Winter 2008 Restaurant Week: Dinner at Orsay

When making our restaurant choices for the first and second weeks of the misnamed Restaurant Week (Jan 21st — Feb 1st, excluding the weekend), we decided we would go for a French restaurant and then something with a gimmick. Gimmick, because that’s fun. French, because during the hectic days d42 and I spent in Paris, we ate every cuisine but the most obvious one.

We failed you a bit by forgetting to bring a camera along

Orsay is without question a French restaurant. The receptionist with whom I confirmed my OpenTable reservation even had a French accent. The place is situated in a prime uptown location on Lex and 75th. It is characterized by dim mood lighting, dark mahogany, Art Nouveau arches supporting the high light ceiling, and an appropriately extensive wine list.

Upon arrival, in our business casual attire, we were helped out of our coats and shown to our table despite the fact that our party of 6 was yet incomplete. The downstairs space soon became quite crowded and a woman in furs womanhandled an adjacent table directly into us. “What do I have to do to get a decent table around here?” she stereotypically asked/demanded to our delight. Whatever the murmured reply of the waitress was, the woman and her bespectacled escort stayed sourly where they were seated. I suspect making a reservation would have been the recommended option.

The upstairs space, which I glimpsed during my trip along a heavy wooden staircase to the rather cramped lady’s room, was still empty and shining with mirrors and chandeliers. It was obviously not for the likes of the hoi polloi who take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Our waitress was very attentive and when we asked for vegetarian accommodations to the Prix Fixe, she retuned with an affirmative answer from the accomodating cook. When, in a few hours, one of our party was attacked by a water glass, due to the delicious wine consumed (perhaps too vigorously) by another of our party, the waitress was quickly on hand with a myriad of napkins.

The food was, well, it was delicious. Between the six of us we were able to try almost everything. My veal Sweetbread Gratine was crunchy sometimes, chewy at others, and always a little dangly. The later Coq au Vin allayed my fear of tiny portions that would leave me fiending for a slice of pizza after. The vegetarians weren’t as lucky. The White Bean and Jalapeno Soup was not particularly spicy, despite the jalapenos in it. And the Warm Lentil Salad was altered to remove the lardons (some pork product) which left a small dish, more appropriate as an appetizer, comprised most notably of apathetically received arugula although the lentils were declared delicious if not filling. The Monkfish Bourride “En Croute” arrived looking like a potpie and left not complaints in its wake.

During dinner we oiled the old conversation cogs with a variety of wines. Although the restaurant was quite packed and some of us were being bumped by the rushing waiters squeezing through, somehow background noise remained at a level of gentle murmur that was easy to ignore.

As the wine was not part of Prix Fixe, I went for the $9 glass of Coteaux Du Layon Chaume, La Roulerie (1996 was a good year). The wine came in bottles as well, and it would not have been difficult to spend upwards of $500 without seriously indulging. I probably scandalized the waitress with my dessert wine choice, but I stuck to it through the meal. It came in a child-sized goblet and was effectively intoxicating.

The last course of the meal was comprised of desserts. They were three, but we only tried the Trio of Chocolate Bomb and the Apple and Cranberry Crumble. The Chocolate Bomb, contained within it’s round chocolatey goodness a truffle-like Nutella. However, the Apple Crumble was the night’s favorite with it’s light Creme Fraiche.

The overall impression of the restaurant was quite favorable, although there were drawbacks. Despite the popularity of the place we were not rushed out, not were we forced to feel as if we were out of place by snobby waiters (which certainly happened before despite our best attempts at civilization). However, our table was situated awkwardly, and there was a point when one of us was completely trapped. Despite its allure and presentation, Orsay is an “elegant” (as billed by OpenTable) rather than a “fine” dining experience. The layout of the floor, particularly of the first floor, as well as our simple plastic covered menus called forth a familiar diner-like air. Certainly a worthwhile place to visit for a taste of French cuisine, but if you would like a place where evening dress is more in keeping, then try another venue.

Stay tuned for next week’s gimmick pick. In the meantime, check out these links:

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