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Citronelle: A Disappointing Experience

This week we dined at Citronelle for the first time since last year. It was such a disappointment! We had the "Promenade Gourmande" for $175 each. We barely ate anything all day so that we could do the meal justice, but even being hungry didn't save the meal. I give a thorough rundown on my website, but let me say the main points here. There was not a single dish that was innovative and many of the ingredients were either in poor shape (overly frozen sablefish; tasteless truffles) or very poorly cooked (well-done veal and sweetbreads; tough lobster morsel). And the sequencing of dishes was not well-thought-out. Serving a very garlicy escargot next to a delicate salmon mousse, for example, was not a good idea. What was really bad is that a multi-course dinner at this cost could have no outstanding dishes. Citronelle is resting on its laurels. I won't go back again.

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  1. That is a real shame. I wonder if it would help if you called and spoke to a Manager and explained in a calm/composed manor what the shortcommings of the meal were. For the amount of money that you spent and the reputation of Citronelle it seems unacceptable to have an experience like that. Perhaps they will compensate, or try to make it up to you in some way.

    1. i am not surprised...the one meal we had there was underwhelming (except the wine was great). It was so underwhelming i don't even really remember what i had except the dessert was called lemon fantasy or something and the fantasy was that there was anything there....it was this big poof of froth with one bite of some sort of creamy stuff under it... :(

      1. I've never been to Citronelle, but I know for the money I'd have high expectations too. I'm so sorry that you didn't enjoy it- pretty sad. I know I'd be very bummed ;-(

        2 Replies
        1. re: monavano

          well, M.R. is extending his name. maybe he's being stretched too thin? then again, he may need more competent support cast.

          1. re: curious4food

            Maybe he's overextended, I don't know. But I had a disappointing experience at Citronelle before Central opened.

        2. Interesting post as well as a very interesting blog. I've been to a number of the restaurants you write about including almost annual trips to Bareiss which is in Baiersbronn, Germany (not Strasburg, France as you report). I couldn't help but note your criticism of both Alexandria's Eve and San Francisco's Boulevard-both restaurants that I like a great deal. Eve's "bistro" has the best bouillibasse in the D. C. area; an opinion that I've shared in two other threads today on here. ("France" board) I've been to both within the past six months as well as Bareiss but have not been to Citronelle since last Spring. The one real point of difference that we have, your recent experience aside, is your comment, "there was not a single dish that was innovative."

          I will argue long into the night over several bottles of wine that Michel Richard is one of the most innovative chefs on either side of the Atlantic. It is entirely possible-perhaps even likely-that he is stretching himself too thin with Central and his other ventures. I may actually describe this as a "fear" of mine with him having recently justly received the national Beard award for his years of effort and resultant success. Returning to L. A. along with other interests can take his focus off of Citronelle here. Still, one of his strongest points is his extraordinary creativity. I've eaten in his restaurants dating back to the late '80's in both L. A., Malibu and even Baltimore as well as here. Ferran Adria aside, Richard is an amazingly innovative talent. While he's not into test tubes, foam and most jelly he is into amazing concoctions that mimic flavors and textures we would otherwise never suspect that they are created and "molded" from what they are. There may indeed be a problem with what is placed on the plate or the pacing at Citronelle. I strongly disagree that there is a problem with Michel's imagination.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Joe H

            In my opinion, the meal was not innovative, but that doesn't mean, of course, that he is not an innovative chef on other occasions or other places. BTW, I wasn't expecting foam and jelly (Usually I think that these are a distraction and often don't enjoy them), just things that I would taste and feel delight and inwardly comment, "How great! I can't make that. I can't even imagine making something so wonderful." I didn't feel that way. I would have enjoyed having you dine with us that night and wonder if you would have agreed with me then.

            Thanks for the correction on Baiersbronn v. Strasburg. I'll fix it.

            You didn't say how you find Bareiss, just that you disagree re Eve and Boulevard. Wonder what you think.

          2. I have to thoroughly disagree with the OP. I had the same menu last Friday night, and it was simply superb - one of the best meals I had, ever. Maybe you experienced an off-night for for the kitchen, but I think maybe some of your assumptions are off (for example, the soft/fluffy texture of the sablefish was not because it had been frozen, but because it had been cured).... On the innovation front, I found the dishes to be just the right combination of familiar and unique. I don't think it's fair to compare the "innovation" at Citronelle with say, the the "in your face" approach at places like Minibar... it's just apples and oranges.

            3 Replies
            1. re: scotcheroo

              I'm glad to see some people defending one of the best restaurants in the region. Although it is hard to comprehend that any restaurant could live up to Citronelle's extravagant pricetag, I think it more often than not succeeds. I can understand being very disappointed if you spent all that money on an "off night", but I think it is too early to start rumors of the restaurant's downfall quite yet.

              1. re: scotcheroo

                I eat a lot of sablefish (am fixing it tonight, with miso marinade, my favorite) and I am quite sure that it was not soft or fluffy at Citronelle. Fish that has been frozen has a toughness to it, almost a "stringyness." That is the way it was at Citronelle.

                Since you had the same menu, it would be interesting to learn what you found to be unique about it.

                I agree with you about the importance of not comparing a restaurant like Citronelle with those of a more "in your face" approach.

                1. re: ponocat

                  One great example of Citronelle's mix of familiar and unique was the peanut soup with duck confit... While each of the components are relatively widely used, the combination and subtle tweaking of the preparation and spices made this an entirely new and fresh creation. It was exciting and unexpected, as well as utterly delicious.

              2. I am sorry to hear that your experience was disappointing. Perhaps another try should be made. I have eaten there many times and left every meal fully satisfied and appreciative of Michael RIchard's inventiveness, culinary virtuosity, and his playful whimsy with names and ingredients, e.g., his "sweet breakfast," his faux fettucini, .. the list goes on and on.

                I dont know what your expectations were but mine are very high, and Citronelle always exceeds them. I am also unsure of your expereince but I would be flabbergasted to learn that Michel Richard used frozen fish as you state in regard to the sablefish. I have eaten it and it was not ever frozen. I have also never had an issue with the course sequences. Always progresed nicely for me. Perhaps that is just a matter of taste.

                In any event, I urge you to try it again; order a la carte [but prix fixe] for a lower price and indiviual selection of courses. I do agree that Central is over-hyped but not Citronelle.

                1. I disagree with you completely, but that happens here...

                  1. Agreed. I was there last June and felt pretty underwhelmed. There was a trio of either soups or asparagus dishes -- the fact that I can't remember which speaks volumes -- with a tasty little asparagus soup. Otherwise, nothing stood out. The "breakfast" dessert was a fun (if over-hyped) concept, but it left me wanting a little more flavor.