Orson, San Francisco

When you enter the beautiful warehouse space in SoMa, everything looks cool, modern. The type of place you usually see in NY or London but not as much in San Francisco. In the spacious dining room, a round white marble bar is surrounded by trendy tables and chairs and occasional sofas and bookshelves. A nice surprise. The place wasn’t full yet but I was glad a had a reservation.

– “This way please”, said the host as she lead us to our table.

Up the stairs, turn, turn and there I was. In the lobby of the Kansas City Sheraton hotel. A boring dark room covered in black and gray carpet tiles with sparingly spaced square tables with black tablecloth. The whole room was empty, except for one table. I decided to give it a shot. Maybe there’s going to be something surprising about this. Or maybe not.

The menu

As I glanced over the menu, I found my enthusiasm fading away at each description. I love trying new things, specially unexpected flavor combinations and textures. In this case though, it was like they were trying too hard. Even in the menu categorization. Don’t expect to find appetizers, starters or main courses. Instead, you can pick from “tease”, “explore” and “explore deeper”. But why? The waiter arrived and introduced the concept of the restaurant. Thank you!

– “The chef wants to break away from the typical order of a meal” (I got that) “and instead of marrying the food; we want you to date it.”

So I ordered one of each, to which the waiter promptly responded:

– “Is that it? You’ll need to order at least 9 things.”

Considering this was a date and not a marriage, I decided to stick with my order, at least to see how it went. You know, no commitments.

The meal

The first course arrived. A foie bon bon. Creamy foie mousse dipped in 60% cocoa chocolate. It actually sounded pretty interesting if the orange infused chocolate didn’t overpowered the more important foie gras. Interestingly, the marble sized “tease” was so small, it confused the waiter who ended up introducing the dish as an amouse bouche, “with compliments of the chef”.

Second course, hamachi brulé. Not bad, the fish tartar was fresh, placed over a light yogurt dressing and sharply cut wedges of avocado.

Finaly, the deeper exploration (or the main course). Black sausage, grits, pear, rye crisp. Presentation was great, almost dessert-like. Unfortunately, the black sausage was bland and somewhat gelatinous in texture. The pear puree and rye crisp were good so I found myself wanting more of them to compensate the bland sausage.

The waiter came back and with a sports bar attitude asked “Do you want more food?”

I went for dessert. Date soft chocolate, stout foam, caramel, brown butter. Again, sounded better than it tasted. The chocolate ganache was good but only enough for one or two bites. The rest of the plate was a combination of bland flavors in different textures.

In short

Orson is an interesting dining experience, the simple fact that the restaurant tries to create an experience beyond an Organic menu is a welcome addition to the city of San Francisco. The top floor is boring and unremarkable but the main dining room is modern and welcoming. The staff is not [yet] properly trained and service feels amateur at points. The food is better in concept than execution. Despite the great presentations, I expected better taste. All in all, it’s worth a visit. But I’ll probably wait a few months to try it again.

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