122 W 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
I'd been hearing a lot of noise about Orsa & Winston in recent months, the third restaurant from Chef Josef Centeno in as many years. Despite having just opened a few weeks ago and not even having a sign on the door, the restaurant has been garnering some very strong reviews. Named for his two dogs, Orsa & Winston started life as an Italian small plates concept but picked up a heavy dose of Japanese influence along the way. The final restaurant offers four different fixed menus: a 4-course family style, the standard 5-course, a 9-course omakase, and a 20+ course Super Omakase. Naturally we opted for the Super Omakase which is only offered at the 4-seat chef's counter.
I first encountered Chef Centeno while he was executive chef at the Lazy Ox Canteen. After a very successful three year stint at Lazy Oz, Centeno has made a name for himself with Baco Mercat and Bar Ama both more casual the former a gourmet sandwich shop and the latter a tex-mex gastropub. Given his recent experience its easy to forget that Centeno started his career at the three-star Daniel in New York and was chef de cuisine at the vaunted Manresa in Los Gatos.
NV El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature, Catalunya, Spain
We kicked off the meal with a very dry cava. I initially thought this was especially made for Josef Centeno's restaurants but it turns out the reference is to La Boqueria. I thought the zero dosage champagne was a bit one dimensional, dry and crisp with a unpleasant funk.
fennel panna cotta - with tonburi, wheat cracker
The amuse was a delicate little panna cotta topped with bits of crumbled wheat cracker. The lovely textural interplay compliments the sweet licorice-laced overtones of the custards which morphs into a faintly bitter finish.
white anchovy - with cubeb-honey, tonnato
Our second course was a play on Boquerones. The anchovy filet is wrapped in a sapid golden wrapper giving it a nice crunch. The pickled vegetable bits add a bit of flair but the real star is the interaction between the oily fish and the sweet and sour like honey sauce.
kanpachi - with shishito, satsuma, shiso
The kanpachi started out fairly conventional complimented with shiso and shishito but the burst of citrus potency and finish of heat were unexpected.
breakfast in shell - semolina, pancetta, sherry cream
Chef Centeno was channeling a bit of his time at Manresa for this course. I was a bit taken aback on the first bite when I noticed a stinging astringency from the sherry vinegar that I didn't remember being so apparent from previous encounters with the Aperge egg. The flavors evened out on subsequent bites thanks to the moderating effects of the coddled egg yolk. Personally I prefer the more refined version at Manresa but some of my companions preferred the breakfast version thanks to the more robust lusty flavors of the pancetta.
milk-bread focaccia - with butter, testa
Arguably a bread course we were given six of these warm fluffy balls of wonder to share between our party. The freshly baked bread has a cotton-like fluffiness to it coupled with just a hint of milk driven sweetness. Accompanying the bread were a perfectly creamy mound of warm oregano butter and a piece of pork testa (head cheese) baked for 12 hours at 200 degrees. Personally I thought the bread stood beautifully on its own merits as did the fatty sliver of porcine goodness.
beef carpaccio - with mushroom conserva, charred leek, sardo
I really enjoyed carpaccio when I started getting into fine dining but the dish feels played out these days which made Centeno's version a real breath of fresh air and one of my favorite courses of the night. The meat itself is more of a textural element adding a slick densely viscosity that I quite enjoyed but it is the interplay of the accompaniments that really sets this dish apart. The pickled mushrooms have a bright vinegary tang which contrast well with the champagne grape raisins. The sardo adds a profound Roquefort-like pungency to the dish while the black truffle shavings bring a touch of luxurious earthy musk. I would have liked a knife to cut the bits of stringy tendon but thats more of a nit than a real complaint.
2011 Val de Mer Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir, Burgundy, France
Moving onto white wine we popped open a bottle of young Chablis from the highly touted winemaker, Patrick Piuze. The wine has a laser-like mineral-laced acidity that is immediately apparent but there is a surprising depth of ripe stonefruit and floral on the finish.
castelfranco - with mango, pear, gorgonzola bottarga
Next up was a salad of shredded castelfranco also known as white radicchio. On its own the vegetable is almost stunningly bitter but mixed with the "dressing" of mango and gorgonzola the flavor changes to an elaborate bitter and sweet interaction.
razor clam - with dashi-beet emulsion, garbanzo
I have some experience with Centeno's razor clams, His preparation at Lazy Ox remains one of the best that I've ever had and this preparation continues the trend; highlighting and elevating the bivalve's strengths. The clams have a fantastic snappiness coupled with a gentle salinity highlighted by the umami-laced dashi and beet emulsion. The garbanzos have a lightly verdant flavor and a dense starchiness that brings a sense of substance to the clams.
cardoon - with anchovy, porcini, black garlic
The cardoon is definitely the star here, crisp, succulent, and herbaceous perfumed with an earthy musk from the porcini slivers. The small anchovy bits in olive oil pack an outsized amount of flavor, bringing a sharp fishy twang that livened up the austere mix of mushroom and cardoon.
snap pea - with burrata, meyer lemon, basil seed
The snap peas certainly lived up to their name with a pleasing crunch and along with an unexpectedly intense savor. The inherent grassy sweetness of the peas was deftly augmented by the floral sweetness of the candied lemon zest. The burrata seems to draw out the flavor of the various ingredients while adding a sense of heft to the dish. Despite the mix of humble ingredients the combination was surprisingly intricate and effective.
