Second Chance for a First Impression – Orris

orris restaurant, sawtelle blvd

Orris Restaurant
2006 Sawtelle Boulevard (@ La Grange)
Los Angeles, CA 90025

There’s so much to be said about a first impression, what you can guess in the blink of an eye. From a distance you see…What he’s wearing? Flash-ion forward. Hollywood hipster. Perfectly preppie. What he’s drinking? Gentleman’s gin and tonic. Billionaire boys’ club bourbon/rocks. Death-grip double-fisting MGD. To whom is he talking? Big hair bimbo, eyes locked on big chest. Laughing with the boyz.

Your eyes meet, you turn your head away, but only ever so slightly so he can catch that shy, mysterious smile. Then he’s made his way over to you and you exchange words. There’s an air of confidence, but not cocky. He makes you laugh because he’s funny. Not only is he witty-funny, but he’s witty-smart because he’s educated. First impression: a good one, so you exchange numbers.

But what if he snorts when he laughs at his own un-funny inappropriate jokes? And little droplets of his drink end up in a light spray on your face when he talks only about himself? And you can tell, he’s arrogant, but only because he’s covering up very low self-esteem. First impression: very very bad, and you give him your email address, but misspell it, on purpose. (I swear, I have never done that. Recently. LOL! )

So it goes with the guys at the club. Or bar. A raging party. A wedding reception. A good first impression and you make plans for step two. A bad first impression and it’s D. U. N. Done. There’s no such thing as second chances out in that world.

My first impression of Orris was miserable. The restaurant was too cold, too crowded and too cramped. Normally, these kinds of inconveniences can slip into the background if the food is outstanding, but the food was mediocre at best. The one thing that actually did stand out was the grilled romaine that was recommended by the couple at the next table over, “next” being quite an overstatement since our tables were so close together I could have played footsie with both of them, and I’m under 5’5”. I was afraid the grilled romaine, though, was only “good” by comparison to everything else that was so *ew*.

And absolutely horrible service made Orris’s food taste even worse. Our server was impatient, misinformed, and worst of all, condescending. She had trouble telling us about a few of the specials, and didn’t know the answers to any of the questions I asked about the menu. One of the small plates she brought out was the wrong order, and when I mentioned it to her, she made it sound like it was my fault, and finally in an extremely exasperated tone, “do you want me to take it back?” Good gracious, I certainly didn’t want to trouble her *roll eyes* so I said it was okay, never mind. An incorrect order that actually tasted good would have made up for it, but it was so bad that I left almost all of it untouched after only two bites. Very very very bad first impression. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

But Orris is a restaurant, not a guy, so even though my gut reaction was to spin on my heel and sashay off swearing “I’m never going back there again!” I knew I’d have to give it another chance. Clean slate.

Orris is chef/owner Hideo Yamashiro’s second restaurant – Asian-inspired small plates. Chef Yamashiro’s first restaurant in Pasadena is called Shiro, so it makes sense that this smaller, second restaurant is called Orris, essentially chef-owner Shiro’s name backward. Yes, technically, it would be “Orihs,” but then no one would know how to pronounce it, though I don’t think anyone actually knows on which syl-LA-ble to put the em-PHA-sis on Orris, either. Does Orris rhyme with Morris, or Maurice? LOL!

The restaurant is located in a space on Sawtelle that has gone through a few iterations of identity changes, but always maintaining the same architecture inside. The narrow room has a long, low bar that seat people in front of an open semi-kitchen, that was, at one point the holding pen for a stock of sushi chefs, and perhaps before that, short order pancake flippers. Most of the tables were already taken by fairly refined, conservative looking middle-aged couples. Good thing I had come straight from work, still dressed in my semi-business cazh, though had I shown up in tattered jeans and a saucy tank top, I would have been okay. We took up two seats smack in the middle of the bar.

Our server is a clean-cut, more innocent-looking version of Russell Wong. *cute* New first impression so far – not bad ;) He offered us water, highlighted a few things on the menu, and mentioned specials. I looked over my shoulder, and the server-ess from my first experience was nowhere to be seen. *phew* We each asked for a glass of wine to start. Nothing worth remembering – just wine to drink while examining the menu. One side of hot and cold small plates, and a list of seasonal specials on the other side.

Dungeness crab salad was first, which was a bit of an awkward start. It looked somewhat disheveled, almost messy, and the dressing was just a tiny bit too sweet to start a meal. Not poorly done, just not quite my taste.

The ravioli filled with shrimp mousse and mushrooms was not something I would have ordered on my own accord, because “mousse” never sounds appetizing to me. I rarely, if ever, choose a mousse for dessert, and a mousse made with seafood? Never! However, the ravioli were surprisingly good. Just a few somewhat chubby yet wrinkled pillows with a filling that had a texture less like a mousse and more like…just finely chopped shrimp. A light colored creamy sauce with sliced shiitake mushrooms was flavorful, and maybe too aggressively salted for some with high blood pressure, but perfect for this saltaholic. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to eat an entire bowl of the ravioli, but that’s why the small plate was perfect.

I also would not have ordered scallops on my own. I don’t love scallops; I don’t know why, but can anyone really have a logical explanation for strange aversions? It was a long rectangular dish with five fat scallops (was it six?) perfectly positioned with the exact maximum spacing from each other and the edge of the plate like five people waiting in an apartment elevator. They’re pristine white on the perimeter, perfectly seared to toasty brown on their flat tops, so they give an ever so slight *crisp* when bitten through.

The grilled romaine was the have-to-order item, since I wanted to make sure that the first time, I wasn’t just relatively crediting it because my sta
ndards had been lowered by everything else we had ordered. This time, it was in a more absolute, objective setting. Romaine hearts had been quartered on the longitude, rubbed down with oil, and grilled to tender at the tips, charred in all the right places, expectedly bitter, but barely, at the core, and delicious with the shaved cheese. Grilled romaine was good the first time, great the second time.

Orris was much better on its second chance. Most of the food was good, the romaine was outstanding, and the service was simply in the background – neither overly obtrusive nor noticeably bad. Perhaps the first time they were still working out the kinks or maybe it was just an off-night, because sometimes you just can’t help it if you have a bad hair day. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way for it, but that’s why I probably won’t make it out to Shiro is in Pasadena; and Orris is here in West L.A. I may not give Orris my cell phone number, but sure, here’s my email address. ;)

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