Chef Joseph Centeno’s restaurant efforts have elicited mixed reviews over the years. From Lazy Ox, Ledlow, P.Y.T., to Bar Ama and Baco Mercat, we had never found any of the restaurants to be runaway hits. When we finally tried Orsa & Winston (Chef Centeno’s fine dining restaurant) for their Tasting Menu Only Dinner, it was really disappointing.
However, we had recently heard that Orsa & Winston was starting up Brunch (which in and of itself might not be noteworthy), until we glanced at the menu and noticed that there were some really intriguing Japanese-inspired Breakfast & Brunch items, so we decided to give it a shot.
Orsa & Winston is a tiny space, with only a few tables, and for Brunch, the sunny daytime period added a cheerful flood of light to an otherwise dim restaurant by night.
Glancing over the menu, it’s heavily inflected with Japanese influences, sauces, or straight up recreations of Japanese classic dishes. There are a few Italian inspired dishes as well, and some American Breakfast staples.
We had heard from a friend that their Pastries were very good, and remembering the solid offerings at Ledlow (before they shuttered), we were excited to see what their Pastry Chef had created for Orsa & Winston’s Brunch.
Cream Cheese & Matcha Croissant:
This sounded wild and interesting. It was flaky with a subtle crispiness, but the filling was too wild for our tastes: Imagine salty-tart Cream Cheese mixed with the bitterness and herbal aroma of a massive dose of Matcha Green Tea powder, and you have their Cream Cheese & Matcha Croissant.
And I love Matcha, but this was just too overwhelming.
Their Canele was much better: A firm shell on the outside, yielding to a soft, almost buttery-custardy center, with just the right amount of sweetness. Delicious!
Tuna Tonnato (Shoyu Egg, Pan Rustic):
Their Shoyu Egg was gorgeous, with the yolk already cracked open on top of the Tuna Tonnato. It was luscious, creamy, and a more thoughtful merging of Italian and Japanese than anything we tried for the disappointing dinner last year. The rustic Housemade Bread was fantastic, nicely toasted and crunchy.
Baked Eggs in Ume Tomato Sauce:
Their Baked Eggs is like a cross between a Shakshouka and Shired Eggs with a touch of Japanese influences. Spooning some of the gorgeous orange hued Egg Yolks and the Ume (Japanese Plum) Tomato Sauce on some of their Rustic Bread…
and you get this wonderful crunch from the perfectly Toasted Handmade Bread, this comforting, happy rush of savory, long-stewed Tomato Sauce with a touch of Ume (which is not overly piquant like Republique’s version was), and then some silky, luscious Egg Yolk and you have a mouthful of awesome!
This was fantastic!
It was so promising, that we were glad to return for a 2nd visit soon after:
Green Barley Porridge (Furikake, Poached Egg + Smoked Fish):
This was definitely in the realm of “California Cuisine” rather than something more explicitly Italian or Japanese in influence. But I was excited, as I’m always looking out for a great, tasty Grain Bowl or Porridge dish. The Green Barley Porridge was toothsome, lightly nutty and delicately seasoned.
The Poached Egg and Furikake seasoning was perfect with this dish. However the additional Smoked Salmon add-on, while sounding like a winner, turned out to be too salty. They make their Smoked Salmon in-house (which sounds nice), but sadly it’s just way too salty. Next time, we’ll just enjoy the Green Barley Porridge by itself.
Chicken Katsu Sando (with Milkbread):
Reading the words “Katsu Sando” (Japanese Cutlet Sandwich) sparked visions of a perfect crispy-crunchy Japanese Cutlet inbetween wonderful Bread like they have in Japan. Orsa & Winston’s version features a Pan-Seared Bread (like a Patty Melt), which gives it an incredible crunch, along with merely OK Chicken Katsu (Cutlets) that weren’t crispy enough.
It was tasty, but their Katsu was nowhere close to the fantastic Cutlets at a specialist like Kagura.
Their Housemade Potato Chips were lightly crunchy in parts, but a touch soft in others.
O&W Grain Bowl Salad (Tehachapi Grains, Rice, Vegetables) + Chicken Curry:
The way this dish is presented is a bit of a disservice to the surprise within: The title is simply “O&W Grain Bowl Salad” which doesn’t really sound all that interesting… until we saw the tiny font for additions to the Grain Bowl (Fried Egg or Crudo), and the last addition was “Chicken Curry.”
Which we excitedly asked our server if it was made from scratch in-house or not, and he said it was(!!!).
