Leftovers: Citrus at Social

Michel Richard’s reinvigorated Citrus from this week’s CityBeat:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Dine with an eye on design at Hollywood’s Citrus at Social and it’s easy to imagine you’re lost in a grove. Central to that illusion is the pair of tree-like beams that dominate the dining room, their gilded trunks stretching down from the frescoed ceiling. From those structural supports, lights dangle like rays of sunshine passing through branches. Where there isn’t an ivy accent, there’s a carefully placed topiary. And anchoring it all is the fruit of the restaurant’s design scheme: a focused palette of lime greens and lemon yellows.

Citrus at Social doesn’t seem just styled, it feels cultivated – a well-tended garden of a space that digs up L.A.’s culinary roots by reincarnating Michel Richard’s original Citrus, an ’80s institution that created a legacy of California cooking. But the restaurant doesn’t bank on nostalgia alone. Perhaps that’s why it recently underwent a bit of rebranding, paring down its plates to reflect Richard’s “bistro favorites.”

During its opening months, critics attacked the restaurant’s pricing, placed as it was just a few figures beyond the current recession’s reality. That’s been fixed: a number of plates were slashed by double digits. That Citrus at Social is now more affordable adds to its value: Chef de Cuisine Omri Aflalo’s execution of Richard’s menu was already worth plenty.

Notably consolidated on the retooled menu are those bistro favorites (craggy gougères and an onion tart with smoked salmon, bacon and crème fraîche) and the appetizers (chestnut soup sweetened with a bit of peanut butter and the mosaic carpaccio, an artful array of raw “surf, turf and earth” that edges up to the beauty of stained glass). Where the bistro favorites and appetizers used to split menu space now emerges a unified list built specifically for sharing, one in which even the unfortunately named frizzy frisée salad can be easily enjoyed by the whole table. The best starter, though, is the chicken faux gras, a pun of a dish that tops a cup of chicken liver pâté with an aromatic parsley and cucumber gelée.

As entrees go, there’s a duo of mini burgers now (your choice of beef, tuna or lobster), but they simply can’t compare to the 72-hour short rib, precise slices of beef that quiver out of tenderness. If you prefer deep-water dining, try the excellent monkfish, dressed with a duck jus and bounded by asparagus and a lone line of pine nut risotto. The fowl source of that jus also ends up on a plate of its own: duck cooked relatively rare with carrots, beets and baby bok choy. The underdoneness of the duck isn’t for everyone, but it makes for a more steak-like plate that leaves just enough room for a side of those famous frites fried in clarified butter.

By dessert, servers might suggest the excellent orange soufflé – one of Richard’s specialties – a flourless mass more reminiscent of a flan than a standard soufflé. But Chef Richard probably won’t be in the kitchen, let alone in L.A. – he has D.C. dinners at Citronelle and Central to attend to. Nevertheless, that specialty becomes Chef de Cuisine Aflalo’s own, an inherited plate that, like Citrus at Social itself, lives up to its lineage.

Citrus at Social, 6525 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 337-9797. Open Tues.-Weds. 6 p.m.-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Lot and valet parking. Full bar. Food for two: $50-$100. citrusatsocial.com.

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