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Ortolan is *horrible* -- why do any of you say you like it?

Four of us went to Ortolan for dineLA week. The previous time we went we tried the chef's tasting menu. This was the second time we've been to Ortolan and the second time we've been terribly disappointed.

I know a lot of folks seem to love this place on here which confuses me greatly. I have eaten at several of the top restaurants worldwide... and Ortolan is charging a moderately premium price for a lower quality experience.

Unfortunately we decided to give Ortolan another shot however due to their generally positive reviews and we brought my younger sister and her boyfriend who were in from out of town. Here is the story:

- The service at Ortolan was terribly slow. We were spoken to up front but then they took 20 minutes to come back and take our order. We saw the sommelier more often than our server. She is very nice, by the way.

- The next big surprise, given the service-oriented attitude of the sommelier, was that wine pairings had been selected *per course* in the prix fixe, as opposed to *per dish*. Really? The dishes had varied flavor profiles and could have been given a more serious treatment.

- Next, our server made a mistake and brought the wrong dish for someone in our party. Not wanting to be rude, we refused to eat until all the dishes were on the table. They let the remaining dishes sit on the table for a full 7 minutes before they came back, took the plates, and put them under a heat lamp in the back. By the time the other dish was re-fired, we were served food that had sat 7 minutes on a table and another 15 under a heat lamp! Scallops, under these conditions... can you imagine?

- The food itself: the amuse bouche was delicious but one of our parties had a food allergy and no alternative was available. With the first course, the scallops did not hold up well due to the reasons above, and the open green vegetable ravioli was over peppered and a little too soupy. The entrees were the most embarrassing however. The braised short ribs were reasonable but did not fall off the bone and were over salted. Lastly, the poached salmon was not as described online or on the menu. It was wrapped in phylo dough (really?) and stuffed with terribly overpowering vegetables. Would you order Toro tempura at a high-end Sushi restaurant? We could not taste the fish. It was truly appalling that Ortolan would serve this dish under any circumstances; it was practically inedible. We left most on our plates - and were not asked by the server why, either.

We also had reservations for their Valentine's Day brunch... which we will now cancel. What a terrible shame. How can anyone that's serious about food recommend Ortolan? Someone from Ortolan should use the $800 I've donated to them altogether to try one nice dinner at Citronelle in Washington, DC. Maybe then they will learn a thing or two about fine dining.

Conclusion: 2 stars for the ambiance, lovely sommelier, and unremarkable but passable dessert. If you disagree, please tell me why, and what we are supposed to do to have a better experience at Ortolan (short of burning it down, lol)?

Attached: I've attached a photo of Ortolan's reviews from Yelp. Mouse over it below. I know, I know, Yelp is a terrible source of reviews for true foodies ("Ortolan sucks! The parking was so bad I left!" <or> "I spent $400 and, yes, it was delicious, but who spends $400 on food?") but still... even the Yelpers think Ortolan is going downhill fast!

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Ortolan
8338 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

 
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  1. Sorry about your experiences at Ortolan. That's why I never use DineLA to "fine dine" - The crowds that flood higher end restaurants during events like DineLA can often result in a meal which is not representative of the true caliber of the restaurant.

    1 Reply
    1. re: J.L.

      Hi JL, we have been to Ortolan before on a non-dineLA night and tried the chef's tasting menu. We were equally disappointed. It was not memorable... so much so that we forgot we had been to Ortolan when we walked in the doors this week! But, well, that night is a whole different story (which maybe I'll post when I have the time). Have you had a consistently positive experience at Ortolan? What have you ordered and enjoyed? How has the service been?

    2. I have reservations for this coming Thurs and am seriously thinking of canceling. I went to Craft last week and I'm starting to think that this whole dinela week is a gimmick and you end up just spending money on crappy menus and service.,. .so ultimately it really is not a bargain but a waste of money. Surprisingly Bazaar had a really good dinela menu. We had a group of 4 and were able to try over 24 items.

      5 Replies
      1. re: karynx78

        You are slowly arriving at the same conclusion I reached 2 years ago - Promotions like DineLA cater to people who otherwise wouldn't ever consider going to some of these places. We Hounds are not their intended audience.