Taking a bite of their Housemade Japanese Chicken Curry, it is a bit looser and not as gloppy as something like Curry House’s mass-produced, MSG-laden affair, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact Orsa & Winston’s Housemade Japanese Curry almost reminded me of the Housemade Curry at Blue Marlin, which was wonderful before they went on downhill alert and closed.
It’s fragrant, delicate, nicely spiced, but not too potent (nothing like an Indian Curry), but the mixture of cooked down farmers market Vegetables and the quality Chicken meat made this one of the best Japanese-style Curries we’ve had in a long time. And it went great with the healthy Tehachapi Grains & Rice mixture. (@PorkyBelly @bulavinaka @A5KOBE @TheCookie and others interested in Japanese Curries.)
Their side of Vegetable Salad that came with the dish was very fresh and added a tartness to the rest of the bowl.
Peads & Barnett Pork Toro (Chilies, Shichimi):
Their Pork Toro was pretty spectacular as well: Fatty and lean, it went perfect with some of the Rice in the Grain Bowl.
Yuzu Mimosa (Yuzu Juice, Orange Juice, Sparkling Wine):
This was nicely fizzy and refreshing, but it might’ve been a touch too tart.
Orsa & Winston’s plain Croissant was very good: Flaky, crisped exterior with a decently soft interior, it was far better than the mediocre one we had at Dominique Ansel Bakery, but not to the level of Chaumont or Arsicault. Still if you were hankering for a good Croissant and were in the area, this one is worth ordering.
Kouign Amann with Brown Butter:
Their version of Kouign Amann was good. A touch dry, but it had a distinct crunchiness to it.
Housemade Pickles & Trout Roe (Dashi, Butter, Puffy Bread):
This sounded wonderful but just didn’t work that well: The “Housemade Pickles & Trout Roe” turned out to be more like a loose Frisee Salad with random chunks of Pickles and a bit of Trout Roe within. It was really tart, but the Housemade Puffy Bread was tasty and helped to even things out a bit.
Grain Pancakes (Maple Syrup, Butter):
If there was a menu item that seemed the most underwhelming by name alone, it might have to be their “Grain Pancakes.” Even the description is lacking (“Maple Syrup, Butter”). But don’t let that fool you:
These have to be some of the best Pancakes I’ve had in years!
There’s a slight seared crust, yielding to a soft, moist, fluffy interior. I have mentally blocked out how much Butter, Maple Syrup and Powdered Sugar is on here, but suffice to say it never became too sweet. It was just SO GOOD!
Satsuki Rice Porridge (Uni, Abalone, Scallop, Chowder, Pecorino):
And we finally get to the Satsuki Rice Porridge. First, I’ve been dreaming of trying this mystical amazing Rice Porridge at Orsa & Winston (known as the “Okayu Rice Porridge” when @PorkyBelly first raved about it) for a long time now. It was a course served only during their Dinner Tasting Menu, and when we finally went, it was removed from the menu. Then the replacement “Rice Porridge” was a small bite of rather basic flavors, and nothing like what @PorkyBelly got.
So when we saw their new Brunch dish (always on the menu) called “Satsuki Rice Porridge” and it featured Uni, Abalone, and Scallops? It was a must order!
Taking a bite…
I don’t know if this is what @PorkyBelly got for the Okayu Rice, but whatever this is, it is an outstanding dish, and one of the best bites I’ve had this year!
Wonderfully cooked Satsuki Rice Porridge, with a texture that isn’t overly mushy and where you can still appreciate the individual Rice grains, fresh, bright, vibrant Uni, Abalone and Scallops, and this amazing lightly creamy, mouth-watering Chowder & Pecorino Sauce.
My favorite item on the menu! Must order!
Donabe (Dashi Broth, Wagyu Beef, Market Vegetables, Tofu, Mushroom, Nori, Egg):
First, the flaw: Like their Dinner serving, the Orsa & Winston staff have shaved the Japanese Wagyu Beef way too thin. It looks nice, but when you try to pick it up, it’s so thin, it tears instantly, making it very hard to get a full slice to cook in the Donabe (like a Shabu Shabu experience).
But outside of that, the actual Donabe flavors were very good: It was wonderfully delicate and subtle, warming, and balanced (not too salty). I loved sipping the balanced broth and enjoying some of the tender cooked down Market Vegetables, some Tofu and Mushrooms.
