Ringing the bell at Cit­ron et Sel

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - DINING - COR­RE­SPON­DENT Con­tact Jim Tan­ner at JFTan­ner@gmail.com. Fol­low him at twit­ter.com/ JFTan­ner. BY JIM TAN­NER

Per­haps the fastest-grow­ing part of Chat­tanooga’s boom­ing down­town is the area around the new Westin Ho­tel, mar­keted as the “West Vil­lage.” The Westin, for­merly an of­fice build­ing for BlueCross BlueShield of Ten­nessee, has been trans­formed into a lux­ury ho­tel, and it serves as the anchor for a grow­ing num­ber of shops and restau­rants in the sur­round­ing blocks.

One of the new­est ad­di­tions is Cit­ron et Sel, a te­quila and taco bar serv­ing a sim­ple se­lec­tion of food and a va­ri­ety of cock­tails and te­quila. The name Cit­ron et Sel is French for lemon and salt, both of which come in handy with so much te­quila around.

THE SPACE

The restau­rant is taste­fully decorated with a long bar and sev­eral ta­bles in a nar­row, but sur­pris­ingly spa­cious, din­ing area. The front of the restau­rant opens onto the pedes­trian-friendly area near the Westin, in easy walk­ing dis­tance for tourists and lo­cals vis­it­ing the ho­tel.

The unique fea­ture to this restau­rant is a long room next to the main din­ing area with a bell at the end of the room for the “Ring the Bell” chal­lenge. More on that later.

THE MENU

The fo­cus of Cit­ron et Sel is the ex­ten­sive bar and the wide va­ri­ety of te­quila and cock­tails, thus the menu is not as ex­ten­sive as at some restau­rants. This is a good thing, as the kitchen can fo­cus on do­ing a few things very well.

For Cit­ron et Sel, the main en­trees are tacos and tostadas in pork, bar­ba­coa beef, chicken, fish, lamb or veg­e­tar­ian op­tions. Avail­able side items are rice, suc­co­tash and black beans. It’s not a big va­ri­ety of dishes, but it al­lows the fo­cus to re­main on the drinks and get­ting the food done right. Some­times less is more.

There are also starters and sal­ads avail­able. The fea­tured starter is the Table­side Gua­camole. A server brings fresh in­gre­di­ents to the cus­tomer and pre­pares the gua­camole in a large bowl that is then served with chips.

Then there’s the te­quila. Lots of te­quila. And the high­light ex­pe­ri­ence is the Ring the Bell chal­lenge. Cus­tomers are es­corted to the the al­ley room next to the din­ing area, where they pur­chase the te­quila of their choice served in a shot glass made of ice. Af­ter drink­ing the te­quila, the cus­tomer throws the shot glass at a bell at the end of the room, at­tempt- ing to ring the bell.

THE FOOD

On a re­cent week­end evening, I chose to start my meal with chips and house-made salsa, which was very good. The chips were fresh and the salsa had a unique smoky fla­vor and just enough spice.

Three Tinga tacos — shred­ded chicken cooked with toma­toes and chipo­tle pep­per and served with let­tuce, sour cream, radish and queso fresco — rounded out the meal. The tacos were well-pre­pared and tasty. The tor­tilla was light and not dis­tract­ing from the fla­vor. It was quite a good taco.

While I skipped out on the ta­ble-made gua­camole and an at­tempt at ringing the bell, I did have the Sig­na­ture Mar­garita, which was tart and tasty and made fresh by the bar­tender. No sign of pre-made mar­garita mix at Cit­ron et Sel, and that’s al­ways a good sign.

THE SER­VICE

The restau­rant was busy on a week­end night just a week af­ter its grand open­ing. Ser­vice was a bit scat­tered, which is un­der­stand­able for a new staff learn­ing a new menu and new pro­ce­dures. That said, the staff was kept busy mak­ing sure ev­ery­one was happy by get­ting food out fast and keep­ing drinks filled.

The full house of cus­tomers seemed happy to be en­joy­ing their time at Cit­ron et Sel. There seemed to be a good mix of lo­cals out to check out the new restau­rant as well as tourists en­joy­ing a day in the Scenic City’s new­est “vil­lage.”

THE VER­DICT

Cit­ron et Sel is first and fore­most a te­quila bar, and the fo­cus is kept on its spe­cialty drinks by not over­whelm­ing guests with a large food menu. How­ever, the food is done well and served at­trac­tively.

There’s more than enough food di­ver­sity to keep a group of friends well-fed and happy for an evening out. It’s a fun con­cept, not ex­pen­sive and in a pleas­ant at­mos­phere.

I’ll be back again for the gua­camole … and I’m gonna have to try to ring that bell.

PHOTO BY JIM TAN­NER

The or­der of Tinga tacos in­cludes three tacos filled with shred­ded chicken cooked with toma­toes and chipo­tle pep­per, served with let­tuce, sour cream, radish and queso fresco.

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