A few days before the unveiling of Citron and Rose, an upscale kosher restaurant on the Main Line slated to open Nov. 7, a star chef and a prolific restaurateur who are guiding the enterprise talked to each other about what’s behind the concept.
Michael Solomonov, a 2011 James Beard Award winner, and Steve Cook, also own the modern Israeli restaurant Zahav in Society Hill, the authentic Texas Barbecue spot Percy Street on South Street and Federal Donuts, which just opened a second site in Philadelphia.
Steve: So, did you ever think you'd be involved in opening a kosher restaurant?
Mike: Not really. I grew up in a Jewish home but sometimes when my mom went out, my dad would bring out the bacon he had stashed in the back of the fridge. What about you?
Steve: I grew up in a pretty observant Reform Jewish household. We never ate pork, but we lived in Miami, so stone crabs were OK. So remind me, why did we agree to do this?
Mike: This is the food we grew up eating — Jewish food is kosher food. So to the extent that we can explore these traditions and maybe help keep them vital and relevant, how could we not want to be involved in that?
Steve: It’s going to be a huge challenge, but I think that was one of the biggest attractions.
Mike: David’s [owner David Magerman] enthusiasm is pretty inspiring as well.
Steve: He has a vision of building a stronger community, primarily through his support of day school education, but also by creating amenities like kosher dining.
Mike: He has been trying to get this done for a few years now and the project has been through a few different iterations, but he stuck with it.
Steve: Why are there so few good kosher restaurants out there? Some upscale kosher restaurants have closed in the last year, locally and in other major cities. There’s New York, but that’s more the exception than the rule.
Mike: Well the economics are tricky being closed most of the weekend, and kosher ingredients can be expensive and difficult to find. But there’s also a chicken-and-egg problem: If there are no successful kosher restaurants, how is anyone supposed to learn how to run a successful kosher restaurant?
Steve: Hopefully, that’s where we come in. The high failure rates you hear about in the restaurant business are heavily skewed. Just because you can open a restaurant doesn’t mean you should.
Mike: We’re approaching this in the same way we always do, whether it’s donuts or fine-dining. It’s about giving the guest a great experience, which means not only providing great food and great service, but doing it consistently, every single day.
Steve: To quote Yvon Chouinard, profit is what happens when you do everything else right.
Mike: And this isn’t something we could have, or would have, done on our own. We have the right team in place, from our Chef de Cuisine Yehuda Sichel, to our GM Ron Didner to our mashgiach Rob Kandler. It’s kind of like the dream team of kosher dining.
Steve: So do you think it’s possible for a high-end kosher restaurant to succeed in Philadelphia? In a non-kosher restaurant, about half of our business is on Friday and Saturday nights.
Mike: Well, obviously I do. We want Citron and Rose to be a great kosher restaurant, but also a great restaurant, period.
Steve: If we are a restaurant only for people who keep kosher, I think we will have failed.
Mike: What’s been the biggest eye-opener in terms of the requirements of opening a kosher restaurant?
Steve: The practice of tevilas keilim, which is the ritual immersion of all of our equipment and utensils (pots, pans, silverware, plates). Our equipment vendor literally backed his truck up to the mikveh and then our staff spent the better part of a few days unpacking, dipping and repacking.
Mike: And you have to take all the labels off first, and a lot of times they don’t come off in one piece. So that was fun.
Steve: What about you? Any new challenges you’ve encountered?
Mike: Our walk-in refrigerator went down 45 minutes before Shabbat a few days ago. We had all of the food in there for a wedding we were catering on Sunday.
Steve: What are you most excited about on the menu at Citron and Rose?
Mike: Probably the duck sholet.
Steve: That might be because you didn’t grow up eating cholent every week.
Mike: We had it like five times in three days in Budapest. It was really freaking good.
Adapted from Citron and Rose
For the Duck:
1 whole duck, broken down into two breasts and two leg quarters; reserve skin, bones, fat and liver
Season the duck leg quarters generously with kosher salt. Cure in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 250˚.
Brush off the excess salt from the duck legs and place in a smoker for one hour. Transfer the duck legs to a baking dish. Cover with melted chicken fat. Cover the baking dish and place in the oven until the duck legs are tender, approximately 3 to 4 hours.
Cool the duck in the chicken fat. When cool, remove the legs and wipe off the excess fat. Separate the leg from the thigh. Remove the thigh bone and cut each thigh into two rectangles. Pick the meat from the duck legs.
For the Bean Stew:
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup flageolet beans, soaked overnight in water and drained
1⁄2 tsp. ground allspice
2 cups duck or chicken stock
2 Tbsps. duck or chicken fat
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Warm the duck fat in a casserole or saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sweat until the vegetables are soft and translucent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the beans and allspice and cover with the stock. Bring to a simmer and place in the oven, covered, for approximately one hour.
Remove the cover and cook for approximately 20 more minutes, or until the beans are tender. Season to taste with kosher salt. Place half of the beans and cooking liquid in a blender and puree until smooth. Season the puree with additional salt if necessary.
Fold the picked duck leg meat (from above) into the reserved bean stew.
reserved duck liver
reserved skin from duck neck
2 Tbsps. duck or chicken fat
1⁄2 carrot, peeled and rough chopped
1⁄4 medium onion, peeled and rough chopped
1⁄4 medium sweet potato, peeled and rough chopped
1⁄2 cup challah bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Run the duck liver, duck fat and vegetables through the small plate of a meat grinder two times (alternatively, you can finely grate the vegetables using a box grater and chop the liver by hand).
Mix with the remaining ingredients and stuff into the duck neck skin. Place on a baking sheet in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the interior is hot when tested with a metal skewer, turning occasionally.
1⁄2 cup kosher salt
2 cups hot coffee
1 medium onion, unpeeled and roughly chopped
Dissolve the salt in the hot coffee and add the onion. Place the eggs in a saucepan of cold water and place over high heat. Once the water reaches a low boil, cook the eggs for six minutes. Shock the eggs in ice water. Peel the eggs and place them in the coffee brine for one hour.
To Complete Recipe:
Score the skin of the duck breasts and season with kosher salt. Cook skin-side down in a saute pan over medium-low heat to render the fat and crisp the skin, approximately 10 minutes. Turn the duck breasts and cook until medium rare, approximately 3 minutes. Remove the duck breasts to a plate and keep warm.
Increase the heat and add the trimmed duck thighs to the pan, skin-side down. Add the kishke, turning occasionally. When the duck thighs and kishke are crispy and warmed through, remove from the pan.
To serve, place a spoonful of bean puree in the center of four large bowls. Add a spoonful of the bean stew on top of the puree. Thinly slice the duck breast and fan over the bean stew. Place a rectangle of duck thigh in each bowl and garnish with half of a haminado egg.