By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
On one visit to Orsini we sat on the outdoor terrace under red umbrellas, the inside of the restaurant being taken up by a large table of cigar smokers. Service had been unsteady the first time, downright awful on this occasion. The waiters were friendly enough, but their modus operandi was chaotic, even relative to a new operation. Sometimes we went without water refills, sometimes without silverware, once without being brought a basket of Orsini's excellent grain bread. The waiters were unfamiliar with the menu, tardy at clearing plates, not particularly well-versed in English -- only a sharp-eyed manager providing consistent backup saved the evening from being a service disaster.
Next door to Orsini is a 30-seat patisserie/boutique offering up salads, sandwiches, weekend brunches, chocolates, truffles, newspapers, cigars, and a large array of scrumptious breads and pastries created by talented pastry chef Georges Berger (formerly of Biga). A dessert that aptly showcases his flair is the flourless Calebaud chocolate cake with molten center, double cream vanilla ice cream in sweet little tuiles, and a buttery blood orange sauce; noticeably better than the dozens of others I've sampled in recent months.
You'll need to be patient in regard to Mr. Berger's creations, as they are prepared á la carte and can take quite a bit of time to appear. Once we waited twenty minutes for a tarte tatin with Granny Smith ice cream that proved to be a dramatic letdown. The plate was barely occupied by two silver dollar-size discs of pie dough with a thick drizzling of caramel sauce and nary an apple slice; altogether it was the size of a cookie. Worse, the ice cream was vanilla. Even worse: After I pointed out to the waiter that the ice cream was vanilla, he went inside to consult and came back with the menu, pointing out that the phrase "Granny Smith ice cream" referred to those apples used in the tarte. Worse still: A short time later the owner came out, explaining that yes, it should have been apple ice cream, but they were in the process of implementing new summer menus. While he conceded that the waiter should have told us they were lacking various menu items, he seemed to think it was funny that I even cared that the ice cream was not what it was supposed to be.
I wasn't laughing along, and would really not have been laughing had I been a regular paying customer who just shelled out a hundred dollars for two appetizers, two main courses, and one shared, disappointing dessert (not including bottled water, wine, or tip).
The food at Orsini is sometimes rebellious with a cause, sometimes without, but is at its best when not rebellious at all. Let's hope the new menu omits the fake lasagna and faux tatin, and in general slows down the blurring "spin" so the kitchen's strengths in continental cooking can be more readily appreciated.