Tuesday, February 13, 2007 @ 11AM

Could Citronelle Be on the Move?

Rumors of impending change have been swirling around Citronelle for much of the past year. (Always swirling, by the way. Never circling. Never dancing.)

The area's No. 1 restaurant was taken over by new owners this past Fall, and according to multiple sources, Chef Michel Richard has been unhappy with some of the belt-tightening imposed by the new group. With the recent opening of Central Michel Richard, and with negotiations on a new contract between Richard and his new owners still ongoing, and with a $25 million upgrade to the Latham Hotel about to begin, that talk has continued to heat up.

To wit: Richard is going to leave Citronelle! Richard is going to leave Citronelle and open a spate of Centrals across the area!

Mel Davis, who handles PR for the restaurant, told me that although Richard has his eye on a string of Centrals — should this one succeed, of course — he isn't abandoning his flagship restaurant. Citronelle's immediate future should not be in doubt.

However …

"I can't tell you that there hasn't been talk that, if it doesn't work out, that we won't just pick it up and move it someplace else."

Citronelle someplace else?

"There will always be a Citronelle. Michel is committed to Citronelle. … It's just a matter of where it will be."

Stay tuned.

The Ripert Repore, cont.

Last May, I reported that Eric Ripert of Manhattan's famed Le Bernardin was thisclose to coming to town to open a new restaurant.

No longer.

It's a done deal.

The restaurant, called Harvest, will replace The Grill at the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd and M Sts. Adamstein and Demetriou are doing the interior.

No word yet on how involved the pouty-lipped, four-star chef plans to be in the day-to-day operations of the new restaurant, which should open late this summer or early fall, but his arrival marks yet another high-profile addition to the city's dining scene

Tasting Notes …

The new Napoleon, on Columbia Rd., tastes as bad as it looks. And it looks like a cross between a garish, two-bit Vegas club and an Eastern European bordello. The food? Fries cooked in old oil, an outrageously overpriced steak, and a blanquette de veau that looks as if it came out of a can of Campbell's. Anyway, the wines are good. … Food Factory (with locations in Arlington and College Park) is burdened with one of the worst names of any restaurant in town, suggestive of a streamlined operation stamping out tasteless widgets of food. It's anything but, though. The bone-in chicken kebabs are some of the best in the area, as juicy as you could hope for, and with enough of the smoke from the charcoal grill they're cooked on to make them memorable. … If you're downtown and bored with your usual go-to lunch places, give The Best Sandwich Place a try. That's the tiny shop in the building that houses the Borders on 18th and L Sts. It's not visible from the street, and has to be accessed from a door to the right of the bookstore. The first thing you notice when you walk in is that it smells markedly different from a Subway. It smells like roasting meats. Zero in on anything to do with roasted turkey, which is sliced from a hot, freshly roasted turkey breast. I like a version piled high with juicy white meat (yes, it is possible) and topped with cranberry sauce. Delish.


Response to Jan. 30 chat:
Todd, As someone who respects your balance and insights into our industry and life, I was greatly saddened and personally troubled by the editorial decision to run the below 900-word missive on your Tuesday chat. As I am sure you are aware, people use yours and other forums to advance their own interests and air their personal grudges without filter, as well as attack competitors, in complete anonymity. The man who submitted the post, “MacQueen, Warren Scotte CTR WHS/PENREN/3DI,” is one such case. At every step, I personally sought to help Mr. MacQueen resolve his situation, responding promptly via my personal blackberry on my days off to his incessant requests for satisfaction. In response, he was patently rude to both me and my staff, and his behavior, both via email and in person, has made me consider whether a restraining order is necessary to keep him off my premises. My managers and I have been the victim of numerous daily threatening and derogatory emails from Mr. MacQueen – all as we tried to address his constantly changing versions of what happened. I understand that the nature of the forum does not always allow fact-checking, but the post below contains several unsubstantiated statements (lies) about how events unfolded, and is tantamount to slander. Last Thursday – long before your chat – we refunded Mr. MacQueen the cost of his entire meal, as well as his tip. Mr. Macqueen is now threatening to take legal action because his account was overdrafted the same weekend he ate at Sonoma. If you would like to view any of our correspondence, I have saved many of them. This morning alone, Mr. Macqueen has written 2 more emails suggesting a “conference call” with his bank. I take hospitality seriously and, as a rule, will do ANYTHING to resolve a situation in the guest’s favor. Mr. MacQueen has abused and insulted my restaurant, my staff, my sense of service, and my basic dignity. If I were not in the hospitality business, my interactions with Mr. MacQueen would have not been so gentle. In the interests of fairness, I humbly request that you and your editors consider letting me craft an unedited response, much as your publication gave him a truly staggering amount of “column inches” to air his vitriolic and unsubstantiated diatribe. I sincerely appreciate your time and consideration, as we, as a personally-run business, take these matters to heart. Respectfully, Eli Hengst


Thanks for writing in. I appreciate it.

