Orris ~ dîner pour les sensualistes

Orris is the root of the iris plant, which in ancient times, when mixed with cinnamon and other spices, was believed to be a love potion. 

We arrived at Orris around the time they open for dinner. The sun was fairly strong out on the patio facing Sawtelle Boulevard, but I didn't mind. In fact, I delighted in the golden gleam of the sunlight as we sat at our table, gazing at each other, holding hands. It gave me a pleasant feeling of leisurely calm. As my darling sat across from me looking ever so handsome wearing his straw fedora hat, studying the menu, I glanced through the glass of the window from my patio view, peeking inside the restaurant's interior. The fading light of the day and the colors evoked the imagery of Renoir's painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" with that same ambiance of slow dining, leisurely, just savoring the moment.

I did not look at the menu because I was in his hands. It pleased me to allow him order our dinner. The theme of the menu was Chef Shiro's Autumn Specials. My darling had fondly remembered the grilled romaine lettuce from his dining experiences years before. Taking time to choose the little dishes to share, he ordered a bottle of wine, the arugula salad, the squash blossom tempura stuffed with seafood mousse, the Beets and Basque cheese with balsamic, and of course, the grilled romaine lettuce with parmesan dressing to begin. The wild mushroom saute and potato Dauphinois, the shrimp mousse ravioli with shiitake mushroom sauce, and the basil marinated black cod with mashed potatoes. The cheese plate to finish our meal.

As we have found dining so pleasurable during the early evening, early and without hurry, the decadence of slowness inspires passionate later evenings. Perhaps we should take notes from older people and dine during early evening so that we aren't too full and in too much of a rush to make love.

And Orris is a quaint bistro, relaxed in a romantic sense that allows lovers to linger. A moment together to sip our wine, talk, flirt and make eyes at each other. I can understand now why the name of the restaurant is called 'orris'--- the root of the iris plant is considered to be an aphrodisiac.

The waitress, Bobbi, so charming and gracious, orchestrated the timing of our dishes, inquiring about the kinds of dishes we ordered, thinking about how to balance the flavors, and so deciding on how they would be served in sequence--- all to enhance our dining experience. Dinner began as a gentle pianissimo with the cool bottle of Frog's Leap Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc nestled into a bucket, along with the arrival of the beautiful arugula salad.

Golden sunlight filtered through our glimmering glasses full with wine. I had never known Sawtelle Boulevard hid such a treasure as this. There had been many a dinner with my three children at my safe 'family approved' dining spots nearby, such as Hurry Curry of Tokyo and Chabuya, the ramen place next door. My later obsession with Beard Papa's cream puffs just a jaunt down the street while pregnant with my third child was also a Sawtelle Boulevard frequent stop. But never had I discovered the serene patio of Orris.

The arugula salad arrived in its feathery-leafed beauty--- the shaved parmesan mingling with the peppery arugula was delightful in my mouth. The dressing was the perfect amount, neither overly done nor under dressed, pure with a flavorful and light olive oil. I marveled at the way the salad was dressed because it is a rarity that each leaf is well coated with just the right amount of dressing. It did not overpower the arugula, but enhanced its essence. Such simplicity.

The Beet and Basque cheese drizzled with a balsamic dressing--- so delicate on the tongue. The Basque cheese was creamy which allowed the musty tang of balsamic to layer and deepen all the textures and flavors so well. We looked at each other knowingly with the pleasure of beets melting their deep garnet stain into our teeth and tongues, the softness of the cheese upon the tongue, barely a sliver, so it yields like a flower petal to the heat of our mouths. My mind was where it needed to be; only with the texture and subtle wonder of the beets and cheese, the hint of balsamic making its suggestion to savor the moment entirely.

The squash blossom tempura was exquisite, stuffed with a seafood mousse and topped with a kalamata olive tapenade. I have had squash blossom tempura done like this before, however, not in this exact way. The flavor combinations of the olives and delicacy of the tempura made this particular version quite exceptional. The seafood mousse inside the pocket of the flower was so light, the crisp tempura ever so faintly there. What flavor, I thought, as I gleaned through my memory of the many times and many ways I had squash blossoms. And fingering through the bulk of such sweet things as squash blossoms at the farmers markets, when I thought I might consider sauteing squash blossoms myself. But how would I make them? Surely this was the way, stuffed with seafood mousse pillowed inside and tempura battered with the thinnest amount, kalamata olive tapenade created with a tomatoey salsa to enhance the fresh taste of the squash. My two front teeth bit into the green of the squash itself and nothing could have made it more delicious than the way it was prepared.

