First of all, to attempt a restaurant of this type in the Dixon/Sterling area is commendable and a welcome player on the barren landscape of deep-fried food and greasy pizza. The atmosphere is also nicely done: minimalist storefront rejuvenation with cool colors, quality table appointments, and interesting artwork. It's an incredibly welcoming space.
The menu is small and well-controlled, and there were 2 specials available on the Saturday night we dined: a salmon dish and a grass-fed T-bone. Our table started with the goat cheese, walnut and honey points and a cajun-style shrimp plate. The goat cheese was mild, creamy, and earthy. It was spread on slices of a nondescript white Italian-style loaf that is also their table bread, and the whole dish came off as something that may serve better as a cook's hello signature bite or amuse bouche rather than a course by itself. The shrimp was well-seasoned and served split in the shell, which is always attractive and amplifies the flavor. However, it was well overcooked and became the harbinger the one major flaw Orom has: overcooking.
Cooking meat for people in this part of the Midwest is a challenge: most are scared to death of natural meat textures or any hint of pinkness. I understand the tightrope Orom probably has to walk here.
The entrees around the table were the free-range chicken, sliced pork shoulder, and the fish special. Each entree included a choice of mixed green salad or soup. The salad was fresh and crispy, and the soup—a sweet potato puree—was the star of the night. Bright, creamy, and perfectly seasoned; I could have eaten a vat of it.
The chicken looked attractive and was enjoyed. The addition of a dark-meat "streudel" as an accompaniment was interesting but also well-received. The fish was a beautiful piece of Alaskan salmon that was, unfortunately, also overcooked to my taste. Again, I understand that most people in this area want to know their fish has been COOKED, but a pan-seared treatment may have been a better option. The corn pancake and glaze were nice touches, although the pancake was a bit bland—I was expecting a round, full corn flavor as a backdrop for the salmon, but it fell far short of that. Carrots and haricot vert were also added, and although crisply cooked, were worked over with a bit too much butter. The pork shoulder was decent, but sliced too thick and presented as overpowering slabs. This dish also could have been improved with the addition of a tangy reduction sauce, as the meat, although tender, exhibited dryness after slicing. The garlic mashed potatoes were very well prepared—something that is often a gummy mess in less skillful hands.
The staff was energetic and extremely friendly, and it's apparent that the chef here is not messing around. This is not quite city-level cuisine and execution, but it's pretty darn close, and for a storefront in downtown Dixon, that's a great accomplishment. I look forward to a return visit as Orom is not only a decent meal, but also a unique dining experience in this area and a great place to share a meal with another couple.
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