How far would you go to eat in a hip new restaurant developed by award-winning chefs with a menu that captures the latest trends and every plate is a work of art? And, what if it also happens to be kosher? I drove to Philadelphia and was rewarded with creative, mouth-watering food.
I am profoundly jealous that Citron and Rose is located in Philadelphia, but General Manager Ron Didner says that they are considering pop-up restaurants in Baltimore and DC, so there is hope. Ron was previously the food and beverage manager at Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels.
Citron and Rose opened in November 2012 by Michael Solomonov, the chef behind Philadelphia’s top Israeli (not kosher) restaurant Zahav, and David Magerman, a philanthropist who wanted to fulfill his community’s need for a high-end kosher restaurant. Although Michael and his team left in April to pursue new projects, the restaurant has not missed a beat.
The new head chef is Karen Nicolas, formerly of Equinox in DC, who was Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef” in 2012. About her new position, Nicolas says, “I have cooked the same American, Italian and Spanish food my entire career, and kosher forces me to think outside the box. I like the challenge.”
The food at Citron and Rose is both traditional and trendy. The soft challah rolls come with an onion schmaltz spread that recalls onion rolls of my youth. Sides include familiar potato kugel and kishke, but every dish is modern and plated expertly.
Lamb sholet, the restaurant’s version of cholent, the Shabbat stew, has evolved into braised lamb served with flageolet beans and a kishke puff. Ron explains, “Dishes on the menu have a relationship with traditional Jewish food, but it’s not your grandmother’s food,” My grandma never put kosher bacon on her salads or made homemade salami.
The eggplant bourekas are light with thin sheets of filo sandwiching creamy eggplant and smoked lamb. The plate includes tomato, peppers and olives, plus sweetness from date honey, a nod to the best of Israeli food. The traditional French Lyonnais salad is composed of frisée with a poached egg that you mix into the leaves as a velvety dressing. The pâté is paired with apricot, a nice compliment to the meaty duck. Crunchy spinach kasha croquettes are served with a flavorful pepper aioli.
The ribeye steak, accompanied by potato kugel, was perfectly cooked. We witnessed plates of the dry-aged ribeye coming out of the kitchen, which looked delicious, albeit too large for us. I felt enough like Wilma Flintstone eating the succulent lamb sholet, but still managed to eat every morsel off the bone.
The menu offers two fish dishes and a roast chicken. The light, flavorful vegetarian main is homemade gnocchi served with vegetables and sorrel in an almond milk and lemon sauce.
As a pastry chef, I rarely order dessert, finding that at top kosher restaurants the desserts usually disappoint. Not at Citron and Rose. Irish pastry chef Erin Higgins maintains high standards for everything she creates with Chef Nicolas.
A babka maven, I ordered the cinnamon babka with red wine sorbet. It is a delicious, crunchier, moister version of my cinnamon buns. Although the red wine sorbet was tasty, the babka begs for a creamy ice cream alongside.
The moist honey semolina cake is lovely, plated with caramel fennel popcorn, blueberries and sweet corn ice cream. Last summer I enjoyed Karen’s sweet corn ice cream at Equinox and couldn’t believe she had mastered an identical pareve version using coconut milk. Bravo!
Citron and Rose may be inventive kosher food, but it is simply really great food, period. For kosher diners, it offers a completely new food experience and is imminently schlep-worthy for DC foodies.
Citron and Rose, 610-664-4919, 370 Montgomery Avenue, Merion, PA, is now serving lunch and dinner Sunday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 4:30-10 pm, and Monday to Thursday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm and 5:30-10 pm, and developing a catering business. On July 24 the restaurant is hosting a Wine Makers Series with Herzog wines paired with a special menu.