The grilled romaine lettuce. Sigh. The grilled romaine lettuce. What more can I say? This dish was memorable for a reason. It is difficult to imagine how lettuce can be sensual. Before I had tasted this sublime dish I would never have considered romaine lettuce as an aphrodisiac, nor would I have claimed its sensuous qualities as one of the most orgasmic dishes I've ever had. I might usually reserve such commentary for say, crème brûlée. The first bite of the grilled romaine lettuce was subtle with the smokiness of the grill. It wasn't until the third and fourth mouthful that the flavors built upon themselves, and soon the sensual quality of this dish overwhelmed me, a crescendo of ecstasy was undulating through my body. The parmesan cheese added to the punch of the grilled romaine. I was tingling with pleasure. Little sips of my sauvignon blanc here and there, another bite of the grilled romaine.

He observed my response from across the table, wry smile and pleasure in my revelation over the romaine lettuce. Sensual, this lettuce. What a surprise, this lettuce. Heavenly heavenly lettuce of smoky char and wide green-yellow leaf, its magic working through me with each taste. Each mouthful was like tasting my lover's mouth until the swell of desire rivets and soon, the body lets go under its spell. He had told me about his first time trying the grilled romaine and how it had left an indelible imprint on his memory. With my eyes lustrous and full of delight I met his smiling face. We were sharing a sensory discovery, and we stayed silent that way, just eating the grilled romaine with such pleasure that only can be realized through experience. He told me about this, I thought. He explained the lettuce would do this to me.

After the grilled romaine lettuce experience settled into my body, more of our dishes arrived. The wild mushroom saute and potato Dauphinois, the shrimp mousse ravioli with shiitake mushroom sauce, and the basil marinated black cod with mashed potatoes.

The earthy tenderness of the sauteed mushrooms were a perfect pairing with the creamy potatoes Dauphinois. The potatoes were buttery and creamy without being a bit heavy. I couldn't help but combine them in each mouthful.

The black cod. Succulent and bursting with juicy magnificence. Suddenly, dinner was reaching a symphonic level of harmony. Even the skin melted in my mouth. Voluptuous fish that tastes just as it should, like a fish--- freshly caught and moist from the sea. At this point, I was just simmering into every bite with the willingness of a child. Dinner became a tango between my lover and I, the music of dishes, each one a movement, a rhythm, a feeling that words cannot express.

It was dark, the sun had set, and the candlelight was all we needed at our table. The shrimp mousse ravioli with shiitake mushroom sauce arrived in a bowl with a side of bread. "A good hand at making a sauce is like a good hand for giving a massage; a valuable and rare attribute." ~ Isabel Allende, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

The shrimp raviolis were bountiful in their ability to please. The pasta tasted fresh and handmade. What made them more luxurious was the shiitake mushroom sauce. The sauce was velvety and asked for sopping up with bread. My darling soaked a slice of the crusty demi baguette into the center of the bowl with leftover sauce once we had eaten all of the raviolis. Forgive me for the blurry photograph of the ravioli but at that point I was in bliss---the eroticism of the mushroom sauce caused waves of delight to course through me, and I could not focus the camera well enough in the dim candlelit glow.

To call the shiitake mushroom sauce a sensual sauce is an understatement. We soaked all of our bread into this bowl and nearly licked it clean. Smooth and sultry with the luxurious flavor of shiitake, the sauce was seductive to the palate. The afterglow of our dinner, like cuddling up in a soft blanket together, was eating the bread with the sauce.

“A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

To end our beautiful meal we had the cheese plate. A selection of several types of cheese and bread, savored while we finished our bottle of wine.

About Orris and the Chef from the Orris Restaurant:

Chef Hideo Yamashiro ("Shiro") was born in Okinawa, Japan where he learned the pleasures of a real tomato. His passion for such subtleties brought him to Los Angeles. Shiro eventually worked in such famous French kitchens as Ma Maison (under Wolfgang Puck) and Les Anges (he was sous-chef to Patrick Jamon). Shiro then became the head chef at one of the jewels of Southern California, Cafe Jacoulet in Pasadena.

Orris Restaurant 2006 Sawtelle Boulevard Los Angeles California 90025 Phone: (310) 268-2212