Michel Richard on New York, his D.C. roots and the future of Citronelle

(Photo by Susie Cushner)
(Photo by Susie Cushner)

While the New York Palace hotel is maintaining Garbo-esque silence on even the names for the restaurant and bakery being developed by Michel Richard, the acclaimed Washington chef is sharing a taste of what visitors to the luxury hotel can expect — and addressing gossip about the fate of his shuttered Michel Richard Citronelle and even himself.

Expected to open in September, the 48-seat dining room in Manhattan is described by its visionary as “Citronelle, but lighter.” Cream and butter will be used with restraint, although Richard still wants “magic on the plate.” His goal: “I want to get people excited, and I want them to come all the time,” not just for special occasions.

The pastry shop, poised for an earlier August debut, will be a “grab and go” operation selling desserts and sandwiches and offering minimal seating. The bakery will also make its own chocolate.

Currently in New York to finesse his menus, Richard was selected last fall by David Chase, the general manager of the Palace, after the hotelier interviewed a dozen contenders. Chase called the chef “unique in his ability to deliver.” The restaurant and bakery are part of the Midtown property’s $120 million makeover begun in January.

Richard considers Manhattan a hospitable place to do business. “The French are doing well in New York. The rest of the country,” Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular,  “they don’t like us anymore,” he said. (The chef has opened and closed restaurants in both markets over the years.)

The missing piece of the puzzle for the restaurant remains a chef. “I’m still looking,” says Richard, who is only considering applicants who already live in the Big Apple.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Richard says he is not permanently relocating to New York. Yes, he’ll be spending time there as the food concepts get closer to opening, but no, there aren’t plans to secure anything other than a bed at the Palace when he’s off duty. His wife and children, he adds, will remain in “my lovely town of D.C.”

While we had him on the phone, we had to ask about the status of the shuttered Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown. Were the rumors true that the four-star destination wouldn’t reopen?

“You’re right,” replied the chef. Certainly not in its original underground location in the Latham hotel, he added. Ever the tease, Richard offered slim hope for the restaurant’s reappearance as he bid adieu on the phone. “Maybe next year?”

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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