Restaurant News & Reviews

Citrus is bright spot in neighborhood

Citrus has been open for nearly two years, quietly earning a dedicated following for its refreshingly varied offering. So quietly, in fact, that there's a good chance you've never heard of the place. Even if you frequently shop, dine or attend concerts on the town square of Southern Village, the retail and residential complex where Citrus is, chances are you haven't seen the restaurant. That's because Citrus isn't on the square with all the other shops. It's in the residential section, tucked away behind a picket fence among the upscale houses on the shade-dappled streets of Southern Village.

It's obvious, though, that the people who live in those houses know about Citrus. On weekday mornings, they begin trickling into the restaurant to breakfast on fluffy omelets filled with lump crab and artichoke hearts, fresh and smoked salmon hash, and buttermilk pancakes topped with bananas, candied pecans and praline sauce.

When lunchtime rolls around, the pace picks up to a steady stream of people hungry for pan-fried trout with orange curry butter, pan-seared scallops niçoise, and gourmet sandwiches ranging from pork tenderloin panino to open-faced shrimp salad on toasted focaccia.

Sunday brunch is so popular that regulars know to book reservations to avoid a waiting list that typically starts around 10:30 a.m. In fair weather, the crowd spills out onto the tree-shaded patio. Indoors and out, people order from combined breakfast and lunch menus as they nibble on complimentary house-baked muffins, washed down with fresh-squeezed juices and organic coffee.

Citrus didn't begin serving dinner until February of this year, when executive chef Marc Lucero and his partner, house manager/bartender Tom Meier yielded to repeated requests from regular customers. For the time being, dinner is served only on Thursday and Friday nights. If you're not among those who live close enough to stroll in during the daytime hours, the dinner service is well worth a drive and a spot on your evening calendar.

I, for one, would happily log the miles just for the pork shanks, an appetizer on the current menu featuring a brace of tender young shanks, slow roasted and then flash-fried to a succulent, crisp-crusted turn. If the kitchen is still flush with local heirloom tomatoes when I get there, I'd also spring for the caprese salad that serves them up in abundance. And, while the classic bistro pairing of steamed mussels and pommes frites is enjoying something of a revival these days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better rendition.

Baby back ribs, slow roasted and finished on the grill with a piquant green chile barbecue sauce, are a popular entree option, and justifiably so. The fact that they're served with the restaurant's signature "fifty/fifty" fries (half sweet potato, half classic frites, both addictive) makes them even harder to refuse.

Unless you're in the mood for something lighter, that is, in which case an unlikely sounding salad of maplewood-smoked trout, arugula, blueberries and fresh mint in a vinaigrette of avocado oil and white balsamic vinegar is sure to hit the spot. Or unless pork Milanese is available as a special, in which case all bets are off. Starring a thin, plate-eclipsing cutlet as tender as veal with a Panko crust pan-fried to a delicate golden brown, this one rivals the best Wiener schnitzel I had the year I lived in Germany.

Kitchen miscues are infrequent, and usually minor. Roast chicken was underdone the first time I ordered it, and perfectly cooked on another occasion. Cheesecake was dry to the point of being crumbly, but chocolate pudding cake was a rich, creamy delight.

Some of the wait staff are more polished and attentive than others. But as a whole, they're as warmly welcoming as the citrus-themed decor of the two small but airy dining rooms. You'll be made to feel at home at Citrus, whether or not you're one of the regulars. You might even say you'll feel like you're in on the neighborhood's best kept secret.