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Kosher Eatery Varies Hues on a Jewish Canvas

November 7, 2012 By:
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(From left) Steven Cook, Yehuda Sichel and Michael Solomonov prepare for opening night at Citron and Rose, a kosher restaurant on the Main Line.

The restaurateurs behind Citron and Rose, a kosher Main Line restaurant, were considering for their menu a fish  dish that they weren’t entirely satisfied with.

The idea was to bake the sea bream in parchment paper — Fish en Papillote, as the dish is called in French — which allows the seafood to steam in its own juices while baking.

But in preparing to open their first kosher kitchen, Steven Cook and chef Michael Solomonov learned that baking the fish meant having to add a third oven or repurposing one of the two already installed. Kosher law requires that an oven separate from other meats be dedicated to fish.

And so the new upscale eatery, opening this week in Merion Station, will instead feature a breaded fish, either sole or fluke, fried on the stove — no extra oven needed. Not sold on the sea bream dish anyway, Cook called the oven restriction fortuitous.

“It’s not different than any other restaurant,” Cook said. “There are all kinds of problems to solve every day.”

The Citron and Rose menu twists the European Jewish food Cook and Solomonov ate in their childhood homes, ones rich in Jewish culture, though semi-observant religiously. This is the partners’ second time using a Jewish canvas —their non-kosher restaurant, Zahav, in downtown Philadelphia features modern Israeli cuisine — and contorting ingredients to produce compositions that are worthy of a buzz.

“We’re at different stages of our careers and the expectations are much higher,” said Solomonov, a 2011 James Beard award winner. In addition to Zahav, which Philadelphia Magazine ranked best the city’s best restaurant in 2009, the owners have also partnered in Percy Street Barbecue and Federal Donuts, which each have two locations in Center City. Citron and Rose will be their first restaurant in the suburbs.

The restaurant name draws upon two ideas: citron (etrog) for its religious significance; rose for how the flower blooms. The owner of the restaurant is David Magerman, a computer engineer who supports Jewish education in the region through his Kohelet Foundation. 

“I'm very excited and anxious,” Magerman wrote in an e-mail. “I've never been involved with a restaurant opening. I've spent a lot of time watching the chefs involved discussing plans and strategizing.  Hopefully, by the end of this I’ll know a lot more about running a restaurant.”

Cook and Solomonov do not have any ownership stake in this latest endeavor. Solomonov said their ownership of non-kosher restaurants prevented them from being able to invest in Citron and Rose, which will be a meat, not dairy restaurant.

Based on their experiences, the partners expressed confidence in dishes that the less than adventurous might recoil from. Solomonov said grilled duck hearts were met with some reluctance at Zahav, but the item remains on the menu more than four years after the restaurant opened.

Citron and Rose will feature a chopped liver made with sour cherry, chocolate and pumpernickel. Like gefilte fish, chopped liver is not always the most popular offering at a Passover seder. But here, the Israeli-born Solomonov said, the sour cherry, a common ingredient in Hungary, draws out a different flavor from the meat. The idea for the dish came while the partners were stuck in traffic outside of Washington D.C.

“We’re not designing dishes to satisfy our egos. We’re using the liver because we think it’s delicious,” Solomonov said.

On Monday morning, a rabbi from Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia entered Citron and Rose and informed the staff that the restaurant had been certified kosher. 

Among the most limiting factors a kosher restaurant must contend with is being closed Friday night and Saturday all day for Shabbat, traditionally popular dining-out times. The restaurant will also be closed Saturday nights. Cook and Solomonov expect Thursdays and Sundays to be busy evenings. They also anticipate doing a steady stream of catering. The Kohelet Foundation will hold a Thanksgiving-themed lunch and talk that explores the history of turkey and why it is deemed kosher.

Cook said he wasn’t discouraged by the forced menu change or any of the several other unforeseen speed bumps en route to opening his first kosher restaurant. He researched the origins of the law pertaining to fish and learned that it has its roots in Torah scholar Maimonides’ idea that separating the animal was healthier.

“You can’t solve problems,” Cook said, “if you don’t understand what you’re up against.”

Citron and Rose
368-370 Montgomery Avenue, Merion Station
Call: 610-664-4919

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