Chewing on Picasso
You can buy a Felix Perdomo painting for $5800. Or at Orange Café, a self-described art café that opened earlier this year in the Design District, you can get a Picasso for $6.45. And the latter comes with crinkle potato chips. Unlike the Perdomo, a large, olive-green canvas depicting a row of coffee cups, the Picasso isn't original artwork. It's a sandwich.
Ah, but is it also art? Maybe. Fine-food preparation is finally being recognized as an art form, after all, and those college-degree programs for aspiring chefs do call the field culinary arts. Cooking as art or cooking as craft -- a fitting debate for such an eatery. Though the corner café has a small footprint, glass walls and a loftlike two-story layout offering views of The Living Room, and open-air, jumbo-scale artwork by Rosario Marquardt and Roberto Behar make the Orange Café feel like a place where Picasso and Matisse might have lunched, perhaps even ordering their edible namesakes.
All the café's fare is named for artists, a menu currently consisting mostly of sandwiches and pastries but also including a daily soup plus several pastas and salads. And while the Picasso did not have the inspired creative spark that makes some food art, it was a well-crafted sandwich with quality ingredients and even several bits of originality. Creative touches regrettably included the menu's misspelling of "prosciuto," but no worries. While the ham wasn't nutty, elegantly silky San Daniele, it wasn't oversalted ersatz supermarket stuff either. Rounds of chorizo provided more interesting textural contrast to the prosciutto than the usual softer Genoa-type salami, and the Spanish sausage's spiciness stood up nicely to paper-thin slices of pungent manchego cheese. Basil, often overapplied to this kind of sandwich, was done right here. The construction could have used more olive oil for moisture, and more spinach leaves, but the baby leaves were fresh and crisp, as was the sandwich's crusty baguette.
The words "curried chicken" made a Gauguin specialty sandwich sound exotic. But the poultry turned out to be not any kind of authentic Eastern preparation, just regular deli-roll slices sprinkled with a little dry curry powder that was barely discernable. And there was no heat at all in the Gauguin's cayenne-pepper mayonnaise, making the creation little more than a pretty good but rather bland chicken and Swiss cheese wrap. ("Specialty" at Orange Café apparently doesn't mean "house special," just that these sandwiches are on some bread other than baguettes.)
The Le Corbusier salad was a mixed success. Greens -- mesclun, baby spinach, and a gratifying amount of arugula -- were nicely fresh. Goat cheese croutons, seven baguette slices topped with good toasted cheese, were ample enough to make the salad a satisfying meal. But the Dijon mustard vinaigrette had no vinaigrette; it tasted like diluted mustard, period. About another three parts oil, not to mention some vinegar, would have been necessary to fix the gloppy oversharp stuff.
For those wanting more filling fare, pastas aren't precooked, as at many eateries, but crafted when ordered, making them not a fast choice but a wise one. Most imaginative was the Matisse (at $7.45 the café's most expensive item), butterfly-winged fiocchi pouches filled with pears and cheese in a four-cheese sauce. Unfortunately pastas have been available only till 3:00 p.m. But extended hours Thursday through Saturday, with an expanded evening menu including tapas plus beer and wine, are planned to start in early December -- just in time for Art Basel patrons to pick up a Matisse at midnight.
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