live scallop - with truffle béarnaise
The live scallop comes swimming in a bath of clarified butter mixed with herbs and egg yolk. The mixture is further infused with truffle, an absolutely consummate pairing with scallop's sweet salinity. The scallops came with an unexpected treat, a small sac of roe. The roe has a deeper more pungent salinity and creamy texture that made me think of an oyster. Though the flavor was fantastic, I thought the texture was a touch rubbery though the rest of my party didn't feel the same way.
abalone - with burnt milk, pomelo, onion jus, nasturtium
The abalone came out quite tender its slightly bitter saline deftly brightened by the pomelo juice sacs and the sweet onion juice. The real surprise was the burnt milk panna cotta, with a faint flavo reminiscent of an unsweetened vanilla ice cream, the milk acts as a medium for the rest of the ingredients.
chicken liver mousse - with thomcord jam, bread crisps
This was one of the more forthright courses of the night, steely livery goodness coupled with ripe sweetness from the jam. Our server told us a story about a 7 year old girl who said "this is too good to be chicken liver, it has to be foie gras." I certainly wish I had her culinary acumen when I was 7.
spaghettini - with white soy, salmon roe
Another of the night's standouts the dense very al dente pasta has a simple yet satisfying Japanese flair thanks to the smoky pop of the salmon roe laced with a whisper of citrus. The flecks of cheese add an almost urgent savoriness that augments the cool umami flavor of the roe.
sawara - with puttanesca, caper, basil
It seems like theres a bad joke lurking behind the combination of mackerel and whore's sauce. Typically paired with spaghetti, Puttanesca is a tomato based sauce that became popular in the 60s. The mackerel was cooked beautifully with a still rare slightly translucent center. The three tomatos pack and intense acidity that enlivens the oily twang of the fish.
satsuki rice - with uni, geoduck, tangerine lace
This dish combines two of my favorite things risotto and uni. Unfortunately it is very similar in terms of structure and flavor to the spaghettini we just had earlier. Like the preceding course, the risotto combines starch and cheese with the salinity of roe and a touch of citrus. A winning combination to be sure but just not optimally place in the meal.
2009 Domaine du Château de Chorey Beaune Les Cras 1er Cru, Burgundy, France
Our final wine of the night was a highly touted premier cru Burgundy. The wine has hints of cherry cola at the edges but it is weightier elements like earth, tar, and other savory notes that seem to dominate. The wine has a surprisingly structured feel more akin to Bordeaux
john dory - with braised beans, herbs, cranberry beans
This course starts off with another slice of perfectly cooked fish. The Dory flakes under the lightest pressure from the fork. Each moist sliver of the fish is drenched with the herb laced sauce,while a touch salty it was a delicious combination. I'm not normally a fan of beans but the starch really worked wonders with the fish.
squab - with kuri squash, fennel jus, flowering fennel
Our first meat course consisted of two slivers of bright red squab breast peeking out form under a fennel emulsion. The breast is topped with a small slice of crispy skin that augments its savor. The squash was a bit sweet but restrained by the licorice flavor of the fennel.
honey-ham cap - with tomato, sorrel
This was my favorite of the three final savories. The single sliver of ham is a fantastic mix of fat and moist lean meat covered in a rich honey glaze. Personally I would have been perfectly happy basking in the unadulterated fattiness of the ham but the chef didn't neglect the need for balance. The ripe tomato sauce was the polar opposite the ham, a brazenly tart acidic knife to cut through the porcine gravitas of the ham.
agnolotti - with lamb cheek, sardo, rye, mint lavender
Our final savory consisted of dark rich braised lamb cheek and Okinawan potato agnolotti. A very satisfying pasta, the gentle creamy sweetness of the filling effectively balances the brazen gamy funk of the lamb cheek
pomagranate granita - meyer lemon
For our intermezzo we were given a shot glass full of dark red pomagranite granita topped with more candied lemon zest. The cool fruit mixture has a bracing chill and refreshing tangy sweet levity to it.
custard - with grapefruit, coconut tapioca
I thought this was the weakest of the desserts the chilled fruit and granita feels identical to the previous course while the vanilla panna cotta didn't really add much. The moswt impressive part of the dish was the tuille, a crunchy disc of caramelized sugary sweetness.
blood orange pavlova - with basil seeds
A third frozen fruit based dessert, the blood orange sorbet has a brash bitter acidity that highlights the sweetness of the airy meringue base.
pear strudel - with honey, cassis
Despite being labeled a pear strudel I distintly tasted the flavor of bananas in this dish. Fruit aside, there is a distinct suguary crumble from the streusel and buttery crust of the strudel.
hazelnut chocolate - with butterscotch-rosemary
This was my favorite of the five sweet courses. The chocolate cake was moist, dark, and rich just what one would expect. Bits of hazelnut toffee add sweetness and crunch while the accompanying butterscotch-rosemary exudes a contrasting fragrant herbaceousness.
chocolate ninjabread cookies
The meal ended with these enjoyable and fun shaped cookies, but a more elaborate slate of mignardises would have been more in keeping with the sophistication of the super omakase.
One note for those considering the Super Omakase: the restaurant is still waiting on its final bar stools and going 4+ hours without a back rest can be a bit taxing. Personally I felt the food was more than worth the discomfort, but those with a bad back might want to hold off for a while. Speaking of the food, I thought Centeno's innovative menu defied easy quantification. With creatively designed dishes and expert precision, Orsa & Winston represents a very successful return to Chef Centeno's fine-dining roots, easily the crown jewel of his Old Bank District mini-empire.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
122 W 4th Street