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Jun 18, 2007 01:04 PM

Citrus - Freehold

I was wondering if anyone got the chance to read Karla Cook's review of Citrus in Sunday's New York Times. While I wouldn't call the review glowing it wasn't bad either. She gave it a Good. I had considered going in the past but posts on this board made me decide otherwise. In light of the review I think I'll add it back to my list. Here is the link to the review (registration is required):

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  1. I work with a woman who is a VERY picky eater and this is one of the only places she likes. I've been meaning to make it out there myself. Interested to hear what you think if you go.

    1. I've been twice, but neither visit was within the past year. Based on the review, it sounds like things haven't much changed. Its a restaurant with promise, but it just doesn't seem to deliver. The space is really nice and very unlike what you find in Freehold.

      1. Yes, bgut1, I read that review yesterday. Karla Cook usually focuses on lower-end ethnic spots though lately she seems to be branching out a bit. Nevertheless, it really surprised me to see her doing Citrus. The place has been open 4 years and she just discovered it?! In any event...

        Our experience at Citrus dates back to not long after it first opened. While our dinner was far from the worst dining experience we've ever had, it was disappointing enough to keep us from trying it again. It's that "restaurants-only-have-one-chance-to-make-a-first-impression" thingy of mine.

        I don't put much stock in Cook's reviews, but if you do, it sounds as though if you pick just the right things from the menu and if -- and it's a giant "if" -- the kitchen is on its game the evening you're there, you could end up with a more than decent meal.

        Btw, I noticed she raved about the rack of lamb. Both my husband and I had rack of lamb and, though it may have been a different preparation, I distinctly remember we both felt it had virtually no lamb flavor. When we mentioned this to the owner, his response was that most people don't like a strong lamb flavor. Excuse me? If lamb doesn't taste like lamb, what's the point?!

        It appears you're going to take one for the team (though many of our trusted cohorts, like jsfein, have been there), so I'll be very interested in reading your report. :-)

        10 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          RGR & jsfein - With my luck of late with restaurants, I will take "promise." My DW loves the type of food being served at Citrus (i.e. fusion). I will try to order carefully and make a go of it. You guys know how critical I am so don't worry about me holding anything back. RGR - its interesting that you mention the rack of lamb. I saw that on the menu and anticipated ordering it. I agree the lamb should be lamby (and properly frenched, seared and with not too much fat attached). Its pavlovian with me ... if I see either foie gras or rack of lamb, I have to order it. Of late I have been disappointed with both. I guess I will have to take another one for the team and see if Ms. Cook knows what she's talking about. :) BTW, did you find it interesting that the owner admitted to trying to sell the restaurant? And even more troubling that he wasn't able to do so? What does that do for his good will?

          1. re: RGR

            Hey RGR, how come it's always bgut1 who has to take one for your team? LOL.

            Regarding Citrus, I don't live anywhere near Freehold but I read the review with interest as these fusion restaurants have become quite the fashion in the last few years (I actually thought for a while that they'd had their day). Out where I live, we have Origin in Somerville and Morristown, Ixora in Whitehouse and Fusion on Main in Flemington. I'm sure there are many others.

            If I'm not mistaken, a 'good' from KC is the second lowest rating possible so I too would be a little wary of stepping inside this place. Nevertheless, if I were in the area, I might give it a shot. I think you're being a little unfair to have 'delisted' the restaurant based on one visit shortly after it opened. I think you should be the one to go and take one for the team and see if it has changed since you visited three or four years ago!

            I did think it odd for KC to mention that the restaurant had been on the block. Owners sell restaurants for many reasons. Who knows what was behind this. She also clearly stated, however, that the owner is no longer "actively seeking a buyer". I guess one could speculate about that statement too!

            1. re: ambrose

              ambrose - Really, I don't mind. Let's leave RGR alone. She's too busy eating at Lorena's every weekend. :)

              1. re: bgut1

                ...or at Nicholas! ROFL

                But seriously folks..I really enjoy your and RGR's posts. I just wish there were active hounds like you out here in west central Jersey.

                I look forward to your review of Citrus.

                1. re: ambrose

                  LOL, guys!