        1. re: J.L.

          generally speaking, i don't usually chime in on these discussions, but this time i think it's only fair to defend what i think is a great promotion. it might be true that restaurants participating in dinela offer menus of a lower caliber than is often seen on their other prix fixe options. that being said, i've had some great experiences and some really good food during the last three restaurant weeks in la. regardless of my experiences though, i'd like to defend the "people who otherwise wouldn't ever consider going to some of these places." maybe some people crawl out from under their unsophisticated, mcdonald's consuming, ihop-is-my-kind-of-a-nice-night-out rocks for dinela, but, for the most part, dinela allows people, who maybe don't have the income to dine at spago, or grace, or ortolan (god forbid!) to experience good food at places where the chefs actually take pride in their work.

          i think dinela is great for a couple of reasons. the first i've already alluded to. it's a way for people who may not be able to afford to dine at some of these renowned restaurants to do so and do so at pretty good value as well. secondly, it gives people who may not be "hounds" or "foodies" to experience what food ought to taste like. maybe they won't be getting the best spago has to offer, but they will be getting a glimpse into what it's like. third (i know, i know, i said a couple of reasons), in this ailing economy, dinela gets people at tables and it probably does a pretty good job of garnering some returning customers. and, it may even get some of those macaroni grill loving, non-hound people that you refer to to start to appreciate the art and beauty in food. maybe one day they could even be a "hound."

          im sure by now you're catching on to the fact that something about what you said didnt sit quite right with me. and you're absolutely right. why knock something that might get people to be on your side, which is presumably a side that appreciates good food and the care and craft it takes to produce it. maybe you're right, maybe it's just a gimmick to get people into the restaurants or maybe it does cater to people who have far less sophisticated palates than your own- but what's the harm in that?

          1. re: alaina9yaya

            Again, what I said (verbatim) was...

            "Promotions like DineLA cater to people who otherwise wouldn't ever consider going to some of these places."

            I am on THE SAME PAGE as you! I totally think that people should try places they would otherwise not usually go to for one reason or another! I think it's great that EVERYONE can expand their dining horizons! And Lord knows the economy could use the kick in the pants from this.

            I am not disparaging the promotion whatsoever! Quite the contrary, I think DineLA represents a great opportunity for the dining-out community at large.

        2. re: karynx78

          While I can't speak to the DineLA menu, I have been eating at Ortolan for several years and am surprised to hear the OP's experiences there differ so markedly from mine. While slow service has often been a given (it is a small kitchen and many of the dishes are labor intensive), the food has usually been excellent, interesting and well worth the wait. Salmon in phyllo dough does not sound unusual to me--rather it sounds like a version of the classic coulibiac of salmon.

          1. re: New Trial

            My experiences at Ortolan mirror New Trial's.

            Sounds like the OP had a lot of service issues which I have not. If you're expecting a quickly paced meal you will be disappointed. Ortolan is a place to relax and enjoy a long meal.

            The menu seems to change frequently, but I've always loved the foie, duck and seafood dishes.

        3. I am also very suprised to hear about your negative experiences at Ortolan. I have been to Ortolan many times over the years and have always experienced exceptional service and food. Last September I held my rehearsal dinner at Ortolan and was incredibly happy, as were all of my 15 guests. My dad declared it "one of the finest meals" he has had in years and he owns a restaurant himself and is incredibly particular about food and service. Chef Eme and his team work so hard to create a memorable experience for their diners. I hope that anyone that reads this post will give Ortolan a try for themselves. I would also encourage you, cbrundage, to contact the restaurant about your experience. Even the best restaurants have off nights.

          4 Replies
          1. re: gourmetgal1

            I have never decided where to dine based on opinions of others.
            The OP points out several noteworthy problems with the restaurant and I now would go to Ortolan (I've been several times) with a somewhat different perspective. I'm continuously astounded in an economy like the present that restaurants are having such a difficult time remembering basic customer service issues. Restaurants all over the country that I've loved in the past are not necessarily on my list of favorites any longer. I believe there are managements that become complacent and indifferent to customer needs and, for me, it's an immediate turnoff. The OP appears to have credibility when it comes to cuisine and I'm not so sure I would disregard her/his experience.

            1. re: latindancer

              I never said to disregard the original poster's experience, nor did I question their credibility. Everyone has different experiences and preferences when it comes to dining, which I completely respect and understand. The whole point of this board is to share opinions and experiences, which is what I did above. Please read more carefully before injecting your defense.

