to Nouvelle to New American to something called Lodge Cuisine (don’t ask).
What hasn’t changed is the room itself, one of the most beautiful anywhere. The long, transitional entryway and soaring ceiling render the spare and striking room exceptionally dramatic. The gilded ceiling, metal and glass screen accents, and sculptural concrete blocks that form the walls evoke namesake architect Frank Lloyd Wright. A massive greenhouse window hints at the room’s original use as a solarium where ladies took afternoon tea. According to Biltmore resident historian Becky Blaine, the room was repurposed into a makeshift cocktail lounge in 1933 (the resort originally had no bar, although for a time there was a speakeasy on the second floor). In 1973, it opened for dinner as The Orangerie and became the hot dining ticket in town.
Clearly, the current intent is to recapture that magic. The room has been spiffed up a bit, and the color scheme changed to gray and black with pops of orange. Oversized floating globes add warm light and contemporary spice. The only off-note is the graceless trestle tables in the main dining area. Far cozier are the private dining nooks or the secluded back room with framed architectural renderings by Wright.
The culinary shtick is clever, featuring reworkings of the old Continental favorites that put the place on the map. The meal begins with a bread duo: Fluffy focaccia studded with whole roasted garlic cloves is seductive but heavy, while sweet chocolate cherry bread feels like dessert.
Next to arrive is an amuse bouche, a soup spoon brimming with such delights as caviar-studded vichyssoise or white asparagus truffle bisque. It’s a delicious distraction from the confusing menu, which is (dis)organized in a way that makes it difficult to determine whether prices are for the food or for wines by the glass, and features three of four categories also available as small plates. Once past the ordering process, though, the dining experience sails smoothly.
Three starters virtually jump off the plate with visual artistry and knockout flavor. Kobe beef tartar ($12 small, $24 large) with the usual garnishes (plus a kick of horseradish aioli) is rich and mouth-filling. A cube of buttery foie gras terrine (same price) is simply and effectively matched with salty pistachios and sweet cherry compote. Creamy lobster bisque with a puff pastry cap ($9 small, $12 large) is redolent of the deep sea and has been dosed with just enough sherry to give it spark. Escargot Cassoulet ($8 small, $12 large) is much more like a bizarrely textured and indistinctly flavored risotto.
Salads (all $10 small, $15 large) are unobtrusively prepared tableside. Classic Caesar, and sweet roasted beets with crunchy candied hazelnuts, tangy feta and baby greens are both faultless, but the clear winner is the Waldorf salad. That mayo-heavy old cliché is reworked with julienned apples, grapes and walnuts tossed in a supernal yogurt, crème fraiche and citrus dressing.
Entrées are available in both small and large portions ($16 and $28). Veal loin Oscar-style – a juicy hunk of fork-tender meat topped with crab legs – is elementally satisfying. Crackly-skinned, moist snapper gets a kick from citrus-kissed sauce, while diver scallops are paired with an unexpectedly earthy combo of pancetta and mushrooms.
The stars of the menu are the “re-imagined classics,” available in one size only. Lobster Thermidor ($38) is stripped down to just lobster chunks, flaky pastry and mushrooms gilded with béarnaise sauce. A four-chop rack of lamb ($42) is mild and done perfectly to order, though the overly crunchy apple-peppercorn-mint relish is out of left field. Beef Wellington ($36) has never been more perfectly prepared: The puff pastry wrap is crisp, the duxelles and foie gras layer is creamy, the filet toothsome and the hollandaise liquid gold. Steak au poivre ($40) had all the right stuff, but in an odd presentational misstep, a massive hunk of au gratin potatoes dwarfed the meat.
The simplest desserts ($10) shine the brightest – the most perfect chocolate soufflé ever (both light and incredibly rich); a mound of fragrant, ripe raspberries topped with a cloud of frozen meringue called a “New Age” floating island; and a slab of satin-textured mint pâté.
There are few missteps from the kitchen, but the service staff – clad in uniforms that resemble a Russian military jacket with a billowing bistro apron – is ragged. A runner rattled off our dishes one night and the server plunked a doggy bag in the middle of the table while we were still eating. Though one companion had temporarily excused himself, entrées were nonetheless served and left on the table.
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