122 W 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
With its distinctive blend of Japanese-influenced Italian fare, Chef Josef Centeno's Orsa and Winston was one of the most impressive new restaurants of 2013. Centeno established himself as a chef to watch based on the the success of his first two ventures, Baco Mercat and Bar Ama and has upped his game considerably with the tasting-menu focused Orsa and Winston.
While the restaurant does offer some a la carte options as well as a family style meal, most diners opt for either the 6-course or 8-course menu. The restaurant also features a 12-course "super omakase" that requires 72 hours advance notice and is only served at the four seat kitchen counter. My first visit we had an even more opulent meal, a 26-course extravaganza that was one of the best meals of 2013. This time around I opted for the 8-course menu, a chance to see how the "proles" experience Orsa and Winston.
milk panna cotta - asparagus, baby carrots, cumin caramel
The evening kicked off with an exceptionally nuanced salad of asparagus and carrots. The milk panna cotta is akin to a mild cheese with a sweet lactic richness that underscores the inherent flavor of the salad. A mixture of yuzu and caramel adds an alternating sweet-and-sour flourish to the fresh vegetal bitterness.
kanpachi - crème fraîche, cucumber, ginger gelée, mandarin
Our first proper course was a tartare of fresh Amberjack. A bit more conventional than the later courses, the tartare has the characteristic oiliness and supple body of the fish mixed with fresh spice from the togarashi and ginger gelée while the weightiness of the cream adds a voluminous body that gives the fish a bit more heft and substance. While I normally appreciate citrus in my dishes, the mandarin was a bit too sweet for the delicate character of the dish.
haricot vert - pattypan squash, house-made ricotta, purple brussels sprouts, cherry blossom, tempura
Done right, haricot vert is among my favorite vegetables and this was a spectacular example of why. The green beans have a urgent crispness and keen vegetal sweetness. The squash provided a tender meaty counterpoint while the leafy vegetables swing more toward the bitter. The tempura crumbles complete the dish with a buttery savor that provides weight to the mix of vegetables.
testa - milk-bread foccacia, oregano butter, radish
Diners at the bar are sometimes rewarded with bonus courses and tonight's gift was the oven baked testa with house made milk-bread. Both the head cheese and bread stand on their own, but they are best when taken together. On its own, the testa has a powerful fattiness and keening salinity that demanded the mellowing touch of the foccacia and the astringency of the breakfast radish.
cream of celtuce - baby corn, abalone
This was probably the weakest course of the night. I was expecting a complex mix of shellfish saline and sweet corn but the dish was utterly dominated by the latter. Classic accompaniments of spice and citrus would have played beautifully with the soup's inherent sweetness.
chilled pea soup - finger lime, crème fraîche, buttermilk, marigold
I thought the back-to-back soups was a bit odd, but the two were as different as could be. The thick chilled potage is brimming with fresh springtime verdance and delightful flashes of acid from the finger lime. Against the sublime base there is also a reverberating aromatic herbaceousness from the marigold flowers as well as pinpricks of spicy piquancy from the crushed mustard seed.
satsuki rice - pecorino cream, geoduck, uni
Uni risotto seems to be all the rage these days and its easy to see why. The offal-y sweetness of the uni contrasts nicely with the creamy tang of the risotto rice. The slivers of geoduck add concentrated bursts of salinity that compliment the uni but with a darker earthy flavor.
pork belly - onion, tomato, garbanzo, radish
Moving onto the final courses we started with a spectacular pork belly; crispy skin still wreathed with a fatty bouquet and tender lean meat dripping with porcine savor. The meat would have been overly heavy if not for the bright sour tang of the tomato and the fresh succulent relief of the radish.
manchester farms quail - cream, potato, morel
The final savory was a luscious half quail drenched is a cream sauce infused with the luxurious earthy musk of morels and truffles. The fresh sprigs of parsley do wonders to temper the dish as does the unseen infusion of fresh citrus.
grapefruit granita - candied kumquat, mint
The intermezzo did its job wonderfully, pairing bracing tart grapefruit with a bitter sweet kumquat and soothing fresh mint.
chilled berry crumble - nougatine, coconut sorbet
This dessert was right up my alley pairing jammy berries with the buttery sweetness of nougatine. The classic combination is reminiscent of a breakfast yogurt enlivened with tropical flair thanks to the thoughtful inclusion of coconut.
black olive sablé
Our final treat was a small shortbread cookie the sweet crumbly treat comes tinged with a touch of earthy savor thanks to the flecks of black olive.
Turns out the regular menu at Orsa & Winston is every bit as impressive as their more ambitious offerings. Centeno's food is complex and cerebral yet easily appreciated. Diners with smaller appetites should definitely consider the 6 or 8 course options. For my part, I can't see myself getting anything less than the "super omakase" on any subsequent visits.
Monday, May 19, 2014
122 W 4th Street