Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Welcome to the Neighborhood

I love Georgetown - there are many varieties of charm alive and well there, architectural, natural and personal. But aside from some staples and consistently good take out places, interesting dinning options are fewer than the fabled location would suggest. Rather than wait for a Penn Quarter-like Restaurant Renaissance and because I am closer to Embassy Row than I am to M street, I've adopted the stretch of P street west of Dupont Circle, and consider the establishments there my quasi-neighborhood restaurants.

Palomar, a Klimpton Hotel, continues the group's practice of housing sophisticated and unique restaurants helmed by talented and distinctive chefs (such as Poste at the Hotel Monaco) - restaurants in hotels, rather than hotel restaurants. Last week, we checked out Urbana's revamped menu and new chef. Under the direction of Alex Bollinger (formerly at Charlie Palmer Steak), the restaurant and wine bar encourages patrons to take a swirl and possibly give it a place amongst local favorites. The first challenge, of course, is to find it. It's difficult to walk past the Palomar without noticing the friendly doormen and their hats, but Urbana is below street-level at the edge of the property. Plans to incorporate outdoor seating should fix this, but in the meantime, look out for the green sign and go down the steps - it'll be worth it.

Urbana has an open but fractured floor plan - once you enter there's a lounge behind the hostess stand, with the dining room to the left and a wood-burning oven in the back. The dark woods and the dramatic silver plates compliment the bottle green throughout the design. The lighting scheme - direct spots to tables and dim lights everywhere else makes sure you look at your food, and possibly your date. When it gets cold enough, the stove will provide an interesting fire element to the decor.

Chef Bollinger is known for his mussels, so we decided to share them as an appetizer. The Prince Edward Island mussels are offered with a choice of sauce. We went for the chorizo, roasted peppers and cream. An interesting departure from the traditional white wine (and a better compliment to the Bourgogne Pinot Noir we had ordered off the extensive wine list), the mussels had plenty of sauce and the cream did not overpower the roasted peppers. The chorizo wasn't very strong (as a fan of Spanish cooking, I love chorizo that is pungent and spicy) but this allowed the taste of the mussels to survive the onslaught of the sauce.

T. had the roasted berkshire pork loin chop, served with sauteed peaches, red onions and topped with upland cress. The pork was well seasoned and perfectly cooked. The sauteed peaches were less successful - frying them quickly in a little fat, probably the pork's, does not caramelize them or bring out a different flavor. They did, however, add color and texture to the dish. I had the Puttanesca braised lamb shank with a red pepper and basil salad with gremolata. The shank was a testament to a chef who enjoys working with meats - the portion was ample and though I was given a steak knife, it was tender enough to eat with just the fork. The salad topped the meat and the puttanesca sauce - piquant, but not hot - was under the shank, surrounded by a pool of olive oil and lemon zest, which gave the dish a deconstructed quality and a delicacy one would not expect from such a dramatic cut of meat.

For dessert, T. went for the profiteroles filled with house vanilla gelato and a raspberry ganache topped with a drizzle of valrhona chocolate. It's a simple dessert that lets you enjoy the melding qualities of vanilla. I had the peach tart tatin with blueberry coulis and vanilla custard. Peaches and blueberries go very well together, and their seasons overlap enough that you can get them both fresh on the plate. The portion isn't too big, especially compared to the profiteroles, but after entrees it just hit the spot. People who want just dessert might be better off ordering something else, as it is impossible to share (though that did not deter T.) There is a good selection of dessert cocktails, wines and sparkling wine, but we were happy to finish off our 2005 French Pinot Noir.

A lovely meal and a great addition to my almost-neighborhood.

Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar at Hotel Palomar Dupont Circle
2121 P St NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 956-6650
Urbana on Urbanspoon

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