If you and other chatters recall, I purposely didn't comment on this matter at the time — and tried to make clear in my response that I considered his version of events to be just one side of the story. I then put the call out for you to respond.

And now you have. I'm glad to have it here on record. That's why it's a chat — a chance for a back-and-forth about things.

I'm not going to play judge and jury. But readers — having all the information at their disposal — can make up their own minds. 

Washington, DC
Hooray to you for giving props to The Best Sandwich Place! I've been eating there since I started working in that building 3 years ago, and it is a gem. The owners are friendly and kind, and the freshly sliced roast turkey is delicious.

It's the kind of place you'd love to see have a visible storefront and lines and lines of customers.

Only then, the secret would be out.

Washington DC
Hi Todd, I love your chats they get me through class every Tuesday! I have to ask what you think about the new business of primetimetables. As a server in a restaurant in DC i have to question a business like this. How angry will i be when this service begins in DC and my place of employment begins to have "no shows" b/c pre-reserved slots by a business for money do not sell the spots… this keeping others from making reservations and effecting my bottom line and ability to pay my bills. On a side note– when you make reservations people please please show up or cancel in a timely manner– and no thirty min prior is not a timely manner!! Thanks so much, happy tuesday!
I'm flattered. You're ignoring your teacher to read me. That's a devoted reader.

(Although, as a former teacher, I should hasten to add: Shame on you.)

Yeah, I'm just as interested as you are to see what happens with this service. I'll be surprised if it succeeds. I just don't think there are that many restaurants where people are that clamoring to get in every night.

And thanks for the reminder about canceling reservations well ahead of time, if you can.

What do you recommend for a group of 15 in Georgetown for a Saturday dinner? American food, $10-$20/entree, beer on tap, not too dressy. Thanks!

How about Old Glory, on M St.?

Fun atmosphere, very casual, lots of beers on tap, and loads of decent and properly messy ribs and wings and whatnot.

Now, it wouldn't be my first choice for barbecue — or even my second, or my third, or fourth. Heck, it wouldn't crack the Top 20.

But I think it fits the bill for your Saturday night. Good place to take a large group

Bethesda, MD
So husband and I finally got around to celebrating our anniversary…we first had drinks and bar snacks at Indeblue. Great drinks…so so snacks. The "truffle fries" seriously tasted like the Ore Ida frozen fries I give my 2 year old. They were not even hot! Then to Zaytinya for more drinks and more mezze. Great food there…except for a special of grilled octopus that was very plain. It was indeed grilled octopus but no other discernable flavoring at all. In fact, the bartender even joked about it. Anyway, we are never dissapointed with that place even with a few misses. So many beautiful people, such great food, great bartenders, etc. What do you think? Did we do a good job with our selections?

What do I think?

I think you had a great time. And that's really the most important thing, right? I love the idea of a "progressive" dinner, of going from one place to the next. Great way to celebrate.

I'm surprised to hear you didn't go anywhere different for dessert. That would've really rounded out the night.

Now, personally, I would've skipped IndeBleu and gone someplace else, but that's me. I'm not as enamored of looking at the well-coiffed and well-dressed so much as I am in eating something really, really good. If the food's not good, no decor in the world, no drapes, no lighting, no carpeting, no sound system is going to put me in a good mood.

Raljon, MD
Pitchers and catchers reporting soon. I don't know what's worse, the prices or the food at sports events, but the combination is unbearable. I hear the Lerners brought some better food to RFK, but that's damning with faint praise. Do you eat at games?

Raljon, huh?

Nobody but nobody lives in Raljon. Raljon, for those of you who don't know, doesn't even exist — it's the name made up by former Skins owner (and insufferable megalomaniac) Jack Kent Cooke, a mingling of the names of his two sons, to designate the place where FedEx field — the former Jack Kent Cooke Stadium — sits. That ain't Raljon. That's Landover.


Stadium eating. Yeah, I eat at games. Not with anything approaching enthusiasm, though.

You're right: The price of tickets and the execrable (overpriced) food is pretty much unbearable. 

Speaking of unbearable: Watching the Nats this year is going to be PAINFUL. Saying bye-bye to Soriano, one of the game's most electrifying players, pretty much kills my interest in coming out to the park on a regular basis. That, and the prospect of a 50-112 team. Kasten says he knows what he's doing, and touts his record in Atlanta, but he seems to have overlooked one crucial thing: This isn't a baseball town. Not yet. The fans have to be wooed and won over.

How to steer this baby back on course?

Baseball makes me think of hot dogs, and "hot dogs" reminds me to tell you that M'Dawg Haute, the new upmarket hot dog house on 18th St. — with sausages, some of them, made by chef Greggory Hill — opens today. 

