Spring Brings Anew at Urbana with a New Chef and Menu.

Urbana bar and lounge, Washington, DC

The bar and lounge at Urbana.

Urbana located inside the Palomar Hotel in DC’s Dupont Circle, has been one of my go-to spots for a proper gastronome happy hour for a while now. Not only does the bar and lounge ooze a swanky and sophisticated vibe, it has an eclectic happy hour menu with delicious appetizers, great ‘wood-stone pizzas‘ and wine list. There is something for everyone. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that one of their bartenders, Joe Bolam, is one of the friendliest faces in DC, and now with a talented new executive chef ready to show DC what he’s got, Urbana is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a media dinner at Urbana, to be introduced to the new Executive Chef, John Critchley and to preview their new spring menu. Chef Critchley joined the Urbana team in December of 2010 from Miami’s Area 31, known for it’s fresh sustainable seafood from its namesake region Major Fishing Area 31, the ecologically sound marine waters of the Western Central Atlantic. Although I have never been to Miami, I have learned that Miami is a city, like DC that has remarkable talent and with a great deal of restaurants offering eclectic ethnic eats. With over 17 years of experience, he has transformed the menu into an eclectic and approachable brasserie-style menu, revealing his potential to become one of DC’s rising-star chefs.

In a recent special column for The List Are You On It? , he said, “creating a Western Mediterranean menu that uses local ingredients in Washington, D.C. is hard to do without losing authenticity. Because Washington has different produce and seafood than in the Mediterranean, it is a challenge to “buy local” yet prepare in an authentically Mediterranean way. I chose to refocus the menu on the cuisines of Northern Italy and Provence as I felt those styles of cooking most closely parallel the fusion that represent my personal style, and hence what I want to create here at Urbana.”

White gazpacho with spring salad of kumquats and pomegranate. Photo by Lisa Shapiro

The menu is separated into bar bites (including cured meats and cheeses), starters, a selection of homemade pasta dishes, wood-fired stone oven pizzas and mains. The Margherita pizza with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato is by far my favorite. Offering great flexibility, diners may order from both the dinner menu and the lounge menu, when seated in the main dining room. Since we were there for a tasting, we ordered multiple bar bites, sides, starters, an entree per person, and then a dessert sampler. We started off with an amuse bouche from the chef. It was a deliciously creamy white gazpacho served cold, made with marcona almonds and garlic, and garnished with a malted pumpernickel crumble with a spring salad of kumquats and pomegranate. Don’t attempt to say that ten times fast.

Merguez, house made lamb sausage.

Some of my favorites included the dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in Serrano ham (on the bar bites menu). Each one is bite-sized, so easy just to pop in your mouth. I love blue cheese and the flavor combination offering salty, sweet, and crispy. I should ask Chef for the recipe. These would be great to serve while entertaining at home. Also on the bar bites menu, the merguez (house made lamb sausage with chestnut and salsa verde) were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The fresh micro greens and pomegranate seeds, added color and a burst of flavor.

For starters, I loved the shellfish stew. While I am not usually a fan of mixed seafood, this was divine. While it was a small portion, it included calamari, large shrimp, clams, and mussels in a deliciously refreshing coconut and citrus broth that was creamy and sweet. Also the seared scallops with pickled beech mushrooms and black garlic scented salsify puree. No, I don’t believe I have ever eaten a salsify before. It’s commonly known as an Oyster Plant or Vegetable Oyster, due to its faint oyster-like flavor, and is grown for its edible root which is white, long and slender. Hopefully, it will be on the menu for a while. Because the chef uses fresh seasonal ingredients, the menu will change frequently. One of the items that are sure not to change is the house-made pastas. I tasted the the gnocchi (which I have made at home before and know how hard it is to get it just right), and it was pillowy and delicate topped with a light smokey bolognese sauce. Perhaps, I will ask the chef for his technique. I would love to learn from a professional how to do it just right.

Short ribs. Photo by Lisa Shapiro

For the main course, even though I should have ordered seafood, I couldn’t help but order the short ribs. I’ve had some really delicious short ribs in my day, especially Michel Richard’s signature 72-hour short ribs; however, these may have been the best that I have ever had. They were so tender, the meat came right off the bone.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit … Urbana will forever be on my recommendations list. Bon Appetit!

Urbana at the Hotel Palomar
2121 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037

Metro: Dupont Circle- North (Red line)

wood-fired stone oven pizza,

Urbana Restaurant & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon
Urbana on Urbanspoon

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