By: Stacey Viera
From the bar bites to the main dishes to desserts, every appetite is satisfied at Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar. Located a few blocks down P Street from Dupont Circle, the cozy restaurant and bar are situated just below the street level in Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar.
Executive Chef John Critchley moved to Urbana in December 2010 from Area 31, a Miami Kimpton restaurant. When you think “Miami,” you probably think “seafood” (I know I do), and Critchley’s expertise with fish and shellfish is evident in several dishes.
The small plates menu – called “bar bites” – offers delectable calamari. Each morsel of squid is lightly breaded and fried. Unlike other calamari that leave you with a heavy, greasy feeling in the stomach, these are particularly easy to keep popping in your mouth. The dipping sauce of smoked paprika and tomato makes it doubly dangerous. And that dip! I almost didn’t believe that the sauce was made of tomato due to the absence of the strong acidic flavor that I expected. Try the scallops, too, and find out what it means to truly cook a scallop to perfection.
There are so many outstanding dishes, it’s hard to go wrong at Urbana. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites:
- Gnocchi – Melt-in-your-mouth potato pasta coated in a hearty Bolognese sauce. With two homemade gnocchi attempts – and failures – under my belt, I can really appreciate a good plate of gnocchi. It’s a hefty serving and easy to share with the table if you have your eye on other dishes.
- Pork – Pork belly is the cocaine of the food world. Once you get a taste of the good stuff, you’ve gotta try it if it’s on the menu. (The gateway drug, in case you’re wondering, is bacon.) Anyhow, these comparisons are going nowhere fast. But I will say that though the pork belly was the star on the plate, the juniper crusted spare ribs took away some of the spotlight due to the remarkably tender mouthfeel.
- Dessert – The pots du crème was the favorite at the table. You can’t go wrong with a chocolate-hazelnut combo. Ever. If you’re planning to share this one with your dining companions…best to just order your own. If not for common decency, I believe that each of us at the table would’ve licked the pot clean. Chef Critchley also sent a selection of ice creams – tarragon, mint, milk, cherry – served as elegant football-shaped quenelles. The form of the quenelle is as much about presentation as it is about texture, the chef noted, so if you’d like to wow guests at home, here’s a quenelle how-to video.
Chef Critchley sent us home with a jar of tasty salsa verde, and we’ve enjoyed it on shrimp quesadillas and even with a hard-cooked egg as a salsa verde egg salad. Thanks, chef, for sharing your interpretation of salsa verde with our readers!
Chef Critchley’s Salsa Verde
- ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives, mint, cilantro)
- 1 roasted jalapeño, chopped
- 1 tablespoon wildflower honey
- 1 preserved lemon, chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers, chopped
- 1 tablespoon grains of paradise, ground
- ¼ cup shallots, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients well and serve or store up to five days.
How do you cook with salsa verde?