When we hung out with Josiah Citrin a few months ago, he spoke about Mélisse the way a band might speak about a hit song it can’t quite escape: “With Mélisse, people say they crave it and they want to eat there every night. The reality is, you don’t,” says Citrin. “We get guests in Mélisse, maybe they’ll come in every two weeks for six months, but we won’t see them for a year. It’s just too much. The novelty wears off with something like Mélisse.”
It’s like every time he tops an egg with caviar he’s caving to a drunk fan in the crowd yelling “Woooo, Freebird!” Skynyrd has other songs (“Saturday Night Special,” anyone?) and Josiah Citrin has more up the sleeve of his chef’s coat than Cali-French fine dining.
Charcoal Venice, officially open today, is where Citrin plans to showcase the food he’s passionate about. It’s the stuff he’s been cooking in his own backyard for years, which would seem out of place on the white tablecloths at Mélisse. And two of the restaurant’s core tenets—informality and fire—couldn’t be more on trend.
When Michael Cimarusti opened up Connie & Ted’s in 2013, about eight years after debuting Providence, he created a two-pronged restaurant system: There’s one place for the wingtip shoes, Michelin stars, and tweezer garnishes, and another for flip flops, cold beer, and the tastiest piece of fried fish imaginable. In a similar spirit, Karen and Quinn Hatfield followed up their eponymous fine dining restaurant that closed in late 2014 with Odys & Penelope, an ode to live fire cooking where they’re charring wagyu tri-tip over South American-style grills instead of slow cooking loup de mer.
The waiters at Charcoal are wearing Converse and polo shirts, and the menu reads like the best backyard barbecue you’ve ever been to. Well, assuming you were in the backyard of a Michelin-starred chef. But you get the picture.
Chef de cuisine Joseph Johnson, formerly sous chef at Mélisse, will be cooking up shareable starters like smoked lamb ribs, grilled calamari with Blue Lake beans, and smoky chicken wings with oregano, chili, and vinegar, on top of a laundry list of steaks, chops, and fish that are all grilled and served with a quartet of condiments. Even the vegetables are getting a heavy dose of fire: Endive is grilled and dressed in eggy gribiche and carrots are roasted over coals before being served with sheep’s milk ricotta, black pepper, and honey.
Although not everything at Citrin’s more casual eatery is completely new. There’s a section on the menu solely reserved for tartares and the beef with smoked tomato is almost straight off the tasting menu at Mélisse. The price tags don’t completely reflect the new restaurant’s supposed chillaxed nature; a plate of ketchup and fries will run you $12.50 and the half-chicken sans sides is $34. But eschewing artfully plated tasting menus and crumb scrapers for hunks of grilled meat and waiters in Chucks is still a massive tonal shift for Citrin. He may be a little late to the anti-formal foodie party, but isn’t that the Angeleno way? The white tablecloth is dead, long live the white tablecloth.