Some restaurants go for the hustle and bustle. Others strive for peace and serenity.
Citron, the new restaurant by caterer Charles Levine, falls in the latter category, with quiet, Zen-like surroundings. The mood is as calming as the view of the rippling pond behind the Quarry Lake shopping center.
The decor is elegant — possibly one of the most beautiful restaurants in the Baltimore area — in neutral, monochromatic hues with an occasional pop of color, like the tangerine ottomans. With French influences, the contemporary American food is creative. And the staff is welcoming and capable.
But it's not perfect. On our first visit, our waiter was bossy, and a few of our gorgeous dishes were tepid. The restaurant is also expensive, with many entrees in the mid-$30 range and above.
There are options, though. Another time, we ate in the casual, refined bar, where our waitress couldn't have been nicer and more attentive.
Snacks range from stellar crab balls with a Brussels-sprout slaw to a terrific 10-ounce burger with maple Cajun bacon and hand-cut fries.
Our duck-confit-and-fig pizza was a big hit, with fontina cheese, pickled onions, portobello mushrooms and a judicious drizzle of truffle oil.
You can get a delicious pizza to share for $16 and a stellar cocktail like a citrusy B-more fizz with Shot Tower gin.
Craft drinks, as well as beers from The Brewer's Art and Flying Dog, are available wherever you sit in the restaurant. A respectable wine list is divided into categories like "rich textures" and "bold, full-bodied."
Citron is an organic space with rooms — some with glowing glass fireplaces — seamlessly flowing into each other. Unobtrusive panels and doors can seal off areas for private events.
The creamy-white main dining room befits the alluring dinner menu overseen by executive chef Jerome Dorsch. You'll want a seat there for a more formal meal.
Our waiter asked if anyone at the table had food allergies and then offered helpful suggestions about the wine.
But then he tried to steer our menu choices, from how many appetizers we should order to what type of sauce we should get with our steak. It felt awkward.
Except for the soup du jour, a seafood bisque that needed to be hotter, our starters were terrific. The crispy calamari was tangy with a citrus garlic butter, pickled peppers and a spicy romesco sauce.
The potato gnocchi were pillowy dumplings dressed up with English peas, mushrooms, pine nuts and Grana Padano cheese. A black-truffle wine sauce added pizazz.
We were smitten with the Scottish smoked salmon, a pretty plate with thin slices of fish overlapping almost translucent cucumbers and radishes and scattered with capers and red onions. The horseradish cream-cheese deviled eggs nestled on top were standouts on their own.
One of our entrees, a herb-seared Chilean sea bass, called a "house favorite" on the menu, was an agreeable dish once the kitchen got it to a high enough temperature. It was temperate when it first arrived at our table.
A wild-mushroom risotto and fall vegetables (baby carrots and asparagus) were satisfying accompaniments. We also ordered a side dish of whipped potatoes that needed a heat boost.
The lamb chops were sensational. The rosy meat paired well with a lemon-mint gremolata and black-currant demi-glace. But the chevre-stuffed peppadews gave the dish its flamboyant character.
Citron offers three pasta dishes, and we really enjoyed the jumbo Gulf shrimp with linguini and peperonata (a garlicky bell-pepper mixture with olive oil, onions and tomatoes).
The Black Angus beef filet was splendid. It's available in a 7- or 10-ounce portion. The smaller amount was more than enough for us, especially with the lovely potato Dauphinoise and white and green asparagus spears sharing the plate.
Our only regret was not following our instincts to get the meat prepared au poivre. Instead, we allowed our waiter to steer us to the portobello bordelaise sauce. It was prepared well, but it seemed to overpower the great piece of beef.
Desserts by executive pastry chef Yassmeen Jackson are as striking as the restaurant. The chocolate macadamia nut bar is the most luxe candy bar you will ever eat. The edible gold leaf inscribed on the chocolate was classy.
The apple caramel cheesecake was a delectable round of baked creaminess resting upon zigzags of praline-anglaise sauce. The apple chip on top was a thoughtful touch.
Lemon desserts seem to be showing up on many menus these days. Citron's contribution, a lemon torte, was a luscious concoction, complete with a ball of blackberry sorbet.
The restaurant was a longtime dream of Levine's during his 30 years in the food-service business. He and his wife, Susan, were searching for a name before it was a reality.
Their eureka moment came when they want to a Parisian cafe and had a memorable citron tart. The fruity name clicked.
The Levines have built a resplendent restaurant that suits a vibrant moniker like Citron. It adds zest to Baltimore's restaurant scene.
Where: 2605 Quarry Lake Drive, Quarry Lake at Greenspring, Pikesville
Contact: 410-363-0901, citronbaltimore.com
Open: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. (Note: The restaurant will start serving lunch on Jan 17. Hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.)
Prices: Appetizers, $10-$22; entrees, $21-$55; bar menu, $8-$24.
Food: Contemporary American with French influences
Noise/TVs: The rooms have been designed to muffle noise, allowing for moderate sound levels; five TVs.
Service: Our waiter in the main dining room was competent but opinionated about what we should order. On another visit, our waitress in the bar was personable and helpful.
Parking: Parking lot, street parking and valet service.
Special diets: Can accommodate.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
[Key: Superlative: ✭✭✭✭✭; Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Very good: ✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭; Promising:✭.]