- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

Food is an art form at Citronelle, a Georgetown restaurant that showcases the work of world-known French chef Michel Richard.
Conde Nast Traveler magazine has named Citronelle one of the eight most "exciting" restaurants in the United States because of its innovative French cuisine with a touch of California. With a quiet European ambience and professional service, it is the kind of place you want to bring your best clients to be pampered and dazzled.
Located just off M Street in the heart of Georgetown, the restaurant is sequestered below street level, far from the crowds. But the atmosphere is light and airy as well as intimate, with soft lighting and sunny colors. On one side of the restaurant, the chefs can be viewed at work behind a glass window.
Businessmen both locally and worldwide already have discovered Citronelle, said Francoise Nowak, assistant to Mr. Richard. She notes that businessmen from New York make a point of dining at Citronelle when they are in town.
A recent lunch there found mostly businessmen and women in the dining room, which seats groups of up to eight. Within the dining room are several private nooks for those seeking undisturbed meals. For larger groups of up to 56, the restaurant offers private dining rooms and specialized menus.
Perhaps the best way to experience the restaurant, Ms. Nowak says, is to reserve the chef's table in the glass-enclosed kitchen, where from six to eight guests can "watch art being made." Mr. Richard personally tailors a seven-course meal that starts at $150 apiece, using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and guests are served by the maitre d'hotel.
"It's a gastronomic adventure for those who want to trust Michel Richard's cooking," she said.
A glance at Citronelle's menus and wine list, displayed on the Web site citronelledc.com, gives insights into Mr. Richard's art. The list of first courses features soups, salads and appetizers with unusual combinations and is just as long as the menu of second courses or entrees. The selections center around $20.
The wine list is copious, with vintages from California, France and other major regions ranging in price from $30 to $3,000 a bottle. Guests are treated to a glimpse of the restaurant's exclusive wine cellar through a glass display upon entrance.
Choosing items from both course menus is advised, as the restaurant follows the French tradition of small portions.
I started with one of Mr. Richard's specialties, a cream of chestnut soup that was as smooth as a kid glove with a savory garnish of duck confit. The soup follows the recipe of and was named for Jean-Louis, Washington's other famous French chef and friend of Mr. Richard who recently died.
My entree of roast duck was beautifully displayed, laid out in the dish like an array of sushi, with paper-thin slices of breast meat offset by a row of cherry tomatoes blanched and meticulously peeled. The meat was rare, tender and succulent.
My companion chose an entree of squab, which was gamey but tender and thoroughly deboned so as to be easy to eat. The squab was accompanied by a robust side dish of beans and rice that somehow achieved heights of culinary appeal that one does not expect of mere baked beans.
I chose a crisp, yeasty California brut, available by the glass, to go with my meal. My companion's glass of Riesling wine was unusually dry and mild, grown in the Alsace-Lorraine region between Germany and France.
For dessert, he chose an apple Napoleon that was not even remotely like the traditional French pastry. Rather, it was a unique, delicate creation shaped like a Japanese pagoda, with pureed apple stacked between ice-thin caramel wafers and accompanied by an ice-cube-shaped frosted glass of caramel ice cream.
I ordered the seasonal "snowman" dessert fancifully created out of meringue and displaying the chef's renowned wit. The ice man sported a chocolate top hat and tiny carrot nose and sat in a puddle of caramel ice cream with a fresh dusting of confectioners' sugar.

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