Garganelli ($11) pasta tubes that looked like mottled cinnamon sticks were tossed in a simple sauce of basil and splinters of summer squash. A sprightly kimchee ($5) was festooned with throw pillows of fried tofu. Chicharrones ($5), a.k.a. pork rinds, arrived in a tall cup looking like twisted French fries suitable for dipping in the shallow tub of barbecue sauce on the side. And a chicken beer sausage link ($14), although accompanied by flecks of nectarine, whispers of frisée, and a hint of pistachio, was satisfyingly all about the sausage.
Some of the exotic touches were discreet to the point of being unnoticeable. Actual French fries ($7) were cooked in duck fat and presented with a small ramekin of browned butter béarnaise, a subtle aioli alternative. Tongue ($5), never an easy row to hoe, was transformed into a golden-crusted, nicely rectangular croquette and served with cherries and what might be one of our most underappreciated greens, purslane.
Does all this sound like the stuff of DIY tasting menus, a sequence of memorable bites? The glory of DIY is the randomness of it we'll have a few of those and one of that but for more orderly types, Orson does offer four formal tasting menus that consist of three to five courses and cost from $50 to $65. One is vegetarian, another pork-based. Caveat: your whole table must participate. Tables for two have several additional "for two" options, though Orson doesn't really strike me as a restaurant for couples. Its pulsing energy is that of a crowded club for the young and the restless, whose packs are forever rearranging themselves. It's easy to picture them talking about movies. But do they talk about, or have they even seen, Citizen Kane?
Dinner: Mon., 610 p.m.
Tues.Sat., 6 p.m.midnight
508 Fourth St., SF