Given the current Maryland stay-at-home order, my housemate and I have been primarily at home with each other since she returned to our off-campus house in Charles Village early last week. Our search for activities has left us on increasingly long walks, which this Wednesday included picking up Orto in Station North. Going off of a recommendation from a friend, we were also intrigued by the inclusion of Negroni Jello shots (four for $10) on the menu, and decided it was a worthwhile way to spend our Wednesday night.
My housemate and I split the Orto caesar ($13), the whipped ricotta crostino with olive tapenade and parmigiano reggiano ($10) and the spaghetti cacio e pepe ($16). By and large, the crostino was the highlight of the meal. It was flavorful and creamy, with (a high point for me) exceptionally good bread, and it was rich enough that the appetizer portion was perfect. I am not a particularly big fan of olives, but the blend of the tapenade with the plentiful amounts of cheese created a blend that worked.
The spaghetti cacio e pepe was decent, with the requisite mixture of taste in pepper and pecorino. Since we had to get carry out from Orto and neither my roommate nor I own a car, the dish was cold by the time we had returned home, approximately 30 minutes after we had picked up our food.
This was a misstep on our part and reminded me that restaurants such as Orto are not built for carry out service; they have been forced to adjust to the conditions of a pandemic in order to continue to pay their workers and feed people. Typically, the in-person dining is a huge component of the meal. For restaurants that offer more of a fine-dining experience, switching to carry out is often less accessible. We microwaved the spaghetti, but it would feel remiss to criticize Orto for the resulting quality (which was still decent): It’s not a carry out-based restaurant, and my roommate and I chose to get carry out knowing that it would be an hour-long trip before we were able to eat.
Higher-end restaurants forced to pick between closing completely and turning to carry out or delivery services like UberEats will find it difficult to just suddenly lower their prices in order to reach a higher number of customers. But I noticed that, likely to increase their accessibility to a wider range of consumers without changing their business model entirely, Orto offered a dinner package: the chicken parmesan dinner for two ($40).
They also offer this package for four, at $76, if you are looking to feed a few more mouths. The inclusion of chicken parmesan, homemade rigatoni, garlic knots, caesar salad and lemon olive oil cake is an expansive enough array of offerings at a reduced price that it might be able to reach more consumers.
I also want to stress that the Jello shots were really fantastic. I cannot say I have ever seen Negroni Jello shots before in my life, and the novelty factor was definitely a large component of my desire to order them, but these made me want to try them again. They were also very strong, so while $2.50 per jello shot might seem like a tall order, it felt like having two of them was the equivalent of one drink at a bar. If you order from Orto, I would highly recommend picking these up, though I’m not sure if they are typically around during regular restaurant hours.
While I didn’t love Orto’s pricing, I’d recommend venturing and ordering slightly differently than I did. Please remember to support local businesses during these times where they have lost a lot of customers — get carry out if you can afford it!