By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Also on the sunnier side of the street: the risotto alla Piemontese, which again called porcini mushrooms into play, adding their earthy qualities to a rich, rich serving of impeccably cooked risotto. (The menu's reference to the cooking style, which should have been Piedmontese, had quotation marks around it, ostensibly to point out that it did not contain the standard white truffles.) And while the gnocchi alla Genovese could have used more of the fresh basil pesto that the dumplings sat on, they were so soft that they were almost fluffy inside. The pesto itself was a marvelous blend of the herb and oil. (This time I had no idea why the dish's name had quotation marks -- here around the "Genovese" -- because the use of basil put it well within the province's style.)
Ombra would have done well to pay less attention to the quotation marks on the lobster "Capri" and the duck "Saturnia," and more to the cooking. No matter where the crustacean had started its life, it had ended it as a dry, stringy, chewy disappointment. Ditto for the duck, another disaster. (The fowl's "Saturnia" link was either to the Italian word for Saturn or to Saturnalia, the ancient Roman holiday -- although this dish was no Roman holiday.) The duck came with a mixture of baby spinach, capers, olives and artichokes that was too tart and acidic, robbing the flesh of any vestiges of sweetness.
The cooking process also did in the seared ahi. The searing had left the outside of the huge steak too dry, and we had to scoop out the center to get at the good, rare stuff. But the accompanying foie gras was flawless, and the delightful, crispy-edged risotto cake beneath the fish had soaked up the red-wine-soaked juices from more spinach. The grilled jumbo prawns may have been properly cooked, but they had a weird, chemical smell and taste, not quite ammonia-like, that gave us pause; next to the shrimp sat rubbery slices of squid, also victims of bad grillwork. At least the side of crispy baby artichokes had been done right. And no cooking at all was needed for the ahi tartare and salmon carpaccio, of course; perhaps as a result, the dish worked beautifully (even if it would have made more sense in a smaller portion as an appetizer). The salmon had been sliced so thin it had to be scraped off the plate; it was topped with breezy-fresh diced tuna and napped in a pungent olive oil.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
All in all, dessert was the most consistently good course at Ombra. Clearly, the offerings had been given a lot of thought -- the kitchen was out of the crème brûlée one night and later replaced it on the menu with a stunning vanilla-bean panna cotta -- and we worked our way through the lineup with glee: a moist lemon cake with fresh berries, peaches baked in puff pastry and smothered in zabaglione, hazelnuts mixed with chocolate in a toothsome tart, and -- our favorite -- a trio of chocolate confections that consisted of a cake oozing liquid chocolate, a creamy chocolate gelato and an intense chocolate mousse.
Still, those marvelous desserts weren't enough to lighten my overall opinion of Ombra. This place does not have it made in the shade -- not yet, anyway.