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

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.