Over the last few years it has become popular to claim that Citronelle's service or food has slipped and it "isn't what it once was." Since it was our first Citronelle experience, we can't tell you if it's as good as it ever was, but we can say that we had a fantastic experience from top to bottom.
From the attentive but not pushy service, to the artful presentation of each and every dish, we were wowed.
To get the full experience, we embarked on Michel's Promenade Gourmande tasting journey. We put the camera away, picked up the champagne flute and enjoyed ten courses of celebration:
Delicate hamachi and jalapeno paired with an oyster shooter and served on glowing "light show" plate.
COLD GREEN ONION-MISO GAZPACHO
The bowl of gazpacho was served on a large bed of glowing ice. The complex flavors of the soup could convert any gazpacho hater.
TOMATO TARTARE WITH BURRATA
I was awed by this dish. It had the precise texture of a beef tartare but was made with tomatoes. How do they do that?
SOFT SHELL CRAB WITH TEMPURA, EGGPLANT-TAHINI EMULSION
What do you get when you take a soft shell crab and fill it with more crab? Pure bliss.
HALIBUT WITH GINGER EMULSION
Each element was perfectly cooked. Great ginger flavor but probably not a dish I'll remember in a month.
Mini lobster sliders changed B's opinion of what sliders can be. These were tender and packed with flavor. They were served with a cone of the thinnest, most beautiful potato crisps that looked like delicate tree leaves dipped in gold.
After tasting this 60-hour sous vide short rib, B said "Best. Meat. Ever. Game, set, match. Done."
We forced ourselves to make room for a sampling of cheeses. Favorites were a Portuguese sheep's milk, strong bleu, and creamy camembert.
EGGS-CEPTIONAL LEMON MERINGUE
Another gorgeous presentation and delicious dish. Looked just like a runny egg in a shell but was actually meringue in a white chocolate shell.
RUBBER DUCKY TAKING HIS BATH
There is no other way to describe this other than ridiculously cute. We had to take a picture of this one. This little ducky was more than just looks. He was entirely edible (and tasty) and served on a "bath" of scrumptious coconut foam. If every chef did foam that tasted like this, I would never roll my eyes at the "foam trend" again!
Right when I was getting ready to raise my napkin in surrender, our waiter brought out a plate of petits fours on fire (with a sparkler) and a chocolate Happy Anniversary note.
While we couldn't eat like this every day (or even every month), it was a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary. Every dish and every element screamed "celebrate!" Hats off to Michel Richard for embracing his creative and whimsical personality and letting it shine on the plate.
Second Thoughts from B
Ever since we moved to DC, Citronelle has been considered among the best restaurants in the city. You may have your personal favorite, but Citronelle is always in the conversation. Unfortunately, it took us 4 years to experience it for ourselves as it is also one of the most expensive and sought after meals in Washington. (Though a couple of trips to the more casual Central provided a sneak peak)
There are many things to say about Restaurant Week in DC. Generally the conversation sounds something along the lines of: great deals that come with large crowds and poor service. But let me add one more thing to this commentary. For those restaurants like Citronelle that do not participate in Restaurant Week, finding a table can be uncharacteristically easy. Case in point, when a spot opened up on our calendar at the last minute (~5pm) and no anniversary dinner on the books (instead, J planned a getaway weekend in Mexico), I jumped online to find a reservation available at Citronelle for 7pm that same night.
We've been blessed in that we've had the opportunity to spend our last two anniversary dinners at Plume and Komi. Let's just say that those two spots required significantly more planning. So how do they all stack up?
No where in the city can you match the service at Plume unless you rent out a mansion and an entire staff to go with it. It is almost strange being so well taken care of. As for the food alone, Citronelle is right up there with Komi and others (Minibar, CityZen, and Adour immediately come to mind). It is really a matter of preference at this point.
Citronelle was notable on two fronts. First, other than Minibar which is understandably more personalized and labor intensive, a tasting menu at Citronelle is significantly more expensive than at other elite establishments. However, the construction and presentation of the dishes has more than a touch of Michel Richard's famous whimsy. While I may dream of the silky smooth flavor and texture of the short rib, I'll never forget the UFO-esque amuse bouche or the lemon meringue pie disguised as a quail egg (the witness protection program would be proud).
So while my wallet quivers at the thought of spending enough at Citronelle to fund 2 trips to CityZen or 3 to Philadelphia's Chifa, it made for a truly memorable night. And isn't that what anniversary dinners are supposed to be?