Review: Orchids at the Palm Court

Sometimes, you just have to let a chef do what a chef does best.

This will not be a typical wmdm review: no pictures. I might even flub up what a few of the courses were. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy the experience as you’re in it. This is one of those cases.

The Better Half and I are members of a dinner club, and this month’s pick was by our friend Tracy, whose birthday coincided with some very good news —  we had lots of stuff to celebrate. What better place than Orchids, housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Cincinnati?

One of the other members is a chef and instructor at the Midwest Culinary Institute (I’m sure he’ll write about the meal– he took notes!), and thus knew Chef Todd Kelly. That might’ve made the experience a little different, but looking around at the other tables, I doubt it . Chef came out and said hello to the nine of us before dinner began and we all chatted a bit after.  I don’t think our service or food was any different or better than anyone else’s: it was hard to ignore how attentive, knowledgeable, and approachable the entire serving staff was to everyone.  The restaurant was crowded, and the clientele ranged from our group of nine, to some families having dinner, to a young couple splitting a chateaubriand.  You could easily eat here for under $50 per person, or you could spend upwards of $200.  Orchids is accessible luxury.

The maitre d’, Charles, suggested that we do a tasting menu, and especially suggested letting Chef Kelly decide what those courses would be– particularly since he’d just gotten in some early spring produce.  We couldn’t decide on the number of courses– the standard is five, we could have done ten– so we compromised: seven, plus wine pairings. I had to be different– I knew that this place had a great cocktail service (Erin Ennis, formerly of Tonic on Fourth, is the genius behind the bar) and I asked– thinking they’d say no– if I could get cocktail pairing instead. Charles paused, thoughtfully. “I think so. Let’s do it!”

And boy, did we.

From our amuse bouche– a delicate eggshell filled with a cauliflower custard, topped with the most perfectly cooked, wafer-thin piece of bacon imaginable– to my favorite course, duck with cranberries paired with cherry infused Woodford, citrus and sage– to our dessert of frozen caramel custard and a chocolate-peanut butter tart, paired with an espresso “martini” with Godiva white chocolate liqueur– everything was perfect.  The coursing was perfectly timed, down to the in-unison removal of silver domes by an army of waitstaff.  It’s the kind of service that makes you think, “Wow, this is the life,” yet somehow also makes me feel like a little girl– not quite grown-up enough to sit at the big kid’s table.

Other highlights:

  • a perfectly cooked scallop served with English peas and deep-fried lardon.
  • Kobe beef sirloin with oxtail and white asparagus, paired with a drink made of ginger syrup, rum, and Domaine de Canton, topped with soda (like a dark and stormy, but better)
  • Chef Kelly’s oft-mentioned lobster salad served with a variation on a French 75– cognac, champagne and St. Germain (I’ll be making this at home soon)
  • A drink (I can’ t quite remember which course it paired with… I think the blue cheese beignets and salad with a nut brittle on top) made of lychee liqueur, a dry Riesling, with a whole lychee floating in it.
  • seared foie gras served with cranberries and pound cake.  It could have been our dessert course– but wasn’t.

What was truly amazing was the coordination between the kitchen and the bar– every drink was inventive, playful, and paired beautifully with the dishes.  One drink, the cherry Woodford and sage concoction, was a better pairing than the wine pairing– and the wine pairing was excellent.  It’s just so much fun to experience the end result of so many people’s creativity. Terry and I have decided we’ll go back sometime– just the two of us– and do something similar.  As they take into consideration allergies, likes and dislikes, and dietary restrictions, no two tastings are the exact same experience.  For four hours, nine friends laughed, ate, drank, and focused on the then-and now instead of the rest of the world.  And we all need a moment or two of that, don’t we?

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