100 Best Restaurants 2009: Citronelle

No. 2: Citronelle

Citronelle’s famed mosaic. Photograph by Renee Comet.

Cuisine: Michel Richard’s dazzling reinterpretation of French cooking puts the hoot in haute cuisine. Elevating fun over formality, and with a masterly command of technique, he creates a gastronomic experience unrivaled in the area: dinner as theater, from sleights of hand—an “egg symphony” of four tastes that includes not a single egg—to stunning trompe l’oeil, as in a “stained glass” of raw fish. Amid all the play, though, lies a sturdy classicism.

Mood: An open kitchen is the centerpiece of the multitiered space. A seat at Richard’s long chef’s table provides an up-close view of the brigade of toque-wearing chefs circling about. The subterranean dining room is somewhat dated, as are the dark-suited waiters.

Best for: Foodies who think they’ve eaten everything.

Best dishes: Abalone served sashimi style with a rich shallot emulsion; reconstructed oyster-and-clam chowder; sablefish with miso glaze; short ribs for two, the meat deboned and cooked sous-vide for 72 hours, then finished in a searing-hot pan and presented medium rare; loup de mer with black-truffle emulsion; candied apple with caramel ice cream; blueberry cheesecake; chocolate dégustation, a variation on a theme with four different desserts.

Insider tips: Citronelle Lounge—really just a table around the upstairs bar—is a less costly alternative to four-star dining, with some of Richard’s greatest hits on the menu, including his take on Chicken McNuggets and the justly famous 72-hour short ribs.

Service: ***½ (three and a half stars).

Open daily for dinner.

See all of 2009's 100 Best Restaurants

Get Our “Brunches This Weekend” Newsletter

The best breakfasts and brunches to try every weekend, plus our most popular food stories of the week.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
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 Logan Circle.