Citron + Rose
Thoroughly modern and highly ambitious, this Main Line restaurant offers a menu’s worth of kosher dishes, reimagined to suit a cool, contemporary space
by Brian Freedman

The kosher table is a conundrum for most people. From the outside, and based on years of experience almost exclusively with the Eastern European, grandmother-borne kosher tradition, the vast majority of people still assume that this food is unrelentingly heavy, relatively unvaried in flavor, and anchored by little more that salt, pepper, chicken and, inexplicably, matzoh.

This is why Citron + Rose is such an important restaurant, not just in our region but in the greater landscape of American Jewish cuisine. The kitchen here—now under the care and leadership of chef Karen Nicolas—is finding an impeccable balance between respect for tradition and a brave willingness to challenge convention when the results justify it.

And oy vey, do they justify it here.

Midway through appetizers at a recent meal here, I found myself wistfully imagining what life would be like for thousands of Jewish boys and girls if we all ate this well during the family holiday gatherings that dot the year, what Rosh Hashanah dinners and Passover seders gone by would have looked like had the same roll call of dishes been replaced by the practically electrified riffs coming out of the kitchen here.

Roasted marrow bone is given the lavishing of care and attention it deserves. A generous portion is centered on an impossibly decadent heart of marrow, amplified by maitake mushroom salad and an ingenious smoked onion aioli. All of that richness is cut with delicate petals of pickled veal tongue, and the result is a presentation that, while it incorporates so many of the totemic components of the kosher tradition, is made excitingly new.

Pastrami, with its house-blended rub anchored by the perfume of cumin, coriander and peppercorns, is a labor of love that takes the kitchen here more than 10 days to craft ... and one worth every second. It’s like a version of what you’d get at the neighborhood delicatessen, but only if that neighborhood was located in heaven. Sweet potato soup—actually a silky vegan purée of sweet potatoes, apples, fennel and honey—was recast in a new and exciting light by virtue of its swath of red pepper paste and a perfectly crafted duck meatball, a moist and deeply flavorful orb that you will absolutely crave the next day. With a bracing IPA from the well considered beer list, it’s just about perfect.

You don’t have to drink beer, of course. The wine selection, all of the bottles mevushal (essentially, flash pasteurized), is as solid as possible given the limited options in Pennsylvania. Still, what it lacks in electricity, it more than makes up for in proving that not all kosher wine is of the sickly sweet variety that generations of bar mitzvah boys have been forced to choke down on the bimah in front of the horde there to witness his passage into manhood, that swallow of Manischewitz a last hurdle to be endured before crossing through the door to being an adult. And some of the bottles here are outright delicious.

But it’s the cocktails that have always gotten me most excited here. I discovered a brave selection of classics and newer creations, both of which leverage unusual flavors or combinations to create something exciting. The “Kosher Nostra,” for example, with its absinthe perfume and horseradish bitters, is a seriously memorable whiskey drink.

And whatever you do, make sure to order the chicken. Rubbed up in a seven-spice blend hinting of coriander, mustard seeds and fennel seeds, the moistness of the bird is made better by pickled pumpkin, braised kale and an oat porridge that all channel the season perfectly, their aromatics and heft lovely hints of mid-autumn. The red snapper was more exotic and exceptionally well executed. The accompanying harissa provided a punchy counterpoint to the more delicate fish, and meyer lemon vinaigrette and fennel brightened it all up, but it was the spaghetti squash kugel that will stay with me. This wasn’t just a fabulous preparation of the gourd, but also one of the finest kugels I’ve ever tucked into. (Sorry, Mom.)

By this point in a meal you’ll be full, having likely eaten beyond the point of satiety. Ignore the urge to head to the car and power through to dessert. Gems such as an elegant chocolate pudding cake with tehina “ice cream,” or an order of gorgeous gingerbread beignets, are worth some discomfort later on. The flavors ring true in a way in which desserts this rich almost never achieve.

All this is served in a space as cool and contemporary as any in the area—and this is yet another way that Citron + Rose defies expectations. This is a thoroughly modern, highly ambitious restaurant that happens to be kosher but is never content to allow the old ways of doing things define it. In other words, the conundrum of the kosher table is solved right here—and exuberantly so.

Citron + Rose
370 Montgomery Ave., Merion Station
610-664-4919 |

Photograph by Rob Hall