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The biggest news of the day has been the sommelier shuffle in which Mark Slater, the 12-year veteran at Citronelle, has left Michel Richard‘s venerable four-star restaurant in favor of Michael Landrum‘s populist meat emporium, Ray’s the Steaks. Former 2941 sommelier Kathryn Morgan has taken over Slater’s old job at Citronelle.

Slater’s move, of course, is the real curiosity. He’ll go from a temple of haute gastronomy with a French-heavy wine list that’s dotted with such bottles as a three-liter 1986 Lafite-Rothschild ($5,600) to a steakhouse with a list that prides itself on selling good wine under $50 a bottle.

That approach won’t change much under Slater, Landrum said this afternoon over the phone. “As you can imagine, I’m looking to completely radicalize and subvert the way wine programs work,” Landrum said.

Slater, as director of wine and service for Landrum’s group of restaurants, will be tasked with building and expanding the vino lists, particularly at the flagship operation, Ray’s the Steaks, in its new location in Arlington. Slater will be adding between 200 and 300 labels to a list that numbers just 75 bottles at present.  Landrum foresees including some 1st and 2nd growth Bordeaux bottles, as well as some Burgundy grand crus, but at much cheaper prices than in your average high-end restaurant.

Landrum, in other words, wants to do for wine what he has done for steaks: reduce the markups to levels unprecedented in most restaurants. Bottles that wholesale for more than $100 will sell for “cheaper than at retail” stores, Landrum said. Bottles that wholesale between $50 and $100 will be sold at prices similar to retail stores, he added.

“We want to be a nationally recognized destination for wine lovers,” as much as for steak lovers, Landrum said.

So how did Landrum land Slater? The owner doesn’t want to get into specifics, but he said he and Slater have been friends for years. “We have five years of shooting the shit at Bistrot du Coin on Saturday,” he said.

But Landrum understands that Slater may not be in his employ forever. He understands that Slater might get wooed by some other temple of gastronomy; it might even happen sooner than he wants. “I love him to death,” Landrum said about Slater. “If I have him only for a month, that’s great.”

Meanwhile in a press release from Citronelle today, Richard said he was “very happy to have Kathryn join us at Citronelle… She is a talented wine professional, and comes to us with a wealth of information and a great experience of Washington, DC.”

The release continues:

Kathryn Morgan grew up in the presence of fine wine and great food. The only child of a wine collector and an amateur chef, “I tasted wines often at my parents’ dinner parties, and developed a palate early for classified growth Bordeaux and vintage port.” Kathryn honed her skills at top restaurants in Washington DC, including Occidental Grill, Ristorante Tosca, and most recently 2941 Restaurant. In 2003, Kathryn passed the advanced level examinations of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and both the theory and tasting sections of the Master Sommelier Diploma. Kathryn has also garnered awards, accolades and media recognition. She is featured monthly on the wine panel for Northern Virginia Magazine, has appeared on WUSA TV and Retirement Living TV, and is frequently mentioned in publications such as Washingtonian Magazine, The Washington Post, The Hill Newspaper and The D.C. Examiner.

Photo by Charles Steck