Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sneak Preview of Citrus at Social

Hollywood’s Latest “It” Spot, from Bi-Coastal Celebrity Chef Michel Richard

I happen to have personal enthusiasm for this particular restaurant opening. For over a year, I wrote a monthly column called “Cooking With Michel” in a Washington DC publication. I also wrote an article on the gastronome’s corkscrew collection for Capitol File (LA Confidential’s sister magazine in the US capital city). And, Michel and I spent the better part of Spring ’06 taking walks around Washington DC, while he commented on the city’s cultural and culinary landscape, and I trotted along behind him, taking notes and marveling at his unabashedly cheeky sense of humor.

In case you don’t already know, Michel Richard’s decades of cooking aesthetically-pleasing and palate-dazzling cuisine; opening numerous restaurants from coast to coast; and busting out a very successful cookbook toward the end of 2006 called Happy In The Kitche
n – not to mention winning the James Beard Award, last year – have secured him a seat as a world-recognized A-Lister. How fitting that he returns to L.A. to team up with the very successful restaurant team from China Grill, and open doors just in time for Award Season.

Chef Richard’s former L.A. outpost, also called Citrus, topped the best restaurant list a decade ago. Since then, he changed coasts and is growing a Franco-American empire which includes high-end eateries in Washington DC, San Francisco, Carmel, Los Angeles, I hear Las Vegas could be in the works – with more to come.

So, when I got a call from his right-hand woman, the effervescent Mel Davis, before the new Citrus even opens its doors to the public, I dropped everything and zoomed over to Sunset Boulevard. Here’s how I’d sum it up, so far:

The Cocktails

Let’s start at the first place I look to evaluate a new “hotspot” … the bar. After running hipster hangouts in San Diego, Citrus Bar Manager Jason Lara has developed some interesting cocktails to whet Angelenos’ appetites.

The Cu Cu Cocktail, featuring cilantro, cucumber and tequila brings an herby nuance to a margarita-style refresher. (You have to like cilantro, of course, which I do.)

The other interesting and pleasing concoction is the Valentino which starts with muddled green grapes and basil blended with Effen Black Cherry vodka. I always enjoy basil in a cocktail and use it often, myself, and I liked the creative spirit that went into this drink, so it scored high points with me.

Citrus’s bar, however, could use a bit more pizzazz. It is less than comfortable to sit at and lacking atmosphere. The bartenders were quite friendly and adept at making drinks but the bar itself has yet to become its own destination. (This might be on the agenda, though, given that the place isn’t even open yet!)

Do take a look at the bar on the direct opposite side of the building, though, in the sultry Social lounge. Its a marvel to behold. Old-school carved wood and mirrors stand beneath eye-drawing film projections, and gorgeous light fixtures throughout. Its not a bad backdrop for this hipster mix-n-mingle scene. I have yet to try their drinks...

The Dining Room

My two favorite elements of Citrus are the vaulted, decorated ceiling and the jade green satin-and-velvet dining room chairs. A base of solid, historic architecture punctuated with luxuriously glamorous frivolities is like a metaphor for Hollywood itself, these days, which is a melting celluloid strip of Old World Glamour and millisecond digital bytes of superfluous-ness. According to Michel and crew, the dining room is not quite finished yet… which becomes pretty obvious once you look around. But, like any new Hollywood arrival… the potential is enthralling…

The Food

Well, being a fan and (almost) aficionado of Michel’s cooking on the East Coast after writing about it regularly and tasting it at every opportunity, it was almost strange to eat delicacies like the creamy nut-crumble Escargot, mousse-like Chicken “Faux Gras” and my fave: Begula Lobster “Caviar” in a setting less formal than suit-and-tie Michel Richard Citronelle. However, the creativity of Monsieur Richard and his “trompe l’oeiul” masterpieces such as the carpaccio Mosiac prove that he has the eye of an artist and the palate of a king, even if the clientele is more of an expensive jeans-and-heels crowd.

To get his new West Coast crew up to speed, Michel brought along Citronelle’s Executive Chef David Deshaies - leaving me to wonder just how the big-wigs inside the District of Columbia Beltway are managing to feed themselves, this week!

The Kick Off

Luckily for us all, the Grammy Awards show will go on this Sunday. So, tonight, I’m heading back to Citrus and Social to take a peek at the star-studded pre-Grammy party which christens Sunset Boulevard’s new darling.

Given that cameras will surely be frowned upon, I snapped a few photos of the VIP private rooms on the second floor of the popular nightclub, and a photo of the ballroom in preparation for tonight’s event. I’m sure it will be unrecognizable by the time the event crew is done… and filled with people whose lives we can only imagine.

After all, isn’t that what the Hollywood Dream is all about?


Anonymous said...

Astonishing!. It doesn´t seem the kind of place with a VIP area.

Anonymous said...
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Shawn said...

Citronelle is one of my favorite restaurants ever -- how excellent that you get a counterpart in LA!