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Orson
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Orson just opened a couple of weeks ago, and is the talk of the town. It's sort of a molecular gastronomy-type place, in that there's a lot of experimentation with the form and essence of things. But it's more that chef Elizabeth Falkner has applied her pastry experience to the rest of the meal in new and interesting ways. We'd read about Orson in Becks & Posh and they recommended leaving all inhibitions at the door and just trying as many interesting-sounding things as you could, so that's what we did. we were there for three hours or so, and it was incredible fun to try different strange sounding things (all of them good, several of them oh-my-god). In several cases, Falkner managed to extract the essence of a food's flavor (e.g. potatoes) and transform it into a radically different texture (e.g. a creamy foam) that makes for a sort of "I can't believe it" experience. But it wasn't gimmicky or pretentious, as I feared it might be (and all the wait staff were informal and appealing). Instead it just conveyed (and invoked) the pleasures of kitchen experimentation.

We had:
- papadams, way nice rice. the house bread, it consisted of jasmine rice that had been cooked, dehydrated, then fried to produce a rice-krispie-like snack, flavored with a hint of lime. excellent finger food.
- parmiggiano pudding, piquillo pepper jam, cocoa nib explosion. the parmaggiano pudding was just what it sounds like: parmigiano flavor in the shape and consistency of pudding. it was really good, very rich but perfect in a small dose, with some super-thin cut toasted pieces of bread. the jam was also good, a good complement to the pudding. but the thing that took this dish to the next level was the cocoa nibs, which were basically chocolate infused pop rocks. eating chocolate pop rocks at a fancy restaurant rules. it was literally a taste explosion. a party in my mouth.
- house made charcuterie: rye salami, terrine, spiced tri tip, peppered shoulder. a very good charcuterie plate. the tri tip was especially interesting; I'm used to pork charcuterie, and this had a very definite beef flavor that was unusual.
- something hot from the market, which was asparagus and pea vines, served with a fermented black garlic sabayon. the garlic was fermented for 72 hours and then turned into this sort of sweet froth. it was delicious, and tasted more like butterscotch than garlic to me. It had a bit of garlic flavor still, but I think I would have preferred it to be a little more garlicky and a little less sweet. Still, it was a great experience.
- tempura egg, nori, scallion bouillon. basically, a soft-poached egg wrapped in nori then fried tempura style, with a very subtly-flavored broth poured over it. The egg ended up amazingly creamy, a good contrast to the tempura.
- short rib, spinach, espresso. This dish was probably the winner of the night for us (well, tied with the pudding and pop rocks). We love short ribs anyway, but the real revelation here was the potato foam, which was the essence of potato-ness somehow turned into a light, creamy foam. We could not stop eating or talking about the potato foam. Seriously, if you go to Orson, have the potato foam.
- chocolate, espellette, sea salt, and olive oil pizza. the pizza was good, though less of a novelty flavor-wise than we thought -- a similar experience to, say, a chocolate croissant, but of course with a crispier pizza crust and hints of sea salt.
- baconwich, which involved maple-bacon ice cream and a couple of thin chocolate cookies, accompanied by something like little gelatin maple cubes. the ice cream was intensely bacon, like more bacon than bacon. neither of us could decide if we actually liked it, but we couldn't stop tasting it to find out.
- blue potato ravioli with white chocolate and lavender. the ravioli was blue and very creamy, with a ricotta-like filling. light and tasty.

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I tried this place last week - it is two doors down from my office. I found the atmosphere and the service really great. We had a nice amount of time to chat with our server, and also with the "mixologist." The manager gave us a tour of the whole space - a gigantic kitchen and lots of room they haven't started using yet. What I wasn't impressed by was the food! Also I had a celery gimlet that tasted, well, like celery. That tempura egg was interesting, but I felt most items were talked up too much by the server and my expectations were a bit high.

I think they're going to work out the food issues, though, and get more consistent in the next few months. What is your opinion of the "taste" menu (vs small plates, something pretty popular in the city)?

I didn't feel like anything was talked up too much. we had a great waiter (who, weirdly, was our server the next day at A16 too) and his attitude and that of everyone else was pretty low-key. like, he was enthused to suggest things, but there wasn't too much pretention or self-seriousness as I feared there might be.

it's not food that I would choose every day. for us, the fun of trying a bunch of things that were unusual experiments made the whole thing enjoyable. some of them fell sort of flat, though nothing was bad (e.g. the pizza was fine but not especially memorable). what I liked was that almost everything stimulated our interest in the food and our creativity about food (we spent the meal discussing hypothetical recipes to try once we got home). some of it was solid stuff I'd order again, some stuff I'm glad to have sampled. I think that's the attitude people should take there.

I've never done the tasting menu thing before. I'd like to, it sounds great. I like restaurants where I can sample lots of different things as small plates or whatever. I love variety.


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