Citron and Rose, Merion

January 11th, 2013

citron-and-rose-sholet

I don’t get it. This was my first thought when I heard about Citron and Rose, the new Michael Solomonov project in Merion. Sure, I was also excited to hear that Mike Solo was coming to the ‘burbs. I loved Marigold Kitchen. I love Zahav. My mouth waters when thinking about finally trying Federal Donuts. But a restaurant that’s not open on Friday or Saturday night? On the Main Line, where we’re famous for only supporting a single seating, even on weekends? It just seems silly.

Of course, I’m neither Jewish, nor do I know much about the Orthodox Jewish community. I suppose it is relatively large in the Merion area, but this is still the suburbs. It’s one thing for a little ethnic restaurant to open in a densely populated urban neighborhood that happens to be predominantly that ethnicity, but here we’re talking about high-end dining, in a non-urban setting.

The other thing about that little ethnic restaurant is that it doesn’t exclude anyone. Technically, the same is true at Citron and Rose – one doesn’t have to be Kosher to eat there – but, most non-Kosher people I know prefer to go out to a fancy, expensive meal on a weekend night. Not everyone of course, but especially suburbanites who work normal 9-5, Monday-Friday jobs. Do we ever go out during the week? Sure, but even then it’s more likely to be somewhere casual, comfortable, quick and probably somewhat cheap.

I know, I’m rambling. If Citron & Rose is amazing, you’ll find a way to get there during the week. Maybe the Kosher community is large enough to support this place. (Although don’t they have jobs and kids too? The ones I know do.) Maybe empty-nest Main Liners with money to spend will be enough support this place. We’ll see.

The truth is, although I didn’t get it, I held out writing this piece until I’d had the opportunity to visit C&R myself. I was still quite intrigued by the menu. Maybe it was a great place for a quick meal. Maybe it was so good that it didn’t matter. Maybe there’d be a line around the block to get in.

I made a reservation about 10 days out. Sundays are the most difficult, followed by Thursdays (shocking, I know). We arrived. The greeter by the front was polished. He took our coats. He smiled. This is clearly a restaurant group that knows big city dining. Unfortunately, despite my initial impression at the door, the service is actually the major problem with this place. Is it because the restaurant has only been open a few months? Or because they can’t get big city talent in Merion? I don’t know, but I do know that my water glass does not need to be filled up, by as many as 4 different people, just because it is only 3/4 full. Seriously, this happened, all within less than one minute: My glass was filled. I took one sip, and then it was filled again, by a different person. Come on! When you are having a conversation with someone, trying to enjoy a meal, this is straight up obnoxious. (Not to mention the fact that I soon had to use the restroom – and wait in line behind the other poor saps with the same problem. I mean, really, I’m paying $60 a head and I have to wait in line for a bathroom?)

Then there was the guy reaching around me to wipe up the crumbs on the table anytime there were some. Seriously. Like 5 crumbs. Leave us alone to eat in peace, please. And how about the person who took my wine glass away before I was done with it? Even if it looked empty, why not just leave it on the table? Perhaps I was still smelling it. (Yes, I do that.) Perhaps I wanted to look at it wistfully while waiting for my dining companion to offer me a sip of theirs!

The real issue here is that the staff is too large. Everywhere you look, employees are circling the dining room, looking for something to do. How many people do we need filling up water for a 75-seat room (that didn’t seem full)? How much more am I paying for my meal because there are too many?

Ok, 8 paragraphs in, and I still haven’t mentioned the food. It’s good. It’s not amazing, but it’s good. House-made rolls (challah and rye) kick things off, with a side of chicken schmaltz in place of butter. Nice. Fun. Oniony. (That’ll be a theme too.) Playful apps like gravlax with “everything bagel” spice riff on classic Jewish cuisine. The salad Lyonnaise was nice too, with a perfectly poached egg and delicious duck fat potatoes, but the hammy smoked duck (this is Kosher, remember) had me wishing for some pork fat.

For entrees, you gotta try the Sholet (pictured above). It’s a traditional Jewish dish that’s made Friday night, and left in the oven overnight for eating on the Sabbath. Here, it’s deconstructed, with duck confit or braised lamb shank over top of white beans, sausage and egg. The heaps of scallions on top were a bit unnecessary, however, since the dish was oniony enough as it was. Roasted chicken had loads of flavor too. More onion of course, but also honey and paprika glazed skin that was nice and crispy, and some smokiness to the meat. I’d be tempted to say great, but I can still taste the onion, and I went yesterday. Plus, I just lost my train of thought when the busboy stopped by my desk to refill my water bottle.

