I need to be frank with you all for a minute: writing about food in Kittitas County can be challenging at times. It’s not a lack of good food that gets me, it’s that few people and seem to care enough to strive to serve food that is truly great. I’ve even gone so far as to wonder if my standards have slipped over time to the point that good enough has actually become good enough. I don’t believe that’s true but it’s something I worry about and have to periodically examine, as I would regardless of where I live and eat. I love living in Ellensburg and I love visiting our various eating establishments and writing about them for you to read; and I’m so grateful that you read what I write.
There are, of course, a handful of restaurants that make some really excellent food and one such place is an exciting newcomer to the Upper County. I ate at Orchard in Cle Elum this past Saturday and was blown away by the quality and scope of the entire experience. Their website details their philosophy and origins so I won’t bother to rehash it for you. I dragged my entire family along and each and every one of us walked away from our meal feeling deeply satisfied and invigorated. They even went far above my expectations to accommodate my over-tired three year old. Orchard appears trendy, pretentious, and perhaps out of place in Kittitas County but I assure you that it is none of those things (ok, maybe a tad trendy but not to its detriment).
The restaurant itself is warm and beautiful, with an inviting lounge and bar area that serves a pub menu and even offers happy hour. The main dining area has an open kitchen and a lot of seating so that you don’t feel too watched over as can happen in smaller restaurants. Service is friendly, attentive, and prompt. But you want to hear about the food, right?
Orchard’s menu changes constantly based on what’s in season so don’t expect to find this exact food when you go, but here’s what we were offered that night:
We were a large group and so we ordered a few of each of the starters and one of each of the pasta dishes and entrees, besides the steak because we had that for dinner the previous night, to share. Everything at Orchard is scratch made, insanely fresh, and f*cking delicious. I won’t go on and on about everything because who knows if it will even be on the menu when you or I next visit but I need to mention of few standouts, though I’m really not exaggerating when I say that it was all excellent.
The cauliflower is one of their signature dishes so I expect it will remain a menu regular and I implore you to try it. That lightly fried, and doused in sweet pickled golden raisins (AKA the best raisins) cauliflower is maybe the best I’ve ever had and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to recreate it at home.
The house-made fresh pastas are clearly a labor of love and they really deliver. My personal favorite was the beef shank ravioli with horseradish. They were truly exceptional in both flavor and texture.
The lamb baked in hay seems to be a frequent flyer on the menu and for good reason. It’s cooked by nestling the lamb in a bed of hay which is then set on fire and finished in the oven. It’s beautifully primitive and imparts a unique earthy flavor to the meat. The accompanying polenta was addictive and kale rounded out a perfectly rustic and satisfying dish.
Orchard does really amazing things to rabbit. I don’t eat rabbit that often (who really does, I suppose?) but it’s something I enjoy ordering at fancy restaurants. Orchard’s chicken fried rabbit sounded too good to be true but it was just plain amazing. I wish I had a photo to share but it’s two big fat rabbit legs, fried to a deep brown and drizzled with a spicy honey glaze. It’s a pretty simple dish but it’s a case of impeccable ingredients and flawless execution creating something extraordinary.
I can’t end this review without talking about the cocktails. I’m going to mostly let the menu speak for itself but I did sample a few and they were all exceptional. If I weren’t eighty-five months pregnant right now I would have ordered more than my share but I’ll just have to return to Orchard for happy hour with a designated driver at some point in the not so distant future and tell you all about it.
Expect to invest a bit of money and time in dining at Orchard but it will be worth it.
Cle Elum, Washington 98922