I promise you, I had every intention of ordering wine when I arrived at ORNO last night. It is a wine bar, after all. As I walked through the front door, I saw the matte black wall of wine—individual bottles stood on floating shelves with their respective names and origins neatly written out in white chalk. Beneath this display sits a long, cushy leather banquette, the majority of which was already occupied by what I observed to be a big, happy group of friends who were enjoying the company and their meal.
The restaurant has a cozy, neighborhood vibe with good music, perfectly low lighting, and a quirky live aquarium display on a large flat-screen TV set right in the middle of the back bar.
… now we come to one of the reasons why I never ordered the wine. I perused the cocktail list that the server presented, and quickly spotted a spirit that I didn’t even know I was craving: mezcal. As if on cue, the bartender walked over from behind the bar to say hello and ask if we wanted to order some drinks. My date ordered a sangria while I ordered an El Viejo.
Once I tasted the mezcal, I never turned back. Every cocktail I subsequently ordered centered around the smoky, agave spirit, and I only requested that each new mezcal drink be different from the last.
Turns out, the friendly bartender was Nael Rodriguez, the owner of this fine establishment. He was also a food runner, server, greeter, gracious host, and seeming jack of all trades. During the meal, he informed me that, during ORNO’s design phase, he made sure that everything in the build-out facilitated the ability to jump from one position to the other with as much ease as possible. From the bar, he could still an eye on the food coming out of the kitchen as well as on the front door to welcome guests. It’s actually brilliant.
Speaking of food coming out of the kitchen … ORNO’s cuisine offerings are top notch New American bites, and by “New American”, I mean it highlights aspects of many cultures that make up the fabric of our wonderful country. For example, I requested that he surprise my date and me with a three-course dinner of his choosing, no dietary restrictions or food allergies to worry about. Nael smiled and disappeared, promising that our first course would arrive within an hour (he’s a funny guy, that Nael!).
Within a few minutes, a dish of sweet and spice lacquered pork belly bites arrived at our table, with earthy and sweet aromas wafted my way and made my mouth water. The meat melted in my mouth, and the fresh slaw of julienne veggies in the center offered an appropriate balance to the depth and unctuousness of the fatty pork.
Not a bad start, Mr. Rodriguez.
Nael then took us from Asian-inspired fare to more Italian flavor with the Pig & Fig flatbread. The crispy, thin crust held a light layer of Alouette Brie cheese that was topped with delicate slices of prosciutto, dollops of fig preserves, and bits of candied cayenne walnuts. Simple. Delicious. No one item overpowering the rest, each playing off one another so well that before I knew it, the whole flatbread disappeared. Oops!
So far, Nael is two for two. Where was he going to take us next?
To the Caribbean!
For our last course, Nael presented us with the Voodoo Shrimp—a half pound of jumbo (and I mean JUMBO) shrimp dressed in a Caribbean-inspired BBQ sauce that intrigued us to the point that we tried to identify as many spices in the sauce as we could. There was such complexity and depth of flavor that eventually Nael had to come by and reveal that there were no less than 18 spices that make up the sauce and that the sauce had to be made a few days prior to serving so all of the flavors could deepen.
It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? As consumers, we go eat out at restaurants and the dishes we enjoy take mere minutes for us to consume and enjoy. We usually don’t think about the time and work that goes into composing our meals, but in the moments when we do stop to really consider it, it’s usually when some part of us recognizes that the food was made with thought, care, and love.
… and that’s ORNO.
I truly love it when a meal inspires me to wax romantic about the dining experience, and the best part about this meal is just how comfortable the setting was. The space housed around 24 seats in the dining room, and no more than maybe 8 seats at the bar. If I lived in the Cedar Springs area, I could see myself stopping in there at least once a day, even if just to say hi to the staff or to grab a cocktail.
ORNO is a neighborhood gem that’s bursting at the seams with soul. And, in a tricky restaurant city like Dallas where every week is a laundry list of flashy openings and abrupt closings, I hope that ORNO’s quiet charm and culinary approachability ensure that it’s here to stay a while.
3908 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas (Cedar Springs)
Closed Mondays, Open Tues/Wed: 11AM-10PM, Thurs-Sat: 11AM-11PM, Sun: 11AM-4PM