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Anniversary Dinner at Orson last night

d
David Carlson Jul 22, 2008 07:25 AM

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary at Orson last night and had a spectacular meal.
While deciding whether to order or do a tasting menu we had cocktails and the Parmaggiano Pudding. My wife loved the Raspberry Citrus Bomb, I enjoyed the Touch of Evil, but thought the bourbon overpowered the rest of the drink. They also brought out snack mix made of sushi rice, cooked, freeze-dried and sprayed with meyer lemon juice and spices - I hope they never bag & sell it, because it would be dangerous to have around the house.

The Parmaggiano Pudding was incredible! Almost too rich, but the pepper jam it's served with cut through the heaviness beautifully. The pop-rocks in the pepper jam were a surprise, fun and I think they helped cut the richness of the dish a bit. It also has cocoa nibs - I'm not sure they contributed much, but I'd happily eat one with and one without side by side to see for sure...

At our servers suggestion (Christopher - he was great) we did one regular 3 course tasting menu and one 3 course Pork tasting menu, with half-glass wine pairings. Each started with an amuse. First was 2 shot glasses of soup - one was watermelon and saffron, chilled. Very different, enjoyable but overshadowed by the other soup - Roasted Corn w/ Ginger. We each could have eaten whole bowl of that one. On the pork side it was chicharrones w/ bbq sauce - nice, but not spectacular, I'd have been better off saving that space for what was to come.

First course - there was an arugula salad with a stone fruit, can't remember if was peach or nectarine, shaved parmesan and topped with more chicharrones - nice and bright. Then there was the Smoked Tempura Egg Nori w/ Scallion Boullion. WOW! Soft boiled egg fried in tempura batter... egg yolk mixing with the broth... we both wanted more.
In addition to they also brought out their house made charcuterie - rye salami and sprice tri tip were both good, even better on top of the curry lardo. The terrine was the best of the bunch, though.
First course was paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc, can't remember the name and don't see it on their wine list online, but it worked well with each dish.

Second course - seared skate w/ turnips, potato confit and watercress. I don't like fish, so this wasn't my favorite, but it was good enough I ate all of my half. On the pork side there were 4 different pork items served over soft polenta - deep fried trotters, roast pork, pork belly and a ravioli filled with a pork broth. Our server cut open the ravioli to let the both mix with the polenta - yummy! This was my first time with trotters - better than I expected, but not my favorite on the plate. Pork belly was great and I expected to like it best, but the roast pork surprised me - it was so perfectly cooked and seasoned, tender, juicy - it ended up being my favorite, more because it exceeded my expectation than actually being better than the belly, which just only met my expectation...
Along with the second course were two sides - Peas & Carrots w/ Cipollini Onion and Sherry Butter froth. Very good, something in there had a texture like jelly, which surprised me, but it tasted great. The other side was Farro w/ Grilled Peach, Scallion & Crescenza. This could have been a dessert - the texture was like porridge, flavor reminded me of bread pudding.
Second course was paired with a Gamay - again I don't recall the name and can't find it on their site. Held up well against the hearty pork dishes yet didn't overpower the skate, a little tannic. Good pairing.

Dessert started with a tiny scoop of Apricot Ice Cream. Nice butterfat content, delicate flavor, nice transition to the sweets.
First dessert was Browned Butter Ice Cream with Stout Beer Foam, a chocolate log (looked like a tootsie roll only softer and oh-so-much better) over a sprinkling of chocolate cookie crumbs and two caramel sauces. Excellent! And, with the pork menu was the Maple Bacon Ice Cream w/ Waffle Cookie and Sauteed Apples. I've seen Bacon Ice Cream on Iron Chef, I've seen it reviewed and I loove bacon. I was prepared for bacon flavored ice cream. What I wasn't ready for (but loved) was how smoky it was. Makes me think of making ice cream with Laphroig or Lagavullin.
Dessert was paired with a Chenin Blanc - my wife had most of mine, as I was getting full and was going to have to drive soon.

We hadn't mentioned it was our anniversary, until late in the dinner when the hostess came by to see how we were doing. So, after dessert they brought another dessert. Pop Culture Olive Oil Cake (tasted like lemon poppy seed w/ olive oil) with Rhubarb Sorbet. I can't believe we ate the whole thing...

Service was great, attentive without being rushed. Tasting menu was well paced. All of our servers suggestions were spot on for us. Price wasn't bad either, two tasting menus, drinks and an extra appetizer and it was just about $100 per person before tip. Not the kind of money I can drop every week, but for a special occasion meal of this quality, I thought it was a bargain.

