The Orchard: When Bad Trends Go Good
Last week was a shame, a crying shame. Frank Bruni is clearly keeping very close tabs on me, and JUST when (for once!) I get all busy, he launches his massive treasure-trove of satire-hunter’s bounty: his own BLOG. And he throws in for good measure one of the funniest starred reviews in recent memory, where he basically describes the restaurant Telepan as a 17th century Dutch peasant: really fucking ugly but incredibly pious.
Frank doesn’t bring much insight to this week’s review, instead heaping on a flat I’m-with-it exuberance. Like a Cosby-clad dad popping in on his son’s meth-rave sweet 16 and sticking both thumbs awkwardly up: “This is COOOL! No It’s Kool! It’s Kray-zeee Kool! Awriiight!”
"You just keep makin' out, kids! The Mrs. and I are upstairs with a defibrilator and some cookies."
What is it that Frank is so eagerly on board with? While he hasn’t always been in favor of pan-global Epcot-Center menus (he in fact throws a jab at the Stanton Social in here), something about John Lafemina’s new Orchard restaurant on the LES gives him a hearty boner.
I have faith in Lafemina, if only via my love of his 1st place, Peasant, which, as Bruni says, “romances Italy to the point of presenting a menu entirely in Italian. Servers stand over your table and, item by item, for minutes on end, channel Berlitz instructors.”
Well the staff may be handily attentive upstairs, but the best time to be had at Peasant is the basement, a candle-lit caverna with earthen walls and long, shared tables. Yes, the food is delicious, but the basement is primarily a riot because the place is always serviced by two UNREAL dudes— one a lanky, Jesus-like Brit with a shirt unbuttoned to his navel who says things like, “The octopus, yeh? She’s goooorgeous.”
And then there’s his tawny slaveboy sidekick, a deferential mop-headed Mediterranean she-boy who seems born to lounge around fanning Caesar Augustus’ balls. They are both phenomenal, by which I mean that they drape themselves over the bar, dreaming idly, strumming instruments, trimming their chest hair, and bantering sexily, while the packed room is in full hunger-riot and everyone is creating elaborate semaphoric gestures to somehow communicate with them.
This is literally what the British dude’s chest looks like. It's oddly appetizing, like B.O.
But Peasant paves no conceptual way for Lafemina’s newbie, the Orchard.
"...while Italy again seems to be his touchstone, he touches down in many other places as well."
Touching in many places can be perfectly classy. (Disclosure: I obviously just wanted to post that picture. Have a lovely afternoon.)
Frank goes through a tour of restaurant globalism—- a trend he used to think smacked of trendiness. But now he concedes that there’s a new breed of fusion, respect-worthy fusion:
“I'm thinking of new restaurants with serious ambitions and uncommon culinary partnerships. Take Dani, which constructs a bridge between northern Africa and southern Italy. Or Morimoto, where an appetizer ‘pizza’ bedecks a tortilla with raw bluefin tuna, an anchovy aioli and jalapeño. It's Asian, Italian, a nod to Nobu, a wink at Taco Bell.”
Even so much as a wink to Taco Bell and my lower intestine quivers like a frightened doe.
But the globalism at the Orchard actually worked, for the Count at least.
“...while the itinerary may not be coherent, the trip is a world of fun.”
YOU KRAZEE KIDS!
Little girls sometimes dress up like tarts and pretend to be princesses with their friends. Likewise, the Count sometimes puts on black horn-rimmed glasses and twirls in front of his mirrors pretending to write for Architectural Digest. “Why yes,” he says, brandishing a bedroom slipper like a slide ruler, “that IS a mansard roof!”
(I’ve obviously missed the Digest, no? I’m off my rocker today.)
My point is, Frank has always taken interiors seriously (here's lookin' at you Alto and Cafe Gray), and this week is no different:
“The drab brown carpet beneath them better suits an office than a dining room.”
You mean, “That drab brown carpet better suits the humble retina of office drones, used to such a petty, terrestrial palette. Poor drones!! HOW THEY SLAVE! Waiter? Another caviar! On Bill Keller’s tab! And make it the real Soviet shit, the shit that’s running out!”
But I think there’s someone who would disagree with Frank on that point.
For the Arctic Brown Fox, brown carpeting, be it in the forest, the tundra, or the Lower East Side Hotspot, can provide cunning shelter from predators.
LaFemina has paid attention to the details— he “has installed lighting that bathes everything in a seductive orange glow, a magical, last-gasp sunset that never ends. He has bound the menus in suede.”
“Our safety word is ‘Mascarpone.’”
According to Frank, the “little flourishes add up, giving the Orchard real style.”
This is not always so.
Sometimes the little flourishes add up, making you into Count Fagula.
When it comes to the kitchen, Frank describes the wacky internationalism, mostly followed with gee-whiz applause; but the Orchard may have earned its two stars by reversing a ubiquitous shortcoming. At the Orchard, the “entrees do a more uniformly successful job of showcasing the strengths and skill of the kitchen” than the apps. A rarity-- usually the entrees weigh a place down.
Well, one thing's for sure. Someone over there showed Frank a good time, and it's all he can talk about: “no matter the label or language, the Orchard takes you on an enjoyable tour.”
It's like Carman San Diego...
But not hosted by Michael Jackson in very thin drag.