Chef Josef Centeno has had quite the last few years: His Bäco Mercat opened in 2011, a wonderfully casual place where you can spend your lunch hour eating a fantastic bäco sandwich. Then came Bar Amá in 2012, a festive spot near Bäco Mercat that focuses on puffy tacos and other hallmarks of Tex-Mex cuisine. So you may have reasonably expected that for his third act, Centeno would open another spot that's as casual, as boisterous, as those two. Sort of.
Centeno’s newest restaurant, Orsa & Winston, certainly feels casual: The ambiance is low-key enough that you can walk in wearing exactly what you would wear to Bäco Mercat or Bar Amá. But unlike those two, Orsa & Winston is dimmer and comfortably sparse, a decidedly more adult space with excellent service and music playing at sensible decibel levels. And unlike those two, dinner revolves around a Japanese-Italian-ish “omakase” tasting menu: based on your stomach and your ambition, choose between four-, five-, nine- and twenty-plus (!) courses. Whatever you choose, you will not choose wrong.
The meal starts with an amuse—a small jar of creamy fennel panna cotta, say—then moves on to one memorable dish after another. An absolutely lovely, perfectly wintery chestnut soup with Maine lobster and a dollop of crème fraîche. Fluffy milk bread focaccia with rich homemade butter. A wonderful combination of geoduck and Koshihikari rice topped with sweet uni. While the menu as a whole could use a touch more balance—maybe a few more acids and greens to better digest all that cream and butter—Orsa & Winston is, only months after opening, already offering one of the best experiences in town.
What to Eat: Though there are a few limited antipasti available à la carte, like a pretty plate of saikou salmon sashimi with furikake, buttermilk and olive oil ($18), your dinner arrives in the form of a tasting menu. Likely you’ll choose either the five-course menu ($60) or the nine-course one ($95), though there is also a four-course menu served family-style ($50) and, for the overachiever, the "Super Omakase" 20-plus tasting menu for $195. Whatever you decide, rest assured that you will leave here more than satisfied and very full: Generous "bonus" dishes, palate cleansers, and intermezzos will arrive throughout your meal.
What to Drink: Wine pairings are available with each tasting menu, or peruse the restaurant’s terrific wine list—you’ll find most glasses of red and white to be under $20. You'll also find junmai sake, as well as a few bottled beers, including an Ozeno Yukidoke Weizen Gunma from Japan ($10). Fans of Bäco Mercat's bottled soda pops will also find them here: Try the ginger juniper orange flavor ($4).
Where to Sit: Because the restaurant has just 33 seats, reservations are highly recommended. If you want to see the beautiful open kitchen in action, ask for spots at the short counter.
Conversation Piece: Orsa & Winston is named after the chef's two dogs.