The bar at Orso is usually one of those places you visit when you’re dressed up or when you want upscale nibbles and a fancy wine or cocktail. And where, before you go, you mentally check your bank balance. But now, from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, all you need to balance is a martini glass.
Yes, Orso has jumped on the tasty-pre-dinner-deal wagon, attempting to counter the half-price deals at Simon & Seafort’s Saloon & Grill and other venues and is doing so with its own style. Next time you visit the bar, look for the Bear Bites section in the tiny laminated bar menu. There lie some of the most scrumptious and scandalously low-priced items I have seen north of SoNo.
Dinner manager and sommelier Chad Culley gave me the lowdown as I sat in front of an impressive display of the fare he hopes will soon become after-work favorites. But on this evening there were only five people in the bar, including me. “This is what I mean,” Culley said.
Culley’s goal is to build the bar into a separate venue and not just a waiting pen for the dining room. He plans to pipe different music into the bar and keep the softer, dinnertime tunes in the dining room.
Dinner manager Kim Iverson, mixologist and bartender Dave Daniel, head chef Patrick Hoogerhyde and others on the Orso staff have created a special menu to attract a new crowd.
New cocktails include the Pomerama (vodka, pomegranate juice and orange sweet and sour), the Red Rum (house-made spiced rum, raspberry puree, sweet and sour and vanilla) and the Espresso-tini (vodka, Creme de Cacao and a shot of espresso). They’re all totally cute, and all only $3.
For wine specials, Culley focused on finesse, not Franzia. He’s maintaining the Orso tradition of the world’s fine wines, just now at a lower price. There’s a full-bodied Guelbenzu (a Spanish red) and a tangy Vergelegen (South African chardonnay). If you find a comparable glass of wine for $3.50 anywhere else in town, let me know. And for just $2 (watch out, Koot’s) you can have a 10-ounce pour of any of the five flagship beers that the Glacier Brewhouse offers.
The appetizers feature three entirely new creations plus the old favorite, fried ravioli (OMG! So good). The prices range from $2.50 to $4.50, or you can order them all for $14.25.
But back to the drinks. The Pomerama was a nice, refreshing, potent punch: the happy kind, not the scary break-down-your-wall Kool-Aid guy kind. The Red Rum is murderously good, featuring the house-made rum with Chinese five-spice. (Ever notice those old-fashioned jug thingies behind the bar with colorful liquid in them? Yes, Orso makes its own booze.)
And I can’t imagine a better drink with which to start the night and start your engines at the same time than the Espresso-tini. It’s a drink any barista would be proud of, complete with a foamy, golden espresso-shot head.
Sure, you can find food and drink deals all across town. But at Orso you get upscale munchies for downscale prices.
This is one happy hour menu that totally bites — and that’s a compliment.
-- by Jessica Bowman