Review: Citron

A satisfying meal trumped by style
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  March 4, 2009

Citron | 5 Memorial Blvd, Providence | 401.621.9463 | CITRONRI.COM | Open for lunch Mon-Fri, 12-4 pm + Dinner Mon-Thurs, 4-10 pm; Fri, 4-11 p.m.; Sat, 5-11 pm; Sun, 5-10 pm | major credit cards | full bar | sidewalk-level accessible 

John Elkhay has so many restaurants around the city that we just hadn't gotten around to Citron before last weekend. I'd been intrigued by the menu's pride in using natural meats and organic produce, and I also knew that the creator of such concepts as Big Fish and Chinese Laundry would go all out with a concept titled "Citron." Certainly, there's a tropical fruit glow to the lighting and walls — think shades of cantaloupe, papaya, and mango — and the oversized, artsy close-ups of fruits and vegetables put you in the mood for luscious, full-flavored dishes.

Even the cocktails go fruity or herby: spearmint and basil in a strawberry mojito; prickly pear juice in another mojito; and cilantro-infused vodka in a gimlet ($8.75). Cilantro Man (sometimes known as Chipotle Man) could not pass up the latter. The green taste of cilantro with the vodka was not that surprising, given a similar effect with olives in martinis, so it worked.

For starters, we pondered soups (a special celery root with truffle oil that evening) and salads (a made-at-the-table Caesar beckoned), as well as appetizers. Taking their inspiration from California, New Mexico, and the Pacific Rim, executive chef Nicholas Rabar and Elkhay have included ahi tuna spring rolls, kobe beef carpaccio, skewers of teriyaki beef or lemongrass chicken, and black bean-chicken eggrolls. The pulled pork sliders with North Carolina slaw crept in among those starters, but then so did the über-Rhode Island calamari ($9.99), which is what we came around to.

Granted, it was partly because our eyes lit up at the word "citrus" in the calamari description and because our waitress told us the squid rings had a citrus glaze on them. I didn't notice that, but they were remarkably light (just barely flour-dredged) and non-greasy. They were tossed with bits of red and green pepper and accompanied by a very spicy chili mayo.

As we contemplated our entrûe choices — should one of us have a pasta or a grilled steak? — Bill noticed the sides, including "asparagus fries" ($6.99). He also could not tear himself away from the idea of roast duck with hoisin sauce, moo shu cabbage, and scallion pancakes ($22.99). The asparagus spears were dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried. With a ponzu sauce for dipping, they were wonderful.

The duck was a hefty portion, impressively dark from the hoisin, and Bill reported that it was moist and tasty. He wasn't as impressed by the scallion pancakes, neither as crisp nor as packed with scallions as he'd prefer. But the moo shu cabbage, stir-fried with soy sauce and sesame oil, was an excellent complement to the duck.

After much hemming and hawing — well, strictly speaking, umpteen questions for the waitress — I settled on the "all natural" chicken breast ($19.99) sans its usual pancetta but with sundried tomatoes and peas in the cream sauce served over the potato gnocchi. The chicken was fine, though not as flavorful as organic chicken I've had. The cream sauce with plenty of Parmesan was addicting.

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