Monday, September 10, 2012

Oro Goes for Culinary ‘Gold’

Oro is the Spanish word for gold, and if it’s a treasure trove of culinary goodness you seek, head down to Scituate harbor, where Chef/Owner Robin King creates some of the most innovative, delectable dishes south of Boston. Robin and his wife/co-owner, Jill have taken their extensive experience in the restaurant business (Robin, having worked under Chef Kevin Long at nearby Tosca in Hingham, revered Chef Jamie Mammano at Mistral, and later with Chef Evan Deluty at Stella; Jill, at Top of the Hub and Aquitaine; both of whom ran Kevin Costner’s Epiphany restaurant in Santa Barbara, CA) and translated it closer to home (King hails from Marshfield) into their very own establishment. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing produce from small farms and fresh seafood from local fishing boats that are docked directly behind Oro in Scituate Harbor (the Kings’ boat resides there as well).

Appetizers, entrees, and desserts are playfully labeled on the menu as Beginnings, Focus and Sweet Tooth. For starters, the Misto del Mar ($15) consists of a massive tartare of tuna, salmon, avocado, and ginger vinaigrette. One of our dining companions shares with me that one of his friends once ordered it as an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. While I certainly wouldn’t go to such extremes, I agree that the dish is quite delicious, especially when the tartare can be scooped onto house-made potato chips. The saltiness and crispiness of the chips, beautifully stacked atop the tartare, are a wonderful contrast against the smooth, subtle fish, although I would have preferred a hint more of the ginger vinaigrette for additional spiciness and sweetness. Other enticing appetizers included a heaping bowl of rich, smoky, creamy sweet corn chowder with littleneck clams and Berkshire bacon ($10) and another dish I’m looking forward to trying at a later date, spiced lamb carpaccio with crispy fennel and pomegranate syrup ($11).

Entrees were equally impressive, particularly the crispy Scituate lobster cake (market price), garnished with spinach and grilled onion and topped with lobster crema. Like most of King’s creations, it’s lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat. It’s rich, but not extensively so, and the perfectly fried cake balls are generous stuffed with juicy lobster, a testament to the chef’s flair for experimentation, intricate cooking technique and execution. Also quite tasty is a dish that utilizes what is typically considered one of the least impressive parts of the pig, porky belly ($24). Here, the pork belly, in all its fatty goodness, has a crispy glazed exterior, and a succulent interior, cooked perfectly, and it’s lip-smackingly delicious. It is accompanied by unique accoutrements such as chive dumplings, spring onion, and shitake broth which only enhance the meat’s moist flavor. Other dishes, while good, do not resonate as strongly. My wife’s spicy cioppino ($24) is unapologetically non-traditional, served over a saffron risotto in lieu of broth, and contains shellfish and calamari. The fish and risotto are cooked nicely enough, but the dish possesses little of the spiciness it promises to deliver. The grass fed Bavette steak, served with confit potato, creamed spinach, and sauce au poivre, is also flavored well but is served lukewarm. The truffle fries ($6) are also flavorful but aren’t crispy enough for my liking. Chef King has always showcased his talent for pasta, particularly at Stella (his seemingly simple, yet deceptively complex spaghetti with toasted garlic, olive oil, and parmesan still resonates with me years later). His linguine aglio ($18) with wild mushroom, black truffle butter and farm egg sounded highly appealing, particularly when viewing a customer devouring it at a nearby table. This carbonara-inspired dish, however, will just have to wait until my next visit.

Desserts (all a steal at only $6) were a fine conclusion to a wonderful meal. A nicely plated caramelized pineapple right-side up cake was moist and decadent, served with mini fresh pineapple chunks, vanilla ice cream, and vivid paint strokes of pineapple sauce adorning the plate. Also delightful was the warm chocolate pudding cake with salted caramel sauce and coffee ice cream. Chef King also sent us a complimentary concoction, four Cookie Sandwiches (house-made chocolate chip), filled with vanilla ice cream and accompanied by whopper heath bar crumble.

Service was good, but not bend-over-backwards great. Our server knew every minute detail of the menu, but strangely, offered no recommendations when asked.

An extensive, well thought-out wine selection includes several bottles of reds and whites, of which a half dozen options are by the glass ($11-12). Oro’s creative libations include a unique take on the Whiskey Sour called the Scituate Sour ($10), which incorporates Malbec red wine and port-soaked cherries. It’s subtly sweet, light, and a perfect late summer drink.

Overall, Oro would earn a gold medal, had it not been for the god-awful acoustics in the restaurant. Conversation was virtually impossible. There are a limited amount of tables to the left of the entrance, but the hustle and bustle emanating from the busy bar area overwhelms all sound. It’s a shame that this detracts from an otherwise memorable fine dining experience. Otherwise, with its reasonable prices, innovative fare, seaside location, contemporary ambience, and a chef/owner with an obvious passion for food, Oro earns a well-deserved silver medal.

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