Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If they serve Italian food, then why is the name Spanish?

Thatboy has a lot of fantastic qualities, but foreign language skill is not one of them. In fact, even though he’s the one with high school Spanish under his belt, I had to point out that “Cucina Urbana” was in fact Italian, and not Spanish.

When restaurant week first started, I was in my first year of law school. And we poor students took advantage of the super cheap meals. A group of us hit up the restaurant “Laurel” which was super hoity toity million dollars a plate kind of place. Well, maybe not quite - but the dark chandelier lit local with leather armchairs at the tables, serving foie gras and caviar certainly seemed, to all of us, a bit out of our element.

Fast forward a few years and Laurel is no longer. Even with a makeover a year or so back, the restaurant wasn’t able to keep up with it’s younger, hipper neighbors. Now Cucina Urbana, owned by the same group, has moved in.

It was kind of fun to go back to the same place I had been for restaurant week years before, with a completely different feel to it. The place looks completely different - although our waiter pointed out we were seated in the same white leather chairs, and he confided that the chandelier at the desk was the same as before “just covered in more stuff.”

Cucina Urbana has the feel of a neighborhood bistro, someplace you’d pop into after work for a quick easy dinner. And I think they relish this idea, with a menu that boasts “nothing over $20" and specials almost every night of the week, including a $30 takeout night which includes pizza and a bottle of wine.

And wine is definitely a big part of the restaurant’s personality, as it is attached to its own winestore - supplying both your pantry and the wine list for the restaurant. The wine store sells at normal, grocery store prices and the restaurant charges a $7 corkage fee - which still makes bottles cheaper than at most restaurants.

But once Thatboy and I saw the cocktail list, we knew we’d be bypassing the bottles of wine. I am such a mad fan of places with housemade liquors and specialty drinks. It’s definitely the cook/mad scientist in me. Cucina Urbana makes their own vodkas, gins, grappas, and burbons infused with fruits and herbs. And they use fresh fruits and herbs in their signature cocktails. After discussion with our waiter, Thatboy decided to go with one of the infused alcohols - the vanilla bean bourbon, while I decided to try the very popular rosebud- vodka, muddled watermelon, and rosemary. Neither Thatboy nor I could really taste any vanilla in his bourbon, or rosemary in my rosebud, but we both loved the muddled watermelon. Thatboy remarked my drink was more like candy - which is my favorite kind of drink!

The Rosebud

Vanilla Bean Bourbon

I was very pleasantly surprised when we were looking over our menus. Normally with restaurant week you’re given a choice of 3 appetizers, 3 entrees, and 3 desserts. Many of my favorite restaurants have expanded on their “restaurant week menu” and Cucina Urbana was one that followed suit. Instead of limiting our choices, they pretty much included everything on the menu! Which was great, because Thatboy wasn’t very impressed with the 3 entrees we thought were going to be offered and had been eyeing the pizzas since we came in.

This restaurant week (the second of the year) is being sponsored in part by Fresh Express bagged salad (I know, right?) So Thatboy decided to start off his meal with their chopped house salad. I thought it tasted a little Olive Garden-y with the iceberg lettuce, but Thatboy loved it and proclaimed it the best salad he’s had in a long time.

Since I’m a sucker for anything with the word “gnocchi” in it, I started with the ricotta gnocchi, which were the best gnocchi I’ve had in a long time. Thatboy said he’s never had gnocchi like this, and he was right. Big round pillows stuffed with ricotta cheese in a brown butter amaretti sauce with crispy sage leaves. A mess of contradictions in my mouth - they were salty and sweet, crispy and creamy, buttery and tangy. I could have made a meal from this alone!

For the second course, I had the duck confit tagliatelle with roasted parsnips and pancetta. I thought each ingredient individually was great, but I wasn’t bowled over by how they interacted in my bowl. The truffle oil gave the dish a creamy, richness, making it feel heavier than it actually was. The pancetta was perfectly salty, and the duck very tender, but I don’t know how I felt about them together, with carrots and parsnips. I probably would have preferred the dish if the duck came without the pasta.

Thatboy had the pepperoni pizza. Now before we all roll our eyes at how simple his taste is, I should point out - I’m not a huge pepperoni fan, so we rarely have it on our pizzas. Plus this pizza also came with fennel sausage and papadew peppers. Thatboy thought the peppers added a lot to the pizza, saying they were both sweet and spicy. Like his beautiful wife. (His words)

For dessert, we both knew what the other would order. I had the tiramisu, and he ordered the only thing with the word “chocolate” on it.

He tried to describe his bittersweet chocolate budino to me by telling me it tasted like lava cake - only cold. After trying it I determined it was much more like a pot de creme, and then had to translate that - “like a pudding.” His chocolate crackle cookie he thought tasted like meringue, and I’ll have to take his word, because by that time I was too full to take even a bite.

My tiramisu was good, the lady fingers were moist, the mascarpone was sweet and creamy, but it wasn’t quite as light and fluffy as I like my tiramisu. It was more like a dense cake, which meant I was happy to share it with Thatboy since there was no way I was going to finish it.

As we left, we were already planning our next trip back, what we’d order, and who we’d take. Our first restaurant week dinner was definitely a success!


  1. Those gnocchi sound amazing!! Jim and his friends are big on bourbon, so I'm guessing he would have wanted to try the vanilla-bean infused stuff, too. I'm sad it wasn't very vanilla-y.

  2. "Cucina Urbana" could be Spanish or Italian, no?

  3. According to my "spanish to english" dictionary I brought with me to Spain a couple years back cocina = kitchen in spanish. cucina = kitchen in Italian - but some native Spanish speakers could definitely set me right. After all, I studied French, German, and Hebrew.

  4. Those drinks and dishes look delicious!

  5. The backbar is awesome.

    L'Shana Tova Tikatevu