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Richard: NoVa bound

Note: This story was updated on 4:36 p.m. Monday.

The rumors appear to be true: Michel Richard, the city’s most celebrated chef, will shift his “home” base to the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, where he will open a new, fine-dining restaurant in the former Maestro space. It’s not clear yet what the move could mean for Citronelle, Richard’s current home at the Latham Hotel and one of D.C.’s most-honored restaurants, and whether the chef would abandon the spot completely.

Michel Richard Restaurants mailed a packet of information to potential investors last week, seeking nearly $2 million to develop the 5,000-square-foot, 110-seat restaurant inside the Ritz. The celebrity chef, according to the document,  “plans to enter into a 10-year primary lease on or about April 30, 2009” for the dining space made famous by chef Fabio Trabocchi, who left Maestro in September 2007. The restaurant has been dark since then.

“Citronelle is not closing…Michel’s offices are still there, his kitchen that he loves is still there, and business is going on as usual,” says Mel Davis, PR coordinator for Richard. “I have to reiterate, there are no plans to move or close Citronelle from the Latham hotel.”

Mark Sherwin, general manager for the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, emphasized that no contract has been signed for the Maestro space. “We continue to talk to a number of high-profile chefs,” Sherwin said. The Ritz has narrowed the list down to three different groups, the GM added, but Sherwin wasn’t at liberty to name any of them.

The investor packet, however, makes it sound like a done deal. The working name of the proposed restaurant is, simply, Michel Richard, and it will be considered, according to the investor packet, “Michel Richard’s home,” where the chef “will likely be in the kitchen most evenings.”

Those statements clearly imply either the death or the diminishment of Richard’s Citronelle, which has suffered some indignities in recent months. Last fall, the Post‘s Tom Sietsemadocked Citronelle a star in his 2008 Dining Guide; in January, the gastronomic temple laid off a number of employees and cut back on hours; and in March, long-time sommelier, Mark Slater, left Citronelle to work at Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington.

The statements also pour cold water on the rumors that firebrand British chef Gordon Ramsay will take over the Maestro space. Ramsay’s restaurant group was already facing serious financial troubles, and the chef recently sold his Los Angeles operation, Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood.

Whether Ramsay or not, however, the Ritz was obviously interested in a celebrity chef for the space. The hotel chain has done well with famous cooks in the kitchen, whether Eric Ripert at the Westend Bistro or Dean Fearing at his eponymous place at the Ritz’s Dallas property.

In preparation for Richard, the former Maestro space will be “re-designed in its entirety as a modern French-influenced restaurant” and “will change dramatically from its prior iteration, which, while luxurious, lacked a distinctive independent operator feel.” The restaurant’s open kitchen will be “re-tiled to have a more contemporary aesthetic,” while the once-expansive dining room will be broken up into spaces that look, based on preliminary architectural sketches, as if they could be sealed off for private dining. There will also be a chef’s table and a bar area with six stools and three cocktail tables.

Group Goetz Architects, the same company that designed Central Michel Richardon Pennsylvania Avenue NW, has been hired to design the Ritz space. No general contractor has been selected yet. Richard’s team at his namesake restaurant will include Carl Halvorson, currently the director of operations for Citronelle and director of operations/partner at Central.

The Ritz, according to the investor packet, is providing a “significant build-out allowance” for Richard, but it’s apparently not enough to cover all the costs. Richard’s team is seeking between $1.7 million and $1.8 million to construct what it hopes will be “Washington’s finest restaurant.”

Michel Richard is expected to open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner sometime during the fourth quarter of this year.

If the detailed investor packet weren’t enough to convince skeptics that Richard is moving his base of operations to the Ritz at Tysons, then the return address on the mailer itself all but confirms it. According to the envelope, Michel Richard Restaurants is located at 1700 Tysons Blvd. in McLean.

That’s the address of the Ritz-Carlton.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery