For Angelenos, when one hears “Melisse” it might conjure up a variety of thoughts and feelings. Once the bastion of white tablecloth French fine dining in Los Angeles, over the years it had become stale. Having originally earned 2 Michelin Stars in 2008, when Michelin returned to L.A. in 2019, Melisse was closed and under renovation (and thus, had zero stars). What emerged was a re-imagining of Melisse by Chef-Owner Josiah Citrin, reborn as “Melisse x Citrin”, with 2 restaurant concepts in 1 space(!). “Melisse” was still the fine dining tasting menu format, while “Citrin” had a separate menu that was more California casual.
This had marked the first time we’ve been back to Melisse x Citrin since the pandemic started. All seating was outdoors in a converted parking lot space, but completely walled off with heat lamps and tables spaced out, but a few seemed a touch closer than 6 feet.
(Complimentary) Bread Service - Country Roll + Beurre de Barratte:
They were supposed to feature 2 types of Bread for the tasting menu, but they ran out of one of them. The Country Roll was served cold, and had massive chew. It tasted like generic “Dinner Rolls” you’d get at an average hotel restaurant while traveling.
Amuse Bouche - Scallop & Uni Custard:
This was a good idea, but sadly undone by bad Uni. The Sea Urchin was just going bad, tasting of bad tide water, bringing down the entire dish.
Hokkaido Scallop (Young Turnip, Fava Beans and Tendrils, Lemon Verbena):
The Hokkaido Scallop, while lightly poached, was still “overcooked” in some ways: It loses all its special luster when cooked through (even if it’s poached in this case), and it tastes like a tender, pliant Scallop, but it could’ve been any type of Scallop at that point. The Young Turnips were excellent, soaking up the delicate Broth like a pseudo-Oden, and the Fava Beans were vibrant and tasting of green fields. Wonderful!
Lobster Bolognese (Maine Lobster, Fresh Capellini, Brown Butter Truffle Froth):
The one dish that has been on the menu since 1999(!), Chef-Owner Josiah Citrin’s signature Pasta course is the Lobster Bolognese. It is absolutely delicious! It somehow mimics the deep crave-worthy aspects of a great Bolognese Pasta, but with Lobster instead. It is immensely satisfying, comfort food-esque in its taste even with the fancy foam presentation. Definitely the highlight of the meal.
White Asparagus and Morel Mushrooms “En Cocotte”:
Excellent, in-season White Asparagus beautifully prepared with fragrant Morel Mushrooms and a Wine Sauce. It was at once delicate, but also evoked some decadence in each bite.
Duo of Beef - Snake River Farms Sirloin and Short Rib (Satina Potatoes, Wild Ramps, Nantes Carrot):
The biggest disappointment of the meal, sure this isn’t real Japanese Wagyu, but this is proof that even with a “brand name” (Snake River Farms) that’s supposedly synonymous with quality American Beef, and Chef-Owner Citrin’s successful fire grilling restaurant Charcoal, the Sirloin for this course was just mediocre at best. Tough, chewy, even though it looked like it was cooked medium-rare (as requested), it was boring and a chore to eat.
The one saving grace of this course was the Short Rib “cube” (a tiny 1.5 inch cube) of Braised Short Rib, which was tender and succulent. Although, even the Short Rib wasn’t as glorious as the best Short Rib preparations around town.
Dark Chocolate Sphere (Hazelnut Praline, Milk Chocolate):
Fabulous! The Hazelnut Ice Cream was nutty and aromatic, the Dark Chocolate Sphere was fun to crack open and have the Hazelnut Praline ooze out.
Mulberry Gelato with Fresh Mulberry Tapioca:
2nd highlight of the night was the bonus Dessert (not listed on the tasting menu): A Mulberry Gelato that was saturated with deep Mulberry flavors, paired with fresh Mulberries (so concentrated and fragrant!), on top of a simple Tapioca.
And they finished off the tasting menu with complimentary Mignardises. My favorite was the “Peach Jelly”.
Service was horrendous for most of the evening. Which was disappointing considering OG Melisse (before the renovation) was regarded as one of L.A.'s better service-oriented restaurants. Indeed, our last tasting menu experience a few years ago was like night and day compared to this evening’s service. We saw our main server only 3 times the entire evening (once to take our order, and the 3rd time was when he handed us off to another server as he was leaving his shift). No one came by to ask if we wanted any other drinks, or needed anything in general. And finally, for a simple 4 course Tasting Menu, it took 3 hours to finish dinner. All this for about ~$220 per person.
It’s good to see Melisse x Citrin open back up (albeit outdoors) as we reach Year 2 of the pandemic. There are certainly some challenges with fine dining outdoors, but the disappointments we ran into could all have been solvable with better execution and oversight into ingredients. The Amuse Bouche was ruined by old / not fresh Uni (Sea Urchin). The Snake River Farms Sirloin was just not a good cut and the taste / flavors felt really straightforward and boring. We’ve had better steaks at many average “fancy” Steakhouses around the city. And when you’re charging customers over $200 per person, service should be commensurate with what you’re charging.
We hope this is just the restaurant finding its footing after being closed during the pandemic for so long, and that this was just an off night / “off recipe” that will be rectified with the next menu refresh. Otherwise, we’re not in a hurry to return.
Melisse x Citrin
1104 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: (310) 395-0881