It is a Saturday night, and even above the rhythms of the live jazz trio at Orchids I can hear the OMGs. At the table directly across from us, it’s in wide-eyed response to two plates that have just been ceremoniously delivered by vested servers. From a couple seated behind us, the benediction is proclaimed in concert. At our table, one of my companions is two bites into Chef Todd Kelly’s signature Maine lobster salad appetizer: a molded disc of chilled lobster, warm poached egg, a halo of fried tempura batter, and caviar cream. She whispers: “Oh. My. God.” In the cathedral-like opulence of the French Art Deco dining room, an organ postlude would punctuate the moment nicely.
You, too, should prepare to be wowed—by the melodic interplay of texture; by the luxuriance of prime seasonal ingredients; by the clarity of flavors. These dishes are nearly faultless: The pitch perfect warm blue cheese beignets with bitter greens, batons of sweet-crisp Asian pears, snappy almond tuile, and a stripe of spiced honey gastrique. The stylish mâche salad dressed in port wine yuzu vinaigrette crowning a fig and brie tart. The narcotic pleasure of veal sweetbreads with braised cardoons or roasted duck breast with foie gras flan. It is a testament to Kelly’s ingenuity that after five years at the helm of the most majestic dining room in this city (you would be hard pressed to find its equal in any city) and numerous accolades and awards, he continues to explore the edge while dialing down the over-dramatic. There are, to be sure, pedigree ingredients and treatments that might have you reaching for the smart phone to consult the oracle for their meaning, but the results are as sincere as they are seductive. Example: on paper the seared “dry” scallops (wild scallops untreated with phosphates) with sugar pumpkin, glazed pork belly, baby carrots, quail eggs, and mirin sounds almost restless, but in Kelly’s intuitive hands, the ingredients unite harmoniously while still maintaining their distinct qualities.
The incandescent food and gilded grandeur of the 80-year-old historic landmark would fall flat without great service. The largely male waitstaff is stealthy, acutely sensitive, and exceptionally knowledgeable, providing a luxurious experience without affectation. OMG, indeed.
35 W. Fifth St., downtown
Rank Last Year: 1
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz
Originally published in the March 2011 issue.