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Restaurant review: The Orion

When a new dining spot opens, it seems the only thing people want to know is whether it’s “OK” or not. So, let me just say upfront that downtown’s newest launch—The Orion Sushi Bar and Ultra Lounge—is A–OK, all systems go, ready for liftoff—or whatever NASA preparedness cliché you prefer.

I hope The Orion finds an audience and enjoys a nice, long run in the ’Burg. However, to ensure its mission is a successful one, the bar and lounge might consider doing some last-minute fine-tuning to its service and its menu. And while they’re at it, they probably need to figure out exactly who their audience is.

I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to visiting The Orion. You see, the last time my wife and I went to a sushi bar we got “burned.” Our server recommended a sushi roll called “The Fire Dragon” that arrived at the table ablaze. Hours later, the only thing I could taste was the cinders.

At The Orion, I planned on leaving all decision-making to the chef himself. The other thing I was determined to do was keep an open mind. Of course I’d watched the Orion build-out with interest, but the only thing I knew about it for certain  was that it looked like a kind of one-note place, like something from the set of “A Night at the Roxbury.”

The Orion, though, is more of a two-note place, and therein lies the rub. In addition to being a cocktail lounge, it’s also a sushi bar. I don’t know about you, but when I think about clubbing—which, granted, isn’t very often—thoughts of sushi don’t immediately spring to mind. Thoughts of fried food do. Sushi  goes better with a simple cup of tea or sake.

We went for an early dinner midweek, when business was sluggish. The few customers there had drinks, not dishes, in front of them.

Our server, Anthony, was friendly, enthusiastic and attentive, if not well-acquainted with the menu. For example, when I ordered the sushi nigiri dinner, he asked me how many pieces of sushi the dish included. Later, when we prompted him for the soup and salad that were to have accompanied my dinner, he said, “Oh, was that supposed to come with that?”

For starters, we ordered a pair of appetizers. The veggie spring rolls were nice, but the Thai sweet chili sauce for dipping was too viscous. The Philly cheese-steak sliders succeeded as comfort food, but the fries that came with them needed more time in the fryer.

My wife ordered a pair of sushi rolls: “The Orion”—crabmeat, cream cheese, chives and water chestnuts rolled and deep-fried and served with spicy mayo—and a basil tuna roll. The flavors of “The Orion” worked well together, but the tuna roll was a revelation. The fresh basil served to bring up the subtle flavors of the tuna and avocado in a big way.

I had the chef’s selection of nigiri. Thankfully, he’d elected to play it safe—with eel, tuna, shrimp, salmon and yellowtail—and had resisted the urge to ignite any of it. All of Orion’s sushi tasted fresh, and it was well-prepared and nicely presented.

The restaurant’s décor, which can appear off-putting when you’re outside looking in, really works when you’re inside looking out. The slate flooring, effective use of ambient lighting, “latticework” wall treatments and monitors displaying what look like 1990s-era screen savers—along with the tasteful dance mix—lend a plush, sophisticated feel to the proceedings.

However, The Orion can sometimes feel like a movie that’s trying to do a little too much, leaving one wondering if there isn’t perhaps sufficient material for two separate storylines.

What: The Orion Sushi Bar and Ultra Lounge

Address: 318 William St., Fredericksburg

Info: 540/656-2234;

Hours: Noon–10 p.m. Monday–Wednesday; Noon–2 a.m. Thursday–Saturday

Prices: Traditional sushi rolls: $4–$12; Orion’s “Top 25” sushi rolls: $12–$18; Sushi dinners: $16–$24 (served with miso soup and house salad); American small-plates menu: $5–$14

The Scoop: Q: What do you get when you mix one part sushi with one part liquor?  A: The recipe for a potent cocktail, as well as downtown’s newest dining venue.

Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000 |