99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Orsa & Winston

photo by Anne Fishbein

With Orsa & Winston, Josef Centeno takes a step back toward his high-end roots and a step forward into a new era of tasting menus, one more playful and less stuffy than its predecessors. Centeno is billing Orsa & Winston’s lineup of dishes as Japanese/Italian omakase. You choose the length, from a filling, family-style four-course option to the insane, 20-plus-course “super omakase.” Either way, you’re likely to begin with a shot glass of savory panna cotta — perhaps flavored with fennel pollen, or a sweet fall squash. It’s a lovely beginning that sets the tone for an evening here. While the food at Centeno’s other restaurants, Bäco Mercat and Bar Amá, often bowls you over with flavor from the outset, Orsa & Winston shows what the chef is capable of when that exuberance is tempered just a little. Both the Japanese and Italian influences are subtle, more inspiration than straightforward guidance. Yuzu makes its citrusy tang known throughout the menu, while a course of milk-bread focaccia, which comes in soft, generous rolls served with testa and umami-rich black cod tonnato, feels like the heart of the meal. Orsa & Winston is a fine example of an excellent chef’s imagination and divine guidance taken to a glorious extreme, where raucous music and very good wine and all the inspirational fodder absorbed over a career of cooking are allowed to run wild. It’s a fascinating step toward a new generation’s model for fine dining.

-- Besha Rodell