Finally, after many years of wanting to try Ortolan, but prioritizing other restaurants in town ahead of it, we made our way to 3rd street to finally try Chef Eme’s cuisine. I had read that Chef Eme’ was one of the youngest chefs to ever earn a Michelin star (at age 32) and was very excited to try his food. Unfortunately, the food was the worst part of the experience.
My girlfriend Deborah and I arrived at the restaurant at about 6.45 on a Thursday night for our 7pm reservation. We stepped inside to find that the restaurant was completely empty. By completely empty, I really mean COMPLETELY empty. The only person in the room was Jamal, the host, who introduced himself and invited us to sit at the bar and have a drink while waiting for Jason. I immediately asked Jamal if they were expecting a late crowd and to my amazement he said that they were expecting 8 for dinner that night. I asked “8 reservations?” and the response was “no…8 people”, of which we were 3. Wow! I know we are in a recession and Ortolan is not a cheap restaurant, but with the introduction of their Spring Tasting Menu at $40/person, I was shocked to hear that they were only expecting 8 patrons that night. Per Jamal, Chef Eme’ is in the kitchen every night, so regardless of the fact that the restaurant was empty, we expected a Michelin star quality meal. It was not.
The Spring Tasting Menu, which all 3 of us decided to try, consisted of an appetizer, entrée and desert. We each chose different items, with the idea that we would then get to try everything offered on the menu. The menu consisted of the following appetizers: 1) marinated Salmon with lemongrass sorbet, ginger and ponzu sauce, 2) Sauteed Frog legs with cream of watercress, potato gnocchi and zest of lemon juice and 3) Seared Quail in mushroom soup with duck jus. Before the appetizer course was served however, we were presented with an amuse bouche, which consisted of 2 soups, presented in shot glasses and a small serving of eggplant. The first soup was a creamy potato soup which really captured the essence of a potato. It was like eating a liquid baked potato. This was one of the best items that we tried. Excited by the first amuse, we dove into the second, a asparagus soup with tarragon. Unfortunately, this was inedible. The tarragon flavor was so strong and overpowering that you could not taste the asparagus at all. The tarragon was almost bitter and after the first try, I could not bring myself to finish it. Finally, the eggplant dish, which resembled a dip, tasted like a very smokey, tart version of babaganoush. Not great, not bad…just average. Now it was time for the appetizers. The salmon was an interesting combination of flavors and temperatures. The fist bit hit you with the sourness of the lemongrass, ginger and ponzu and then the chill of the sorbet hit your mouth with an unexpected freeze. In all, this dish was tasty and interesting, but you could only have a bite or two of it as the flavors were very strong. The frog legs were fresh but overcooked and a little dry. I had not had frog legs in quite a while and although decent, they were not very memorable. The potato gnocchi which were boiled and then seared in butter were the highlight of this dish. Unfortunately, there were only 3 tiny ones (the size of maybe 3 tic tacs) on the plate. Finally, the best appetizer of the lot was the seared quail in mushroom soup with duck jus. The quail was perfectly cooked and the soup was absolutely amazing. It was rich, creamy and had an amazing mushroom flavor. I literally could have ordered more of this soup and been happy eating only this. This was the only dish in the appetizer section that met our expectations for this restaurant.
Next, it was time for the entrees to be served. The entrée’s consisted of : 1) Lobster Spaghetti with Beef Jus and white asparagus cream, 2) Potato Ravioli with Morel Mushrooms, Fava Beans and Scallions, and 3) Lamb confit with Potato gnocchi, Green Asparagus and Tomato Confit.
The lobster spaghetti consisted of some minute pieces of lobster (it seemed like it was the lobster equivalent of ground beef), in a tube shape, wrapped in spaghetti. There was barely any lobster flavor to the dish and the spaghetti was dry. Although I understand that this is part of a (fairly) inexpensive tasting menu, why put lobster on the menu if its going to unnoticeable in the dish. They could have made this dish with spot prawns and used the entire prawn, which would have made it much tastier and much more presentable. Anyway, this dish was boring and a waste of my stomach space. The next entrée was the Potato Gnocchi with Morels. We were excited to have some morels as the morel season this year is particularly short and we had not had any yet this year. Unfortunately, the morels in this dish were not properly cleaned and were filled with sand and grit. For me, once I find sand and/or grit in a dish, it is very difficult for me to bring myself to eat more of it. The sound and texture of the grit against my teeth is too much for me to bear. We literally mentioned this to Jamal who apologized profusely, but when I asked him to let the kitchen know and to tell me what their response was, he was embarrassed to tell us that the chef’s response was “sometimes that happens with morels.” That was unbelievable to me. Of course it sometimes happens to morels…but it shouldn’t happen at a Michelin starred restaurant…and even if it does happen all the time, the chef’s lack of remorse or interest was unbelievable to me. Finally, the last of the entrees was the lamb confit. This dish unfortunately was another in the line of disappointments. The lamb was overcooked and dry, and there is nothing worst than dry lamb. It literally tasted as though the lamb had been prepared on Monday and reheated. There was no way on earth that this was a freshly made dish. Again, a huge disappointment for a well regarded restaurant.
