Josef Centeno is only a few inspections away from his return to fine dining with Orsa & Winston in downtown Los Angeles. The 33-seat restaurant is set to debut on Sept. 24 with an exclusive five-day run for a special MasterCard preview, and he plans to open to the public the first week of October.
Orsa & Winston, Centeno's third restaurant, happens to be right next door to his second restaurant, Bar Amá, and around the corner from his first, Bäco Mercat. Centeno named Bar Amá after his great-grandmother and this one, well, it's named after his two dogs.
Orsa & Winston will be small and intimate. The dining room is just 600 square feet while the kitchen takes up about 900 square feet. For the kind of cooking he planned to do, Centeno wanted a subtle, sophisticated design. Los Angeles designer Amaryllis Knight used Caesarstone counters, black walnut tables, porcelain floor tiles and floating shelves for the restaurant. A handful of seats at a counter overlook the open kitchen.
Centeno found a massive Wood Stone stove languishing in a downtown warehouse that came out of Wolfgang Puck's old restaurant on 6th Street. He had a second stove custom-made with a char-broiler rotisserie and a thick-gauge plancha. He's planning to put both to good use. You can hear in his voice that he can't wait to get into the kitchen.
"This is the restaurant that I tried to do six years ago and it just wasn't the right timing," says Centeno. "I wanted to get back to my fine-dining roots and be able to cook in much smaller style and format." Those fine-dining roots include working as chef de cuisine at David Kinch's Manresa in Los Gatos, and before that, stints at Daniel and Les Célébrités in New York.
"I love Italian and Japanese cooking and the inspiration will be drawn from those two cuisines." The key word is inspiration. The food won't be exactly Italian or Japanese, but his own.
Here's the plan. There will be a nightly five-course menu for $60 (plus $40 more for wine pairing), a nine-course omakase menu at $95 (plus $65 for wine pairing) and -- ta-dum! -- a "super omakase" of up to 20 or more courses at $195 (plus an additional $100 for wine pairing). That last menu has to be reserved and will only be available at the chef's counter.
Details? Some of the dishes he wants to cook? The bread will be a milk bread focaccia that combines Japanese milk bread with Bäco's focaccia. "It's got the richness of focaccia, but has this incredible texture and moist center," says Centeno. He might have crudo of golden eye snapper with seared geoduck vinaigrette and blistered fresh pepperoncini or squab with black fermented garlic and caramelized cipollini onions. He just got his hands on a new crop of koshihikari rice from Japan. Here's that melding of Japanese and Italian: He's planning to make a risotto with the Japanese rice, with shiso buds cooked in a pecorino stock and finished with extra virgin olive oil.
"Each night we'll have a large cut of meat — whether it's a Piedmontese beef prime rib, a poulan rouge chicken or a baby lamb — cooked on the rotisserie or in a slow-heat brick oven," he says. I'm definitely in for that. And for anybody who doesn't want a tasting menu, he'll also have a very small a la carte menu. There also will be a family-style, four-course menu option for the table.
General manager Sally Kim will be heading the wine program, which will include a very small selection of artisanal sake and probably four beers. "I'm pretty excited about the Estrella Damm Inedit that Ferran Adrià developed with Estrella Brewery in Spain."
I'm pretty excited about the debut of Orsa & Winston.
Orsa & Winston, 122 W. 4th St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 687-0300, www.orsaandwinston.com.