All Aboard the Orient Express at Orchard Restaurant
Monthly Sunday night $35 prix fixe dinners at Orchard aim to please local palates.
Orchard Restaurant, Cle Elum's only farm-to-table dining option, has been offering monthly Sunday night $35 three-course dinners as an opportunity for local residents to come in and try out the restaurant at a low price point. For pre-existing fans of the restaurant as well as the new, this is a screaming good deal to have the luxury of being spoiled by Executive Chef Jed Alcaide's regionally themed creations.
January's theme was "The Orient Express", a menu focused on Asian cuisine and influences. Case in point was the specialty craft cocktail offer of the evening titled "Mushu", highlighting a mix of non-traditional flavors centered around a beet and Szechuan pepper infused sake core, with hints of green chartreuse and an absinthe rinse.
This cocktail was by no means spicy and the sake itself wasn't overpowering. I wasn't able to detect much of the anise taste or aroma of the absinthe rinse, which would have been a good flavor standout. Absinthe needs a light touch since it can be a very forward deployed and, sometimes, overpowering addition. However, stronger flavors in this drink would have lent true meaning of Mushu to this drink: "fearless".
First up on the food menu was Cabbage Roll and Tea Egg in a black tea soaked infusion, both served with a ginger soy reduction and green onion. The cabbage roll was filled with a flavorful pork and a surprise bit of rice noodle rolled inside the cabbage, adding texture and structure. The tea egg was exquisitely prepared - creamy, with just the right flavor profile of cinnamon, ginger and orange. It was something I would like to see Orchard offer on their regular menu.
Chicken and Chinese Broccoli with Fried Rice was the second course, although it felt like 3 courses in one, the portions themselves being extremely generous. A play on Szechuan chicken, this was a mix of onions, red bell peppers, spinach and green onions, served with crispy noodles, the result of deep frying thick noodles.
The chicken, lightly dressed with sesame seeds, packed a lot of umami punch and it paired extremely well with the fried rice, which was a mild version of the classic containing egg, peas, carrots and bean sprouts with a ginger garlic flavor. The chicken and fried rice balanced each other out, more so than in combination with the crispy noodles.
The Chinese broccoli was blanched and then seared in a sesame, ginger and oyster sauce glaze, providing all the right notes to mellow the slightly bitter flavor of this vegetable.
I opted to try the Five Spice Pork Belly add-on and I was not disappointed. Orchard usually exhibits an impressive display of talent with this particular cut of pork, so I was happy to see a variant on the event menu. For the uninitiated, pork belly is essentially uncured, un-smoked and un-sliced bacon, generally cooked to crispy perfection. Well, at least it is at Orchard. This five spice enrobed pork belly was lightly drizzled with honey, meshing sweet and salty with a bite of green onion tips and a pop of sesame seeds. I'd like to see pork belly back on the menu (it was off the last time I was in).
Last, but not least, was the dessert course, a Tapioca Rice Pudding. After all the strong flavors of the previous courses, it was a mild, pleasing ending to the meal. Strawberry, banana and black sesame seeds accented the rice pudding, each flavor unfolding with strawberry leading the charge and banana finishing the palate.
Future Sunday Dinners
If you've been meaning to try out Orchard Restaurant and like the idea of a great sampling of their skills at a price that won't scare off your checkbook, you'll have plenty of opportunities in 2020. A tentative schedule for the year is below, but it's always best to confirm dates and cuisine on their website or Facebook page (contact information at the end). You'll most likely see me at the chef's counter, enjoying what this talented team is putting together.
October: New Orleans Cajun
212 E 1st St, Cle Elum, WA 98922