                  The least you can do, bgut1, is get your facts straight. We have *never* been to Lorena's on a Friday or Saturday. We leave those reservations for folks who need to get a babysitter. ;) lol We're usually there on Thursday. Actually, it's been two weeks since we were there. But Humberto just made some major changes to the menu, so.... :-))

                  We've never been to Nicholas on a Saturday. However, our last dinner in the formal dining room was on a Friday because we were celebrating an anniversary. At the bar, it's always mid-week.

                  Aside from not wanting to go back to Citrus because of that poor first impression, there is also the view that bgut1 and I share -- that life's too short to waste a meal on sub-par food if one can avoid doing so. However, I did ask my husband if he'd be willing to try Citrus again, and even though he tends to be less picky and more forgiving of restaurants than I am, he said he'd rather not. So, that pretty much puts the kabosh on my taking one for the team.

                  1. re: RGR

                    Too funny ambrose and RGR. Thanks for making me laugh. There you go RGR blaming it on the spouse. Don't worry, I understand. :) So am I to understand you don't go out on weekends?

                    1. re: bgut1

                      >>However, I did ask my husband if he'd be willing to try Citrus again, and even though he tends to be less picky and more forgiving of restaurants than I am, he said he'd rather not. So, that pretty much puts the kabosh on my taking one for the team.<<

                      Simple solution - you and RGR go to Citrus together and let the spouses go somewhere else! On the other hand, one or more people might think this is not such a great idea.

                      Even though Citrus is 1+ hour from me, I am now determined to go. It may not be soon, but I will go.

                      1. re: bgut1

                        Well, it wasn't as though I was itching to try Citrus again. But if my husband isn't willing to give a restaurant a second chance, that usually says volumes!

                        We are sometimes in NYC on weekends -- as well as mid-week -- so we eat out a lot there. Of course!! :-))

                        In NJ, there are only two reasons we might eat out on a Friday or Saturday: if we're going out with other people who can only do it those nights, or if we're celebrating a birthday or anniversary that falls on those particular nights. Occasionally, we do eat out on Sunday evening. In general, NJ restaurants are quiet during the week, so it's much more enjoyable and relaxing than a hectic Saturday night.

                        When we were young and, like you, needed the services of a baby sitter, we were members in good standing of the Saturday night dining crowd. But that hasn't been the case for a very long time. :-)

                        1. re: RGR

                          RGR - Not to start a new topic, but do you find a kitchen to be "on" during the week as opposed to weekends? On the one hand you would think the less of the rush the better while on the other the more orders the better the chance the kitchen is "firing on all cylinders". Your thoughts?
                          Ambrose - While I applaud your resolve, I doubt I would drive over an hour for the food at Citrus. Heck, for an hour drive the place better be real good. Please let me try it out first before you make the trek.

                          1. re: bgut1

                            bgut1, Obviously, since we don't generally go to restaurants on weekends, I don't have much basis for comparison. But my view is an excellent kitchen team is "on" regardless of the day of the week and no matter if things are slow or busy. Take, for example, Nicholas. Back in January, we had dinner in the main dining room the week just after New Year's Eve. The room was virtually deserted. Maybe two other tables. Nevertheless, the food was every bit as spectacular as it was when we were there on a very busy Friday evening a few weeks ago.

            2. How is this place still in business?

              2 Replies
                1. re: bgut1

                  When my husband and I were talking about Citrus yesterday, we both agreed that we were surprised it has stayed open this long. The owner has made attempts to boost sales. He tried serving lunch, but that didn't last long. And, iirc, at one point, he was offering a special 3-course dinner prix-fixe at a fairly reasonable price. But that, too, was abandoned. Maybe the answer rests with the lease he signed. When it expires, perhaps, so will the restaurant.

