I say that as if all you readers should know who Gilles and Francois are by first name only. Excuse my assumption that you were all around Leucadia 10-15 years ago when they dominated the local restaurant, bar and live music scene.
I am officially referring to Gilles Knafo and Francois Patanchon, with Gilles running Calypso and Francois at the helm of Le Papagayo.
It was a fabulous and, dare I say, a more simple time in Leucadia, with fewer options, more locals and a party atmosphere with live music seven nights a week at both joints, which were a refreshing walk on Coast Highway from each other. One of the musical highlights of my life was catching Jack Tempchin, the local singer-songwriter who wrote several hits for the Eagles including the quintessential “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” at Calypso at his standing weekly gig. That song was basically the feeling that represented Leucadia for me at the time and always a treat to hear live.
That said, change is one of the constants in the restaurant business, and Calypso is now Priority Public House and Le Papagayo is still going under new ownership. Gilles headed to Mexico to open a Calypso outpost there and Francois opened a couple of restaurants in San Diego.
Enough dwelling on the past, though. This is about new beginnings and capturing a slice of that magic these two dynamic restaurateurs had in Leucadia in Oceanside, the new frontier for restaurants, at a killer joint called Le Citron.
A headline I was toying with was “Calypso and Papagayo had a baby and it’s called Le Citron” as that is what immediately came to mind when I walked into the colorful house-like building on Coast Highway that they have made their own.
But alas, I was not quite sure how that would have been interpreted. Gave me a good laugh, though, so I had to tuck it somewhere into this column.
Prior to Le Citron, it was Saint Tropez and before that Hill Street Café and the large outdoor seating area and open-air interior make it perfect for today’s dining restrictions. The space has a Pannikin feel to me and local artist Brian Banish, whose paintings hung in Calypso and Le Papagayo, has his colorful music and surf-themed paintings on display at Le Citron as well.
The menu is a fun mix of Leucadia classics from Gilles and Francois, including the Escargot de Bourgogne, Rock Shrimp Ceviche and Calypso Brie en Croute. I went with my favorite, the Calypso Napoleon, which is a healthy and delicious stack of Ahi Tuna, avocado, papaya, masaco and dynamite. I could start every meal with this dish as it’s so tasty, light and just gets you primed for the next course. The Crispy Calamari Steak was nice as well with macadamia nuts and sweet and sour sauce.
Next time back I’m going to revisit the Calypso Black Mussels with white wine, shallots and tomatoes, and the Le Papagayo version of that is a light coconut curry and tomato base. Both perfect for mopping up that delicious broth with your table bread.
The dish I was so stoked to have once again, complete with the table side fillet presentation, was Henri’s Poisson au Sel or rock salt crusted and baked whole sea bass that Gilles dad Henri filleted and served back in the day at Calypso, complete with his fisherman’s cap and French accent.
It was a special treat and special every time it was served. This time Francois did the honors, complete with the French accent and perfect presentation. It was fabulous as always.
Gilles is French Moroccan and that is evident in the Moroccan Chicken Tagine that is a slow-roasted half free-range chicken with almonds, raisins, figs and saffron ginger sauce. The Calypso Filet Mignon is back along with Seared Sushi Grade Tuna with pickled tomatoes and Basmati rice.
Backing up a bit the tapas and appetizers that include the Lobster Bisque, Melon, Watermelon and Mint Gazpacho I’ve had in the past and remember them fondly.
I’ve not been for breakfast or lunch but the space is so conducive to both I’m looking forward to it. Live music has always played a key part of the experience for these guys and they have it happening again every Thursday – Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.
Oceanside is the perfect location for Gilles and Francois to continue their restaurant collaboration and Le Citron is a very nice vehicle for that. I’m going back.
Find them at 524 S. Coast Highway 101, Oceanside or 760-696-3737 and www.lecitronoceanside.com