325 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014
This past Friday, when my date rain-checked me for her second and final time, I decided not to lose the reservations that I had made at Orient Express and immediately called up Speeds and her beau, Burns. I was lucky enough to catch them before they hopped a flight to Miami Beach or to Hollywood the next day. Arriving there a little bit early, I checked in and nursed a drink at the bar, inhaled the vintage aura of the place, and relaxed.
I love cocktail bars. I love 'em. And walking into Orient Express (so named for the luxury train that chugged across Europe from Paris to Istanbul in the bohemian days before WWII), I had very high hopes. The owners run Turks & Frogs, the wine bar next door and I love Turks & Frogs. The interior invoked the past almost better than any other retro establishment that I've had the pleasure to check out in recent memory. The music, the art, the tile flooring, the heavy wood bar, the ceiling fans, the names of the drinks all took me to a 1930s Paris-in-my-head. Unfortunately, while Orient Express's atmosphere was as about as close to perfect as humanly possible, the rest of the evening was hardly so refined.
One ever-present annoyance was that the front door never stayed closed. Be it from a broken spring or a bent hinge, any time that anyone left to go home or have a smoke, the door seemed to want to join them. Nearly every ten minutes, for the entire evening, a gush of cold air would come in, forcing yours truly to get up and close the door. In the summer, no one would care, but I wasn't here in the summer. Our waitress was super nice, but she and the bartender was the entire staff at the front of the house. This meant that getting drinks and ordering food took forever. I found myself ordering a follow up drink with each arrival of the waitress at our table because otherwise who knew how long it would be until we saw the waitress again? You'd think I'd have been plastered by the end of the night. Nope.
The drinks tasted great, but were as weak as a wet tissue. Anywhere else, two drinks would get me nice and buzzed. But I had at least four and Burns had at least three and either one of us could have driven home. If they cost $8 or even $10 then it might be forgivable, but they cost between $12 and $14. Even though the owners also run Turks & Frogs, Orient Express is no wine bar. Still, they do have a small selection of wine and beer which is good for Speeds because she doesn't like wine and she doesn't like beer. She's as picky as a five year old raised on peanut butter and Lucky Charms, so it's good that she liked her Valpolicella enough to have three glasses of the stuff, each glass seemingly filled higher than the last.
Orient Express has a small small-plates menu and we tried to order enough from it to form a would-be dinner. The first things we tried were the Cheese Plate (a selection of feta, mahon, caprosado, manchego, and gruyere) and the Charcuterie Plate (a selection of Bayonne ham, duck mousse, country pate, pastirma, and saucisson sec). They both came with pita bread instead of small French bread toasts, but the pita was flat out addictive. The cheese selection was fine. No complaints there, but the meat plate was hit or miss. The Bayonne ham was delicious, but the duck mousse was revolting. I liked the country pate and the pastirma, but couldn't stand the saucisson sec. Once the wood boards were cleared away, the Hungarian Sausage arrived: four slices of sausage served in a cast iron skillet over sauerkraut, currants, and apple. Burns and I liked the dish, though we found it too timid to be perfect and too small for two people. Speeds didn't like it, but she doesn't like eastern European food anyway. This was shortly followed by the Brie Panini. Speeds and Burns enjoyed it, but I wasn't impressed. This is little bit because they ran out of chicken and I wanted to try the chicken panini, but really it's mostly because I'm 100% sure that there was no brie in the sandwich. Just mango chutney. It was a mango chutney panini. Woop-de-doo.
When the time for dessert came, we wanted to try the milles crepes and the courone de chocolate, but after placing the order, we were told that the chef had gone home. So we were given some chocolate truffles, which were enjoyable, and three glasses of El Dorado 21, a 21-year-old rum that was so smooth and so sweet that it was almost like drinking liquid 80-proof chocolate. You know something? I think I'm glad the chef peace'd out.
In the end, the three of us had a great time, there's simply no denying it. But Orient Express needs work before it can really compete against Little Branch and company. If you do decide to imbibe here, say while waiting the requisite two hours for a table to open up at The Spotted Pig, then be aware that despite having reservations for 8:45 we couldn't be seated until closer to 9:15, so may your date be a patient one.
A cheese plate, a charcuterie plate, two small plates, three glasses of wine, a beer, and a mess of cocktails, plus tax and tip came to $250.
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