Kosher is ‘hip’ at Philly’s Citron and Rose
Kosher cuisine with a sometimes playful, sometimes surprising re-interpretation.
Citron and Rose Photo: George Medovoy
MERION, Pennsylvania – My grandmother of blessed memory wouldn’t know a thing
about Bob Dylan. But they’re playing a recording of one of his songs as we sit
down to dinner at Citron and Rose, a hip new glatt kosher restaurant in this
upscale suburb of Philadelphia.
Come to think of it, my grandmother would
be quite surprised if she knew what they’re doing with the schmaltz, mixing it
with fried garlic and onions and serving it as a substitute for butter with our
warm dinner rolls.
Citron and Rose, with a modern, tasteful flair and a
stylish bar next door to the Philadelphia Community Kollel, is where kosher
cuisine means serving the staples of what your grandparents brought over from
Eastern Europe – but with a sometimes playful, sometimes surprising
And if ever there was a team that could pull it all
off, this one is a sure winner.
First of all, there’s David Magerman, the
Philadelphia philanthropist who opened the restaurant because, as he told me,
one way to attract more observant Jews to a community is to give them – what
else? – a really good place to eat.
Magerman, who moved here with his
wife and children from Long Island, is a powerhouse of creativity:
newly-observant, a Stanford PhD with a sub-specialty in artificial intelligence,
and the founder of the Kohelet Foundation, which seeks innovative ways to
support Jewish day schools.
Magerman admits that he still can’t believe
he’s in the restaurant business: “Never in my life did I dream I would own a
restaurant....” Of course, he’s got some of the best consultants he could ever
find in Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov, the James Beard Mid-Atlantic
award-winner, and his partner, restaurateur Stephen Cook, who just happened to
be interested in doing kosher for their next project – something Magerman
characterizes as “beshert.”
Solomonov and Cook continue to please
Philadelphia with three restaurants that are not kosher – Zahav, their amazing
Israeli eaterie, the Texas-style Percy Street Barbecue, and Federal Donuts,
which specializes in take-out donuts and fried chicken. And finally, there’s
Yehuda Sichel, chef de cuisine, who grew up in a kosher home in Baltimore and
studied culinary arts in Israel.
So here we are, walking into the
restaurant on this chilly February evening for a 6 p.m. dinner.
hostess greets us warmly at the door, and in no time, someone takes our coats
and escort us to our table next to a comfortable banquette. We have a nice view
of the open kitchen near the bar, where the young Sichel is busy behind the
stove, and where I also spot the mashgiach, the bearded fellow wearing a
The young wait staff looks so cool in their black outfits and
contrasting silver-blue ties – a reminder that Citron and Rose is about as far
removed from old world as Eskimos are from Miami.
Which brings me to
something Magerman says: “No one involved with our restaurant has any experience
with kosher restaurants. That was one of the key things that I wanted to do...
bring in a restaurant team – not a kosher restaurant team.” “A lot of the
experience [in Citron and Rose],” he notes, “doesn’t feel like the typical
Magerman recalls being told that a kosher restaurant
wouldn’t do well and that people wouldn’t come to one, so he decided to “make
something that was a restaurant first, and then it just happens to adhere to
Taking a look around, I can see that the wait staff is a
mix of secular and religious, something that is also reflected in the clientele,
because there are men wearing kippot, and here and there tzizit are visible. But
then, too, there is also a fair number of men with uncovered heads.
waitress, attentive and knowledgeable, starts us off with bottled water and then
brings us a serving of two types of warm, house-baked rolls – challah and rye –
with a small dish of the onion-and-garlic schmaltz, which Sichel says has
received “really, really good responses.” I found the serving of chicken fat
quite refreshing, adding a rather pleasant layer of taste to the dinner
Next comes a tasting of house pastrami served with Dijon mustard
and sauerkraut, followed by our First Course: my Salad Lyonnaise and my wife’s
Celery Root Soup, in the middle of which sits a serving of veal-stuffed
The celery root soup, poured by a waiter, is thick, velvety, and
flavorful, and the veal-stuffed cabbage comes apart effortlessly.
Salad Lyonnaise, which substitutes duck breast for the traditional bacon of this
classic dish, is served with potatoes cooked in duck fat, morsels of smoked
duck, and the customary poached egg – with a frisee in a tangy red wine
It was so delicious, and if I could make one recommendation,
it would be to double down on that wonderful smoked duck.
between more schmaltz and rolls, is our Second Course: my wife’s Ribeye Steak
with potato kugel, glazed onions, and concord grape mustard, and my Lamb Sholet,
the Hungarian version of the Shabbat stew I know as cholent. This Citron and
Rose version is comprised of braised lamb shank with kishke, haminado, and
Sichel got his fill of sholet when he accompanied
Solomonov on a trip to Budapest to check out kosher cooking there as a prelude
to opening Citron and Rose. (Jewish Paris, too, was on the travel-and-food
agenda for this trip).
Everywhere they went in Budapest, Sichel tells me,
the everpopular sholet was on the menu.
I remember Solomonov talking to
me exuberantly about this trip and how taken he was by the kosher food he
encountered; in Budapest, he said, he was served “the best matzo-ball soup by
far that I’ve ever had in my life.”
My lamb shank has been braised slowly
in that old standby of the Shabbat Kiddush, Manischewitz Concord Grape Wine,
along with coffee and all-spice; it is so tender that it falls off the
The dish also has some Sephardi elements to it, including prunes,
the beans, and half an egg brined in coffee. (In the Sephardic version of
cholent, called dafina, an egg is also used, but it is served whole and
My wife’s steak is cooked as ordered to perfection, and the
kugel is a reminder again of the “heavy” Eastern European influences in our
By the time we complete our second course, there isn’t an empty
seat in the restaurant, and the bar is full, too – all of which gives me the
feeling that Citron and Rose is becoming a popular local hang-out.
fact, this is just what Magerman was hoping for.
“Some [observant] people
have told me that they’ve never been able to go to a bar as an adult because
there were no kosher bars,” he says. “Now there’s a group of people one or two
nights a week... who just go and hang out. They sit at the bar, they might have
dinner, they might have an appetizer, and they sit there and talk.”
bar scene comes with kosher wines from around the world, including Israel;
American whiskey; single malt Scotch; and beer. There are also cocktails like
“The Mensch and the Maidel” (brandy, poppy and apple cider).
[at the bar] for some of these hang-out sessions,” Magerman adds, “and it’s
amazing... Jews of all stripes come in, people that you know who are observant
or not observant, or people you know from the community, and... they say hello,
and you catch up with them for awhile until they’re seated... it’s really a very
pleasant, comfortable hang-out.”
In keeping with this element of
neighborhood camaraderie, the restaurant’s “coming out party,” if you will, took
place at Magerman’s home, where a large crowd of invited guests watched the
Super Bowl and ate kosher from the Citron and Rose kitchen.
back to our dinner...
When it comes time for dessert, we’re so full we’re
not sure if we can manage it.
But we simply have to try the French Toast
Bread Pudding, which tastes just like a candy treat. And no wonder: this dessert
is made with pecan praline and maple – and it comes with a serving of coffee ice
Next time we visit, which I hope will be sooner than later, we’ll
try the Dry-Aged Rib-Eye for Two (limited availability), served with horseradish
chremsli, pickled green tomatoes, and C&R steak sauce. The steaks are
brought in from New York and aged downstairs in the restaurant. Yes, next time