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 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 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.
› Where: Citron et Sel Tequila and Provisions, 212 W. Eighth St.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
› Prices: $4-$13; all tacos and tostadas $5
› Alcohol: Full bar service with large selection of tequila and specialty cocktails
› Phone: 423-498-5802
› Website: www.citron etsel.com
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, attempting to ring the bell.
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 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."
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.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.