Upping the Ante

February 1, 2013 | By | Reply More

Cashing in on a chunk of his James Beard cred, Michael Solomonov tackles kosher. But the price of authenticity may be more than even he can cover this time around.
By Mike Madaio

C&R_015Wherever the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and restaurateur partner Steven Cook lay claim, critical praise and full stomachs follow in rapid succession, from the low-frills Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts to the groundbreaking Zahav.
The opening of Citron and Rose in Merion Station last November drew a palpable curiosity because of their Kevlar-strong reputation. It could have been the unusual concept, too—glatt kosher fine dining—but never before has kosher food made the stomach grumble. Citron and Rose represents Cook and Solomonov’s first steps outside of Philadelphia, though you could say they’re hedging their bet somewhat because they don’t own the restaurant. They were hired by David Magerman to run it.
If you’re thinking that cooking kosher is restrictive, it’s nothing compared to observing the Sabbath, which it does too. Closing Friday and Saturday nights is a death wish for anyone other than the supremely confident, which Solomonov and Cook should be. But even they aren’t immune to ADD dining habits. So this should be interesting.
The menu’s brief, but diverse. The heart is traditional European Jewish fare, but these aren’t the dishes your bubby bogged you down with growing up. Solomonov riffs on them at every opportunity, creating the likes of chopped liver stuffed into sour cherries doused with cocoa and a play on bagels and lox: “everything spice” gravlax (cured salmon) and a smoked bagel.
A reworked Salad Lyonnaise, which uses smoked duck in place of bacon, is Solomonov’s way of disintegrating long-held and often misinformed perceptions.
Among the main courses, the headliner is the sholet, a sort of cassoulet that’s traditionally made on Friday, left to stew in the oven overnight and served on the Sabbath. Here, it’s deconstructed. A braised lamb shank holds down a bed of flageolet beans, complemented by a chunk of kishke sausage and an eight-minute egg. The roast chicken is a fierce rival. The honey- and paprika-seasoned skin is crispy and the meat is juicy and just the right amount of smoky.
The lowlights: The service was, at times, overbearing. And the pricing runs a bit high for the suburbs. Which could explain the waitstaff issue; if you’re paying above the going rate, you better feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. But our conversations were interrupted constantly by the need to fill three-quarters-full water glasses and to sweep a couple pesky crumbs from the tablecloth. It was difficult to settle in, if we ever did.
Then again, when adhering to such strict and traditional codes, maybe we were never meant to.

Citron and Rose, 370 Montgomery Avenue, Merion; 610-664-4919;
www.citronandrose.com.

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