We don’t know the secret of life, because we’ve never spent a month on top of a mountain in Tibet, meditating and painting the same blade of grass over and over again until we become one with the natural world. But if we had to guess what the secret of life is, we might go with: don’t take yourself too seriously. Not taking yourself too seriously leads to less stress, more fun, and lower cholesterol (maybe - we’re not doctors). It’s why Bill Murray seems like such a great hang. And it’s why we like going to Orfano, a high-end restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously as a high-end restaurant, even though the food is a little uneven.
Orfano is an Italian restaurant that makes fun of other Italian restaurants - in particular, the self-serious ones that are overloaded with viola music and wedding anniversaries. Here, the bus staff runs around the dining room in tuxedo tee-shirts. The fresh ground pepper comes from a mill that’s taller than your nephew. And there’s a bathroom reserved for Lady Gaga. As soon as you walk in and are nearly run over by the martini cart (yup, they have a martini cart), you know that this place is different. It’s the class clown of the Boston high-end restaurant world, cracking jokes in the back row during the lecture on stemware optimization.
But for everything that makes the atmosphere so unique, the food itself isn’t particularly distinguishable from a lot of other high-end Italian places in the city. There are a couple of pasta dishes that we really like - including a flavorful cacio e pepe made with stuffed tortelloni instead of the usual spaghetti or tonnarelli, and a slightly spicy lobster bucatini - but too many others would be hard to pick out of a lineup of random Hanover Street standards. A lot of the entrees make admirable attempts at doing something different but don’t quite stick the landing, like the pig parmesan that uses Japanese-style fried pork but ends up a little dry. And while we loved the 35-day dry-aged steak, not a lot of people are going to Italian places for a steak (especially when it costs $59).
It makes for something of an up-and-down meal, where, depending on what you order, the highlight of your night may not be anything you eat, but the martini made tableside for you, or the picture you take of the sign prohibiting having sex and/or doing coke in the bathroom. But even if you don’t fall in love with the food, you’ll have fun spending a night in a restaurant that mocks the pretense and snobbery that often comes with places that either name drop six different farms on the menu, or try too hard to be used as a filming location for a Moonstruck reboot. Don’t take Orfano any more seriously than it takes itself and you’ll have a good time.
There’s nothing fancy about these, they’re just three competently prepared balls of meat. If balls of meat are your thing, you’ll like them.
By far our favorite dish in the place, thanks in large part to very al dente pasta and just the right amount of salt.
It’s made with a brown butter sauce, but, with chili and purple basil leaves, it’s one that’s pretty well balanced as opposed to overly rich.
You can skip this one. It’s as exciting as a trip to the Gap.
The burnt cheese makes for a nice, crispy dish. Be warned that you have to split it, though (as is the case with most of the entrees).
The tonkatsu pork doesn’t end up adding much. This is fine, but nothing special.
This steak is dry-aged for 35 days, and it pays off. Whether it’s worth $59, though, depends on what else you have planned for that money. Maybe stick to the pastas if, say, you need that cash to keep the lights on.