Before last year, I had never been to the South Shore. But, for some reason, several of my jobs have taken me to the South Shore a handful of times in just the last few weeks.
A blogger dinner at Orta in Pembroke was one such occasion that brought me to this side of Massachusetts. Two-year-old Orta is named after the 8-mile long Lake Orta in northern Italy. Chef/Co-owner of Orta, Brett Williams, discovered Lake Orta while working and traveling throughout Italy 10 years ago.
Over the course of our dinner at Orta, we sampled several appetizers as a table, ordered our own entrees, and shared two desserts. One of the first appetizers we tried was the Prince Edward Island Mussels ($10).
The P.E.I. Mussels were swimming in leeks, smoked bacon (I ate around this), and roasted garlic thyme butter. Grilled focaccia was served alongside for dipping, which I was glad for, as I couldn't get enough of the addictive wine and butter sauce. Several shells were missing their mussels, but we thankfully found most of them swimming in the sauce.
The second appetizer we tried was the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare ($12), dressed with a soy-ginger reduction, wasabi aioli, and served with crispy chive crackers.
I loved the presentation of this tartare, and the tuna was fresh and seasoned well. The chive crackers also added a necessary saltiness and crunch to this dish.
The third appetizer we sampled was my personal favorite of the night, the Orta Arancini ($8).
These large, plump arancini were stuffed with fresh mozzarella and served in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. They were delightfully crispy (without being greasy) on the outside, and full of gooey cheese and risotto on the inside. Dipped in the well-seasoned tomato sauce (which had a kick to it thanks to Tabasco and crushed red pepper flakes), these were wonderfully comforting.
Between our appetizers and entrees, Orta also had us try some of their signature brick oven pizzas. Like the rest of the kitchen, their brick oven is in full view for patrons in the main dining and bar areas to see.
I tried a slice of the Margherita ($14), which was topped with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil.
I'm kind of a snob when it comes to pizza (I eat way too much of it), but Orta's Margherita was fantastic. The brick oven did wonders for the crispy, airy crust, and the cheese to sauce ratio (which is very important to me) was spot-on.
For my entree, I went with the Fresh Linguine ($19), which was topped with black truffle cream, roasted wild mushrooms, and fresh chives.
Unfortunately, Orta does not make their own pasta in-house, although they do have their pasta specially made for the restaurant. The linguine did taste surprisingly fresh and homemade, and the black truffle cream wasn't overly heavy and possessed a nice, subtle truffle flavor. There were also plenty of mushrooms, allowing each bite to have at least one. As you can see, though, the portion size was tremendous (as were all of the entrees at our table). I took half of this bowl home and Z and I ate the leftovers over several days.
Somehow, we all saved a little room for dessert. We tried the Mini Black Bottom Cheesecakes and the Warm Pecan Pie (all desserts at Orta are $8).
The black bottom cheesecakes were unfortunately nothing too special, although I did love the mini chocolate chips baked inside the cakes. The pecan pie, however, was a great way to end our meal. Made with a shortbread crust and topped off with caramel and vanilla gelato, the warm, sticky-sweet pie was so delightful on such a cold "spring" evening.
Our server poured us several wine pairings that evening (Orta has a variety of wines to choose from, glasses and bottles), but they also offer cocktails (all $11) and a few bottled beers.
The atmosphere at Orta is casual yet sophisticated and comforting. I loved how they have several booths tucked away in the wall, if you're looking for a more private dining experience.
My only gripe would be that I found some of the dishes to be a little too expensive, and the portion sizes (for the entrees, at least) to be way too large. I think the entrees could be more affordable and more appropriately portioned.
All in all, though, I enjoyed my meal at Orta, and if/when I find myself on the South Shore again, I'd definitely go back - especially for some more of that arancini (and to try a cocktail or two).
My meal was complimentary. All opinions are my own.
Also: We have a winner for my $25 gift card to b.good + four-pack of Sir Kensington's condiments giveaway! The winner is (chosen via Random.org)...
"What a great giveaway! I hope I win, I'd love to use these condiments on picnics and cookouts this spring/summer - on sandwiches, salads, and burgers of course!"
Congratulations, Bianca! Please email me within 48 hours to claim your prize.