It was a rough night. Tears streamed downed my face as my 20 year old daughter told me she had made a decision to only eat in kosher restaurants when dining out. There are worse things for a mother to hear. But for a restaurant-obsessed mom whose identity is tied to dining out, this seemed pretty devastating at the time. Were family dinners out a thing of the past? Would I have to settle for home-cooked meals for birthday celebrations and worse…on Mother’s Day?
It has been several years now and we have adapted. I get excited about the schwarma at Max’s Kosher Cafe in Wheaton. Tuesday nights there is an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet at Kosher Mart that isn’t bad. And I don’t mind the chicken wings at Distrikt Bistro at the DC Jewish Community Center. But when my daughter and I can share a truly positive culinary experience, I rejoice.
When I learn that chef Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s Zahav is opening a kosher restaurant on the Main Line, I am ecstatic. Zahav is a highly regarded restaurant- and one of my personal favorites. Solomonov’s association with a kosher restaurant is a big deal. My family doesn’t hesitate when I suggest we make a 2 1/2 hour expedition to Citron and Rose to celebrate Mother’s Day as well as my daughter’s birthday. We pair it with a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a perfect day trip.
A few days before our outing, I scan for recent reviews. What I find is unsettling. Solomonov and his chef have just split from Citron and Rose, leaving things solely in the hands of owner David Magerman. I am disappointed, as much of the appeal for me is the association with Zahav. I wonder how and if this turn of events will affect the quality of the food. My ecstasy turns to trepidation. All I want is a kosher dining experience where I don’t have to say “it’s good, for a Kosher restaurant.”
As I enter Citron and Rose, I must abandon impressions from my previous kosher dining experiences. The decor is cool and contemporary, and many of the staff would fit in at any typical trendy restaurant around town. The clientele skews religious, but there is a mix of people, which is important in keeping a kosher establishment thriving.
The menu at Citron and Rose “is inspired by the culinary traditions of European Jews as they migrated throughout the continent.” Kasha, kishkes, schmaltz, and schnitzel play nicely with kale, sunchokes, and asparagus pistou. There is a mix of dietary restrictions in our party, but for once keeping kosher isn’t one of them.
Creative twists on first course offerings include mushroom knish with smoked kasha, tsimmes, and carrot-mustard. It has a light but crunchy exterior and a satisfying earthiness. This is not my grandmother’s knish.
My son and his girlfriend (both pescetarians) share carrot soup with mushroom kreplach, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pickled carrot. The broth is a little dull, but things perk up considerably when a spoonful includes pickled carrot or kreplach.
They also share a salad with kale, sunchokes, crispy shallots, red peppers, and garlic dressing. It’s right on par with the kale salads I’ve eaten in numerous DC area restaurants. This is a good thing.
My husband doesn’t eat red meat, but will eat kosher poultry. His only option is roast chicken. It doesn’t appeal to him, so he opts for crispy striped bass with stuffed cabbage, walnuts, mushrooms, beets, and dill. I’m disappointed that he can’t benefit from a rare opportunity for something other than fish. Fortunately, the dish is prepared well and he is particularly fond of the crispy skin on the fish.
The second course for the pescetarian duo is Skuna Bay salmon with everything crust, roasted eggplant, and cucumber relish. My son grew up eating an everything bagel every single day, so needless to say he is delighted with this preparation.
When it comes down to it, this dinner is really about my restaurant-deprived daughter pigging out (so to speak) on whatever her heart desires. We agree to share ribeye steak and lamb shank, relishing the potential for leftovers.
Ribeye steak with asparagus pistou, green garlic-potato kugel, and brisket jus is cooked to our desired medium rare on a wood-fired grill. I’m wowed by the generous portion. It’s as good a cut of meat as I’ve had anywhere. The potato kugel is reminiscent of the kugel I grew up eating, but so much better.
More often than not, desserts at kosher meat restaurants are sorely lacking. Judging by the meal thus far, I’m betting that Citron and Rose will be an exception. Our server recommends bread pudding, which is quite good. A new-to-the-menu carrot cake with candied ginger and coconut ice cream is absolutely exceptional.
Citron and Rose boasts a selection of creative cocktails (40 days and 40 nights, anyone?) and an impressive wine list. A bottle of Tempranillo, Ramon Cardova, Rioja, 2011 is mid-priced and a perfect accompaniment to our meal. One of the things I admire most about Citron and Rose is that the prices are in line with any quality restaurant, but lower than most high-end kosher restaurants. Fish dishes at $26-$27 and ribeye steak at $34 feel like a bargain.
I envy the Philadelphia locals who don’t have to shlep to dine here. I wish that someone in the DC area, or even Baltimore, would figure out how to make a kosher restaurant with food that is great and not just acceptable. At Citron and Rose, except for the fact that some of the diners are wearing kippot or sheitels (wigs), I have completely forgotten that this is a kosher restaurant. I am immersed in an excellent meal. The fact that my daughter is sitting beside me is truly icing on the (pareve) cake.
Postscript: Citron and Rose has just hired Chef Karen Nicolas, formerly of DC’s Equinox. Chef Nicolas was named one of Food & Wine‘s Best New Chefs in 2012. I applaud owner David Magerman for his continued pursuit of culinary excellence.
Citron and Rose, 370 Montgomery Avenue, Merion, PA
The Philadelphia Inquirer review
My review of Zahav