All that said, C&R is probably worth a try. It’s not every day, after all, that such a high pedigree chef opens up such a unique place in our neck of the woods. I just doubt you’ll want to go back again and again. It’s a special occasion place trying to attract an everyday crowd. It’s asking a lot of cash for an experience that doesn’t quite live up to the hype. After dining there once, I’m not sure I’d even go back on a Saturday.

Citron and Rose
368-370 Montgomery Avenue
Merion Station, PA
www.citronandrose.com

Disagree? The 4.7 rating on OpenTable suggests that a least some of you do! Let me have it in the comments below…

7 Responses to “Citron and Rose, Merion”

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  1. david says:

    four of us arrived at around 7:30 pm for dinner.
    in short – the food was fresh and very good.
    however, the ambiance was quite noisy and had a cafeteria feel to it.
    service was very good.
    portions, i found as a man, to be small considering the prices.

  2. Nathan says:

    So this isn’t really about the review, this just happened to be the most recent review. Is MLD on some sort of hiatus? I always enjoyed your blog to keep abreast of the Main Line restaurant and food and beverage scene, but as of late it’s been lacking in updated content. Please bring it back! There’s a ton of stuff still happening, and you guys were always my go-to source to find research a new place to go!

  3. Mike says:

    The review may be a bit flippant, but I don’t see why anyone would take offense at it. I don’t see any pretend ingorance, I just see a sober discussion of the realities of running a restaurant with big constraints such as not being open on the most popular dining nights of the week.

  4. joe says:

    dear writer- being open friday or saturday night means that the kosher status gets taken away, thus removing the central point of the restaurant. ever asked a strict kosher person how easy it is to eat out? how often they’ve visited a fine dining restaurant and been able to keep to their diet?

    Also, what the do you mean when you say “The truth is, although I didn’t get it, I held out writing this piece until I’d had the opportunity to visit C&R myself.” Do you commonly write reviews without first visiting the restaurant?

    • mld says:

      You are correct Joe that the piece may seem to imply an opinion that the place should be open on weekends regardless of its impact on the Kosher status. That’s not what was intended. We were trying to point out that this is an inconvenience to diners who don’t keep Kosher (the majority of our reading audience), and to question the viability of a high-end, big city-style restaurant located in the suburbs that isn’t open on weekends. Obviously you are right that the place could not claim to be Kosher and be open on the Shabbat, and we regret any implication otherwise.

      As for your other point, here’s another way it might have been phrased: “I held off commenting on the viability of a Main Line restaurant that’s closed on the weekend before I had the opportunity to visit.” Obviously we don’t write reviews w/o having visited the restaurant, but we may comment on restaurant policies, menus, descriptions from press releases and such.

      (Incidentally, C&R had a HUGE press campaign when they opened, clearly aimed at the greater Philadelphia area at large, which is part of the reason we felt compelled to address the restaurant from the point of view of someone who does not keep Kosher.)

  5. Jennifer says:

    I find your review of Citron and Rose offensive. While I am not Jewish, I do have a basic understanding of the Jewish religion and culture. Your snarky comments regarding the hours of operation were rude, short sided and ignorant. It’s obvious that you know something about the religion, enough to know that certain dishes were spin offs of traditional Jewish fare. But you pretended ignorance as if you didn’t know or understand the reasoning behind not being open on Friday and Saturday. When I am confronted with something I do not know, I go and research it or do a quick Google in order to not come across like you, ignorant, or, offensive. I, as well, expressed surprise that at first Citron was not open on those popular and money, making days, I then quickly remembered the Orthodox rules and respected it. Additionally, you continue to bore us with your displeasure that there were too many servers/wait staff; fine, but could you have said it more constructive rather than being so nasty and petty. What is it with food critics that feel the need to be nasty to entertain us rather than being honest and informational? Many on my Facebook page have commented on your review and are offended and some find it anti-Semitic. To say the least most of us will not be interested in hearing any further reviews from you. . I also note that you do not have enough chutzpah (that’s Yiddish for (nerve) to put your name in the byline.

    • mld says:

      Thanks for your comment Jennifer. The piece does not intend to “pretend ignorance” as to why the restaurant is not open on weekends. We fully understand the reasoning behind the decision. We did mean to examine the impact of this decision from the standpoint of non-Kosher diners, and also to discuss whether this business model can be successful on the Main Line, an area where classically weekends carry the bulk of restaurant profits. We do apologize if you found that to be disrespectful of Orthodox Jewish practice, as that is not the intention, however we would also remind you that C&R is a business, not a religious institution, and thus should be evaluated as such. Hopefully this clarification addresses your concerns about the piece being anti-Semitic, which we would never intend and sincerely would like to correct.

      As for the other part of your feedback – that the piece is nasty and petty – that’s a different story altogether. It’s hard to disagree that the piece is that, but quite frankly that’s how we felt after paying the dinner bill at C&R.

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