By Warren Hoffman is the Senior Director of Programming at the great Gershman Y
and the author of The Passing Game: Queering American Jewish Culture and The Great White Way: Race and the Broadway Musical
For those of us out there who identify as kosher foodies, we inhabit a strange world. We love to try new restaurants and rave about the most amazing meal we just had at the latest “in spot” as advertised on Foobooz or raved about on Yelp, but as observers of kashrut, our options are always a bit circumscribed. We can tell you whatever you want to know about the salmon or vegetarian pasta choices at aforementioned hot restaurant, but if the pork belly is the thing to get (sorry, Stateside!) you’re out of luck.
So it’s with much excitement that I and many of my kashrut-observant friends made a mini-pilgrimage this week to Citron and Rose, Michael Solomonov’s newest culinary venture, in Narbeth, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. Solomonov has been wowing diners for several years now, but this restaurant had the unique twist of being a strictly kosher meat restaurant. To be able to sample “fleisch” by one of city’s best chefs and choose anything off the menu I wanted was like having a surreal out-of-body experience.
The opening of Citron and Rose is no small deal in the culinary world, not just in Philly, but nationally. Its purpose is to marry Solomonov’s exquisite and complicated takes on food with the laws of kashrut. As anyone who has been to a kosher restaurant before (Center City Philadelphia has no fine-dining kosher establishments), the level of culinary sophistication found at most places is lacking to say the least. That, combined with the often higher cost of dining at a kosher establishment—kosher meat and the cost of a mashgiach or rabbi to oversee the premises—doesn’t come cheaply. It’s why I’ve often avoided kosher meat restaurants and prefer to do the “fish/veggie” thing at more adventuresome culinary spots.
But Solomonov’s food is always delicious (Zahav is one of my favorite restaurants in Philadelphia) and I couldn’t wait to see what he would do here. There’s a lot that’s striking about Citron + Rose. First off, the décor is contemporary and sophisticated, and lest one might be expecting anything even resembling, I don’t know, a deli (I wasn’t), it’s the furthest thing from being outdated as you can imagine. On the food side of things, the menu, especially to a non-Jew, might not even register as Jewish per se. Yes, kishke, chopped liver, and cabbage were all there, but reinvented in ways that paid homage to these Jewish culinary tastes and not a slavish re-creation of them. Indeed, as friends and I thought, Citron + Rose is just a great restaurant that happens to be kosher, which is in part how the restaurant is marketing itself and trying to draw in foodies who keep kosher or not.
Dining with seven other people meant that we could sample almost everything on the menu and there was nary a misstep. Like Zahav, Citron + Rose features inventive cocktails like The Mensch and the Maidel (a combination of brandy, poppy, and apple cider) and a nice wine list that happily does not include Manischewitz. The menu at Citron and Rose isn’t too extensive with only 8 appetizers and 8 entrees, but choosing was still difficult as everything looked (and was) delicious. For our first course, our group chose the Salad Lyonnaise which I thought was the winner of the bunch: mouthwatering potatoes cooked in duck fat with bits of smoked duck, a poached egg, and frisee, all the flavors complementing each other perfectly. Other hits were the celery root soup with veal stuffed cabbage and salmon gravlax. The one appetizer that received mixed reviews was an inspired take on chopped liver (one of my all-time favorite Jewish foods). Here, sour cherries were filled with a very smooth chopped liver and situated on a bed of chocolate/pumpernickel bread crumbs. Some out our table thought it a highlight, but others felt it was a bit too deconstructed and could have been a bit more traditional in its flavors and presentation.
Main courses were a treat all around. Most of us at the table ordered the lamb sholet, which was a big shank of lamb surrounded by kishke, flageolet beans, and haminado (roasted egg). The flavors were really out of this world and one of my friends remarked that the dish evoked a sort of deconstructed seder plate between the lamb and the roasted egg. Another friend got the veal schnitzel with marinated kale and celery root-apple puree. I was leery of ordering the dish because schnitzel can often be dry, but this was another winner. The veal was incredibly moist and the sides complemented it well. The other hit of the table was the rib-eye steak which was perfectly cooked, juicy, and garnished with a concord-grape mustard sauce. The size of the steak, like all the portions, was quite large. No one left hungry.
Despite the plentiful food, we made sure to leave room for dessert and were able to try virtually everything on the menu. From a delicious home-baked cinnamon babka with red wine sorbet to chocolate hazelnut blintzes, they were all delightful. The stand-out, though, was the pear flodni, a roasted pear that had been cut up, placed on a bed of poppy seeds, covered and baked with puff pastry and garnished with a side of pear sorbet. As I like to say, a total “wow.” Considering that no dairy products were used in the preparation of the desserts, given that this is a meat restaurant, the execution of the food was even more impressive.
Including alcohol, tax, tip, and three courses, dinner ran about $70/person, more than I might usually spend on a night out, but really not more than I would expect to spend at a contemporary, forward-thinking, high-end restaurant. And that’s really what Citron AND Rose is, a fantastic place for culinary experimentation that has the added bonus of being kosher. It’s a shame that the restaurant isn’t in center city Philadelphia, but perhaps with the success of this branch, it’ll only be a matter of time before we get a similar restaurant in town that appeals to kosher and non-kosher foodies alike.
Citron and Rose, 370 Montgomery Avenue, Merion, PA, 610-664-4919.