I just had a first. A first in a dining experience. This is getting more and more rare because as you may have gathered by now, I eat out a lot. But never in my decades of dining, have I answered the following question with anything but no. The question? Does anyone have any food allergies? I can't say I've been diagnosed with Celiac disease or am lactose intolerant, but through trial and error and some blood work, it has been proven that I have sensitivity to gluten and dairy. Sadly, it feels strange to say this now because these words and this lifestyle have turned into a bit of a fad. I suppose, as far as fads go, this isn't a bad one. Cutting out gluten and dairy can lead to healthier human beings, assuming it's not just replaced with fried chicken and bunless Big Macs.
This is a long way of saying, when I recently joined some friends to try the tasting menu at Orsa & Winston, for the first time I answered the dietary question with a yes, are you able to provide a gluten and dairy free menu? They politely and happily said yes. I was nervous on what I'd be missing out on, but also delighted to be in a place that was able to provide high quality options.
We are talking about Josef Centeno afterall. He is the culinary wizard behind Baco Mercat and Bar Ama, which is right next door to Orsa & Winston and shares a bathroom in back. Orsa & Winston is Centeno's first foray into finer dining with a tasting menu only option. You can choose between a 5 and 8 course menu ($65 and $90 respectively) or a family style 4 course meal at $55. Wine pairings are also an option. The menu is a small piece of paper with little information, except what courses you could expect like an appetizer, soup, entree and dessert. There were also a few a la carte items you could pepper in. We couldn't even learn what was in the family style menu, so we decided on the 5 course to save us on passing plates.
The menu had a strong focus on fresh, seasonal fare, starting with a bright purple pluot amuse bouche with an interesting jabanero pepper, fennel pollen topped panna cotta. Very unique.
A favorite of the night was a fresh crudo kanpachi that could have been lovely on its own, but well cut and prepared grapefruit sat next to it, without any of the usual pucker found from the fruit, topped with a light yuzu tang, but again, not overwhelming. Very clean tasting.
The sweetness kicked in with a lobster chunk laden corn soup, drizzled with scallion oil and doused with mushrooms. Very fresh flavors.
Next up we called the vegetarian answer to pork belly. Centeno took just the meat of the eggplant, no skin, and seared it until it had a nice caramelization. A sweet and fiery peppernata with mustard rode side saddle, and the entire plate looked like a work of art.
At this point, I had few substitutions and was really enjoying the same dishes as everyone else. I love there was no cream in soup, even though it had a velvety texture. Then we got the real deal of lamb belly. The best parts were of course the fattiest since it had the most flavor.
A palate cleanser of melon granita, topped with huckleberry and mint proved a nice transition. I felt like I was and had been eating, straight from a garden, and considering Centeno's good sourcing, I was.
The last dish of the night was a chilled blackberry and strawberry shortcake, but my shortcake was made from almonds so had a nice texture and crunch. It ended like the meal began with really clean flavors and quality products. The plating was all well done, but the only thing we all wanted at the end, was more! We actually were still a bit hungry. I don't need to leave a restaurant so full that I need to undo the top button my pants, but I do want to feel satiated and I wasn't quite there. After spending $65, I would have hoped to be there. I had read prior reviews of people at the restaurant being overfed, so perhaps the kitchen is still working out portions.
It was still a wonderful, quality meal and an excellent introduction into the gluten and dairy free dining scene. I can only hope other restaurants will be as versed with quality options as Orsa & Winston.