Dinner at Orta, Pembroke, Mass.
Orta Ristorante, Pizzeria & Bar, which takes its name from Italy's Lake Orta, features northern Italian cuisine crafted by chef Brett Williams, who spent time traveling in Italy, working as an apprentice to chef Jimmy Burke, and honing his skills at Stella before purchasing the restaurant in 2012.
Admittedly, Orta is a bit off the beaten track for me, but I always love trying new restaurants and couldn't pass up an opportunity to attend a media dinner at the restaurant. Williams ended up being called away to a last-minute event in New Jersey the night of our dinner, but his wife and co-owner of the restaurant, Cara, and Orta's sous chef were there to showcase what Orta has to offer.
Our meal started with a sampling of Orta's appetizers. The yellowfin tuna tartare was flavored with a soy-ginger reduction and came topped with crisp breads that were perfect for scooping up bits of the tuna.
P.E.I. mussels sat in a flavorful roasted garlic thyme butter filled with smoky bacon and soft leeks. Hunks of focaccia were perfect for sopping up the liquid.
The carpaccio offered superthin slices of beef with a scattering of capers, petite croutons, and baby greens on top. A lemon aioli drizzled on top gave it richness and acidity, and a little Parmigiano Reggiano tied everything together. I could have eaten the whole dish if I didn't have to share.
While the previous appetizers were all well-prepared and tasty, the arancini was my favorite. Even sitting in a pool of spicy tomato sauce, the arancini had crispy, crunchy exteriors. And one bite through the crunchy exterior gave way to gooey mozzarella-filled centers.
The brick oven pizzas at Orta also really impressed. The crusts were crisp yet chewy and toppings like duck confit with aged cheddar, dried cranberries, baby arugula and balsamic and sausage, banana peppers, grilled onions, and fresh mozzarella were interesting and complementary. I could definitely see stopping in for pizza and wine regularly if I lived close by.
For my entree, even though Orta has tons of secondi options, from short ribs to salmon to pork chop milanese, pasta was calling my name. I choose to try the orecchiette with sausage ragu. While the pasta itself is not prepared in house at Orta, they use fresh pastas made for the restaurant. The sausage ragu had a nice kick and the orecchiette were al dente. I loved this pasta shape, as the little ears cupped the bits of sausage, ensuring some in every bite. (And the portion was so large that I had plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day.)
Michelle, who sat beside me, let me try a bite of her fresh linguine with black truffle cream and roasted wild mushrooms (a dish I had thought of getting), and I really enjoyed her nicely cooked pasta and rich but not overwhelming truffle cream sauce.
For dessert, there were mini black-bottom cheesecakes topped with fruit (just the right size portion after a pasta-laden meal) and warm pecan pie with vanilla gelato. I was far from hungry when we got to dessert, so I just sampled a little bite of each. Both made for a nice something sweet to end the meal.
There isn't anything I sampled at Orta that I wouldn't have again. I was delighted with the whole meal from appetizers to pizzas to pastas to dessert. It's unfortunate that I don't live closer, but maybe I can make a detour there if I'm trapped in grueling Cape traffic one evening this summer.
What's your favorite thing to order at an Italian restaurant?
This dinner was complimentary. As always, all opinions are my own.
Labels: Restaurant reviews and events