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At Citronnelle, East Meets West In Perfect Taste

By S. Mathur

Combine two globe trotting foodies from New York City with a passion for French cooking, add to a small, diverse Pennsylvania city, and finish with a cozy, intimate dining space. That's the recipe for success at Citronnelle, which opened in Lancaster in 2013 and is already considered one of the 10 best French restaurants in the state. The husband and wife team of Susan Louie, owner, and Rafael Perez, owner-chef, have been inspired by their upbringing in New York City, the melting pot of the world, as well as their travels which have taken them to over 60 countries.

"The ever-evolving global food scene is the inspiration behind the specialized type cuisine we serve in our restaurant," Louie said. "My husband uses both classic and modern French techniques to create his internationally inspired dishes, which are accented with exotic spices and unique ingredients from all over. In our travels, we have found that French cuisine has influenced many parts of the world, and vice versa."

Finding baguettes in Vietnam, Moroccan and Cambodian cuisine in Paris, Creole foods Louisiana, and macarons in Japan is half of the story. The other half is the incorporation of international foods and styles in French cooking.

"We have witnessed firsthand just how globally influenced France's food scene currently is," Louie said. "There are now Chinese inspired foie gras dumplings and North African farmers' markets in Paris, all embracing the concept of world cuisine."

This was the appropriate time to introduce global French cooking to Lancaster City, which is turning into a mini-melting pot in its own right. There are already Indian, Mexican, Ethiopian, Thai, Trinidad, Peruvian, Vietnamese and other ethnic restaurants. However Citronnelle is not a typical French restaurant, or at least not what many people think a typical French restaurant is like.

"French restaurants can be perceived as too fancy, snooty, precious, or cold, offering small portions of very rich foods for outrageously high prices," Louie said. "We are none of the above. In fact, we pride ourselves on our down-to-earth atmosphere and superior value."

Guests find a cozy atmosphere in the small 500-square-foot dining area. Like many tiny restaurants in New York and Paris, tables are close together, which creates a convivial atmosphere. The seats are remarkably comfortable. Also unlike many French restaurants, Citronnelle has a BYOB policy, which allows guests to bring in alcoholic drinks of their own choosing.

The farm to table menu is seasonal and changes every three months. The Creamy Crab Croquettes served with cucumber 'grass' salad and wasabi aioli have been a favorite with guests since the beginning. The 8oz. Croque Madame burger is another favorite, as are the Leek and Cheese soufflé and French Toast from the brunch menu. Among desserts, the signature dish is a lemongrass scented soufflé, which Louie describes as a perfect mix of East meets West and a representation of the restaurant's sensibility.

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