Born-Again Citrus Making SA Waves On the River

citrus shrimp (550x413)

You know you’re hearing significant culinary news when San Antonians tell you about an exciting new chef doing exciting new things, especially when that chef is cooking in a hotel – on the tourist-frenzied Riverwalk. Whenever locals leap over so many hurdles, real but mostly imagined, to go get some dinner, you know the excitement is real. So it is with the work French Laundry veteran Robbie Nowlin is doing at Citrus inside the Hotel Valencia.

citrus foie (550x413)

Then again, Citrus has a tradition of creating local and regional celebrity chefs – against all odds, it would seem. Early on, and for several years, Jeff Balfour ran the kitchen – and he is now about to open his own restaurant in the revitalized Pearl Brewery development, a renewal so huge that San Antonio’s powers-that-be extended the Riverwalk to get there. Today at Citrus, whether you’re tasting Nowlin’s surprisingly rustic Gulf shrimp-Iberico chorizo cazuela or his play-on-flavors “genoise” (cake) of foie gras with honey-poached cranberry, butternut squash puree and “compressed” radicchio, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or in your grandmother’s San Antonio eiher.

citrus lobster (550x413)

Chef Nowlin has cooked off-and-on in San Antonio for years, most recently at Las Canarias, the signature dining room of La Mansion del Rio virtually next door. You might say he was every bit as “poached” from Las Canarias as his elite lobster creation. After being poached in butter (not mere water or stock), the meat from Maine gets a setting of black trumpet mushrooms, caramelized cippolini onions and glazed baby beets. The coolest thing on the plate is the “pomme Maxim,” an old-fashioned French technique that essentially gives us potato chips on top.

citrus duck web

It is, of course, a signature of contemporary, elevated cuisine (as epitomized and popularized by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa) that nothing just shows up in front of you. The chef is expected to flirt with as many unexpected flavors, use as many cooking processes and indeed dirty as many pots as possible. So it is with Nowlin’s remarkable duck breast entree. The breast is dry-aged in-house then drawn into an Asian-kissed combination of “crispy fried rice,” eggplant, cucumber and radish. That swizzle on the plate out-front is a “sauce japonaise” – a Japanese sauce, in French.

citrus lamb (550x413)

As the chilly weather sets in, diners might want something more substantial than many of the delicate dishes chefs like Nowlin tend to set out – but in his case. that should be no problem. Braised lamb shank is about as substantial as you can get. The meat, covered in an intriguing “mustard seed glaze,” finds itself sharing the plate not only with a pureed version of piperade from Provence (it traditionally has sliced sweet peppers) but with picked eggplant and a lovely salad of frisee and cashews. I could lunch on a bowl of that salad all by itself.

citrus dessert (550x413)

If you close your eyes and taste the dessert titled simply Lemon Curd, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating – the best lemon meringue pie ever. But if you open your eyes, there’s no lemon meringue pie in sight. Such is the trompe l’oeil joy of desserts crafted by pastry chef Andrea Morgan. The pie is evoked by a “streusel” of crushed, scattered pie crust, brilliantly enough. I particularly love the torched maple marshmallows, reminding me of the best campout in human history.  As with every dish by Robbie Nowlin, there are food memories on every plate at this new version of Citrus. They never look the way you remember them, but they are rich, deep and beloved memories all the same.




  1. Scott Williams says:

    I have eaten at CITRUS twice over the past month and I have to say that these were the best meals (dinners) I have had in 10 years without a doubt. Chef Robbie is great and his dishes are utterly delicious. the service was great but the meal is expensive. bring your check book but the food is definitely worth it!

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