              1. re: gourmetgal1

                Huh?
                I was simply responding with an opinion.
                I said I felt the OP had credibility and that I wasn't so sure I'd disregard her/his experience when going back to Ortolan.
                I read your post very carefully and there was nothing I posted that would have warranted your response.

              2. re: latindancer

                "I have never decided where to dine based on opinions of others."

                Then why are you here?

            2. I've been to Ortolan twice and have been delighted both times. Grilled romaine and foie gras were standout. My wife and I do not order wine, so no need for the sommelier. Also, we are not bothered at all by paced service (as long as we have not been forgotten), and we share our dishes so waiting for another dish to come out has never been an issue. In fact, we really enjoyed the fact that the courses were slowly paced, and not piled one atop the other. It allows us to order as we went, savor the dishes as they are served, and give us plenty of time to decide when we have had enough.

              So really, I have no complaints-- it sounds like where your experiences and ours diverge is that your expectations and dining habits are very different than ours. We generally eat at very inexpensive restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley ($20-30 for 2, including tax & tip) so Ortolan is a splurge at $40-50 for 2, but not so much that we feel the need to be catered to the way we would be at Urasawa, for example. As long as the server brings us our food and doesn't bother us, we're delighted.

              Mr Taster

              4 Replies
              1. re: Mr Taster

                Wow, that's very impressive you were able to get out of Ortolan at $40-50 for two given that none of the entrees are under $30 and many in the $40's. I found it very difficult to get out for much less than $100, although that does include wine.

                1. re: mollyomormon

                  Yeah, indeed, there's another thread going on at the Chains Board where the poster couldn't even get out of Olive Garden for two at under $50 ...

                  1. re: mollyomormon

                    OK, this is embarrassing... I just realized I'm talking about Orris, not Ortolan!

                    To the OP-- my recommendation is to go to Orris. :)

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      hahaha, I'm a big fan of Orris and agree that it's totally doable for that price, especially without wine.

                      Ortolan is definitely more expensive, but I still felt it was a great value on my visit:
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/614487

                      The pacing of the service is definitely leisurely...

                2. "Conclusion: 2 stars for the ambiance, lovely sommelier, and unremarkable but passable dessert. If you disagree, please tell me why, and what we are supposed to do to have a better experience at Ortolan (short of burning it down, lol)?"

                  It doesn't sound like you want a better experience at Ortolan (why would you want to go back?) but just in case..
                  - Let the restaurant know of any food allergies/sensitivities at the time of the reservation.

                  - Communicate with the som b4 wine service starts requesting pairing be done per dish. They should be willing to accommodate you.

                  - If there are multiple problems speak with the Captain or manager right away. Not re doing the scallops is pretty shocking.

                  Personally I wouldn't hesitate to go again, but then I've always had a good experience. So did the Yelper apparently who prolly made a mistake in going to a place he/she couldn't afford. It's not reasonable to count that against a place.

                  1. cbrundage, much as it might get me maligned (and I've said it on this board before), I was SERIOUSLY underwhelmed the one time my wife and I dined there.

                    I did not have an issue with pacing, as you did, but I did have some poor service -- including a laughably and ludicrously bad cheese service that was so insulting to my sensibilities that I've vowed never to return.

                    And while I will say that several of the dishes were quite good, others were mediocre at best. Perhaps the overall poor quality of the meal was due to Chef Eme spending so much time visiting with a particular table, and less time minding his brigade.

                    My main feeling upon leaving was that I had just been ripped off to the tune of $400+; perhaps things have improved, but your experience does not lead me to believe so. I am happy that many others have so greatly enjoyed their experiences there, and just wish mine would have more closely mirrored theirs.

                    1. Sounds like the Ortolan treatment is alive and well, two years on (see: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/490543).

                      Here's what to do:

                      - Have a lot of time.
                      - Go with someone you could talk with for hours ('cause you will).
                      - Drink a lot.
                      - Expect to pay 2-3x what you really want to pay.
                      - Try everything (not the place for people with allergies/phobias).

                      This is a unique place - not horrible, at least to me.
                      Valentine's Day brunch?? Man, that's gonna be something!