A California Original

Posted October 15, 2008 in Eats

Fittingly, the Citrus City Grill started about 12 years ago in Old Towne Orange and became a very Southern California eating experience, copied by many but paralleled by few. The reason? Optional sophistication. It’s got Johnnie Walker Blue Label all the way up at the top, just out of reach. Yet it also has Red Label below, like a pistol on the hip. It’s the forces of evil in a bozo nightmare (or something).

The newest restaurant is the third in the mini-chain, and it’s out there on that beautiful desert oasis at Dos Lagos in Corona, situated right off the turquoise pond there with the architecturally specific walkway. If you haven’t been, to stroll this little path is to hang ten, because it’s as if a cresting wave of metal is perpetually crashing over you. It’s really quite exhilarating, very picturesque—a good place to behold from Citrus City Grille’s patio, which positively bumps at sunset.

I’ve been to all three Citrus City Grille’s (Riverside the other) and consider myself a vague sort of expert on their cuisine. There’s nothing overly complicated on the menu, but certainly there’s a good mix of the exotic, the familiar and the curious—such as the wild mushroom meatloaf, which appeals to the bold adventurous side of me every single time. . . and yet which I can never pull the trigger on when the words “can I take your order” are uttered. I guess I am what I eat, and what I eat is the chicken—the Newporter chicken sandwich, to be exact. It’s a nice lunch-time option, very California in philosophy. It’s a chewy wheat roll with avocado, Swiss cheese and tomato, served up with shoestring fries.

On this particular visit, with two friends in tow, we took it upon ourselves to also order the reserve Angus filet mignon ($28) and the Kobe cheeseburger. And of course, we ordered the Saganaki to begin with—kefalotyri cheese that is set ablaze right there at your table, which the waiter then slowly douses by squeezing lemon juices over it. The citrus in Citrus City never stops. This ritual somehow remains a magnificent show that brings about a lot of peripheral attention. Once, at the Riverside location, a woman demonstratively covered her nose with a napkin to keep from inhaling the pungent smoke. That’s why it’s fun.

But it’s an absolute highlight. Kefalotyri cheese is a hard cheese, like parmesan, which comes from Greece. The open flame dancing over it softens things right up and makes for a unique consistency—the flavor of the lemon tartens the somewhat strong (and rich) flavor of the cheese. This is perfect (I’ve found) with a glass of tropical iced tea, and the never-ending bread basket with the fresh balsamic (highly addictive) dipping agent. And this is all preliminary; the entrées are almost burdensome to these few moments of ambrosial bliss.

The Newporter arrives like something out of a fancy sandwich shop, held in place with miniature wooden stakes—stakes that would kill Barbie-sized vampires. This sandwich is can’t miss. The Kobe burger, though rerported to be bland by the connoisseur of our small party, was still prepared to order and juicy enough for me—and I’m the one writing about it, so forget he said that. The onion rings that accompanied were doughnut-sized, crisp and tasty. As for the filet mignon, it was tender, done medium as requested and very enjoyable. If we’d been there after sun down, I might have rather taken that with a glass of red.

Citrus City Grille is sort of like that—it never lets you down. Next time I will build up the courage to try the wild mushroom meatloaf, and save room for the Grand Marnier Souflée. And maybe the greatest endorsement is that there is always a next time, always a return trip. If there is any sort of objection, it’s the trivial matter of the elevator music—played only loud enough to suggest itself over the chatter, but still almost too non-offensive, you know?

Citrus City Grille, 2765 Lakeshore Dr., Corona, (951) 277-2888; www.citruscitygrille.com. Lunch for three, $70. AE, D, MC, V


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