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Discovering the Dining Pleasures of Citron and Rose and Tavro 13

April 23, 2013 By:
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The main dining room at Citron and Rose

The charge has been leveled, on more than one occasion, and with some degree of accuracy, that I seldom write about restaurants outside of the Philadelphia city limits. As luck would have it, two of the region’s most celebrated chefs have opened suburban outposts

in the last few months, making it the ideal time to prove that I do indeed know how to travel beyond City Line Avenue and the airport.

Granted, Citron and Rose’s location, on Montgomery Avenue in Merion Station, is no more than 15 minutes from Center City, but my dining companion and I were barely in our seats before I experienced something completely foreign: strangers talking to each other across tables. Two older gentlemen who were just finishing their meal began comparing notes with an adorably young couple sitting next to them on the comfortable leather banquette (the ribeye and the cinnamon babka were highly recommended).

Maybe it has to do with the well-appointed, thoughtfully designed space — that cozy banquette, like most tables in the main dining room, benefitted from unobstructed views of the avenue through floor-to-ceiling doors that will soon be thrown open to accommodate outdoor seating framed by the Florida-hued turquoise-and-lime exterior. Or maybe it comes from an underlying sense of comfort and propriety that an overwhelmingly Jewish crowd is dining here because they want to, not because they have to, and enjoying beautifully executed dishes that just happen to be glatt kosher, supervised by Community Kashrus of Philadelphia. 

Whatever it was, we soon found ourselves in conversation with the young couple as well (skip the schnitzel, go for the lamb). One of owner David Magerman’s goals in opening the restaurant — other than bringing top-flight kosher cuisine to the area — was to provide another locus for the community to come together. Based on this admittedly small sample, the founder of the Kohelet Foundation has succeeded.

If you prefer, professional menu advice is available as well, and is much friendlier than the kosher places of my youth (I’m looking at you, Sammy’s Roumanian and Ratner’s). Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov wouldn’t have it any other way. The co-owners of an ever-expanding restaurant empire that includes Zahav, Percy Street Barbecue and three Federal Donuts locations — the latest of which just started frying up at Citizens Bank Park — have trained their staff to be able to discuss every aspect of the Eastern European-influenced menu. 

Our first questions were about the wittily curated cocktail menu. Yes, the much-written-about Cosmonaut was made not just with beet sugar but fresh beet juice as well, which paired so well with vodka that it is hard to believe other bars aren’t doing something similar. The Reb Roy manages to be a triple entendre of a drink, with the distinctly Southern Knob Creek bourbon pairing up with barrel-aged Manischewitz to create a sweet-smoky haze on the palate that lingered even through bites of garlicky schmaltz-smeared house-baked rye and challah rolls.

Go easy on the breadstuffs, because you want your palate to be fully alert for one of the most impressive appetizers in the region — a poppy-crusted knish that holds within its flakily anti-Gabila’s crust umami bursts of mushroom and pearls of house-smoked kasha. Drag a bite though the streak of carrot-tinged mustard, and you will understand that this is why cooking is considered an art form. To transform something so humble, so utilitarian as a knish, to use the concept to exceed expectations so thoroughly as to forever change the way that food is thought of — what is the point of art if not to alter perception?

Seeing salade Lyonnaise on the menu of a kosher restaurant came as a surprise. This brasserie staple combines frisée, poached egg, vinaigrette  and lardons — thick cubes of bacon — to make for an alchemy of creamy/fatty/acidy/meaty goodness. Citron and Rose’s chef de cuisine, Elkins Park native Yehuda Sichel, solves the pork problem by substituting in smoked duck and cubes of potato cooked in duck fat. It is hard to imagine that the treif version could taste any better.

Taking our young neighbors’ advice, we ordered the lamb sholet, also known as cholent. This slow-cooked Shabbat staple was another good example of Solomonov and Sichel’s melding of Eastern European classics with their eclectic sensibilities. A massive, slow-cooked lamb shank provided a resting place for a huevo haminado, the Sephardic slow-cooked egg that, in this case, had been simmering in coffee for so long it had acquired a mahogany exterior. A kishke came stuffed with sweet potato, and a tumble of pale-green flageolet beans completed the dish.

And then there was the dry-aged ribeye. Our waiter overheard me lamenting that it was only available for two people, whereupon he informed me, sotto voce, that there was a ribeye for one that evening, a result of the in-house butchering process that sometimes produces a single steak in need of a good home.

I don’t really have anything to say about this steak other than, if a great piece of beef brings you the primal joy that is unattainable with any other meat, then you need to be here now. Aged for an almost unheard-of 35 days in the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerator, the combination of water loss and enzymes breaking down the proteins, fats and glycogen concentrates the essence of the cut, resulting in up to a 20 percent loss of product for the kitchen — and an incalculable gain for your palate. This ribeye was so good that I could think of only one other comparable experience: Peter Luger.  

