I always have a hard time buying gifts for my father. For years my mom and I have asked him, “What do you want for Christmas?” or “What do you want to do for your birthday?” The standard response – “Nothing, don’t worry about it, I don’t need anything.”
For his 60th birthday, it was the same story. He definitely did not want a surprise party nor did he want presents. Eventually, it hit us. My father really only wanted to do one thing. Simple and straightforward, but ultimately more satisfying than almost anything – eat good food.
He decided he wanted to treat himself and his family to dinner at one of D.C.’s finest restaurants, Michel Richard’s Citronelle. Consistently ranked with other fine dining establishments such as Komi, Minibar and Inn at Little Washington, Citronelle is a top-notch gourmet experience.
On the night of my dad’s birthday, we made our way to Georgetown, anticipating an incredible meal.
As we entered the restaurant, we were immediately impressed with the low-lit dining room, its walls splashed with soft hues of orange and red. I was most excited by the kitchen, which is visible from nearly every table in the main dining room. There is even a chef’s table inside the kitchen, offering diners a chance to be even closer to the food they’re enjoying. I’m sure it’s impossible to get a reservation!
Our waiter was a friendly French man who helped make our meal even more enjoyable. I don’t usually comment on the wait staff in restaurants, but this guy was really good. The menu, while not overwhelmingly large, offers so many incredible-sounding dishes, it is difficult to make a decision.
The first plate to arrive at the table was the Amuse Bouche, the chef’s gift to the table. Three mini-appetizers were presented to us – a tiny onion tart, yellow tail sushi with an asian sauce and a small piece of salmon. Not long afterwards, our appetizers appeared. I ordered Escargot and Veal Sweetbreads topped with a parsley garlic sauce and crispy shallots (pictured, right).
Sweetbreads are from the thymus of the veal. They may not sound very appetizing, but they actually are quite delicious. Together, the sweetbreads and the escargot were crispy, buttery bliss. The parsley garlic sauce had an intriguingly green color that paired well with everything, even the French baguette on the table.
Soon after my appetizer came my entree – roasted duck with a sweet, spiced citrus sauce. Accompanying this were haricots verts and a crispy duck confit fritter. What were the odds – the week before, I had actually made a duck confit fritter at culinary school. I prided myself on being able to create at least one thing from Michel Richard’s menu.
I don’t know what it is about the combination of duck and citrus sauce, but it works. The sweet, tangy flavors of the orange sections and apricots were a perfect companion to my duck. The duck confit fritter, on its own plate on top of a bed of greens, was an interesting contrast to the duck breast on my plate.
My father ordered venison loin with a red wine sauce, accompanied by a bowl of sausage and lentils. I liked how many of the “side” dishes were separately plated. Each flavor was able to stand alone making the sides just as important to the dish as their accompanying meats.
Satisfied, but still with ample room for dessert, I decided on “Snowman,” without having any idea what I was ordering. My father ordered “Fig Tart,” and my mother decided on “Chocolate Degustation.” Michel Richard got his start working with pastry, so I was very excited to see what his imagination could produce.
The presentation of the Snowman dessert was nothing like I expected – an actual snowman made out of hard meringue, holding a sprig of rosemary (for decoration), surrounded by raspberries and blueberries and dusted with powdered sugar (like snow!). What’s more, the snowman held a tiny sparkler that the waiter lit at the table. The attention to detail was incredible, everything from his little chocolate hat to the red scarf wrapped around his neck. I felt a little guilty picking apart the snowman with my fork. This dessert was almost too beautiful to eat.
My parent’s dessert followed suit – this was fine art on a plate. Even as we finished, the show was not over yet. The waiter brought us a plate of petits fours, or miniature cookies, chocolates and pastries. And, just because it was my father’s birthday, the waiter brought out another sparkler to light. Three times as large as the snowman’s, this was one serious indoor fireworks display.
My experience at Citronelle was outstanding. Everything was perfect – the food, our waiter, the atmosphere, just everything. One standout quality was the pace of the meal. At no point did we wonder where our food was or when it would be arriving. Every movement was fluid, smooth and calm, like a watching a theatrical performance or listening to a symphony. I would agree, and so would my father, that this was definitely a notch up from a surprise birthday party.