100 Best Restaurants 2008: Citronelle

No. 1: Citronelle

Cuisine: The area’s finest—a culinary tour de force from one of the world’s great chefs, Michel Richard, that stitches together a patchwork of influences—French country and classical, Asian, American, junk food, even pop art—into a seamless whole that revels in its singularity and sense of fun yet still manages to wow you with the intensity and depth of its flavors.

Mood: The open kitchen is the centerpiece of this retreat, a glowing, gleaming stage that lets you know that whoever else happens to be in the room—dignitaries, VIPs, politicos—the focus is on the food. The reason you turn your head here is to see what eye-deceiving concoction—is someone actually eating breakfast for dessert?—has been deposited on a nearby table.

Best for: Foodies who think they’ve seen—and eaten—it all.

Best dishes: Hamachi-eel carpaccio suspended ingeniously atop a bowl covered with plastic wrap, the fish, beet-jelly squares, and dried-beet chips all creating shadows on the inside of the vessel; a dish called “eggs” that is actually diced scallops with saffron made to resemble scrambled eggs, a divine cauliflower mousse in an egg cup, fried eggplant impersonating a sunny-side-up egg with thin strips of bacon on top, and a “hardboiled egg” made with mozzarella and yellow-tomato purée; a profoundly intense wild-mushroom soup presented as a cappuccino and topped with potato foam; a caviar can filled with poached lobster, a soft poached egg, pearls of black squid ink—and no caviar; sablefish with a miso glaze, sublime and elegant; rosy, surpassingly tender venison crusted with black peppercorns and napped by a red-wine/port sauce; a virtuosic, Asian-style “duck three ways”; jolie pomme, an apple sorbet with translucent dried-apple chips; a five-layer huckleberry cheesecake; a napoleon as crunchy as it is sublimely creamy.

Insider tips: If the tasting menus are tantalizing but too expensive, ask your server to supplement the three-course prix fixe with an extra appetizer or two—a great way to experience more of Richard’s genius. But when it comes to the city’s deepest, most impressive wine list, no such outs exist. The cost is high, but the wines are well worth the expense.

Service: ••••.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.