Last night we celebrated Will's new US citizenship with a dinner out at URBANA in the PALOMAR Hotel (2121 P Street, NW) just a block from Dupont Circle. Our expectations were high and in some ways they WERE met, but the overall experience left us with a doubt whether we would return. So many happy years were spent in the same spot under the guise of Gabriel (at the Radisson Barcelo) when chef Greggory Hill was in charge and even thereafter for a while, and while the renovation and new owners have breathed a truly new life and atmosphere into URBANA, something is missing.
After being seated we ordered a bottle of Moet et Chandon Brut Rose to celebrate the occasion only to be told that there was a new sommelier who had drastically changed the wine list and this was no longer available. It was replaced with a very nice ROGER POULLON et FILS Brut Rose for the same price. I asked if the sommelier was available to discuss the new wines as they were not on the list, and he had just left for the evening (at 730pm!). The staff was apologetic, but they need to get it together on the wine side.
As far as decor goes, the place is gorgeous. Warm wood floors and tables of woods of varying colors and comfy chairs and banquettes fill the room. Gray marble pillars and a matching bar and pizza bar are centerpieces. The pizza bar has a silver-leaf covered pizza oven in the wall with a cool log implanted wall above it. At the entrance opposite the bar a full backlit wall of wine bottles is also neat. I could have done without the bronze woven runners that crisscross the table as they fall into your lap and are too long. A wall on the street side has sleek dark green ceramic bricks with mirrors and red lights in the pillars.
The breads are fresh and yummy and come with a mildly spicy zucchini puree that is superb..we got seconds!
I was thinking of the CRISPY SARDINES appetizer which comes with Caramelized MELON & WHITE BALSAMIC HONEY GINGER GLAZE. I was warned that it was very small (at $9) so we decided to order one for the four of us and split the two sardines. Frankly, it was a puny portion and really should have three fish for this price or a buck more! It was, however, quite delish and the fish were nary too salty as well. Sharing this amounted to a nice amuse, which we were quite happy with.
Our white wine was a superb PIANE di MAGGIO Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2005 which was quite reasonably priced (I must give them credit for that!) at under $30 and creamy and fruity at the same time. It was perfect with the URBANA GARLIC MUSSELS made with Herbes de Provence, tomato and White Wine. Sadly the small plate of 16 mussels was nowhere near the level of those at Beck or Mannequin Pis that we enjoyed in May! They needed more spice and garlic for sure. The GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTE comes with greens and green beans and pears in a large salad and was one of the better dishes (our very nice server, Stephen, had to explain that it was really a large deep fried goat cheese croquette on top of a superb and LARGE salad. Will's SPRING PEA AGNOLOTTI came with Chorizo, English peas (an homage to his origins!) and lobster. Only FOUR agnolotti were on the poorly designed narrow and long plate. Each forkful he took pushed something off the shallow elongated plate; a real mess despite a tasty dish. I assume the $14 price tag was for the lobster, so couldn't they throw on some more pasta?
We noticed a gorgeous pizza at the next table and decided that we SHOULD return and try the pizza and enjoy the wine on the next visit as that seemed a better choice. Speaking of wine, we moved to a red TASCA d'ALMEITA Nero d'Avola "Lamuri" 2004 from Sicily that Stephen suggested and it was delish at under $40 and worked superbly with all our meat dishes as well. These are wines we must remember when we are in Italy (both regions of Abruzzi & Sicily this summer!). The ELYSIAN FILED LAMB CHOP with Golden Raisin Polenta & Grain Mustard Jus was a hearty dish, but the Thomas Keller owned organic lamb suffered from much too much fat. The BRAISED PORK SHOULDER was a hit with Polenta, Picholine Olives & Mushrooms and the portion was HUGE despite its fairly low price! The surprise was the OSSO BUCO which must be shared by two (and theoretically is big enough for three people) which is a huge almost foot-long shank covered with more than a pound of yummy tender meat(with some tasty crunchy edges to boot!) in an amazing rich reduction. It comes with super green beans, fried shallots, sauteed chard and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. When we mentioned the potatoes were cold, they immediately brought another batch. We could not fail the excellent service at Urbana, everyone was courteous, kind and there were no problems with them, just the small disappointments of the kitchen. The DUCK FAT FRIES side order is nice, but does not compare with those of Blue Duck over at the Park Hyatt (although these are half the price!).
We were pretty full and decided to split two desserts which were quite good. The Assorted GRANITAS are an unexciting LIMONCELLO, a pretty good PEAR and a super RASPBERRY CHAMPAGNE. These come with some broiled fruits which is a nice addition. The PEACH PANNA COTTA is another light option and comes with lemon cookie, perfectly ripe and super-sweet little balls of CANTALOUPE and PEACH PUREE.
A bottle of superb not-too-sweet MACULAN TORCOLANO Veneto(another area we hit this summer!) 2003 dessert wine got us home feeing good,but we found it odd that the dessert wines listed on the menu had no bottle prices and we had to ask for it before ordering.
So, as I said, next time it's pizza and wine at Urbana.