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