November 7, 2006
On November 6, 2006, Linda and I dined at The Orchard, a restaurant described in Zagat’s as “unstoppable.” Shortly after opening a year ago it was awarded two stars “very good” by Frank Bruni in The NYT. We thought we might be getting in early on a new hit in the world of New York competitive eating. We read that it had just received its liquor license after overcoming opposition from the community board, although one could still bring one’s own bottle without a corkage fee. And so we got off the number 6 subway line at Bleecker Street and walked east on Houston Street past The Bowery until we arrived at Orchard Street. We went south a block and a half and found the restaurant amidst the clothing stores. This was all new territory for us and quite interesting: an old, somewhat shabby neighborhood with some new construction underway. There was a warm welcome from the hostess, who said that they hadn’t really started serving wine yet, but that she could serve us some, which worked out all right. We could also have gone to the liquor store around the corner. Everyone else, not fooled by the wine list on the website (www.theorchardny.com,) was arriving with a bag in hand. Anyway, we each had a generous glass of a nice pinot grigio and then we shared a bottle of quite dull Chianti Cignozza 2004. While we were there, Jancis Robinson, the famous wine writer, arrived with two men and two bottles of what appeared to be Ceretto wines. They were served to their table in big Barolo type decanters.
The menu has three sections: five flatbreads, seven first courses and ten second courses; there is a separate dessert menu. Our waiter told us that half the people have both a flatbread and a first course. So we shared a plate of six squares of flatbread with a purée of braised shortrib topped with diced tomato and horseradish cream and lightly broiled. It was quite nice. Linda then followed with four thin, grilled slices of NY foie gras with an orange/strawberry relish, herb buttered toast and a frisée salad. It was good, but not unusual. I had the grilled filet mignon wrap with chimichurri pesto and spicy mayo. This had four pieces of butter lettuce topped with a piece of tender beef; one put on the sauce from one of the two little bowls, rolled up the wrap like a taco and ate it. The green sauce was a bit vinegary and the white one was spicy in a too-sharp way. Linda’ s main course was butternut squash agnolotti with brown butter, sage, braised squash cubes and toasted hazelnuts. This is a signature dish of the house and is terrific. I had the spaghettini with tiger shrimp and chorizo, which was disappointing. Linda skipped dessert while I had the “dulce de leche gelato cake” (wow, three languages in one phrase) served with a scrumptious fried banana with caramel.
The décor is quite nice: a budget, Danish modern, Frank Lloyd Wright look with horizontal wood elements and a mirror all around, as in a traditional bistro, to create an illusion of space. The service was friendly, efficient and quite quick. Still being jetlagged, we arrived at 7:00 and left at 8:30. There were still empty tables when we left, but this part of New York probably dines quite late. The clientèle was mostly young, but very mixed; I was not at all the only man wearing a tie. They seemed to be quite interested in the cuisine. The total cost for the two of us, including tip, was just under $200. Well, The Orchard was worth a try, but nowhere near the write-ups. But it is worth going to just for the flatbreads and the agnolotti.