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Citrus Restaurant (2013)

Citrus rillettes

I was recently purchased by some of the area’s most prominent citizens.

That’s right, I said purchased. Or, if you prefer, I recently went to the highest bidders as a silent auction item at the annual gala for Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF. The item at the Orlando Shakes event was for dinner for two with me at Citrus restaurant to help write an updated review. The folks at Citrus generously donated the dinner.

Actually, the folks at Citrus turned out to be doubly generous. I’m humbled to report that I was the focus of a bidding war between two couples: John and Rita Lowndes and Mike and Marian Peters. John, of course, is the first name in the Lowndes, Drosdick, et. al. law firm; Rita is the area’s indefatigable benefactor and a founder of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.

Mike Peters is the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who draws the Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip. He and Marian purchased me before, and our dinner was so much fun that I was delighted to see them bidding on me again.

But Rita was not to be outdone, and after several back and forth uppings of the bid amount, we all finally came to a solution: we’d make it dinner for five, which doubled the amount raised for O-Shakes.

Of course I still had to clear that with Citrus. But they eagerly agreed, and the five us us recently convened at the restaurant north of downtown.

Now, obviously, this isn’t the way a critic normally approaches a review. The restaurant knew we were coming and had put together a special menu with wine pairing for us. I specifically asked Citrus for the donation because I had been impressed with what they’ve been doing recently, and I didn’t want to ask a restaurant to participate and then have the dinner be such a disaster that I -- and my guests -- would end up with nothing but negatives. I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be the case with Citrus.

What I didn’t know was that we’d all be genuinely blown away by the quality of the meal. Everything we were served was wonderfully prepared, creatively curated and carefully paired with exceptional wines. The menu was a collaboration of chefs Lucas Reid, Matt Wall and Joey Ferguson, and I urge you to visit and see what they’re doing.

Perhaps they’ll be offering the smoked grouper rillettes that was our first course. Rillettes, of course, is a sort of pate usually made with pork or fowl -- and lots of fat. But it works quite well with fish, too, as demonstrated by this dish. The rillettes was served as a timbale, topped with crispy tostones and micro greens. A stellar co-star on the plate was the pickled jalapenos, made in house, which were both spicy and sweet. This was piared with the 2011 Pago Cimera Torrontes, an Argentine wine with tropical fruit flavors that played nicely with the smokiness of the fish.

Citrus pappardelle

Next came a pasta dish featuring tender ribbons of papparedelle with a ragout of pork shank and tomatoes, topped with an herbed ricotta. This was absolute heaven, I could have just had this dish and left fully sated. It was raised another notch with the Shatter Grenache, 2011, that was surprisingly fruit forward for a French wine.

Citrus quail

Grilled quail was next, sitting atop a succotash of Zellwood corn and accompanied by the most incredible emerald okra -- it had the texture of grilled asparagus. On top of the grilled quail was a delicately fried quail egg (the chef later cheekily called the pairing mother and child). Earthquake zinfandel from Lodi, Calif., was the pairing.

Citrus lamb

You’d think that would be plenty, but we had another entree coming, barbecued lamb ribs. It had a distinctive local flavor with collard greens and a pudding fashioned from pumpkin bread. A 2009 Starmont cabernet stood up nicely to the strong flavors of the meat and greens.

The pumpkin cheesecake dessert was almost too much to contemplate, but it was surprisingly light.

Our server had a friendly and confident air and an impressive knowledge of the food and wine he was serving. Other members of the staff who came by the table to help serve or clear plates were equally as well comported. 

Citrus has earned a reputation over the years as the place for power lunches. Any weekday will find politicians and other mover/shaker types holding court at their tables and flitting about the room to visit others.

But the evening meal should not be overlooked here, especially knowing the the chefs are capable of putting together such a wonderful feast. All of my guests declared the dinner a success -- there wasn’t a negative comment among them. I was pretty sure that would be the case, but I didn’t know it would be this good.

Citrus is at 821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-373-0622.

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Monday, 1st September 2014

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