Restaurant Review #78: Orris, Sawtelle, West LA

Seafood salad with scallops, octupus, and (no) shrimp in a citrus herb dressing

Update: Orris has permanently closed.

I have been to Orris two times now, and I do believe it is my new favorite restaurant. First of all, I feel confident that I can order anything from the wine list and it will be somewhere between decent and quite good in quality--nothing that tastes like metal. Second, it's small and quiet enough to have an intimate conversation. Finally, the food is interesting and tasty, and the small portions mean that I get to try multiple dishes, or that if I'm just not that hungry, I don't have to pay for a bunch of food I can't eat.

Orris is a small restaurant with a small menu that includes salads, hot dishes, cold dishes, several daily specials, a few desserts and ice creams, and a page-long wine list. The restaurant is rectangularly shaped and consists of small tables placed too close together, so if there are only two of you, the undercrowded bar is a quieter and more intimate place to sit, and also affords you an enjoyable view of the open kitchen. There are several tables outside, but I have yet to find a place in LA where dining next to a busy street seems like a pleasant proposition. The lighting inside is low, and the music is loungey and trendy but played at an appropriate volume. The interior is sleek and the atmosphere borders on trendy, but it doesn't feel pretentious or uncomfortable, probably in part because of it's Sawtelle location.

On my most recent trip, I tried the dishes you see photographed here. The seafood salad, above, ordinarily comes with shrimp, but they were happy to leave the shrimp out and replace it with extra scallops for me. Before eating this dish, I did not realize that scallops came in any color other than white, but apparently there are also salmon-colored scallops. The octopus in this dish was the best octopus I have ever had. My previous encounters with octopus at sushi restaurants and at Nanbankan only presented me with something very chewy and rather tasteless. Here, the salad dressing actually enhanced the flavor of the octopus, and the tentacles were also more tender than I've come to expect. The flavors of the salad blended well and it was an enjoyable light beginning to my meal.

Thinly sliced beets with Basque sheep's milk cheese

Beets are often maligned, but I truly do not understand why, unless the beets that most people have eaten were the canned and salted variety. There is nothing wrong with canned beets, in my opinion, but adding salt to canned beets is indeed a crime. This dish of thinly sliced beets and sheep's milk cheese was perhaps the best thing I had eaten all month. I normally think of sheep's milk cheese as being intense, and was surprised to find that this particular cheese not only did not overpower the flavor of the beets, but complemented it extremely well. Of course, there are many varieties of sheep's milk cheeses, so just because one is strong in flavor doesn't mean that they all are, but most people only have a vague notion of what a sheep's milk cheese is and would probably not be aided by a more specific description. The dill garnish further enhanced the flavor, but I was glad that it was only a part of a few bites and not a part of every bite. I am not, however, certain what the purpose was of that oily/soy saucy stuff you see on top of the cheese. It was scarcely used and didn't taste like much. Overall though, this was an excellent dish, one I'd like to try to recreate at home.

Grilled hearts of romaine with parmesan

I had read raves of the grilled hearts of romaine in other reviews, so I decided to give them a shot, although I was very skeptical of the idea of grilling lettuce, and didn't at all care for a hearts of romaine salad I once had at Ocean Avenue Seafood. Who wants to eat all that lettuce stem? The dish definitely tasted grilled, and I have to say that grilled, as a flavor, does not do much for me and really tastes more like burnt or charred. However, grilling lettuce has the interesting effect of making it seem like a hearty dish, and since I get full easily, I liked being able to eat a dish that tasted very filling yet did not feel heavy at all. The parmesan, of course, really kind of made the dish, as I doubt anyone would enjoy plain grilled lettuce. Shaved parmesan has a strong enough flavor to not be overpowered by the flavor of grilling, so it was a good choice, if not particularly inventive.

Lamb carpaccio

We all know that I'm not much of a meat eater, but if I did like meat, I probably would have said that this lamb was prepared very well. I'm basing this judgement almost entirely on the opinion of my friend, who often does not even eat the food that he takes me out for. However, he ate this entire dish, so that must be saying something. Since I already had my grilled hearts of romaine with parmesan, the lettuce and cheese part of his dish had nothing to offer me.

To drink, we ordered a viogner and a pinot noir. On our first visit, we'd had an excellent pinot noir which we attempted to re-order, but apparently we didn't correctly remember which one we'd ordered. Oh well. Both wines were still better than average, and I particularly enjoyed the viogner. Most of their wines are about $9 a glass, but unlike many places, are actually worth it. Often when I got out to eat, I find myself sipping a $7 glass that is inferior to the quality of a $7 bottle from Trader Joe's. At Orris, I've never had that problem. Keep in mind that my knowledge of wine is fairly limited--I think I have a good idea of what is quality and what is not, but I can't talk the wine talk.

On our previous visit, my friend and I enjoyed the shishito peppers and the shrimp mousse ravioli. However, the albacore tuna cups weren't such a winner, as the raddacio cups they were served in were too overpowering. Also, the bread that came with our meal was nothing special and could have easily been Safeway bread heated in a toaster over. On this visit, they completely forgot to bring us any bread at all, not that I really cared. Overall though, the service is pretty good--not amazing, and they don't stop by your table very often, but they do at least get things right, make good wine suggestions, refill water regularly, and treat you with respect.

2006 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025

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