This week, our restaurant review considers Orsa & Winston, the new Japanese/Italian omakaske restaurant from Josef Centeno. The restaurant follows a trend toward a return to fine dining, though it's not the fine dining we've seen in the past. A few of L.A.'s finest chefs are doing their best to reinvent the genre, with varying degrees of success. I'm still not sure any of them have gotten the formula quite right.
For the most part, the food and the prices are what has survived the jump into this new version of fine dining. From the review:
Gone are the quiet rooms and the formal service. Gone are the white tablecloths, or any tablecloths at all. These chefs are retaining the one part of fine dining that excited and challenged them as young cooks -- the food -- and rejecting the accompanying formalities. Would you like some N.W.A with your $95 tasting menu?
A casual atmosphere with loud music and high-end food makes sense in many ways. And yet ... There's something about what Centeno is doing at Orsa & Winston, and what other chefs are doing around town, that feels vital and exciting but not quite like a successful new version of fine dining.
The reinvention has actually been going on for years. Spots in L.A. that come to mind that aim to deliver the food of haute cuisine without any of the trappings of fine dining include ink. and Red Medicine. Red Medicine has recently changed its menu significantly and is offering a tasting menu option; ink. has always done the same. At Red Medicine, chef Jordan Kahn's food is some of the most fussed over and conceptual in the city, served in a room that is indistinguishable from any trendy restaurant anywhere. Sometimes the service is rushed and forgetful. The place can get deafeningly loud. I don't think this is an example of someone trying to reinvent fine dining as much as a chef trying to prove that food this artful can be presented in any setting.
If I were to pick a restaurant that has come closest to finding a successful melding of high-end food and honest, pared-back attitude, it would be Trois Mec. In part because the place is so hard to get into and so hard to find, eating there retains a feeling of specialness, beyond the amazing things coming out of the kitchen. But those factors -- the difficulties of securing a meal here -- are gimmicks when it comes down to it, and while Trois Mec has its own awesome thing going on, I'm not sure its owners have figured out a new paradigm for fine dining either.
I wish that, here, I could deliver a formula for what is going to work, for the ingredients to a new fine dining that won't drag us back into a stodgy past that we rejected for a reason but will resolve some of the problems with paying so much for dinner in a setting that feels like any old restaurant. But I honestly have no idea what that will look like. I do think it has something to do with comfort. We ceased to feel comfortable in hushed rooms with stiff service, but I also feel that if I'm paying $100-$200 per person for a meal, and especially if that meal is a long, tasting-menu experience, I might need more than a stool to perch on to be able to fully enjoy it. I might need service that feels a little more intuitive and gracious.
Watching the baby steps that we take back toward fine dining is an exceedingly fun sport, however it ends up playing out.
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You can read the full review of Orsa & Winston here.
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