News & Politics

Kliman Online: November 21, 2006

Brian Zipin of Citronelle, December In the Magazine, Jacqueline Rodier

First Person: Brian Zipin

Next month, Brian Zipin, the assistant sommelier at Citronelle, will become general manager of Michel Richard’s new bistro, Central. Transition and reinvention is nothing new to the multi-talented Zipin, who has appeared on Broadway, played guitar at the famed Manhattan haunt CBGBs, and cut several records, including a tune for the movie“The Crush,” starring Alicia Silverstone.

These days, the leopard print hair of his youth is gone, replaced by a suit and a tastevin. But he still keeps his prized 64 Fender Jaguar by his bedside.

On his early career on Broadway
I did a number of original plays. I did a bunch of Broadway, off-Broadway. I was the understudy for “Biloxi Blues.” I played Arnold, the Jewish guy. The lead was whatsisname, the guy who was on “Northern Exposure” – Morrow, Rob Morrow. I did soap operas. I was even in a Frankie Valley video – “Street Fighter.” I did stunts. It was out of sheer stupidity – not training.

On why he eventually gave up on a career he’d been working toward since he was 16
It was fun. There were frustrating times, though. You get called back three or four times for a film, then Jon Cryer gets it.

On the fear that a great many diners have of the sommelier
If you know what you want, you have a better chance of getting it. If you sit down and say: I love Burgundy, and I love the more delicate styles, then you’ve given me a great window. Just that little bit, is a big, big help. Or to simply say: I’m in your hands. Surprise me. I wish more people would say that.

On the boundless creativity of Chef Michel Richard
Not to blow smoke up his ass, but coming from New York, I saw a lot of things – and those chefs up there, they got nothing on Michel.

On why a Richard restaurant will be carrying Budweiser
When you’re talking about basically serving comfort food, which is what a bistro does, then I don’t think you want to alienate people. I drink Bud. I like Bud. I’m not saying it’s the greatest beer in the world, but why not give people the option of ordering it, if they want?

On how committed management is to preserving the proper pronunciation of the new restaurant — i.e.,not CEN-tral but Cen-TRAHL
If people ask, we will tell them the pronunciation is Cen-TRAHL. There are ways of correcting people without correcting them. Every day I hear someone ask for “Michael Richards.” Or: “Is Michael in? Tell him a friend of his is here.”

On rumors that Michel Richard won’t renew his contract when it runs out in February, out of frustrations with LSR, the management group that owns Citronelle
It’s been asked of a lot of us. I don’t believe the contract’s been signed yet. We’ve been told that we’re not going anywhere, and that they’re beginning a renovation. That’s what we’ve been told.

On what he’s going to be drinking with Thanksgiving dinner
I’m a big acidity guy, and you need acidity with a meal like this. So I’m going with a Sangiovese – Morellino di Sconsano. It’s got a little fruit to it, it’s not overly oaked, and you can probably find it for about 15, 16 dollars. A lot of people’s pick is a Pinot Noir, and that would just get totally lost on Thanksgiving.

December, in the Magazine

•    “Mommy, Can You Please Pass the Foie Gras": They attend pastry-making seminars. They have their own sets of knives. They’ve already done Europe. They fantasize about becoming food critics. They’re prepubescent food snobs, and if you ever doubted that we’re in the midst of a Food Revolution, try sitting down to dinner with them
•    Reviews of the revamped Mendocino Grille and Wine Bar, in Georgetown, and the new Famoso and M Café, in Chevy Chase

•    A new generation discovers the pleasures of Bourbon, a venerable drink with a long and complicated history. Plus, bourbon recommendations at every price level

•    Toque-a-Scope: Are any of the chefs with multiple restaurants ever in the house?

•    First-Look: Comet Ping Pong. A pizza parlor with an arch, postmodern sensibility – and on-again, off-again pies

•    Readers’ Favorite Restaurants

•    Plus: The Needle, “The Last Days of Johnny Apple," up close with Ralph Fredericks (“The Host with the Most”), and more

In Memoriam: Jacqueline Rodier

I wanted to take a moment this morning to honor the memory of Jacqueline Rodier, who died last Tuesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital from complications after surgery for polycystic liver disease.

Younger readers won't remember her, and she was before my time as well, but Rodier was a legendary figure in the city — the grande dame of Washington dining. She was the maitre d' at the venerable L'Auberge Chez Francois back when it was still on Pennsylvania Ave. In the mid-70s, she left L'Auberge to start her own place — Jacqueline's on M St. (a space that now belongs to Vidalia). That was followed by another restaurant, Nicolas, located in the Mayflower Hotel.

I met her a couple of times, and it was like being in the company of old Hollywood royalty. She was beautiful and elegant, with high cheekbones and a grand, almost imperious manner that signaled to you that you were in the presence of someone formidable and important. She made men do her bidding. And they did. Most couldn't take their eyes off her. It was something to watch.

I talked to Robert Wiedmaier, the chef at Marcel's, a few days ago. He shared this story about her:

"The last time I saw her, she was here in the restaurant, and George Clooney and I were sitting around the table with her, drinking and smoking cigars. Jacqueline loved cigars. And she loved cognac. Anyway, we're drinking and smoking, and at some point I turned to her and said, 'If this were thirty years ago, you'd be mine.' And Clooney says, 'No, Robert, she'd be mine.' And writes it down on a napkin: 'To Jacqueline, you would be mine, not Robert's.'"

Jeff Buben, the chef and owner of Vidalia, worked as an interim sous chef at Jacqueline's, and later at Nicolas. He remembered his old boss as a trailblazer:

"There was nobody like her in the city, or in the country. You had Alice Waters, okay. But I don't know of any other woman who did what Jacqueline did. First of all, as a French woman who broke from that whole French parochial idea of who runs a restaurant. And here she was also, divorced and running a restaurant as a single woman, a single mom, and it was one of the best and most successful restaurants in the city. She was doing it twenty years before it became hip.

"She was stunning, she was French, she was impeccably dressed, she was commanding, and she knew how to play things — she knew how to work a room. She just disarmed people. She just had an incredible charm and allure. She was a timeless beauty.

"I mean, she was just an icon, you know?"