Chef Savvy with Karen Nicolas
Chef Savvy is a new column where we highlight female culinary professionals in the Philadelphia region as well as the restaurants and companies they work for. We also ask them to share an essential kitchen technique or recipe that every budding home cook should have in her repertoire.Citron + Rose is a modern Kosher restaurant located in Merion, out on the Main Line. Only miles from downtown Philadelphia, this suburb’s old-timey main street feels worlds away from the bustle of Center City and the charming grit of the outlying neighborhoods. It might be a tough sell to trek out of the city for lunch or dinner, especially when there are so many great options right here, but Citron + Rose is well worth the trip. In less time than it takes to listen to half of Beyonce’s new album, you could be sitting in C+R’s comfortable, bright dining room, sipping a Sweet Year cocktail (white rum, fresh mint and pomegranate molasses), and ordering off a deliciously fresh menu.
Whatever images you might conjur when you hear the words “Kosher food,” just let them go. While a much needed dining destination for those who keep Kosher, the selections at Citron + Rose have very little in common with the staid dishes from your Bubbe’s kitchen. No offense to your Bubbe! We love Jewish comfort food! And some of the dishes here do use familiar Jewish culinary ingredients and flavors but then take them to unexpected and wholly cool places: latkes get a gourmet upgrade with cured hamachi, apple, lemon and a delicate cauliflower panna cotta; matzoh gets worked into savory mushroom dumplings with winter vegetables, sage and celery root broth; beef brisket shows up unexpectedly in pillowy perogies with mushrooms, escarole and onion confit.
The menu changes every day, with the season and the creative whims and inspirations of Executive Chef Karen Nicolas. Chef Nicolas came to Citron + Rose in May 2013, after a tenure at Equinox in Washington D.C., where she made a name for herself and garnered a “Best New Chef” award from Food & Wine magazine in 2012. In her seven or so months since taking the helm in the kitchen at Citron + Rose, she’s worked to refresh and lighten up the menu. The original menu, designed by one of Philly’s top chefs Michael Solomonov, was quite masculine, Chef Nicolas says. “Let’s just say, there was a LOT of meat,” she laughs. “I wanted to get more vegetables incorporated – I consider myself a vegetable cook.”
When asked if she believes there are “masculine” and “feminine” modes of cooking, she nods her head enthusiastically. “I think it’s about showmanship versus a sense of nurturing in the kitchen,” she explains. Chef Nicolas is a small woman, and slight of build, but any doubts that she can command a kitchen are washed away by her stellar resume, accolades, and the steadfast popularity of Citron + Rose. It can be tricky when a group of committed regular diners falls in love with a menu and a chef, and then a new chef takes over. But Chef Nicolas has navigated the transition, despite the fact that she had no prior experience cooking specifically Jewish or Kosher food.
So in addition to the re-worked classics and house favorites paying homage to mosaic Jewish cuisine, you will find a badass burger made with dry aged steak at lunch, double dipped chicken wings at Happy Hour, and banana stuffed French toast at brunch. Chef Nicolas has also been experimenting with house made charcuterie, which have yielded some wondrous outcomes (lamb pistachio mortadella sandwich on the lunch menu, we’re looking at you!).
There really are so many reasons to put a couple of bucks worth of gas in your car’s tank, get a group of pals together and have a dining adventure out in the ‘burbs at Citron + Rose. But take note! In keeping with Orthodox Jewish law, Citron + Rose is closed on Friday and Saturday in observance of the Sabbath. We don’t want you showing up there ready for an awesome weekend night dinner to find the door shuttered!
We asked Chef Nicolas to share a “must know” recipe or technique with you, our lovely readers. She passed along her notes on homemade vinaigrette, a foolproof way to take your salads from so-so to stunning:
Below is a simple Citrus Honey Vinaigrette recipe that goes great with any green salad or marinating chicken or fish.This recipe will make a nice big batch, so keep the remainder in the fridge and use it all week long!
Dish photo borrowed from Steve Legato