On Lewis Street, the Blech family has opened their French-Vietnamese inspired restaurant with a cozy bistro ambiance.
Orienta was set to open in late March, but the pandemic hit.
Notwithstanding, the Blechs opened Orienta for takeout, which allowed them to test out their menu. They later opened for outdoor dining in the shared alley with to Le Penguin, which they co-own and operate with a partner.
In fact, Orienta is the Blechs’ third restaurant in Greenwich. They also operate Le Fat Poodle in Old Greenwich with a partner.
In spite of setbacks, the restaurant has proved a hit.
We recently sat down with Suzanne Blech at lunchtime to sample the menu and learn about the family’s journey back to Lewis Street.
Suzanne said her husband Antoine waited years for the perfect location for Orienta.
After Penang Grill closed, and Lulu operated in the space briefly, the Blechs jumped on the opportunity.
Their son Adrien is Orienta’s executive chef.
“He has an affinity for cooking fish, and trained with the best,” Suzanne explained recently over a delicious and memorable lunch starting with Vietnamese spring rolls (Chả giò).
Filled with shrimp, pork and mushrooms, the popular appetizer is served on a bed of lettuce and sprigs of mint for wrapping, along with cilantro and shredded carrots. The finishing touch is a dunk in a divine, hot fish sauce.
“Taste the flavors of the fresh herbs – every bite has different flavor,” Suzanne said. “It’s a journey.”
Suzanne explained that Orienta on Lewis Street is actually a reincarnation of an earlier Orienta, which operated on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the 90s.
She said the original Orienta was her husband Antoine’s first venture after working as maître d’ of Le Colonial, and also from working at the classic French bistros Le Relais, Le Bilboquet and Le Comptoir, all in New York City.
Today, in Greenwich, Orienta fulfills Antoine’s original vision of marrying Vietnamese haute cuisine with the style of a cozy French Bistro.
For his part, Adrien trained alongside Chef Eric Ripert over four years first at Blue, Ritz Carlton Cayman Islands and then the three-star Michelin Le Bernardin. After traveling in France, cooking in Paris under Chef Gabriel Grapin, at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, then in Los Angeles as executive chef at Soho House, he was ready to return home to open the new Orienta with his family.
While in the background, the Grace Jones’ “I’ve Seen that Face Before” transported patrons to the early 1980s, we sampled Orienta’s iconic, best selling Lobster Shooters, a dish that was on the original Orienta menu in 1995.
Crunchy on the outside, the succulent chunks of tempura fried lobster are served on a mango shallot micro green relish. The lobster is out of this world – topped with a red Thai curry coconut sauce and served for sharing in a set of six individual Sake cups.
“We go through a large amount of live lobsters every day,” Suzanne said, going on to explain how the crunchiness is achieved.
“The way the live lobster tail is prepared is he flours it. Then it goes into an egg wash, panko encrusted and flash fried. It comes out completely cooked, succulent, moist and crunchy,” Suzanne said.
Some of the other popular appetizers include oysters served with ponzu mignonette, cilantro and lime; Tuna Sashimi with cucumber, avocado, sesame and soy; and Rooster Wings, which are fried chicken wings with spicy sweet chili garlic sauce.
Popular main courses also offer a taste of Vietnam, including, for example, Saigon Caramelized Chicken, a marinated, grilled half chicken served over pea shoot salad.
“An older woman recently commented after dinner, ‘That was the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life – and I’ve had a lot of chicken,'” Suzanne recalled with a smile. “The reactions of our customers have been amazing. And we are very proud of our son.”
As we worked our way through the tasting menu, there was time to admire the décor.
Suzanne said the family worked with local designer Lynn Morgan to bring to life the ambiance of jungle lushness.
“I call it a hot, sexy night in Saigon,” Suzanne said. “I enjoyed working with Lynn Morgan Designs. She’s a dear friend. She designed Le Penguin and Le Fat Poodle with us,” Suzanne said. “We were very happy with the outcome.”
The mood is enhanced by the red velvet banquettes, which are mixed with bistro chairs, and Suzanne said customers are constantly asking where they can find the coral accented fan palm themed wallpaper.
The bar, which will eventually be the scene of a killer happy hour, continues the lush green jungle theme and is accented with gold wall sconces and tall gold jars embellished with the restaurant’s iconic red dog logo.
Orienta’s logo is based on a sketch that Antoine drew of his beloved Airedale.
“My husband drew the logo and asked Ron Ferri to paint it,” Suzanne said, referring to the American contemporary artist who died last year. “He also did the art in Le Penguin.”
The mood is completed with rattan chandeliers, palm trees, and honeyed oak shutters.
Another popular entree is the Salt & Pepper Cod. “People are going crazy over this dish,” Suzanne said, adding that at home she is the chef of the family, and often will find a recipe that Adrien will adapt.
“I’ll find something intriguing and he will turn it into his own,” she said. “The reactions are – people say ‘mind blowing.’ They just can’t believe the flavors and the way it all comes together. It’s a unique explosion of flavors.”
Orienta is located at 55 Lewis Street. Tel (203) 489-3394. Call for a reservation this weekend indoors out outdoors.