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Bidding NC gourmet restaurant goodbye

After garnering mentions in the New York Times, Sunset Magazine and a Hallmark Channel movie, one of Nevada City’s highest-rated restaurants is closing.

Citronee Bistro and Wine Bar, set directly across from City Hall on Broad Street, has struggled in the recession along with most other Nevada City businesses.

“We’d cut back so drastically. We’d streamlined to the bare knuckles,” said chef and owner Robert (pronounced row-BEAR) Perez.



He and his wife, Marianna, had tried to sell the gourmet restaurant for the past year and a half, but higher rent was a tipping point. The landlord raised rates by $1,000 a month, Perez said.

“It made no sense to try and continue,” he added.




Kathleen Coates, who bought the building over the summer, said she restored the rent from a discounted rate because much of the building maintenance – such as roof repairs and painting – had been deferred.

“It was unfair to expect a landlord to have such cheap rent,” said Coates, who has been repairing several downtown buildings she owns.

“I grew up in the building,” she added, noting her mother and aunt operated a business there. “I have a soft spot in my heart for it.”

Citronee features a robust wine list and upscale American cuisine – online reviewers rave about coq au vin, venison with yam agnolotti and valhrona chocolate cake.

They call it world-class and compare it to San Francisco Bay Area restaurants; it’s currently the No. 2 Nevada City eatery on TripAdvisor.com (it lists Las Katarinas as No. 1).

But the very reputation that has attracted discriminating foodies for 12 and a half years has been a downfall in the recession, Perez said.

“We wanted to be a neighborhood cafe – just a casual bistro where people could stop in for a cheese plate,” Perez said. “But we built that reputation as a fancy, special-occasion restaurant. … We couldn’t get it out of people’s minds.”

Perez attended culinary school in the Netherlands; his wife Marianna is Dutch. After 20 years in Europe, the couple returned to the United States in the late 1980s to work in a Napa Valley restaurant.

They started their Nevada City restaurant about 10 years later, calling it Citronee, a French word for a citrus-based dressing. The name reflects the light, bright flavors of the restaurant.

“We cook for today’s palate,” Perez said.

Citronee, with an elegant, airy bistro in the front and romantic, wine-cellar motif in the back, peaked early, and business started tilting downward after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The restaurant relies about 40 percent on tourist business, and Perez said the community’s efforts to market to tourists hasn’t been strong enough.

Coates hopes to attract a temporary retail tenant to the storefront for the holiday season. She wants to keep the commercial kitchen operable and perhaps split the space into two distinct businesses – one side would be a restaurant, and the other side a bakery.

Built around the 1880s, the building had long operated as Kopp Bakery, with a soda fountain and grill in the front portion, Coates said.

Coates operates Reiki Kitchen on Commercial Street and owns other spaces on the street, including the building housing Treats ice cream shop. Planning commissioners have applauded her efforts to improve Commercial and York streets with better lighting and fresh paint.

“All of them had deferred maintenance when I purchased them,” she said. “I grew up here. I love Nevada City, and I’m trying to do my part.”

The closure is just one of several high-profile restaurant closures in recent months. Chief Crazy Horse Inn and Saloon closed at the end of July, and tenants were evicted Oct. 20 from Posh Nosh Restaurant, next to Citronee (see related story).

“It’ll be a real blow if they’re not replaced,” said Barbi Jackson, president-elect of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

Citronee’s last night is flexible; it may be Sunday, or mid-week next week, the Perezes said.

Robert and Marianna Perez plan to move to Santa Barbara, where their two sons are taking over a restaurant.

“We want to help them,” Robert said. “They’re very ambitious, and I feel like I’m slowing down a bit.”

The owners thanked the community for ardent support over the years.

“I wanted it to be an important part of Nevada City. People would see we have world-class restaurants here,” Robert Perez said. “I hate the fact we have to leave.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.


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