron, you're going to view the restaurant far more charitably than I did...
First, the signage, decor, etc is fantastic. There's little in the city with that kind of feel except for maybe XO or 10. That, plus a background soundtrack featuring the hits of the 80's, 90's, and today give it a younger, more vibrant feel than its more serious and mature counterparts at Red Stripe, Bravo, etc... Late on a weekday evening, there were a good number of groups of youngish people eating and at the bar, all seemingly having a good time. Service was fine, nothing special.
I like the menu overall, although the price ranges on everything were fairly narrow. There's no way to eat there inexpensively (no wraps, burgers, etc), but there also are no decadent items on the menu to splurge on either.
I'll break down what we had by course...
We started with soup. My creme of many mushrooms with truffle oil was very good, a bit more watery than I expected, but with deep taste. My sister's Chicken Wonton wasn't nearly as satisfying, with a strong, deeply salty flavor that generated love/hate opinions. The chicken wontons themselves were totally overpowered by the soup and fairly flavorless themselves, the beginning of a trend for the evening.
We then splurged a bit and got the tuna sampler appetizer. Visually impressive ("intimidating" my sister said), looking like something you'd see on Iron Chef America, the three item taster was a disappointment overall. The tuna spring rolls were oily, flaky, and the interior was tasteless. It could have contained ground chicken, beef, pork, vege meat substitute, or the tuna it had and it wouldn't have made a difference, with no tuna flavor at all.
The three tiny seared tuna pieces, which looked great, were disappointing too, fairly flavorless despite the seasonings adherent to the sides.
The tuna ceviche was the last item, if I recall, and was the only one with a sign of life, with good tuna flavor and a hint of citrus marinade, but it didn't make up for the weakness of the rest of the $12 appetizer.
This too was very, very mixed. My salmon wrapped in rice paper with vegetables tucked between them looked like a million bucks (and is a method I'll have to try the next time I do salmon at home). Unfortunately, the admittedly tasty citrus sauce covering the dish completely, totally overpowered the taste of everything else on the plate. Once again, this could have been salmon, tuna, flouder, grouper, or anything else swimming, fishing, or harvested on Earth and whatever the origin, its taste would have been swamped by this sauce.
On the other hand, however, my sister's stuffed chicken entree was wonderful. It was perfectly cooked, juicy, and tasty, with a great, crispy skin.
Our molten chocolate cake was very disappointing, made a bigger letdown since, like XO, they make you order it when ordering the rest of your meal since it "takes so long to prepare." This felt hard to believe. First, in my opinion, there are several restaurants (including some of Citron's corporate cousins) in town that do spectacular molten chocolate cake, so if you're going to do it, you've got to do it well. Not the case here. Our chocolate cake was small and a bit dry, not at all rich or moist. "Supermarket" cake came to mind. The "molten" chocolate interior, while tasty, hardly gushed out. There was also a scoop of mango ice cream on top. I'm usually all about anything mango, but this didn't work in my opinion. First, it was a weak mango ice cream, so much so that if I didn't know it was mango from the menu, it would be a guess. Secondly, I didn't think chocolate, caramel, and mango went all that well together overall, to be honest. The caramel and mango clashed most notably. Oddly, a stronger mango ice cream that set a clearer tone for the dish might have helped, but as it was, we were both disappointed.
Well, would I return to Citron? Absolutely. Its look, location, and vibe would be reason enough alone. Having recommendations on specific dishes would help enormously, as the food right now seems to swing dramatically between tasteless and overpowering. Serious doses of nuance, subtlety, and depth are needed in its food right now. Bravo and Blaze, similar in concept, do this far better and, in my admittedly jaundiced opinion, so does Red Stripe. Twist in Wayland Square might be the best analogy, as it too aspires to bold flavors and presentation, but it does so with more integrity and balance of flavors (although you will find the occasional Twist sauce or favoring overpowering its key ingredients too).
I look forward to the maturation of their food. When it happens, Citron will be as enjoyable to go to for the food as it already is for its look and energy.
Thanks for yet another insightful review, Garris. I find that Providence has way its share (and then some) of over-reaching, trying-to-be-upscale-but-end-up-being-not-quite-right eateries. I don't mean to discount a place before even trying it, but really, does Providence need yet another cheesy John Elkhay production? I think Providence/RI food is at its best when its inhabitants listen to the quiet, yet vibrant, colorful, and unpretentious cooking of its immigrants (Laotian, Vietnamese, Portuguese, etc).