Downtown Raleigh has been booming of late. I remember when City Plaza was still boarded up and under construction but since it’s been opened up, it’s been a bonanza of restaurants, apartments and more. One restaurant that quietly slipped beneath my foodie radar was ORO. While it’s been open for at least 3 or 4 years, it seemed a bit fancy and had a very low-profile in my food network. But a recent change in chefs had me curious. Chef Steve Zanini (formerly from Jimmy V’s and Faire) took over the kitchen in early summer so I decided to stop in and check ORO out!
From the outside, ORO presents a beautiful face with large pane glass windows and a great corner location on Martin and Wilmington Street. Inside, ORO’s decor is upscale and somewhat frou-frou, there’s lots of white and a wide open space. A small landing on the 2nd floor offers up a second option for seating above the main dining room. ORO had extended their Restaurant Week menu so we were here to sample their 3-course dinner off of a fixed menu. But a quick look at their menu shows a small plate focus on American classics with a twist. Most plates are in the $10 to $20 range which is reasonably priced for the decor and ambiance. Chef Steve is still working on switching up the menu so expect more changes soon!
For my 3-course prix fixe I’m going with the pork belly skewers, short ribs and chocolate ganache. While we’re waiting for the first course, I take in the dining room a bit. It’s nicely appointed and feels a bit luxe but not too fancy. The closest comparison I would have is Revolution out in Durham and to be honest with you it’s an accurate comparison since they both do small plates. Our appetizers show up and I’ve got two skewers of pork belly which are nicely seared and browned. The pork belly is perfectly cooked with a bit of sweetened crust on the outside. The luscious fat in this dish means that the smaller portion is just about right. My tablemate’s fried green tomatoes are excellent served up with some goat cheese and chutney. Nice start, ORO!
Next are our mains and my BEAUTIFUL looking short rib dish. I have a lovely portion of beef sitting atop some very creamy risotto. Sitting in a light pool of broth and decorated with some green beans, it makes for some great eye candy. My first bite into the dish and I get an eye-roll; the beef is fork-tender and perfectly flavored. Paired up with the toothsome risotto we’re talking about a hearty, down-home dish but raised up to a special level for the tastebuds.
And finally dessert. Another lovely plating job here, the ganache is presented in a shiny rectangle on top of pistachio butter and set off with a scoop of passion fruit sorbet. Dots of fruit gastrique adorn the square plate and there’s a lot of flavors working in your mouth with each bite. Rich dark, creamy chocolate with the clean, tangy punch of the passion fruit plays with your taste buds. Very nice job here, Chef Steve. The banana bread pudding next to me looks pretty darn good but I hold back on sneaking a bite!
Service at ORO was solid throughout the meal, although it was a slower evening. But I would expect it to be pretty good given ORO’s price-points. So what can I say, it took me a LONG time to stop by for a meal here at ORO but I think it was worth the wait. While I’d still consider it to be a fancier option for dinner and a good option before a show at Progress Energy, you certainly don’t need a suit or tie to dine here. Just a good date and company and you’ll be all set at ORO! So thanks for the great meal and looking forward to visit #2, Chef Steve…