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?

Orchids at Palm Court on Urbanspoon

  • http://cincinnaticocktails.com Craig Hochscheid

    So glad that you had a great dinner at Orchids Julie! Tabitha took me there for my annual 39th birthday (see what I did there?) two weeks ago. We had a fabulous 4 course dinner, and enjoyed the live jazz trio and singer while having digestives at the bar afterwards. I have long considered Orchids to be the best restaurant in Cincinnati, and it just keeps getting better. Charles Redmond has taken his place alongside John McClain & Richard Brown as one of the great maitre d’ s that the City has ever produced. Charles not only makes impeccable wine (and cocktail!) pairings, but he masterfully keeps the whole restaurant coordinated while making each and every diner feel welcomed at Orchids. Bravo.

  • pleasetoeat

    @winemedineme last call to confirm your seats for april 1…

  • Beth

    And rice noodle flan, and the amazing demi on the steak, and, and, … I lost track!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      How could I forget the rice noodle flan?!

  • http://www.eatwithflourpower.com becky

    I had a really great rabbit dish when we went there. I loooovvveee rabbit.

  • http://www.epi-ventures.com Courtney

    Aside from the food, which is obviously first class, I’m always really in awe of the service. You’re right, everything is perfectly timed. And really that’s just the beginning.

    Think it comes from more than the desire to be #1. More impressive –– it’s a natural consequence of being rooted in the hospitality industry and having a genuine care for people’s experience.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Yes, it’s just the beginning. It’s the napkins replaced when you get up, the warm welcome when you arrive (whether you’re in a tux or in a sportshirt– saw both, and both seemed to be treated the same). It’s the equally warm farewell when you leave. It’s a lot of things, and those all add up to excellent service– being #1 is just gravy. Made with oxtail that is mindblowing, but gravy all the same.

  • http://www.danielledeskins.blogspot.com Danielle

    My husband took me there for my birthday last year and it was quite the experience. The food was, of course, delicious but the service was equally as impressive. I was pregnant at the time and they accommodated that with ease. The service was similar to that of Boca, which is, in my opinion, the best restaurant around. Thanks for your review and I’m glad you had such a great experience. It sounds like I need to go back when I can enjoy the drink pairings!