Following the entrees, we received the deserts which consisted of: 1) Vanilla Honey Panna Cotta with Strawberry Caviar, 2) Lemon Tart with Tangerine Sorbet and Citrus Supreme and 3) Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. The apple tart was fairly basic and straightforward. It wasn’t the best I have ever had and it wasn’t the worst. It was a middle of the road desert. The Vanilla Honey Panna Cotta was pretty good. It was tasty and rich, but the strawberry caviar was clearly overcooked (a result of being left in the bath too long). Finally, the lemon tart. The tart had a nice citrus flavor and the tangerine sorbet was a good compliment to it. In all, this was the best desert by far.
Although, the spring tasting menu is fairly well priced ( I say fairly well because the portions were pretty small considering it was a 3 course meal) at $40 per head, the quality of the food certainly did not command that price. The three of us were really disappointed that the small details were not taken care of and that the Chef did not seem to care when we informed him of the morel issue. My take away from the experience is that while Chef Eme’ may be a talented chef, his food seemed uninspired. The food preparation and attention to detail were lazy and it seemed as though they threw this spring tasting menu together to attract new business, without considering that once the new clients showed up, that the food needed to be good in order to get them to return. Unfortunately for Chef Eme and Ortolan, the highlight of the evening for us, was our conversation with the host, Jamal. In a town such as Los Angeles, with so many restaurants, you only get one chance to make a strong first impression and unfortunately I left this restaurant with no desire to return.
I give Ortolan 1 ½ stars out of 5.
8338 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
When I first walked into the Ortolan to meet Carl and Deborah, the décor and atmosphere caught my attention right away. Very warm and elegant. The host was very friendly. I have to first say that Jamal (Host/waiter) really made the whole experience there enjoyable
Now to the food. We decided on the 3 course tasting menu special they do on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursday. We all order something different so we could share. The chef sent out a trio of soups in shot glasses. One was the potato cream, which was great. It was very flavorful and creamy. Could have had 10 more shots of it. Next shot was the asparagus……… Terrible. Last shot was an eggplant, which could have been good if the smokiness wasn’t so over powering. One out of three is a good baseball average.
For the first course we had a taste of the Marinated Salmon with lemongrass sorbet, ginger and ponzu. It was very fresh as I notice it trying swim out of the glass it was served in. I first thought salmon and sorbet…WTF. When I tasted it, I was a believer. The combination played so well off of each other. The rich and saltiness of the salmon and the sweetness of the sorbet worked so well together. Great first course.. Then I tried the frog legs. Understand that this was my first time trying frog legs. Did I mention they were frog legs? They were a little dry, but seasoned well. It had a buddy with them called gnocchi and they were exceptional. They were cooked and seasoned perfectly. Wish I had more. Last but not least, I had the Seared quail surrounded by a cream of mushroom soup and duck jus. This dish was bananas. Made me want to slap Carl and my mom because it was so good. It was absolutely exceptional. The quail was cooked perfectly and the mushroom sauce/soup was decadent. I asked if they could just bring out the pot and a straw to make my night.
Now for the second course. We had the lobster spaghetti, lamb confit and the potato ravioli. The lobster spaghetti was just ok at best. Nothing I would order again. The dish was bland and you can’t tell that there’s lobster in the dish. It was some type of lobster mix. Kind of like that mystery meat at the high school cafeteria. That pretty much explains that dish. Now for the lamb. It was cooked fine and seasoned well, but very boring and unexciting. Then there was potato ravioli to be had and had I did. I enjoyed this very much. Everything was on point. The presentation, flavor and texture. Cooked, seasoned and taste very well.
Time for the last course………… Desert J There was the Apple Tart, Vanilla Honey Panna Cotta with a strawberry caviar and the Lemon Tart with a Tangerine Sorbet. The apple tart was just an apple tart. The panna cotta was good. It was creamy and the flavors of the honey and strawberries made it enjoyable. Now the lemon tart was the star of the deserts. Everything was working in that bad boy. I was eating that like it was going to get up and run from me. It had the right amount of sweetness and tartness. It was the best lemon tart I had hands down.
So my grade out of 5 is a 3 ½. It had some stars and it had some dudes. The food wasn’t consistent enough for me. The service and atmosphere was great. The quail and lemon tart was exceptional. Will come back to give it another shot down the road. That’s my storey and I’m sticking to it!!!!!