Josiah Citrin is the chef-owner of Mélisse, the 14-year-old fine dining restaurant where caviar, truffles and purse stools have never gone out of style. Citrin, a Los Angeles native, moved to Paris after graduating from Santa Monica High School and worked at Vivarois and La Poste, eventually returning home to work for Wolfgang Puck and Joachim Splichal. In 1996 he opened JiRaffe and then Mélisse. Lately Citrin has been putting to use the private 12-seat Augustin dining room with a series titled "Something Different in the Augie Room," a six-course riff on whatever's inspiring him at the moment, whether an ingredient, technique or historical event.
What's coming up next on your menu?
It's sad to see tomatoes and all the stone fruits going out of season, but it's also nice to see the change of produce at the farmers market.... It also means that game comes back in season and onto our menu. It's a great thing to introduce to my chefs, so they learn how to prepare it properly. It's also great to introduce things like partridge, wood pigeon, pheasant and woodcock to my guests. With its unique flavor, it allows for interesting and wild combinations. And you can't forget white truffles — those will be arriving before you know it.
What restaurant do you find yourself going to again and again?
Being a chef and working mostly nights I don't find myself getting out that much, but lately there are a couple of restaurants I have found myself at more than once. I've been to Chi Spacca three times in four months, and I keep ordering the same thing: the costata alla Fiorentina and the Little Gem salad, and I love the "Moorish" lamb shoulder chop. It's one of those things that you crave. The other restaurant I've been to lately is Connie & Ted's. It's one of those places I wish was down the street from my house. If it were, I'd be there every week. The fried clams with bellies … when you squeeze the lemon over the fried clams with the French fries, those last few bites are the most amazing taste you can have. I also really enjoy the trio of clam chowders and the great varieties of oysters they are serving there.
Favorite kitchen soundtrack?
What I find myself going back to again and again is the Clash ("Sandinista!"). The Clash is one of the greatest bands ever. One of my best memories is being in the kitchen at my restaurant JiRaffe and having the server come in and announce that Joe Strummer from the Clash was in the restaurant dining. He ended up coming into our (very small) kitchen, hanging out and watching us cook while we drank beer and had his music playing.
What's your favorite breakfast?
My favorite breakfast is eggs Benedict. I don't know, it just reminds me of when we were kids and my grandparents would take us to Jan's on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. Every Sunday we would go there, and my sisters and I would order the eggs Benedict. It's something I really enjoy today. Often I will have them at Martha's in Hermosa Beach just after my long bike rides with my buddies on Sunday mornings. There's something about that last bite of potato, hollandaise and that last piece of egg and English muffin and a little ham that makes me go back for more again and again.
What chef has most influenced you?
The chef who most influenced me was George Vernottes. When I moved to France in 1987, he was the first chef I worked for. It was a small restaurant with about 26 seats, and there were only four in the kitchen: George, his sous-chef, a dishwasher and myself. He took me under his wing, and we formed a really good sensei-deshi relationship. He taught me everything I really needed to know at that point in my career about product, cooking, using a knife, cutting techniques, sourcing ingredients. The most important thing he taught me, though, was the dedication and hard work it would take to be a chef. I will never forget the stories he told me about his own apprenticeship, how he would go to Les Halles in the morning and unpack crates of vegetables to earn extra money and from there go to work two shifts at Hotel le Crillon. He would work 18-, 19-hour days. Amazing! When it's getting hard for me, I always think about how hard George would work.
Mélisse, 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-0881, www.melisse.com.