Hello, superstar. Some dining establishments enjoy
a run of white-hot popularity only to fade into obscurity when the attention of the local fooderati wanders. I’ve fooled around and fallen in love with a few others as well, but when it comes down to sheer wow factor, Orchids is still impossible to outshine. First, there’s the soaring grandeur of the fairy tale room (which is so jaw-dropping you can forgive the ’80s frumpiness of the plant divider between bar and dining room), and then there’s Team Kelly.
In his seven years as executive chef and food and beverage director, Todd Kelly’s ability to surprise us with the sorts of dishes that are always a bit ahead of our already high expectations shows no signs of waning. Sure, he may bring on the frills with luxury ingredients, but his genius lies in seamlessly merging timeless elegance with stone-cold comfort. Orchids is not the spendiest restaurant in town, but Kelly’s intricately assembled dishes might have you believing otherwise. At times impossibly pretty with spot-on feminine details, they typically wed that yin with the yang of measured virility. Compressed watermelon unites with Serrano ham; a port wine hibiscus reduction stalks the gap between sweet and salty. Tart salad greens are pretty in pink with pomegranate hazelnut vinaigrette; the addition of duck confit and crisped chicken skin butches it up. Roasted halibut with Spanish chorizo and littleneck clams? Marriage equality. No matter what you choose, maître d’ and sommelier Charles Redmond can be counted on for inspired wine pairings while leading his staff to thoughtful and discreet service. And Pastry Chef Megan Ketover always finds a way to end the night on a sweet note.
Kelly’s reach extends to the bangin’ good Palm Court bar food—a best-kept secret no longer. This past year I spent several afternoons and evenings losing my religion over the likes of pork belly Reuben sliders with housemade kraut, Brussels sprouts and slivers of red cabbage soused in a Vietnamese vinaigrette, and fried pork rinds so low country they seemed delightfully out of step with the gilded surroundings. Jazz hands, Todd Kelly. Jazz hands.
35 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513)421-9100, orchidsatpalmcourt.com
Originally published in the March 2013 issue.