A famed French/California chef brings a twist to the Social scene

Michel Richard is back in town (so to speak).

The flamboyant French chef, who ruled L.A. in the '90s with Citrus on Melrose but then pulled up stakes and moved east, is not -- I repeat, not -- leaving his much-lauded Citronelle in Washington, D.C. But he was recruited by New York restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow (China Grill, Asia de Cuba, etc.) to revamp Chodorow's dwindling Social Hollywood space and bring the Citrus name back on the scene. The result is Citrus at Social, where Richard designed the menu, serves as consulting chef and brought in Remi Lauvand (recently at Miro at Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara) as chef de cuisine.

To relaunch Social Hollywood's restaurant, Chodorow has opened up the space and given the eatery its own entrance, bar and lounge. And it does look more obviously glam than before, with banquettes lining the walls under the stunning frescoed ceiling. The color scheme lives up to its namesake, with cozy yellow curtains and lime-green satin slipper chairs.

The menu is short, but tart. Look first to Richard's bistro favorites (perfect for sharing) where you will find gougeres -- those divine little cheese puffs -- served in a green wire cone, and a lovely caramelized onion tart that can (and should) be topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. As an appetizer, there's a gorgeous surf 'n' turf carpaccio that looks like a piece of the marble floor of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. The rounds of raw beef, scallops, salmon, etc., garnished with citrus and flavored oils, are generous enough for two. A delicious goat cheese Caesar roulade comes bundled like a package. The scallop scramble is a bit dull, but the frisee salad with crispy poached egg is reminiscent of Richard's old playfulness.

The 72-hour short ribs display incredible texture, and the delicate arctic char is perfectly cooked, but the most exciting things about the $38 lobster burger are the buttery, golden fries that come with it. And yes, for meat and potatoes folks, there's a rib-eye steak too.

Don't even think about skipping dessert. Richard is among the best pastry chefs this town has ever seen, and his decadent treats far outshine everything else on the menu. I loved the "apple-like tatin," a pastry round made to look like a whole caramelized apple. And the vacherin is spectacular: a giant mushroom of meringue atop chocolate ice cream with cream inside, resting in a verdant pool of pistachio sauce.

Fans of the old Citrus should swarm Citrus at Social, eager for another taste of Richard's cooking. But will the burger and sweets be enough to get them out of the club scene and into a dining chair? Not unless Chodorow and Co. can wrangle up the right sort of famous faces. The old Citrus menu is not going to do it.

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-- virbila@latimes.com

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CITRUS AT SOCIAL

WHERE: Social Hollywood, 6525 Sunset Blvd. (at Schrader), Hollywood

WHEN: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thurs.-Sat. Full bar. Valet parking, $10.

PRICE: Appetizers, $10 to $21; main courses, $29 to $46; sides, $8; desserts, $11 to $12.

INFO: (323) 337-9797; www.citrusatsocial.com

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