It’s a really strange experience: In all 3 Brunch visits, Chef Centeno was nowhere to be found. Instead his staff for Brunch was executing inspired and interesting dishes that actually merged some Japanese and Italian influences together (which is what Orsa & Winston’s goal was (as stated on their website)), unlike the disastrous Tasting Menu Dinner we had there (which lacked any understanding of Japanese or Italian merging in a successful dish and Chef Centeno was there cooking that night).
Whatever’s happened, the end result is that Orsa & Winston’s Weekend Brunch is the type of cooking we had hoped that their Dinner Tasting Menus had: Japanese and Italian influenced creations that sing with an inspired vibrancy of flavors. Is it Japanese? Italian? or American?
Whatever it is, it’s delicious: We’ll be back to enjoy their Canele and Croissant Pastries, the tasty Japanese Chicken Curry with Tehachapi Grains & Rice, but especially their amazing Grain Pancakes (seriously awesome), and the even more stunning Satsuki Rice Porridge (with Uni, Abalone and Scallops).
(Weekend Brunch Menu - Saturday & Sundays.)
Orsa & Winston
122 W 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 687-0300
It had been well over a year since our last visit to Orsa & Winston; we happened to be in the area and decided to drop in for Brunch.
As we glanced over the menu we realized things had changed: They lost their Pastry Chef and there are no more of their hidden gem Pastries available any more. That was only a sign of things to come…
Grain Pancakes (Maple Syrup, Butter):
One of the highlights from Orsa & Winston’s Brunch menu previously, this was not as good as before: Still retaining some griddled crispness, but it wasn’t as deeply flavorful as before. But overall it was still a pretty solid, lightly nutty Grain Pancake.
Seared Okra (Tomato Ume Plum Sauce):
This was pretty good: A nice plate of Seared Okra, the Japanese Plum added a nice tartness that contrasted with the earthy, lightly viscous nature of Okra.
Chicken Katsu with Black Truffle (Tomato Ume Plum Sauce):
It was only after taking a bite that we realized that they used the same Tomato Ume Plum Sauce in this dish as the Okra. Oh well.
The Chicken Katsu (Cutlet) had a decent light crispiness to the battered exterior, with moist Chicken within, but the seasoning was rather basic and one note. The Black Truffle was barely fragrant.
Rocket Arugula & Castelfranco Salad (Apricot, Asiago, Tsukune Chicken Sausage, Oregano):
We liked the heartier, slightly bitter notes from this Salad, contrasted with the Dried Apricots. The Tsukune Chicken Sausage was disappointing: Only a small portion buried at the bottom that was rather basic and salty.
Seafood Porridge (Satsuki Rice, Dashi, Yuzu, Parmesan Cheese):
Perhaps the biggest disappointment at the current Brunch menu at Orsa & Winston is the downfall of their Satsuki Rice Porridge:
They increased the price (now a whopping $38 (+ tax & tip) for Brunch), and they only serve it with 1.5 small slivers of Uni, and removed the Abalone! Previously, we had 4 tongues of Uni and there was actual Uni flavor in the Sauce.
The Scallops were overcooked (slightly), but most importantly, the whole thing was watered down (see pics):
This was way more watery (rather off-putting), and the overall flavors just tasted more muted and disparate. It was nowhere near as good as the previous incarnation we had a year ago.
Pork Kakuni (Shoyu Egg, Koshihikari Rice, Fresh Ginger):
Even worse than the downfall of their Satsuki Rice Porridge is their Pork Kakuni Rice dish. The Japanese dish known as Buta no Kakuni is a long-stewed Pork dish, found with chunks of fatty & lean Pork cubes, with the better versions being so unctuous and tender and succulent from being cooked for so long. At Orsa & Winston it’s like pan-seared slivers of fatty Bacon! The pork is like 80% Fat, terrible. It was also chewy and lacked any love from the great mom & pop Japanese Izakaya joints that make this soul food.
Even worse than that, the Koshihikari Rice they serve it with is all clumped and overcooked and slightly gummy. (Compare this to the brilliance of the rice at places like Wadatsumi and Tendon Tempura Carlos Junior - places far less “fancy”, little casual spots - they take pride in cooking fantastic Rice because they realize how important it is.)
At least their Shoyu Hanjuku Tamago (Soy Sauce Egg) was beautifully cooked.
At this point it seems like there’s been staff changes (beyond losing their Pastry Chef). The cooking is markedly worse, as if there’s no pride, and as if there are different people cooking these dishes. The current Seafood Porridge (Satsuku Rice Porridge) is the biggest tragedy, nowhere near as stunning or amazing as it used to be; now just watery and mediocre, and with an increased price to boot.
Orsa & Winston
122 W 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Tel: (213) 687-0300