Citronelle

It isn’t easy to impress a table full of restaurateurs, chefs,
winemakers, and food critics, but that’s exactly what happened last
week at Citronelle, as the restaurant officially presented its
newly appointed chef, Patrick Becquet, in a winemaker dinner with
Bill Cates of Tantara Winery. It was a coming-out party in many
respects: for Becquet, new sous chef David Sundeen, and Tantara’s
2004 vintage, all of which are showing beautifully. Becquet — who
came to Citronelle five years ago after a long history of studying
in prestigious kitchens throughout his native France — was
appointed Chef de Cuisine a few months ago, and is now joined by
Sundeen, just up from Los Angeles’s highly regarded Table 8. They
seem to be operating in perfect harmony, creating a delightful but
comfortable blend of superb French training and edgy, modern
aesthetic.

The meal opened with simple, perfectly ripe prosciutto-wrapped
melon, and roasted Alaskan halibut was accompanied by delicately
aromatic baby fennel. The main entrée was a sinful double-header of
foie gras and duck leg confit, each magnificently complemented by
crisp frisée that was just bitter enough to set off the richness of
the périgueux sauce.

Undoubtedly a tough act to follow, but Becquet’s cheese and
dessert courses were brilliantly simple and refreshing. Crottin de
Chavignol, a goats’ milk cheese from the Loire region, is perhaps
one of the finest goat cheeses. Characteristically tangy, with a
balance of sweetness, it is traditionally paired with Sancerre. But
here, served on a simple toast, it made an excellent companion to
the chocolatey Tantara Syrah, the only wine poured from the 2003
vintage. The dessert was almost a coda to the cheese course: a
cheesecake (in the same small, round shape as the Crottin) with a
hint of caramel and chocolate. Becquet wisely kept the sweetness to
a minimum, providing enough creamy contrast for the late-harvest
pinot blanc that rounded out the evening.

Citronelle has had its ups and downs over the years, but with
this new duo in the kitchen, it looks as though they may finally
have a menu that’s as exciting and delightful as its million-dollar
views.

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