We'd been debating going to Orson since it opened but kept balking. The reviews were largely dreadful. The food sounded complicated and precious, portions small, service snooty and pretentious.
I'd gone from liking Citizen Cake in its original digs to hating it (largely because of service issues) on Grove to giving it another chance and liking it again...
But we couldn't resist the bourbon and bacon dinner offered last week as part of cocktail week, and despite the heat, this turned out to be a great way to sample the goods. The menu was $65 for 7 mini-courses with 7 mini-cocktails. This was the only menu for the night, which was a little disappointing; I wanted to try the tofu and the duck fat fries and carrot dumplings.
Of the courses, my favorites were...well, honestly nearly all of them. The bologna on a stick was pretty silly, but I loved the chicharrones, the terrine, the maple pork belly (which I would describe more as suckling pig), and the lardo and crawfish. The latter was really more of a green foam... A salad in there might have been nice.
The maple bacon ice cream in the little porcupine pigwich was delicious, and I liked the bacon chocolate chip cookie, served with that bedtime glass of milk and Maker's Mark.
I'm not sure I could ordinarily justify quite so many cocktails for pairings, but the apricot (and cynar!) mix was quite lovely. The standout though was the kaffir lime mint julep, named in memory of filly Eight Belles and made with Jim Beam rye. And crushed ice. An 85 degree night in San Francisco, with a tumbler of crushed ice and premium rye and mint. Sigh.
I don't remember anything with absinthe, and we didn't like the walnut, port, and chocolate round, a waste of fine bourbon.
Each cocktail was served in a different shaped glass. This might seem ridiculous, but in the right context, it worked.
Service couldn't have been friendlier or more enthusiastic. Everyone stopped by to see if we were happy, from the beaming chef to the Jim Beam representative. (Jim Beam is the parent company to all the high-end bourbon brands including Basil Hayden, Booker, Knob Creek, and Maker's Mark.)
I wasn't crazy about the seating, and the space feels like a converted garage. We sat downstairs on the side, and I ceded the wall so I had to content myself with watching the scene by mirror over his shoulder. Next time I'd sit at the bar.
I imagine if you came and ordered three or four regular dishes and had two cocktails, you could easily spend $65 and not come away as happy or full as we did. My companion and I agreed Orson should go to a simpler format, all prix fixe, with a limited number of extra options from the bar. There's an advantage to committing to a price point, and a night of someone else's choices, at least where there's suckling pig involved.
Bathrooms are individual unisex with black tile. They reminded me of NYC 1983, better for making out or doing lines than fixing your mascara.
Sometimes it pays to have low expectations. This was one of the most fun meals I've had in a while, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend checking it out. We ambled home across town. It's definitely a pricey, trendy scene. Fortunately they know their pigs, and cocktails.
508 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107