While I was sorely tempted to finish off the meal with a dram from Citron and Rose’s strong selection of single malt Scotch (it is the only place I know of that offers the kosher Bruichladdich Carmel Cask 1989), there was that drive back to the city, so we contented ourselves with a well-pulled double shot of espresso, paired with a chocolate mousse parfait that was studded with hazelnut praline and sour cherries.

One final note: As a kosher establishment, Citron and Rose is closed for Shabbat. For those who don’t mind eating late on a Saturday night, the restaurant has just added Saturday night dinner service, which begins one hour after Shabbat ends.

370 Montgomery Ave., Merion Station, 610.664.4919
www.citronandrose.com. Dinner for two, around $130 with drinks.

Merion Station was one thing; Swedesboro was quite another. Yet, that is where I found myself driving to in order to see what Terence Feury was up to in the Deep South of New Jersey.

Feury, who has drawn raves everywhere he has cooked, from Striped Bass to his most recent stint, as executive chef at Old City’s Fork, has a rabid fan base that has followed him to each new stop, eager to see how he will interpret local bounty (he is one of the area’s first and most ardent practitioners of farm-to-table) into his version of American cuisine.

One of those fans was Gus Tzitzifas, the New Jersey entrepreneur who spent almost $2 million to completely rehab the Old Swedes Inn on Kings Highway in Swedesboro. Tzitzifas wanted Feury to run the show at what he and his wife, Effie, had named Tavro 13 (Effie explained that tavro is the Greek word for bull, and Gus loves bulls; and 13 is his lucky number).

Evidently, Tzitzifas made a persuasive argument, because once we were seated in the main dining room strikingly designed in reds and blacks — a stark contrast to the building’s sedately stately architecture — it wasn’t long before we saw the man himself wandering through, asking diners how they were enjoying their meal.

Not that there was anything for him to worry about; everything on the menu at Tavro 13 sounded so good that it became an exercise in indecision. The house-smoked salmon with lemon gelée, rye crisp and trout roe? How about a foie gras torchon with Cape gooseberries, date purée, radishes and pistachios? Or maybe that lamb belly generating so much buzz on the blogs?

In the end, we couldn’t decide — so we ordered all three. And we weren’t sorry. Translucent slices of salmon, with a hint of wood brought into relief by the citrus, showed that Feury’s superlative seafood skills had survived the journey across the Commodore Barry Bridge. And to see foie gras on a menu, especially when its pistachio-crusted richness was tempered so beautifully by tart little orange globes of the all-too-rarely seen gooseberry and paper-thin shards of watermelon radish and daikon, was worth the trip all by itself.

The lamb belly lives up to the hype. Slow-cooked for hours, then seared à la minute à la plancha, the four-inch square renders up a riot of tastes and textures — gamy, earthy, unctuous, crackling — that are only enhanced by the housemade harissa and braised dates providing layers of embellishing flavors.

There was one more appetizer to try. With a description as deceptively simple as “cavatelli with broccoli floret and garlic chip,” we knew there had to be something special going on with this dish, a feeling that was only accentuated by our charmingly attentive server’s declaration that it was her favorite appetizer on the menu. This was comfort food as cooked by someone at the top of their game. Housemade, al dente pasta, broccoli that somehow retained an emerald shade even though it had been cooked and chopped into the kind of pesto basil wants to be a part of when it gets old enough, and garlic chips that were fried just long enough to turn a pale shade of gold and still hold onto their pungent sweetness.

Playing once again to Feury’s strength with seafood, we had king salmon as one of our entrées. It is possible to get king salmon in the springtime — Feury sources it from a sustainable New Zealand aquaculture fishery. Served with a wild mushroom ragout so meaty that it could have been its own course, gently yielding gnocchi and a verdant purée of chives, the fish was in good company.

It has been a long, long time since I had capon, but based on how thoroughly I enjoyed it at Tavro 13, I would be happy to order it again, and soon. Stuffed with a forcemeat of chestnuts, apples and caramelized onions, the capon had a depth of flavor not normally found in chicken and turkey.

Dessert offerings are not as extensive, but feature two clear winners: a lemon-olive oil cake with Meyer lemon curd and candied lemon, and an ever-changing assortment of housemade gelati.

There is more to Tavro 13 than dinner. In addition to an outstanding brunch that features items like housemade chicken sausage wrapped in pancake, a pastry basket with the most amazing onion jam-filled brioche roll, and a handful of dinner items like the salmon and cavatelli, there is a lively bar with an impressively tended rotating selection of draft beers, and a separate area with live music and dancing. And Kings Highway, which serves as the main street of Swedesboro, is an eminently strollable thoroughfare for either stoking the appetite before a meal or for walking it off afterwards. All in all, more than enough reason to make the half-hour drive from Philadelphia.

1301Kings Hwy, Swedesboro, N.J., 856.467.8413; www.tavro13.com.
 Dinner for two, around $130 with drinks; brunch for two, around $40.

After all of that traveling, Greg Salisbury is glad he drives a hybrid. This article originally appeared in Inside Magazine, a Jewish Exponent publication.

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