              1. We live 10 minutes away. We never see a crowd, wonder how he stays in business. Have eaten there twice. I liked it. My husband didn't. He doesn't care for the fusion food.
                We should give it another try.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Pink Pepper

                  I just came back from dinner at Citrus. I think Cook got it right, the food was mediocre to good. Before I get to the food I thought you would be interested in my observations. First, while attractively decorated in exposed brick, painted pressed tin and reds, I felt the room to be too large, impersonal and cold. While a blessing in some restaurants, I felt the tables were spaced too far apart. The other major detraction was the horrible unprofessional service. Many of the servers were young college age males who looked like they wanted to be elsewhere. My DW commented that she hated having to constantly ask for her water glass to be refilled instead of notice her empty glass. Now to the food. One pet peeve I have is the failure of restaurants to update their web page to reflect menu changes. Here the menu was completely different and I truly found nothing on the menu that really interested me. The only item I seriously considered (the rack of lamb) had sold out for the evening. I was disappointed to learn that they offered virtual no specials (save for a soft shell crab app that was prepared exactly the same way as a shrimp app on the menu). I also noticed that the chef tended to reuse ingredients throughout the menu. In addition to the shrimp/soft shell crab app noted above, he offered a fried calamari app and a fried calamari salad as well as chorizo in a mussels app and scallop paella. I'm not sure if this was due to the chef being frugal or due to a lack of imagination. Here is what we ordered: tuna nachos and mussels appetizers; fired calamari salad, scallop paella and Andalusia pork entrees, as well as the molten chocolate cake and banana bread pudding for dessert. The winners for the night were the desserts the tuna nachos and the calamari salad (although somewhat overdressed the Meyer lemon vinaigrette provided just enough acid to make this salad perfect - I also disagree with Ms. Cook as the portion size of the dish was just right). Everything else while nicely prepared was pretty blah and did nothing for me. The mussels and the pork are great examples. Both were fundamentally well done. The mussels while nice were accompanied with chorizo and grilled peppers. The combination didn't match as the smoky nature of the accompaniments clashed with and hid the briney taste of the shellfish. Wine, garlic and parsley would have done just fine. Same with the pork. A sliced loin of pork atop diced potatoes and wilted spinach topped with a tomato based sauce. While the taste wasn't bad, too much was going on in the plate and I could barely have a few pieces of the pork without getting bored with the dish. So in conclusion, while not bad, I probably would hesitate recommending the place nor would I probably return. Even though the chef and I are not on the same page as far as the food is concerned the food was solid. Unforgiveable however was the lack of service. BTW, the meal was a relative bargain. Two apps, one salad, two entrees and two desserts were $105 exclusive of gratuity. Good luck all.

                  1. re: bgut1

                    Hey, bgut1,

                    As usual, you've provided an excellent, detailed report. It sounds very much like your meal was of the same quality as the one we had. Not horrible, but not good enough to warrant a return visit. I'm disappointed that you couldn't have the lamb because it would have been interesting to see if you found it as un-lamb-y tasting as my husband and I did. I guess now, we'll never know....

                    Your comments about the service jogged my memory. Our server was a young woman, also of college age. Everything progressed reasonably smoothly until dessert. After we ordered, she disappeared into the kitchen. And that was that for a *very* long time. We couldn't figure out what was going on and since she was only server, there was nobody else we could hail to find out. If it was a case of a hang-up in the kitchen, she should at least have come out to give us a "progress report" instead of leaving us sitting there and wondering. Dessert did finally arrive, but I can't remember if we ever got an explanation for the too-long delay.

                    As I've previously noted, we were there on a Sunday evening in the winter not too long after they opened, and there we were only one of two tables. I'm curious, It's now four years later on a Saturday evening. How busy were they?

                    1. re: RGR

                      RGR - It wasn't bad but I wouldn't call it too busy either. I counted at least four empty tables when we were seated a little before 9 PM. The acoustics of the room made it it appear fuller than it was.

                      1. re: bgut1

                        Hmmm... Well, we're into summer weekends, so lots of potential patrons could be at the Shore. Another possibility is that the tepid review has hurt business. The fact of the matter is that if a restaurant in NJ can't fill up on a Saturday night, it's probably in serious trouble.

                        Here's an interesting factoid. We were talking about reservation times with George, the dining room manager at Lorena's. He told us the most popular times on a Saturday night in NJ are 7- 7:30. We were surprised to hear that since it's quite a bit earlier than what is considered prime time in NYC, i.e., 8 - 8:30, even 9. In NJ, 9 is considered late dining.