Sting-free Nettles

May 3, 2017By Heidi EllisonRestaurants
The decor is simple, but not the cuisine.

When a French weekly magazine recently gave Orties a rating of five stars out of five rather than its usual maximum of three and called it the revelation of the season, I knew I had to get there soon. The word had already gotten out: on the night we went there, the restaurant was full of 30-something diners, who were evidently not deterred by its rather unappealing name, which means “nettles.”

There was no nettle soup on the menu (too bad; I would love to try it), but there were plenty of vegetables. While explaining the menu – a surprise tasting of six courses, with a couple of extras thrown in, for €45 – the waiter informed us that only fish and vegetables would be served that evening. I was a bit disappointed – I had a hankering for some meat – but I was still game.

The amuse-bouches got a mixed reception: we loved the pain soufflé – a light puff of


fougasse-like bread served with horseradish cream – but the small round of grilled zucchini


with a confit-tomato paste was bland.

Then came the first first course: white asparagus from Argenteuil with rhubarb, mustard flowers, arugula flowers and a tangy


cream. It all worked together beautifully, but there wasn’t much of it. This was true of all the dishes, by the way, and I resolved to fill up on the fantastic, super-crusty dark bread from the Terroirs d’Avenir bakery, which also supplied the delicious vegetables. (Its shops are located on the Rue de Nil near the Frenchie empire).

The next course was pure magic. It was a spelt risotto, one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Extra-creamy, with a hint of citrus (a leitmotif of this meal, as my dining companion pointed out), it was topped with thinly sliced raw button mushrooms and served (barely more than a


large spoonful) in a rough-hewn wooden bowl. I wanted more …

Instead, I had to settle for the cuttlefish with


more green asparagus (it’s in season, and I will never complain about too much asparagus) with grapefruit pieces and aioli, all of which worked very nicely together, although the cuttlefish could have been tenderer.

More fish came next: turbot (flounder) with watercress, tapioca, octopus juice, baby leeks and capers, with all the ingredients once again working happily together. Tapioca as the starchy component was a nice touch.

The first dessert was a stunningly delicious ice


cream flavored with an herb from the rhubarb family. The second, a rhubarb and pear tartlet, was less successful. The puréed pear was as smooth as baby food and was so liquid that it made the fine pastry crust soggy.

The restaurant is rather plain, with the exception of some cool hanging lampshades (or should I call them lambshades, since they are apparently made from sheep’s wool?) of varying sizes and shapes. While I am usually averse to music in restaurants, I didn’t find it annoying here since it was played at a reasonable volume on a good sound system. The one waiter serving the restaurant was efficient, professional, well-informed about every dish and just friendly enough.

Self-taught chef Thomas Benady obviously cares deeply about using quality seasonal food and playing with unusual ingredients, even nettles. While I wouldn’t give the restaurant five out of five (more like 3.5), I would certainly go back and look forward to trying the less-expensive €28 lunch menu. Hope that spectacular risotto will be included.


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