In the already nebulous world of restaurant critiquing, things can become even more obfuscated depending on the tack one takes. For instance, I could say that Citrus is a good restaurant and just leave it at that. Or I could say that Citrus could be better than it is, which would take some explaining.
Let me explain.
Citrus is the new restaurant from the Urban Life Management Restaurant Group, the folks who also brought you Hue and Kres, and who will bring you Cityfish in the former Central City Market space (also their concept) later this year.
Citrus has the same style and sensibility as Hue. The interiors of both restaurants were designed by Urban Studio Architects of Tampa. The design makes good use of diaphanous draperies, dramatic lighting and modish dinnerware. It does a very good job of setting a tone. It evokes youthfulness and panache. And you might as well know right now, this is a noisy restaurant. I don’t penalize it for that – it is what it is supposed to be, and part of the liveliness is in the clamor. Be forewarned.
But with the impact of an impressive interior comes an anticipation of food that will reach the same level. And that’s where Citrus could do better. Most of the food I had on my three visits was good, but I kept wanting it to be better. But too much of what I sampled was uninspired and dull. And even those dishes that held the promise to rise above the mundane tended to be anchored in mediocrity.
The paella risotto ($28) is a prime example. Never mind that paella and risotto are diametrically different dishes with only rice as a common denominator. It’s the playfulness of putting the two together that offers a sense of expectation. But it was fairly undistinguished, and wasn’t a very good example of a risotto or a paella. It had some nice, firm shrimp, but the clams were the size one usually tosses aside to chop into a chowder, and the mussels were big and rubbery.
Bacon wrapped Maine scallops ($24) were an impressive size, a tad undercooked for my taste but still fresh-tasting and delicious. But while the scallops were OK slightly undercooked the bacon was not. And the sweet potato cubes and corn kernels that comprised a hash platform for the scallops were mushy and overcooked.
Chimichurri sauce was put to overuse with both the skirt steak ($22) and twin veal chops ($30). The piquant sauce, heavy on garlic and vinegar, was a better match for the meatiness of the skirt steak, and this was probably the best of the entrees I sampled. But the sauce didn’t quite go with the milder flavored veal and it overwhelmed the otherwise milky tender chops.
On a lunch visit a companion had the pomegranate glazed salmon ($19), a lovely, thick fillet that was cooked perfectly and had a fresh taste. The wild mushroom orzo it sat upon, however, was mushy and over salted.
I liked my bacon cheddar burger ($10), even if it was a tad beyond the requested medium-rare. It was a thick patty with two (properly cooked) rashers of bacon under melted cheese. The burger was topped with red and yellow tomato slices and served on a large but fresh bun. It was a challenge to eat, but I managed. The fries that accompanied were very good, crispy but not hard.
The skirt steak flatbread ($13) was the best of the appetizers I tasted. The cripsy crust was dotted with big, chewy pieces of meat and cheddar and manchego cheeses.
One half of the calamari duo ($14) was good. The breaded and fried pieces of squid were crispy and satisfying. The sauteed sections were flaccid and bland.
The lobster fritters ($11) were disappointingly small and hard and had precious little lobster inside.
Black bean soup ($5) was thick and flavorful but I’d recommend leaving the onions off. The white bean soup of the day ($5) featured deliciously al dente great northern beans with bits of bacon.
Some effort could be exerted to make desserts a little more special. The apple crisp ($8) not only was uncrisp but downright mushy. A Key lime pie ($8) turned out to be a cheesecake with little to suggest a lime had been involved in its making.
Service was super. The young staff showed training and went about their tasks with efficiency. There is a wine list with a number of intriguing selections, many available by the glass. Tastes were poured with pleasure.
If you’ve been paying attention to the descriptions of the food, you may have noticed there isn’t anything particularly citrusy about any of it. Neither is there anything fruitful about the interior’s color scheme, which is dominated by brown – brown napkins, brown wood tabletops, brown umbrellas, etc. I can only guess the developers chose the name Citrus because United Parcel Service wasn’t available.
It’s all a very attractive brown, however, and the attractive people who will undoubtedly flock to this new restaurant will feel tony sitting in the comfortable chairs under the rings of lights high overhead.
Myself, I’d prefer a menu that could rise to the occasion of the surroundings. I’d prefer a better restaurant than just good enough.
Citrus is at 821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It’s open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly. The phone number is 407-373-0622. Visit the Web site for more info.