100 Best Restaurants 2010: Citronelle

No. 5: Citronelle

Cuisine: The ultimate in dinner as theater from culinary showman Michel Richard, who marries technical rigor, up-to-the-moment culinary practices (he’s become obsessed with the sous vide technique), and a wicked sense of humor to produce food that looks like no other and, at its best, rivals the work of the finest chefs in the world. To dine here is to be dazzled—a mushroom soup that looks like a cappuccino, a lobster dish that will fool you into thinking you’re supping on caviar—but it’s also to come away with a better appreciation of the power of great cooking to produce flavors that couldn’t exist without careful, artful manipulation. More than edible art, it’s wondrously delicious art.

Mood: Heads may turn for a glimpse of a celebrity or politico, but the real excitement is the showpiece kitchen—a brightly lit stage, aswarm with serious-faced cooks, where some of the most eye-catching dishes in the area emerge, ready for their close-ups. Even if you’re not lucky enough to snag a seat at the chef’s table or in the first row of tables that look into the kitchen, all of them are angled to the main stage.

Best for: A night of gastronomic adventure—and excess.

Best dishes: Fried chicken nuggets with mustard sauce; crispy duxelles-stuffed cigars of brik pastry; “begula” pasta, a textural marvel that brings together soft poached lobster, poached egg, and black squid-ink tapioca pearls; glazed sablefish with a complex and delicate miso sauce; mushroom “cappuccino”; roast duck; a superlative napoleon.

Insider tips: The upstairs lounge features the same wondrous cooking at a fraction of the cost of dining downstairs, albeit with tiny tables and less pampering.

Service: •••

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

See all of 2010'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 Logan Circle.