Having had the pleasure of experiencing 2-star Michelin chef Josiah Citrin’s acclaimed fine dining restaurant Mélisse in Santa Monica, I (along with many Los Angelenos) salivated for the reopening of the new Mélisse and Citrin restaurants, showcasing two different culinary concepts beneath one roof. Closing the iconic Mélisse last March after two decades of service, Chef Citrin recently debuted the transformed Mélisse, now an intimate five-table restaurant that only serves a special tasting menu, and the brand new Citrin, a 99-seat casual bistro serving “progressive California cuisine”.
Chef Citrin’s culinary philosophy and cookbook, In Pursuit of Excellence, sets the standard for all his cuisine whether haute level fine dining or casual. Trained in France and of French heritage, Citrin describes his style as “Contemporary American with French influences”, pairing classical French techniques as the foundation from which he creates new flavours with carefully sourced farm-to-table produce. Although his cooking philosophy– “the best tasting food can always be traced to its roots”– may seem deceptively simple, the inspired creations that he shapes, seasons, prepares and plates as art to the eye and palate, are definitely not.
Reflecting the more casual approach of the Los Angeles  fine dining scene, Chef Citrin and Chef/Partner Ken Takayama reimagined the Michelin two-starred Mélisse sans tablecloths, with a more personal, intimate approach to service. This décontracté experience begins as guests enter the dining room by ringing the doorbell and entering through the familiar Mélisse red door. Much like being invited to an intimate dinner party, the chefs and sommeliers, doubling as servers, lead diners through their culinary voyage.
Using flavours from around the world, each dish showcases contrasting textures and styles. The nine-course seasonal tasting menu ($295) may offer Wagyu Beef Tartare, Hokkaido Scallop with Tokyo Negi, King Crab Tartlets with Hazelnut, and Caviar served with Buttermilk Mousse, to name a few choices. Guests may opt for a wine-pairing or a non-alcoholic pairing that features kombucha and infusions.
Citrin, which occupies the majority of the transformed space, offers an upscale, inviting and more casual bistro experience. Soft lighting, muted tones, and a separate 22-seat well-appointed bar enhance the modern cool vibe.
Signature classic dishes of Mélisse such as Egg with Caviar and Lobster Bolognese remain. The à la carte menu offers starters such as Basil Brioche and the Salade Mélisse, a palate-pleasing mélange of bright and acidic flavours enhanced by a Truffle Vinaigrette. Seasonal ingredients shine in dishes such as the Truffle Pasta with housemade tagliatelle, truffle foam and white truffles or the Wild Japanese Yellowtail with radish, grapefruit and nori.
Ever “in pursuit of excellence”, the results of this passion are visible on every plate. With a focus on gaining more Michelin stars for Mélisse and Citrin, the journey continues.
Mélisse/Citrin , 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, California
Mélisse is open Tuesday – Saturday
Two seatings nightly at 5:30 and 8:30pm
Citrin is open daily 5:30pm to 10:00pm