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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Modern, French
Upmarket restaurant

Sun–Thu 6:30pm–10:00pm
Fri–Sat 6:00pm–10:30pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential


3000 M St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 625-2150
You’ll leave feeling like you’re part of the in-crowd at DC’s most expensive restaurant

What sort of meal can you expect for $200, $300, or even $400 a head?

To ask whether the food is worth that amount of money is to pose the wrong question. Because you’re also paying for the theater of it all. You’re paying for the temporary exit from the treadmill of reality. You’re paying for the luxury of interpreting Michel Richard’s clever, artistic platings; to debate the merits of the bizarre, color-changing neon wall, as if Citronelle were a Michelin three-star dressed up in a raver’s clothes for Halloween; to be in on the collective practical joke of the Good Life. You’re paying to allow the alpha norms that swirl through society to penetrate your own body, your own brain—if only for a night.

It might surprise you, thus, that the best thing we’ve had out of this kitchen is also the simplest. Vichyssoise poured over potato crisps, one of our first courses on a recent visit, was absolutely bursting with flavor; we’ve rarely heard potato speak so clearly, nor have we liked what it had to say so much. Elegant notes of chicken stock danced across the palate, the soup had an otherworldly smoothness, and the froof factor was zero—it was served in a simple white bowl. Proteins tend to be more mortal—occasionally, even a touch overcooked—but the technical expertise is always present.

In a departure from the chefs of other exorbitantly expensive restaurants these days, Michel Richard has—thankfully—not gone molecular. He won’t bring you bacon that looks like caviar, or serve you a course on an aroma pillow that slowly deflates as you dine. Rather, Citronelle is more about the lobster burger; it’s a dish they make a big deal about, and it’s impossible not to like, in part because of the way it endows an often pretentious ingredient with a comfort-food vibe.

As for wine, if you’re opting for the “promenade” (the longest of tastings) with wine pairings, consider yourself warned: they don’t skimp on the wine (nor should they, for $280 per). But pairings are thoughtful, as in the case of a sake-miso marinated sablefish served with Alsace’s impeccable Zind Humbrecht, or a Meursault that took that lobster burger to the next level.

But again, this place is about how it makes you feel, which is pretty damn good. The kitchen is bright, shiny, and open, allowing you a window into the hustle and bustle that’s producing your meal. Service is elegant in the right way. There’s none of that nervous pandering, coordinated swooping, or ceaseless complimenting that makes everyone uncomfortable. And not only can these servers speak intelligently about the food, they can pronounce things right in French.

When dinner for two is the price of a ticket to Paris, they’d better.

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