We do not walk into Citronelle as unknown diners. We have been personal friends of Michel Richard for years and enjoyed many wonderful meals both at his restaurant and at his house. Also, I have had the pleasure of cooking for him and his family at our house.
Thanks to a certain sommelier at Citronelle, I was instructed to bring a huge batch of homemade cookies, pastries, brownies, persimmon pudding plus my “new” creation coconut sushi. This certain sommelier also happened to mention that if I showed up empty-handed, I just might not have wine with dinner.
Since the chef’s table wasn’t booked for the night, we sat there for champagne and cookie sharing. Who says you can’t start dinner with dessert!
After sampling the brownies, rugelah and other cookies, I decided to see what Michel thought of the sushi. They graciously let me use a corner of the counter to slice the coconut sushi.
Michel contemplates it and looks askance.
He finally declares it a winner.
Jean Jacques also declared it a winner while Mark had to wait to taste some until after he had poured the champagne.
My brownie is always a hit!
We decided to stay at the chef’s table for dinner. Michel asked what we wanted to eat and wisely we let him choose. By the way, everything we had was on the menu, available to every diner. This was not an off-menu dinner – anyone could order it.
Michel’s kitchen is pristine; immaculate is closer to the point. As you watch the chefs, there is a ballet going on – no rushing, no wasted movements, no yelling, and no noise – just intense and focused concentration.
Gruyere Cheese Pizza with Bacon. The dough is actually brioche made only with milk with the addition of a bit of gelatin to firm the dough. It is encased in plastic, much like making a sausage and frozen. For service, the chef uses an electric meat slicer to make thin slices and it is baked “a la moment” for service.
Oyster Shooter – Starting at the bottom cucumber gelee, sliced Blue Point Oysters with Crème Fraiche, Fresh Passion Fruit with Tapioca and Uni Foam on top. This was absolutely delicious. I particularly liked the passion fruit with tapioca in that it mimicked in looks salmon eggs, but you got a burst of fruit in your mouth.
Porcini-Green Lentil Soup, poached egg. This dish is first presented with just the poached egg and small bits of pepita and bacon. A Michel Richard dish will almost always have a crunchy component. The server then pours the soup around the egg. The egg had been poached for 45 minutes at 47 degrees Celsius. (The reason my descriptions are so detailed is that Michel was the one describing them to me.) The combination of flavors – runny yolk, firm white, crunchy pepita, smoky bacon plus rich porcini/green lentil soup was just fantastic.
Foie Gras Carpaccio – This was a painting and definitely hints to Michel’s artistic background. On the bottom was a round circle of cold foie gras. On top of the foie circle were cubes of foie gras gelee, grapes, orange segments, black beans, Chayote and Beet chips. The “saucing” was orange oil and beet reduction. Some foie courses are so rich and heavy that you lose your appetite. This was as light as it was tasty. Another winner.
Tuna Napoleon “Nicoise” The ingredients in this dish was a huge nod to a nicoise salad – black olives, fried Spanish capers, beet and tomato gelee cubes, boqueron (Spanish anchovy), haricot verte and “egg.” The tuna was stacked between layers of potato tuile. Ringing the plate were small pools of basil oil, ginger and cream.
Now take a close look at the “egg.” This is not an egg! The white is actually mozzarella and the “yolk” yellow tomato confit. I love Michel’s whimsy and cleverness. However, he never sacrifices flavor for ingenuity.
Lobster “Begula Pasta” – When they were ordering the tins for this dish, the manufacturer made a mistake and printed Begula instead of Beluga – hence the name. The top layer of this dish is pearl pasta with squid ink, then pieces of lobster, hollandaise sauce and a poached egg. Clever, delicious, very rich and fun – A+.
Loup de Mer, tomato concasse, spinach pasta. The spinach/egg pasta was the “cap” for the fish and the tomato concasse the base. This was a huge nod to the South of France.
Short Ribs, braised 72 hours, Potato Napoleon, Syrah Sauce. I have to admit that I am not a huge lover of short ribs and have had one too many versions of stringy, overcooked meat. Not this one; it was meltingly tender. The potato napoleon was the ultimate in comfort food – a grown-up potato gratin.
As we started with dessert, we decided to adjourn to the lounge for cigars and aperitifs.
What strikes me most about Michel’s cooking is how much it has evolved over the years. This is not the cuisine that Michel was serving years ago at Citrus or even what he was serving a couple of years ago at Citronelle. This is exciting food, using up-to-date techniques, but always with an acknowledgement that cleverness can’t take precedence over taste and flavor. My only regret is that I don’t live around the corner – if I did, I would be there at least twice a month or even more often that that