Restaurant Review

Ora

The former South Street Trattoria, next to Morristown’s Community Theatre, was always popular, and its place recently was taken by Ora, an upscale contemporary American restaurant. With the theater now presenting a wider range of offerings and attracting audiences from all over the state, Ora seems well-positioned as a pre- and post-theater destination.

The cool, modern atmosphere is a study in black, white, and burgundy, with walls artfully lit by flickering votive candles. The kitchen is open to the dining area, which has banquettes along one wall. Ora is owned by executive chef Francis X. Falivene, who trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York, then worked at the Hotel Pierre in Manhattan and the Waters Edge on Long Island before opening City Bistro in Hoboken. His brother Jeffrey, who also attended the French Culinary Institute, handles the front of the house. Adolfo Montes, the chef de cuisine, trained at the Academy of Culinary Arts in Florida before a stint at WD-50 in New York. Pastry chef Tish Meneses comes by way of Salute in Manhattan.

The menu is small but inventive. For instance, who would think of slipping warm Malpeque oysters into a bowl of creamy leek-and-potato soup? You’ll find it at Ora, along with a rich chestnut soup containing tart apple spaetzle and an oxtail crouton, and a fresh salmon tartare with a purée of fava beans and a sweet-pepper fondue. The grilled octopus, presented as a single tentacle with a sweet soy glaze, fingerling potatoes, and wild bitter arugula, is the most tender octopus I’ve tasted. Slices of roasted sweet beets and coarsely grated Idiazábal cheese add a colorful and tasty touch to a salad of organic greens. A salad of mizuna, aged goat cheese, and shaved, pickled fennel dressed with a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette is a refreshing blend of flavors.

You may order pastas in a half-portion as an appetizer or in a larger serving as a main course. The potato gnocchi is gummy, and its braised rabbit sauce is stringy and contains an occasional bone. Far better is the agnolotti filled with cannellini bean purée and served with crisp pancetta and Parmesan broth. Also good is the porcini risotto, although I would have preferred the lobster risotto that it replaced without explanation.

Fish is well-treated at Ora. The Chatham cod is nicely cooked though not well-seasoned, and I like the translucent tapioca with truffles and small mound of fresh baby vegetables served with it. Two thick pieces of monkfish in a fried-eggplant broth with eggplant-apple purée and crisp chickpea noodles are very tender. Three seared sea scallops served with smoked salsify, chanterelle mushrooms, and a passion-fruit–saffron emulsion is a strange combination of which I’m not totally enamored. A safer bet is the rich tender braised short ribs of beef with soft polenta and sautéed broccoli rabe. Or opt for the sliced olive-lacquered duck breast, layered with crisp duck skin, paired with shredded Brussels sprouts, and garnished with an artist’s smear of apricot–butternut-squash purée.

For dessert, the light and lemony individual ricotta cheesecake topped with crystallized ginger is a worthy conclusion, along with the crème brûlée accompanied by a chocolate and a vanilla biscotti, the chocolate pot de crème served in a coffee cup, and the tiramisù. The only disappointment is a dry chocolate-mousse layer cake.

 

Reviewed in: May 2006

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