Others have said it might be best to think of Oson as a bar with great food rather than a restaurant with great drinks - I couldn't disagree more. Orson is a first-class restaurant in my book.

  1. rworange Jul 22, 2008 02:43 PM

    Happy anniversary. It sounds like Orson is hitting its stride. Beautiful report.

    I agree with tipsybaker that for the most part ... and for me its been a few years now ... my "fancy" restaurant experience is very follow the leader ... just different riffs on the same ingrediants ... enough with the marcon almonds already ... is crudo overdone and underdelicous at too many places or what?

    The danger with Orson is that other restaurants might not copy them as well. I've seen a few copy cat dishes recently at other restaurants ... or maybe sea beans are the new rage.

    -----
    Orson Restaurant
    508 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange
      Ruth Lafler Jul 22, 2008 04:22 PM

      I first ran into sea beans more than a year ago, so it's not a really "new" rage.

      I agree that crudo is overdone -- most of the time it shows very little skill or imagination on the part of the kitchen. How hard is it to plop a few slices of raw fish on a plate and maybe drizzle something on it? And then charge $12 for at most two ounces of fish.

      I'm now tempted to give Orson a try -- after the initially mixed reviews it seems to have found its feet. It will never be a candidate for the Ruth Lafler Family Birthday Dinner, though!

      1. re: Ruth Lafler
        rworange Jul 22, 2008 05:08 PM

        Probably too late notice, but tommorrw (7/23) there is a special Tequila & Corn Cocktail Dinner. It is good to keep an eye on the special menu section. Also, if you can make it there during happy hour, you can test drive Orson painlessly (financially).
        http://www.orsonsf.com/specialdinners...

        I love that they always have a cheap dessert on the menu ... even if it two bites worth (cheap in this quality category). Currently for $5 strawberry fields strawberry soda, black pepper sherbet, basil granita

    2. tipsybaker Jul 22, 2008 07:57 AM

      I too was at Orson last night. I wondered at first if you were part of the couple next to me, but based on what you ordered -- no.

      I agree with your assessment. First class and surprisingly reasonable. The appetizer snack mix was one of the greatest bar nibbles I've ever had -- ate three bowls of it.
      Hamachi appetizer was good, but it was just hamachi. What blew me away was the short rib, dredged in vanilla and espresso and cooked sous vide. The waiter explained what that meant -- the immersion in warm water for many hours, sealed in a sack. The resulting meat was like nothing I've eaten before. Not fall-apart tender like most short-ribs but firm/tender (does that make sense?) and intensely flavorful. It was incredible. Served with potato foam that operated more as a delicate sauce than a starchy side.

      I thought the apricot ice cream was a little too unctuous. But the bacon ice cream -- mmm. Wow.

      Recently I haven't loved my "fancy" restaurant experiences. Everything is sort of the same, overpriced, overdone, following a formula. Orson is something different and special. I want to go back now and try the pig.

      3 Replies
      1. re: tipsybaker
        d
        David Carlson Jul 23, 2008 05:58 AM

        OK - I'm ashamed to admit it, but I had to look up "unctuous". After doing so, I can understand why you'd think it about the Apricot Ice Cream. Personally, I like an ice cream so fatty it leaves a film on the roof of your mouth, though it could be a bit much for a bite leading in to other desserts. Though, in our case, the Chenin Blanc we had with dessert cut through the fat completely, so there was no affect on the following dishes.

        1. re: David Carlson
          tipsybaker Jul 23, 2008 08:17 AM

          Unctuous is a good word, isn't it?
          I forgot to mention in my original post that we also had the farro side dish with crescenza cheese. It was fabulous. I keep thinking about it -- fresh, yet hearty.
          And I completely forgot to mention the chocolate pizza with red pepper and olive oil. When I saw it on the menu, I knew I had to try it. Though I would probably not order this again (it sort of killed my appetite for dessert) I was not disappointed. It consisted of a thin pizza crust -- plenty big -- drizzled with melted chocolate. There was a little pepper bite in there, softened by olive oil. It was half-savory, half sweet. Unusual. Very good. But extremely filling, and, like I say, steals dessert's thunder.

          1. re: tipsybaker
            d
            David Carlson Jul 23, 2008 10:40 AM

            We were tempted by the pizza - if we could have had one person order a tasting menu and the other order off the regular menu we would have gotten it. Sounds like we're going to have to find an excuse to go back sooner rather than later...

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