Corporate executives, politicians and leaders of financial institutions are giving a lot of lip service these days to “transparency.” It’s a notion that our most important organizations ought to be steeped in honesty and truth. What a concept!
Well, I believe the same thing about restaurants. My favorite eating establishments aren’t based on smoke and mirrors. I prefer the simplicity of good food prepared in a straightforward manner, sold at fair prices. It’s the opposite of food and ambiance that hides behind multiple layers of illusion.
Perhaps that’s one reason that I find Citris Grill so thrilling. Well, maybe “thrilling” is a bit overblown. Remember, we’re taking a stab at transparency here. But Citris Grill appeals to me in a way that very few restaurants do, and I guess I’d consider that a bit thrilling.
Citris Grill is a transparent restaurant in almost every sense—literally and figuratively. First, there’s the literal: The restaurant is essentially one big open room that encompasses the open kitchen in the rear. From the entrance to Citris Grill you can see everything except the restrooms and offices. And there’s something just sort of honest about that, not to mention that it’s visually attractive to the eye. Nothing is hidden; there are no secrets. At Citris Grill, what you see is what you get.
And what you see is a very attractive but subdued dining room with four booths of blond wood to the left, sage-colored walls adorned with black-and-white photographs, an apricot-toned floor, and tables and chairs made of contrasting dark and light woods. It’s not an eye-popping restaurant, but there’s real verve to it. It doesn’t look like someone dumped $3.5 million into the place; it looks like someone spent a limited amount of hard-earned cash and sweat to create a very attractive restaurant with neighborhood appeal. And judging from the loud buzz of the place—Citris Grill can get quite noisy, especially on Thursdays when Gigi Love plays live—it would appear that this restaurant is finding an appeal with its neighbors. It’s busy for both lunch and dinner.
Fair prices might account for that business. I can think of very few restaurants in Salt Lake City where profit margins on food seem quite so slim. Entrees at Citris Grill top out at $18 for slow-roasted chipotle baby back ribs with crispy fried yams and coleslaw, and $19 for a fire-roasted rib-eye steak. Gourmet sandwiches and wraps sell for only $7, and that includes a large house salad, soup or French fries.
But innovative pricing at Citris Grill doesn’t begin and end with low pricing. I applaud the idea that almost every item on the Citris Grill menu (with the exception of sandwiches) can be had in either “hearty” or “petite” portions, and priced accordingly. Even soups and appetizers come in smallish and larger sizes. That’s a real boon to someone like me, who’d prefer to build a meal out of four or five small courses rather than one or two large ones.
And here’s a secret for the economically minded: Even the “petite” portions at Citris Grill aren’t all that petite. On a recent trip to Citris Grill, the kitchen had run out of rock shrimp, so instead I ordered the fried calamari, which was terrific. The petite portion ($4.50) was a plentiful plate—enough for two to share—of tender calamari rings coated in a zippy cornmeal and roasted chili crust. They were served with a fruit “aioli” with sweet tropical flavors that helped to tame the chili heat, yet also with enough acidity to cut through the fat of the fried calamari.
Speaking of heat, only confirmed chili-heads should order the pepper-crusted risotto cakes ($4/$8), which are deceptively incendiary. Cooked risotto rice is combined with goat cheese, giving these cakes a wonderfully creamy yet crunchy texture. Then they’re coated in what tastes to me like a Cajun spice mixture, sautÃ©ed and served with tomato “fondue.” The result is a deliciously piquant appetizer, but one that might be a bit too fiery for some.
Citris Grill features a “grilled cheese sandwich of the day” that might redefine your idea of what grilled cheese means. At a recent lunch the innovative offering was a yummy grilled brie sandwich with apricot-jalapeÃ±o jelly and sliced apples; a glass of Sebastiani Chardonnay being featured that week might have been a pleasing accompaniment. By the way, Citris Grill offers wine in either small 2-ounce tasting portions or normal 5-ounce pours. The wine list is small but peppered with interesting offerings from Bonny Doon, Fat Bastard, St. Supery, Kings Estate and the like. The simplicity of the wine list—where each glass of wine is either $5 or $6 for a full-size glass—is in accordance with the honesty and transparency I mentioned earlier. It’s not a list aimed at “wowing” customers; it simply offers sensible wines at sensible prices to go with deliciously sensible meals.
The small, wood-fired pizzas at Citris Grill are one of the few disappointments. Mine was advertised as having “spicy” Italian sausage, but the sausage wasn’t the least bit spicy. The doughy, thin-crust pizza also didn’t have that irresistible char I look for in a wood-fired pizza, nor the slightest bit of crunchiness. Frankly, the texture was that of a pizza that had been heated in a microwave, and for not quite long enough at that—the shredded mozzarella cheese on my pizza wasn’t even completely melted.
On the other hand, a plump ham and havarti sandwich on soft ciabatta bread with a judicious dollop of cranberry aioli and apricot mustard simply couldn’t have been any more pleasing. For that matter, I was pleased pretty much through and through (pizza notwithstanding) with Citris Grill. It’s my kind of restaurant: simple, transparent, honest and economical.
CITRIS GRILL 2991 E. 3300 South 466-1202 Lunch & Dinner daily; brunch available Saturday & Sunday