The Wisdom of Solomonov

Citron and Rose Remakes Kosher Ashkenazi Fare

Cholent Redux: At Citron and Rose, chefs Michael Solomonov and Yehuda Sichel, create elegant interpretations of Ashkenazi dishes like sholet, a Hungarian cholent. Here, it’s made with lamb shank, beans and kishke.
Steve Legato
Cholent Redux: At Citron and Rose, chefs Michael Solomonov and Yehuda Sichel, create elegant interpretations of Ashkenazi dishes like sholet, a Hungarian cholent. Here, it’s made with lamb shank, beans and kishke.

By Adeena Sussman

Published January 16, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Michael Solomonov didn’t exactly need a kosher restaurant in his portfolio. The Philadelphia chef already claimed an impressive string of successes, starting with Zahav, the Israeli-inspired restaurant he opened to great acclaim in 2008. Zahav begat Federal Donuts — which also sells fetish-worthy fried chicken — and Percy Street Barbecue, whose other-white-meat offerings might send a Jewish mother to shul to pray for the chef’s salvation.

And yet, a recent evening found the winner of a prestigious 2011 James Beard Award at the blonde-wood bar of his new kosher restaurant, Citron and Rose. Based on appearances, the space, decorated with rich-patterned fabrics accented with turquoise metallic flourishes, could compete with its downtown rivals. Bartenders mixed cocktails such as the Reb Roy (an admittedly tasty blend of Manischewitz and bourbon) and poured craft beers into glasses as patrons began to file in.

But Citron and Rose is not downtown. Rather, it is located in the Main Line hamlet of Bala Cynwyd, a prosperous and heavily Orthodox suburb 15 minutes from the seat of his downtown restaurant empire. “Would you like a soy latte?” Solomonov asked me as he pulled a chair up to the bar, which has an unfettered view of the open kitchen beyond. “I can definitely guarantee it’ll definitely be soy.”

The restaurant’s mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, black yarmulke crowning his head, stood at the back of the spacious kitchen. Words like “schmaltz” and “kishke” wafted through the air. There was nary a pat of butter or cream in sight (hence that soy-laced coffee). So what gave? Had Solomonov found religion?

The 34-year-old chef, who was born in Israel but raised in Pittsburgh, says no, and even a cursory glance at the menu, with dishes like chopped liver lollipops lavished with cherries, cocoa and rye, reveals that the food bears only a passing resemblance to your bubbe’s Shabbos table — not to mention the menus of many of the country’s most expensive kosher eateries. There are no maki rolls here. “Steak and sushi is mostly what you see in high-end kosher these days,” Solomonov said. “We may be able to feed all Jews because we’re kosher, but we’re not trying to please all the people all the time.”

Similar to restaurateurs like Noah Bernamoff at Brooklyn’s Mile End, Solomonov is reviving long-standing Jewish traditions like pickling vegetables, curing fish and making charcuterie, methods that Ashkenazim before them had perfected generations, even centuries, earlier. But he’s also applying the classical training he learned both at the New England Culinary Institute and under the tutelage of Philly chef Marc Vetri, and using seasonal produce and quality ingredients, hoping in the process to elevate kosher dining beyond the stigma of captive-audience cuisine.

“I’d been thinking about doing this concept for a while,” said Solomonov, his lean figure clad in jeans and chef’s whites. “We explored and tweaked the Sephardic side of things at Zahav,” he said. “It was time to pay our respects to the Eastern European food a lot of us grew up eating.”

A chance meeting two years ago with Jewish culinary historian Gil Marks at the Hazon Food Conference further sparked the chef’s imagination. Marks and Solomonov discussed the rich and varied history of Eastern European Jewish food. Among other revelations, Marks reported that cassoulet, a French meat-and-bean dish, could trace its origins to cholent; that the inventor of foie gras, Jean-Joseph Clause, received his livers from Alsatian Jews who raised geese, and that many of Europe’s premier pastry chefs were Jewish, since pastry production was a new avocation whose guild had not yet banned Jews from its ranks. “It really opened my eyes,” Solomonov said.

Before the restaurant opened, Solomonov and his business partner Steven Cook took Yehuda Sichel, Citron and Rose’s 26-year-old chef de cuisine, to Budapest and Paris. There the trio feasted on smoked goose, charcuterie, pickled fish and sholet, a cholent derivative that is a national comfort food in Hungary. These and other Jewish-influenced European delicacies became an integral part of Citron and Rose’s menu.

Solomonov decided that rather than viewing kosher guidelines as an obstacle, he would look at them as an opportunity. Unlike other current upscale-kosher contenders such as New York’s Jezebel, where the founding chef has already left and the artwork features ironic paintings with iconic Jewish personalities, Citron and Rose seems to be based less on gimmickry and more on sound culinary principles.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.