Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Foodventure #85: Orris (West LA / Sawtelle)

One of the more fascinating restaurants on the Sawtelle Strip, I've been wanting to try Orris for a while because of its small plates menu and its contemporary Japanese fusion cuisine. Thankfully, Aaron from Food Destination was looking to check out this place as well so I met up with him and his girlfriend at Hideo Yamashiro's Westside joint in October for some good food chit-chat and hopefully great eats and drinks.

Since I had plans later that night, we decided to do an early supper there (i.e. right when they open for dinner service) and we found ourselves the youngest of the crowd there by at least a decade, but I find it pretty cool that there are mature folks there who are still adventurous enough to explore modern, fusion cuisine in a urban-swank dining atmosphere, which was minimally adorned except for one orchid plant at the corner of the L-shaped bar and various decorative bowls hung along the walls with a pretty open kitchen where you can see and definitely smell everything's that's cooking.

After a quick study of the menu and listening to the specials from the waiter (who we later agreed is someone in the biz, given his trained voice, toned physique and ever-so-covertly curt behavior), we opted to do things family style and picked out two dishes each to enjoy - our appetites weren't enormous and we can always explore some of the other snack dives along Sawtelle if we still felt hungry like Beard Papa, boba tea shop snacks or the Crepe Nazi. We also got some drinks, Aaron picked a not-too-often-seen Asahi Black, his girlfriend chose a plummy sake and I picked a glass of Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend.

Our actor-waiter quickly served our drinks, followed shortly by our first courses.
Crab and cucumber salad, which I liked even though there were shell pieces in there. I love the different textures and flavors from the meatiness of the freshly-picked lump dungeness crab (even though they could've done a better job at that) to the crispy yet yielding cucumber strands, with both delicate flavors binded by a light gingery-mayo dressing.
Also coming out at the same time was the braised duck breast with a dab of yuzu chili paste. The duck itself was pretty unremarkable, whatever little flavor the slices had was greatly overwhelmed by the salty soy sauce pool they were sitting in. The yuzu chili paste was much more fun to try and did improve the duck some (if only as something to put the paste on) but wasn't nearly enough to save the dish. Thankfully, I was more distracted by finishing the remainder of my wine, since I noticed the rest of the courses we ordered are pretty heavy and won't pair well with my fragrant but lightweight wine.
Next came one of their special of the day: smoked salmon over potato pancakes and caramelized onions, topped with creme fraiche and tobiko. Odd as it sounded, it was a pretty amazing combo of warm pancakes and onions (which tasted like a hybrid of latkes and breakfasty home fries), the cool slices of salmon and the rich and chilled creme fraiche with the little poppity pieces of flying fish roe. Only thing that could make it better is if this was a permanent menu item!
Also out at the same time was a trio of berkshire pork medallions in a green peppercorn sauce (was the kitchen trying to accomodate our party size with their portioning?) As with the ducks, the accompaniment was tastier than the actual dish -- the pork was rather bland and dry. I like the spicy and "green" flavor of the slightly-creamy sauce but again, not enough to compensate for the mediocrity of the meat.
Next up is shrimp mousse ravioli in a shiitake mushroom sauce, and here is where our party size made things really interesting. Our waiter served us three ravioli at first, then made a point of serving us the fourth ravioli a few minutes later. I don't see the point since it doesn't make divvying up the last piece any easier, but was more amused than annoyed by this gesture. Anyhow, I am mixed about the ravioli -- I love the delicate wonton ravioli skin and the rich, silky and earthy marsala-like sauce with chunks of flavorful 'shrooms, but didn't pick up much shrimp flavor from the filling. I am not unhappy with the dish, but if they made a point of highlighting the shrimp in the menu, I'd really wished I could've tasted its presence.
Since the ravioli was buried in that delicious sauce, here's a single ravioli (raviolus?) close-up.
Our final savory course is seared foie gras with eggplant in a sweet-soy reduction. Overall delicious, though I would prefer my foie gras with a little more firmness and substance (this one basically is a crispy skin that, upon biting, snaps into near-liquid butter that rolls and melts on your tongue). The nearly-as-creamy texture of the eggplant was a nice accompaniment, as is the contrast of the sweet sauce that kind of cuts into the fat.
Our appetites were pretty satisfied with our six plates, but since we had a sweet tooth we decided to go for their banana and fig flambee with vanilla ice cream (though the menu also listed blueberries being in there). Initially this was disappointing since the fruits didn't arrive at our table lit on fire, but the flavors were definitely there. Divided up amongst three of us, it was just enough to fulfill our sweet cravings without going overboard.

