Whenever I'm able to visit San Diego, I take the opportunity to get together with my family - my sis and her husband live there, near USD, and my parents usually make the 2-hour drive to have dinner with us as well. I have to admit that I didn't know much about Cucina Urbana, or the Urban Kitchen Group before I decided to make a reservation here - San Diego has always been somewhat of a black hole for me in terms of dining. But, thanks to a couple of local blogs (Alice Q Foodie and Capt'n Jack's San Diego Restaurant Reviews), UrbanSpoon, and yes, I'll admit it -- Yelp -- as well as confirmation with my sis that C.U. was an establishment she and Paul had wanted to check out - I booked it for a Tuesday night dinner.
A little service truly goes a long way. The general manager comped us this little jar (which was quite sizeable, actually) because we were seated around 10 minutes past our reservation time. A little unheard of here in San Francisco, where the more popular restaurants often may care less of how long you wait, despite a reservation. Here, the staff went out of their way to let us know what was going on with our table - the other party apparently had already paid and was lingering, and the general manager approached us and was quite apologetic of that. He also added that he'd give the party 5 minutes more, leaving the impression that he might just ask them to leave at the end of the deadline? Whether this actually transpired is unknown to us, as we were soon ushered to our table and this tasty spread of of cheese, walnuts, and different kinds of breads appeared in short order.
My Dad loves tons of vegetables, so he ordered a chopped salad that arrived with all sorts of stuff: soppresetta, yellow wax beans, blue cheese, pepperoncini, and cucumbers. Is it just me, or is the large chopped salad de rigueur for large, casual-ish Italian restaurants, a la Buca de Beppo or Maggiano's?
I had taken a look at the menu prior to making the reservation and this was one of the dishes that also helped with my decision. I'm a sucker for chicken liver in any form and this arrived with a topping of brown sugar shallots. I initially feared that the dish would be too sweet, but it was nicely balanced. My sister simply loved it.
Paul's pick - I managed to get a taste when the dish was already slightly cold. A pity since I would have loved to get a sense for the crisp batter surrounding these little beauties.
Marjorie's pick. Beautifully done, Dad commented that a few years ago, serving whole fish that included the head and eyes could be a bit too rustic for most Americans. Mom then told a story about a Swiss friend of hers who, many years ago, actually shrieked when a whole fish was put in front of her at dinner. Perfectly cooked, the fish was lovely and flaky and just the right amount of salt and acid. I unfortunately didn't get to taste the accompanying vegetables. By the time we reached the main courses, she was just too full and could only finish a couple of bites.
Sweetbreads are one of my most favourite foods in the world and this dish did not disappoint. I actually ordered two dishes from the antipasti section for my main course, and I'll also admit that this was the other option that sealed my choice for dinner that evening. Wonderfully crisp, the crust almost shatters when you bite into it, providing awesome textural contrast to the tender sweetbread within. The kale and caperberries were laced with acid, nicely balancing the rich dish.
Myother choice from the antipasti selection -- the grilled octopus -- came with smoked paprika florida rock shrimp, avocado, frisee and lemon thyme jam. Is octopus antipasti traditionally served cold? This one was, and I was a little surprised and wish the menu had indicated this. Though the octopus was tender enough, the accompanying lemon thyme jam seemed to overpower it a bit (and I couldn't really taste any thyme). I did like the grilled rock shrimp (though the jam also overwhelmed any notes of smoked paprika).
Paul's pick - cherry tomato and feta also adorned this pasta. Bold, hearty and brightly flavoured, this is not a plate for lovers who prefer more subtle tastes. My sister is not a fan of lamb, and thought the sausage too gamy. I thought the flavours fine, fantastic even, as did Paul. But we were both too full to make much headway here.
Dad chose the porkchop, which arrived - huge and polished like wood, on a ragout of beans, kale and bacon. He had asked for medium-well, and it arrived overcooked. Still, it must have been brining that saved it somewhat, as the flavours were very good - well-seasoned, not too salty.
There was a bit more food - brussels sprouts and linguine with clams and a trio of antipasti... the rest of the photos are on Flickr here.
And everything was amazingly well-priced and reasonable, the most expensive item on the menu topping out at $23.50 for the ribeye steak (in our case, it was $19.75 for Dad's pork chop). 11 dishes for a party of 5 came to an amazing total of a little over $150, excluding the bottle of wine Paul had purchased for us earlier while waiting. By the way, since C.U. also includes a wine shop - all the wines on their list is priced at retail with just a $7 additional corkage fee for drinking in the restaurant. Service - excellent, warm, kind and attentive. I'd definitely return if in the area again.
505 Laurel Street
San Diego, CA 92101-1634