“Buuutter,” cooed Julia Child.
This incantation actually came from Meryl Streep’s sublime incarnation of the doyenne of American French cooking, in 2009’s Julie & Julia, as Child takes her first bite of the butter-drenched Dover sole meuniére.
Flash-forward more than a half-century and several thousand miles from Rouen’s La Couronne restaurant, where Child had that near-orgasmic encounter with a piece of fish, and I was having my own buttery epiphany.
Child’s La Couronne is my Citrus Bistro. Her Rouen, my Colleyville. And the author of this culinary bit of time-travel is head chef Didier Viriot.
His dexterity in the lost art of subtle butter manipulation proves his bona fides as a paragon of classical French cooking. Viriot is the area’s reigning butter whisperer, coaxing sauces to just that perfect edge of “noisette,” or nutty brown, that underpins so many of the stellar, mostly fish fare on Citrus Bistro’s menu.
The interior of Citrus Bistro, which enjoyed a four-year run in North Dallas before opening in Colleyville at the end of June, is a mélange of sleek contemporary and French country furniture-rustic. Its turquoise and sand-colored pleated tablecloths are starched to sentinel attention. Its supremely attentive wait staff can crumb a table while describing a menu item in the confidently hushed murmur of a museum curator.
From crab and lobster swimming in soups, tuna and walu getting the crudo treatment, to crawfish, salmon, calamari, and diver scallops, Citrus Bistro plies fresh and salty waters to serve just about every kind of sea creature.
Rather than go for the predictable lobster bisque, I’m drawn to the she-crab soup ($7.95 for a cup). Chef Viriot’s first demonstration of a virtuosic handling of butter is immediately apparent in the balance of brothy and butter-infused richness of the pepper-flecked crab soup, crowded with shards of crab.
With a carpaccio of ahi tuna and walu ($12.95), Viriot is confident enough to let each of these two razor-thin sliced fish stand on their own. Accompanied by humble toast points, and kick-started with a spark-plug of wasabi, the raw fish is so fresh it must have been flapping only minutes before serving.
There is nothing more annoying than a fish restaurant bullying its marquee ingredient with an overzealous application of breading. With his jumbo lump crab cake ($13.50) starter, and pecan-crusted tilapia ($22.95) entree, Viriot deftly applies a filament-thin layer of breading. This second-skin application allows the deep-sea taste of the oversized disk of crab to be the rightful star.
Not only is the same diva treatment reserved for the tilapia, but it is one of the menu’s most tasty stages for Viriot’s buttery gift. With hints of ginger in the tilapia’s “beurre blanc,” or white-butter sauce, the flaky fish is kept moist.
Meanwhile, the potentially bickering companions of butter and acid make love, not war, in his diver scallops ($32.95). Four perfectly caramelized scallops are infused with a butter-citrus sauce that performs a mesmerizing high-wire act between creamy and tangy.
No component of a dish is ever relegated to afterthought status. The little pearls of couscous, dressed with salty olive slices, that accompany the scallops, or the perfectly fried diamond of polenta, with its pesto beret, all receive as much attention as their plates’ main actors.
For those who are fish averse, more of Viriot’s able hand with grilling and saucing is on display for an 8-ounce filet mignon, rack of lamb, chicken, roasted pork tenderloin, or the perfectly serviceable veal scaloppine with shrimp scampi sauce ($32.95).
It’s been decades since I last tasted one of the great French bistro dessert stalwarts, floating island ($6.95). Citrus Bistro’s version is appropriately ethereal, resembling a cloud in lightness — only this cumulus happens to come studded with almond slivers and “floats” in a crème anglaise.
Among the obvious French dessert classics such as creme brulee and chocolate mousse, don’t overlook a hidden gem: the date cake ($7.95). Done in the manner of an English pudding, this cake wedge is disarmingly light — not to be confused with a leaden figgy pudding out of A Christmas Carol — and its caramel-colored sauce is an irresistible pool of sweetness.
With appetizers averaging $14 and mains in the $29 range, Citrus Bistro is priced as a special-occasion restaurant. But if you consider the expense of keeping its kitchen stocked with the best fish available, and the cost of a round-trip ticket to Paris to get a comparably authentic French brasserie experience, then a trip to Citrus Bistro suddenly seems like a bargain.