Leaving Orris, I don't quite know what to make of the experience. It was nearly 50/50 in terms of what I loved and what I disliked, so unsure of whether it's one of those restaurants where there's a few select dishes they do really well, or if it's just a restaurant that's inconsistent by visit. But I'm willing to give it a gamble and come back here for another try, now knowing there are a few dishes I enjoyed and hoping they'll be prepared equally well next time around.

THE BILL:
Didn't remember the exact breakdown of the dishes, but our 6 savory courses, 1 dessert, 3 alcoholic drinks plus tax and tip broke down to $120 so $40/person. Most dishes here fit in the $11-16 range, with drinks from $4-12.

THE RATING:
Ambience - 3.5/5 (Simple and nice overall, slightly weirded out by the new agey background music)
Value - 4/5 (Reasonable given what's being served)
Service - 7.5/10 (No specific complaints by not really great service either)
Food - 16/20 (All over the map, really dug some dishes, others we simply regretted ordering)
Bonus/Demerits - N/A
Overall - 31/40

WHAT DO OTHERS SAY?
The Delicious Life gave it a another chance at first impression and found it, overall, much better second time around (hope that works for me too!)
Eating L.A. said it's a winner but suggests avoiding the regular menu and sticking with the specials
Potatomato was surprised at how affordably yummy it was
Teenage Glutster found it unlike any other place he's dined before (and had a much better experience with the peppercorn pork)
Foodie Universe declared it the "new favorite restaurant" back in '05, but also had service issues
Chris & Yuri, filing their report via LA.foodblogging, loved the food artistry of this restaurant
Yelpers gave it 4 out of 5 stars
And of course, my dining compadre's report on the exact same dinner, I'll let you discover his opinions yourself ;)

Orris
2006 Sawtelle Blvd,
Los Angeles
(310) 268-2212
www.orrisrestaurant.com

Orris on Urbanspoon

8 comments:

Caroline on Crack said...

It's been years since I've been but I actually liked it a lot. Especially that dessert.

Food GPS said...

H.C., you've convinced me to finally return to Orris. I ate there twice right after it opened, and liked both meals, but was never inspired to return. The smoked salmon with potato pancakes and foie gras with eggplant look especially good.

By the way, great feature to link to what other bloggers have to say about the restaurant.

Esteban said...

Thanks for this review--I've always wanted to try this place out.

tonyc said...

wow HC,
a thorough and pictorial report. the berkshire pork medallions look GREAT!

the description of the foie is quite interesting as well.. melted butter fat within burnt butter fat? sounds heavenly

Anonymous said...

Orris is absolutely amazing. We have been going there for years (since it opened) - we are there every week because the food is fantastic and the staff is incredibly friendly and on top of everything. Don't miss the following: Albacore Lettuce Cups, Scallops, Mushroom Ravioli, Filet Mignon or Lamp Chops and the mixed mushrooms...so tasty!!

Aaron said...

Good idea referencing other bloggers. You sure know how to build community. I'm amazed that you can write such a thorough review so long after the meal.

H. C. said...

Caroline, Yep the dessert was tasty -- wish it was flamed tableside though! Not that I'm a pyro or anything ;)

FoodGPS, It's a little far for me to visit regularly too. But it's definitely one of my Sawtelle options if I don't feel like ramen, sushi, Japanese curry or izakaya grub.

Esteban, no problem - can't wait to hear what you have to say about it!

TonyC, The pork loins looked great on the menu, didn't taste so great when we ate it. But teenage glutster had a better experience with that dish so maybe it was an off day.

Anon, thanks for the recs! Will make a note of those specialties the next time I go.

Aaron, that's why I try to jot notes whenever possible. And hey, I *did* forget the exact pricing of everything! Also, can't wait for the next eatin' out!

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