What makes an expensive restaurant worth the price? Is it just the food, or do the inedible frills like décor, staff and ambiance need to be superior in order to make it worth doling out the cheddar? Some places offer the whole shebang, while others can make you feel a bit pimped. Though Citrone isn’t a clear-cut success, if truly tasty Italian is what you’re looking for, you won’t leave disappointed.
Citrone sits in downtown Redlands, in an area offering that rarest of IE rarities—a thriving community with actual live human beings walking its streets, and on a Wednesday night, no less. We couldn’t help but contrast this with Riverside, where we live, and where the downtown area often resembles a cemetery during the weeknights. Citrone itself is located in a non-descript tan building, which still maintains a bit of a funky charm in a Bronxy-brownstone kind of a way. The inside is nice enough, but not really designed for an intimate or romantic meal. The tables are slightly too on-top of one other, and the rather tube-like shape of the dining hall made me feel almost as if I were eating on a plane. One cool touch, though, is that you’re given a great view of the kitchen, and the occasional bursts of grill flame contrast well with the stainless steel stove and the wooden fans above.
Add in a staff that both hustles, knows their food and menu, and is polite and accommodating (I spilled my Citrone martini across our table seconds after the waiter set it down—and was made to feel as though I’d done the place a favor!), and you’ve got one splendid eatery.
After the drinking (and the dropping), we moved on to the appetizers—prawns in a tangy chipotle sauce that accented instead of hijacked their flavor. Delicious. But there were only four of them. I’m not usually piggish, but sticking another prawn or two on the skewer wouldn’t really kill anyone.
For entrées, we ordered the penne pasta with smoked salmon in a feisty vodka sauce and the Citrone stack—a succulent vegetarian choice featuring eggplant, carrots, zucchini, and red and white onions resting on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped with dollops of melted mozzarella. The “Stack” rocked, just like the penne, served up in huge portions, which made cleaning my plate a struggle. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t have that extra prawn.
Over the Pannarotta desert—a chunk of Godiva chocolate surrounded by blackberries and strawberries—I tried to resolve my feelings about Citrone. It’s defiantly pricey, but the ambiance of the place doesn’t exactly scream fancy. Still, both the food and the service kicked ass, and the Pannarotta even came with tiny dashes of mango and berry jam, for Chrissakes. The dessert and some amazing “I feel like I’m actually in Italy” espresso finally tipped the scales in Citrone’s favor, and we left feeling like we’d been treated fair and square—and how often can you say that?
Citrone, 347 Orange St., Redlands, (909) 793-6635. Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sun.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Dinner for two: $50-$70.
Note from photographer, who’s tried three times to get a shot:
I really don’t want to shoot the restaurant anymore after today. I called this morning and left another message with the host. No one called me back. Then I showed up at 6 p.m. only to get sent away again. The waiter I talked to said that the owner does not use managers (control freak), does not have a mobile phone (anti-technologist freak) and does not like to be called on it (paranoid freak) and after giving him my card, the waiter said that the owner might not even like the publicity (reclusive freak).