Ambiance 4 Stars
Service 5 Stars
Food 5 Stars
Presentation 5 Stars
Price 4 Stars
Total 23 Stars
The Citico’s reservation-only experience begins at the front gate of Lenoir City’s Windriver community. Thursday through Sunday, patrons are cleared at the guardhouse and directed to take a left turn and follow a winding road to a five-bedroom inn. The great room, now the dining room of Citico’s, was designed by Stephen Davis with tall ceilings and windows to take advantage of the views of Tellico Lake. The name Citico’s comes from the Cherokee village, alternately known as “Setaco” or “Sitiku,” that once sat on the shore of the Little Tennessee River.
Even though there are only a handful of tables, diners have plenty of privacy.
In the tradition of the great French restaurants, diners have the opportunity to discuss the menu with Executive Chef Robert Allen. “We value an intimate experience with our guests,” says Allen, who is happy to talk about the local suppliers and farms, like Eco Rich Farms in Greenback and Sweetwater Valley Farm, that enable him to use fresh seasonal foods.“When we moved here three years ago, I fell into a group of people in the foodie scene in Knoxville, so we work with our close friends.” Allen grew up the son of a chef in Austin, Texas, where he developed an eclectic background in food styles, studied at Austin’s Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy, and polished his craft in country clubs. From the moment diners enter the front door, they are greeted by the host, the wait staff, and even the director. The emphasis is on making sure patrons lack for nothing in their dining experience, including a recommendation for a fine wine to complement each course.
Each item is presented with Cordon Bleu elegance with the care for timing and placement. On our visit, the meal began with an amuse bouche of steak tartare, followed by an unforgettably presented three-foot-long Local and Artisan Cheese Tray ($24), including homemade spreads, pastrami,
and sausages, with bread from Tellico
Grains Bakery. A particular highlight are the pickled sunchokes. The nutty sweetness of sunchokes most immediately lends itself to soft purées and soups, but they’re more versatile than meets their knobby eyes, and Chef Allen uses them to great advantage here. The smoked blue cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery alone was worth the visit.
Among the starters, the Fried Brussels Sprouts ($14) are cooked with Benton’s bacon and sweet chili sauce. You can ask, but Chef Robert will not share his recipe. Citico’s House Salad ($9) features aquaponically grown EcoRich mixed greens that have a peppery, fresh taste. They are mixed with Benton’s Country Ham, pecans, Lima beans, pickled red onion, Sweet Water Valley white cheddar and dressed with Blueberry Balsamic Vinaigrette. The Baby Wedge Salad ($10) features iceberg lettuce, candied Benton’s bacon, house dried tomatoes and that heavenly smoked bleu cheese topped with bleu cheese vinaigrette.
Don’t miss the Creamy Acorn Squash and Green Apple Soup topped with sweet and spicy almonds (cup $6; bowl $9), with its memorable curry taste. Rabbit Ravioli ($14) is an original creation, stuffing house-made pasta with braised Tennessee rabbit & Ricotta cheese and served in brown butter with sweet potato and fresh sage.
Among the entrees, the Southern Chicken ($30) features a delectable semi-boneless chicken from Shelton Family Farms in Whittier, North Carolina, with Charleston gold rice, tomato jam bacon, green beans, and roasted apple glace. The Berkshire Pork Chop ($36) comes with butternut squash, broccolini, fried fingerling potatoes, and mustard seed sorghum BBQ.
The Tenderloin Filet ($48) features Dauphine potato, spinach timbale, truffle parsnip puree, and red wine demi-glace. Sea Scallops ($40) are tender and cooked to perfection, served with carrots, sunchokes, and Tennessee field peas.
There’s no question that the final check, especially adding in the wine, reflects a fine dining experience. In this realm, it is a good value.