Q&A: Zahav’s Michael Solomonov On His New Main Line Restaurant, Citron and Rose
This morning, we reported that Zahav’s Michael Solomonov had set his sights on the Main Line. This afternoon, he got in touch to talk more about Citron and Rose, the upcoming glatt kosher restaurant at 368 Montgomery Avenue in Merion that he hopes to open this summer.
So, beyond the glatt kosher designation, what’s the idea behind Citron and Rose?
Well, we focus on the Balkans and Middle East and Mediterranean at Zahav. This is going to be more European Jewish food that is also going to be glatt kosher. We’ve been kicking it around for a while. [Business partner] Steven [Cook] and I, a few months after we opened Zahav, we went to Montreal. We were interested in the Romanian Jewish food that ended up there, and that’s what prompted us to do this. But it’s going to be kosher, too, so we’re not technically owners.
Specifically, what will I be eating at Citron and Rose?
I think that we are working on a whole cuisine that has been lost or watered down over the last 100 years. A lot of charcuterie and cuisines that are found or were found prior to World War Two in places like Budapest and Bucharest, and even Paris. Expect a lot of goose and cured and smoked salamis and sausages and a fair amount of goose and chicken fat.
How difficult is it to set up a kosher kitchen? Have you worked in one before?
I’ve done kosher work before, but I’ve never run a kosher kitchen. We’re going to have a mashgiach, a kosher authority, working full-time. We’ve got a great guy named–oh wait, I can’t tell you that, because he’s working somewhere else. But the chef de cuisine grew up in an Orthodox community in Elkins Park and Baltimore. And I grew up Conservative Jewish, so between me and Steve, who also grew up Conservative Jewish, and the official people and the community leaders, we’ll ensure that we’re doing the right thing.
What’s the physical layout?
It’s going to be modern and sleek. We’re going to have a little bit of outdoor space, a bit of private dining, and a beautiful open kitchen with a rotisserie and charcoal-burning grill.
How will you divide your time between this and your other exploits?
We’re going to have a chef de cuisine there and [at Zahav] that are people who have worked for a long time with us. And it might sound silly, but the fact that Friday night and most of Saturday will be closed for the Sabbath, it will definitely make it easier to be [at Zahav] for the weekends.
Explain kosher glatt to me. How do you get certified?
It’s kind of mundane, really. There’s a vaad, a sort of community Jewish authority that consists of a few people that approves and disapproves, we run the kitchen designs by them. Our biggest concern and the biggest issue is to make sure that everything is done by the books, and that what’s done is done with credibility.
What about employees? Can a Gentile work there?
Yeah, we have no restrictions as far as employees. Why, you want to come serve some kosher charcuterie, bro?
Maybe. Who will be the chef de cuisine at Citron and Rose?
The chef de cuisine is Yehuda Sichel, currently a sous chef at Zahav. He’s the junior sous chef. And then the executive sous at Zahav right now, Dean Hildebrand, will probably be promoted to chef de cuisine. They run the restaurant as well as I do.
You mentioned that you’re not technically owners. How does that work, and who owns the liquor license?
We’re paid as consultants. We can’t own the restaurant because we own other non-kosher restaurant. And the owner [David Magerman] holds the liquor license.
Has he owned a restaurant before this?
What kind of audience do you expect in Merion?
I think the intention of the owner is to provide the community with a great restaurant that’s exciting and representative of the sort of the community, which is young, hip and Jewish. Well, maybe not young and hip. But not stagnant and old, either. We’ve been thinking about this concept for years, and this is a different market for us on the Main Line. But we’re ten minutes from Zahav assuming there’s no traffic, so I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. It seems like a good idea. The concept is going to be great. And people who aren’t kosher will love it, too.
So what’s next after this place is up and running for a couple of years?
Oh my god dude. I’m getting a migraine even trying to answer that question. We just redid the kitchen at Zahav on Monday. We’ve got some really sick new menu items. Grilled beef cheeks Hungarian style, like a goulash-inspired potato stew situation. Fried baccala dumplings for Passover, with or without meat, I’m not sure. New kitchen. New staff. So Zahav is always evolving and takes up any time. Oh, dude, and some rhubarb with duck hearts! What do you think we should do?
That seaside hotel in Israel that you mentioned once before [in a prior interview] sounds like a good bet.
Oh yeah. I just want to buy a plane ticket and go. Now.