Thanks to the stunning service and French-style cuisine of Santa Monica’s Mélisse, the Five-Star restaurant radiance has returned to Los Angeles for the first time since 2006. From the mix of California and European influences in the kitchen to the sharply trained members of the staff, chef/owner Josiah Citrin discusses everything that goes into whipping up a star-rated restaurant in the City of Angels.
What were your thoughts when you learned you received a Five-Star award?
Stoked. It was one of those things where we’ve been striving for this since we opened. It’s just one of those things you keep striving for and it becomes habit.
Is this the cream of the crop?
Yeah, I think when you have so few Five-Star Award winners in a country the size of America, and [consider] how many restaurants there are, you really feel like the cream of the crop. You’ve really risen to the top.
What is your overall mission at Mélisse?
We’re trying to look ahead at what we can do to create that experience, that memory. At the end of the day, we’re a special-occasion restaurant. Maybe someone is having their 50th birthday or their 45th wedding anniversary. What are we going to do to create a memorable experience that’s going to last forever? That’s a time in their life that they’re always going to associate with this amazing experience they’ve had at Mélisse restaurant. Our guests leave feeling like kings and queens. That’s our motto — kings and queens. We say that every day.
Why are the personalities of the wait staff important?
Different guests require different personalities. I really look for nice people. The experience is not what I look for. I look for nice people who really care a lot about creating great experiences for the guests.
Is their training session extensive?
It’s about three to four weeks. It’s every station — from working the kitchen to going to the farmer’s market to working the host stand — that needs to be worked on and learned. And then it’s still a long learning process. The farmer’s market is important because we like to say the experience starts when we hand-select every ingredient for our diners, which is what we do every Wednesday and Saturday at the farmer’s market.
You make the waiter learn all of the roles?
They need to know all that happens in the restaurant, yes. It’s the same as the back waiters. One of the things we do is, every Saturday, one of the front of house people has to do a presentation to the rest of the staff. For example, this time one of the gentlemen did it on the water we serve — Nordic fresh water. He did a whole detailed report on this. It’s great. Or it can be one of the cheeses — it’s always something we use in the restaurant. It comes not from the top; it comes from someone else who does the research. So, it’s kind of like a report.
Your menu is basically French based?
We’re a French-style restaurant but I’m really driven by California. I’m driven by what’s available in California. If you want to serve French food, I think that those days are a lot different now, because now we’re serving cuisine that Californians will enjoy in California, or people coming from around the world will enjoy when they’re in California. But it’s very French-technique driven and service is very French style, but at the end of the day, I like to call it coastal California cuisine.
Photo Courtesy of Melisse