Washington, DC
Todd, My wife and I are headed to Baltimore this weekend for a quick get-away. I thought that Saturday we might check out the Lexington Market for a lighter lunch before having dinner at Petit Louis Saturday night. Is the market worth visiting and is the restaurant a nice destination (we adore Charleston, so we wanted to check out one of its two sisters)? Also, any recommendations for lunch on Sunday before we leave town? Thanks.

I love the market. Be sure to go to the stall in the back — the name escapes my recollection just now — and get a crabcake, a real one, served on Saltines.

Petit Louis is a nice destination, yes. It's in a restored pharmacy, and drips with character. I've only been once, and can't remember specific details, but I remember thinking the bistro cooking was pretty good — nothing wowing, but lots that was tasty. It's a great place to while away a couple of hours. 

For a good quick lunch on the way out of town, stop by Burke's, near the harbor. It's a tavern, and dark, with sassy,  veteran waitresses who each have a story to tell, great, huge burgers and onion rings the size of coits.

Tenleytown, DC
Re: this Sonoma situation: Todd, I just want to chime-in here. I'm not in the restaurant business, nor do I know the chatter who wrote in to complain. I don't understand why Mr. Hengst would feel that you committed some egregious mistake in allowing a customer to describe what he felt was an injustice that was done to him. Mr. Hengst complains that your forum is used to advance agendas and air personal grudges. He then essentially does exactly that in responding to Mr. McQueen's post from last week. Clearly, as readers we have no idea exactly what happened. It's clear that Sonoma made some sort of mistake. It's also clear that perhaps Mr. McQueen shouldn't be dining out and charging it if a few additional charges are going to max-out his card and cause him to freak out. But would reading about this keep me from visiting Sonoma in the future? Not in the least. I've heard no suggestion from anyone that this happens all the time at Sonoma, and so this seems to be an anecdotal experience–perhaps an unfortunate mistake compounded by a personality clash. The idea that you shouldn't keep this an open forum because a restaurant might get its feelings hurt is ridiculous.

Thanks for chiming in, Tenleytown.

This is one reason why I tend to refrain from getting into he-said, he-saids with this chat, much as though the opportunities for melodrama are there for the taking.

As you said: Neither I nor you, the reader, have any  real idea exactly what happens in any instance between two parties at a restaurant — despite the reports from either side.

Anyway, no worries. The forum stays open. 

Bethesda again
We had never been to Indeblue before so didn't know what to expect- but I would not be inclined to go back for the reason you mentioned. Though we did strike up a conversation with the bartender there who was really sweet. Don't remember her name, but she heard us talking about our anniversary and topped off my ($12) champagne cocktail. As for dessert- we thought about it but we were stuffed!!

Hey, there. Thanks for reporting back. Good chattiquette, Bethesda.

And happy anniversary!

Adams Morgan DC
good morning, I don't know if you have been asked this before, but what do you think about DC food blogs. I mean you know Don Rockwell b/c you work for the same publication, but do you think sites like dr.com are helpful or do the "writers" expect to much from dining— esp. those who b/c they belong to a message board expect special service and perks? Is this fair for a restaurant?

I guess the question is — helpful to whom?

To the person who knows little about the area's restaurant scene? No. To the person who loves to go to restaurants and eat and drink but who isn't the sort of person inclined to dissect the dish and the rationale for pairing a certain course with a certain wine? Again, no.

There are some people on these boards who know an awful lot about food and drink, to be sure. 

Some of them are actual insiders — people who work in the business. Some of them disclose their connection, some don't. It hardly matters either way, since the nature of the Internet is that readers don't read all that carefully and the information, in the end — the sheer information, not whether it is true or false, rumor or not, honest critique or public relations — is ultimately what is retained in the great collective memory. 

And some of these people are quasi-insiders — people who are fond of a chef or restaurant and who then become fans or, if you will, groupies of that chef's place. People who want to be on the inside. Special treatment invariably follows, which in turn leads to gushing posts on the message boards, which in turn creates a buzz about a place.



Washington, DC
So, what's the story on Chef Wabek of Firefly? Why is he leaving? Where is he going? I've always liked the place, even though it didn't make Washingtonian's Top 100.

Last spring, I reported that Jared Slipp, formerly the sommelier at Nectar and then Ray's the Steaks — was going to be pairing up with a DC chef on a new restaurant — a small place (no more than 24 seats, if I recall), with interesting, challenging cooking. Slipp swore me to secrecy at the time, but now I can say it: that chef is John Wabeck.

The plan was that Slipp, not Wabeck, would be doing the cooking (he's got mad skillz in the kitchen, apparently), and Wabeck, not Slipp, would be handling the wines (he's studying to become a Master Sommelier).

The big question, at that point, was getting the needed investors on board. Is Wabeck's departure a sign that things are, indeed, moving ahead?

More as I hear it.

Meantime, enjoy the dusting of snow, folks, and be careful on the slick and icy pavement out there as you head out to lunch and dinner tonight.

Eat well, be well, and let's do it again next week …