Merion Station, Pa. — When she left Washington, D.C., for Philadelphia, Karen Nicolas opened a new chapter in her cooking career, stepping into the world of kosher cuisine for the very first time as the new executive chef at Citron and Rose, the “hip” eatery in this Philadelphia suburb.
Since opening last summer next door to the Philadelphia Community Kollel, the restaurant’s creative consultants were Israeli-born Chef Michael Solomonov — the James Beard Mid-Atlantic award winner — and his business associate Stephen Cook. Their chef de cuisine was Yehuda Sichel.
Citron and Rose has been drawing people from the Philadelphia area and beyond to taste the staples of what their grandparents brought over from Eastern Europe, but with a sometimes edgy, playful re-interpretation.
The restaurant is the brainchild of David Magerman, a Philadelphia philanthropist who believes that one of the things you can do to attract observant Jews to settle in a community is give them a good place to eat.
In keeping with this approach, his next big project is opening a kosher dairy restaurant near Citron and Rose, with casual items like pastas and sandwiches downstairs and a kind of coffee house setting upstairs, where people will also be able to use the Internet or even hold meetings.
Magerman, newly observant, is a Stanford Ph.D. with a specialty in artificial intelligence and the founder of the Kohelet Foundation, which seeks innovative ways to support Jewish day schools.
Solomonov and Cook are well-known for Philly’s very popular Zahav Israeli restaurant, as well as the Texas-style Percy Street Barbecue, and Federal Donuts, which specializes in takeout donuts and fried chicken.
But now with the conclusion of their consulting arrangement at Citron and Rose, Nicolas, formerly executive chef at Washington’s Equinox Restaurant, is in charge of things at the kosher eatery.
She is obviously excited to be returning to her native Philadelphia, where she will cook kosher for the first time.
“The opportunity … is a dream-come-true,” she notes.
“I have wanted to return to Philadelphia’s bustling restaurant scene, [and] this position gives me the chance to have a creative drive behind a menu of my own and the challenge of keeping within the kosher cooking parameters.
“So I think it’s good. It’s exciting … to be able to do something different… .”
And “different” it’s going to be, as she fits her cooking style into the rules of kashrut.
She’s up to the challenge with plans to “modernize” things a bit and “incorporate a seasonal take….”
A case in point is her dinner trout item, which sits on a bulgur salad, with preserved lemon, sorrel, chives, and extra virgin olive oil. It also incorporates high-end chanterelle mushrooms and broccoli — both in season now — and tahini sauce for some Sephardic zest.
Then there’s her new lunch menu, where diners can choose from first-course dishes like the Citron Salad, with bibb lettuce, fennel, pistachios, and mustard seed vinaigrette, or the Walnut-Kasha Croquettes, which come with gherkin relish, and cascabel pepper aioli.
With the warm weather, diners can also have lunch out on the sidewalk.
So now diners who have enjoyed Nicolas’ cooking in Washington will be able to sample her new kosher fare on visits out Philadelphia way.
Citron and Rose is located at 370 Montgomery Ave., in Lower Merion. Call 610-664-4919 for more information.