For two decades, Josiah Citrin turned Mélisse into one of Los Angeles’s great fine dining destinations. When the Michelin guide first came to the region, the Santa Monica restaurant held two Michelin stars and was a fixture on revered critic Jonathan Gold’s list of the best restaurants in the city. But in March, Citrin decided to close after 20 years of service to reimagine it as a 14-seat restaurant and a 99-seat bistro called Citrin under the same roof.
“You always got to keep up. You have to keep evolving, keep changing,” he said. “It’s for the customers’ sake and for my sake. I just felt like it was time to change after 20 years doing the same kind of thing. I wanted to explore a new idea, a new identity.”
Citrin opened his pair of eateries earlier this week. Both restaurants are located within the original Mélisse footprint. Citrin, the open and bright bistro, encompasses most of the space, with a 77-seat dining room and 22-seat bar. Mélisse—which was awarded two Michelin stars in 2009 and 2010—is now an intimate, five-table restaurant located within a small backroom. To access it, diners ring a doorbell and are brought into the newly hip, dimly lit space.
To the chef-owner, a Santa Monica native, fine dining has moved beyond white tablecloths. Diners didn’t want that anymore. That’s why the tables at the new Mélisse are bare, made of chic walnut.
“Fine dining has always evolved, in the sense that times change and the way we view it changes,” Citrin said. “It’s not quite as rigid. It’s a little more fun. Fine dining is an experience at the end of the day. And its moved into a more interactive, experiential style.”
At Mélisse, the kitchen and chef’s counter is located within the dining room. There are no waiters; the chefs and sommelier serve all the food and drink and walk diners through their courses, personally. It’s like being at a dinner party in someone’s home, but you aren’t required to make small talk with other guests.
The restaurant is tasting menu only, offering five canapé and nine ever-changing courses. Ingredients are seasonal and sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market just a few blocks away. Dishes may include smoked golden osetra caviar served with buttermilk mousse and grilled seaweed bread; a Hokkaido scallop with Tokyo negi, black trumpets stewed with koji and bonito, and citrus chive butter; and king crab tartlets with hazelnut, Granny Smith apples, horseradish and dill. The meal can be accompanied by a wine pairing or a non-alcoholic pairing that features kombucha and infusions.
At the bistro, Citrin will serve “progressive California cuisine” à la carte and offer a few dishes made famous at the original Mélisse, such as lobster Bolognese and egg caviar. New dishes include slow-braised wagyu meatballs with purple yam consommé, trumpet mushrooms, hazelnuts and brussels sprouts; oysters with fermented cucumbers, trout roe, green mango and sorrel; and dry-aged, bone-in ribeye with a bone marrow tart, gremolata and chicory.
“I don’t think fine dining’s more fun now. I don’t think that it wasn’t fun before,” he said. “It’s just gotten more casual over the years. People have changed and how they like to experience things has changed. You know, we don’t wear suits to the office every day anymore. The world’s not the same.”
While renovating Mélisse, Citrin managed to open two additional restaurants, Dear John’s in Culver City and Costa in Manhattan Beach. He has no idea what’s coming next.
“I do not predict the future,” he said. “I just try to make great food in a great atmosphere and have a good time doing it.”
Mélisse is open Tuesday through Saturday and offers two seatings nightly, at 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Reservations are available via Tock.
Citrin is open daily from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are available via Resy.