Monday, May 5, 2008

A quick meal at Orson

Prior to my 11:20pm red eye flight this past Thursday, I was lucky enough to meet with my parents, brother and girlfriend for some shared small plates at Orson. You may recall my enthusiasm for this sister restaurant of Citizen Cake from the LdH wine dinner post a few weeks ago.

Every bit the trendy SOMA (that would be the neighborhood 'south of market') hot spot, Orson is sleek and well designed. Entering the restaurant, a menu set several inches back in a glass enclosed diarama gives diners a glimpse of the creative flavor combinations to come. Contemporary and minimalist, the large dining space could be perceived as cool and spacious or cold and cavernous, depending on one's viewpoint. A large bar stands in the center of the dining room, with most of the tables in the front and a lounge area lying in the back. Upstairs there is a private room, another bar and lounge area, and a catwalk overlooking the restaurant.

I started off with a glass of 2006 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet 'Clos des Briords,' and enjoyed it so much that I would order another glass. Since this was such a quick meal, there was not time for more extensive exploration of the wine list. Though I did try a sip of the 2006 Deux Montille (Hubert de Montille negociant label) Pouilly-Fuisse. Ripe, fruity, round and a bit oaky, it was ok but not great; it reminded me of a Pernand-Vergelesses without the brightness or the minerality. There are some good selections by the bottle on the franco-centric list, including 2002 Olga Raffault Chinon 'Les Picasses,' ($36) Domaine Berthet Bondet Cremant de Jura ($40) and 1981 LdH Vina Tondonia Blanco Gran Reserva ($151, but worth the splurge). One observation which I was to harried to notice Thursday night but wonder to myself now: Where are the rieslings?? Not a single German, or Austrian, or even Californian riesling are on the list. This, in my view, is a nearly unpardonable oversight.

As for food, the first dish to arrive was charred hamachi tartare with avocado, which was fresh, delicate and sumptuously textured, with a very slightly bitter, thin caramelized char on top. It was a terrific match with the crisp, pure, intensely flavored Muscadet. Next there was a soft boiled tempura egg in a light nori and scallion enhanced miso broth. I'm a sucker for tempura, but the interplay between the crisp fry, soft egg white, rich, flavorful, runny yolk and delicate earthy broth made this my dish of the night. A beet, grapefruit, pinenut and ricotta salata salad was fine - fresh but nothing special. Halibut with turnips and celery, served in a tepid, timid watery green curry broth was of questionable freshness and just an awful dish. We ended on a better note: dark chocolate, espelette pepper, olive oil and sea salt pizza. It probably should have been listed as a dessert, since the savory ingredients were still playing a supporting role to the chocolatey pizza. But it was an unusually tasty play on such a popular staple, arriving in just the right moment for me to grab a slice on the go, with wheeled luggage in one hand and the pizza in the other.