Dining Review: The Urban Kitchen + Bar
By Bernie Whitmore
First, let’s take a moment to honor Coral Seafood for providing decades of happy dining experiences. Always on my short list of favorites, the yeasty, soft bread was a signature start, followed by our favorite entrees. For my troupe of friends, the end of the workweek was often celebrated with dinner at “The Coral.” These memories we owe to the hospitality of the Voyiatzis family. Georgia and her son, Jim, welcomed each of us as family.
The days of Coral Seafood may have passed, but the same family is back with an entirely new concept. In the first months of operation, I’ve dined at The Urban Kitchen a few times, and at risk of raising expectations the owners might not yet be seeking, I’ve found the cuisine exciting.
The bones of the building are immediately recognizable, but those huge overhead jellyfish lights have drifted away, and the library-style wine storage system behind the bar has been replaced with a proscenium arch framing a screen showing classic films.
Enough backstory. It’s time to let the food speak for itself, and this evening’s event began with Grilled Octopus. This is one of my favorite “exotics,” and The Urban did it proud. Dramatically presented with one tentacle arcing over the others, each purple-tinged section was tender with mild seafood flavor accented by flecks of cilantro and citrusy cream sauce. Chorizo hash brown potatoes added a textural contrast and provided tasty bits of flavor.
We accompanied that with a Charcuterie Board from Urban’s Share menu. I’m usually attracted to menu items such as this because the chef gets to display his or her virtuosity – or is, at least, challenged to produce something interesting. This one was fascinating.
Theresa, our server, pointed out the features of our charcuterie board before we started sampling. I started with the thick dab of pork rillettes and spread some onto grilled rustic bread with whole-grain mustard. Rillettes has the texture of fine-grained pâté and a highly refined flavor – very unusual.
Tall wedges of firm, golden beets, shimmering translucent with a mild sweet flavor, gave way to the main charcuterie event: thick slices of braised beef tongue. I’ve watched Anthony Bourdain long enough to seize this moment with gusto. Braised for hours with a hint of brown sugar glaze, it was the epitome of the beef experience: tasty and tender and pleasingly dense – very exciting.
Pink curls of pickled onion provided sparks of contrasting flavor. Perfumed with fennel and slightly sweet, they looked like delicate flower petals innocently drifted onto the board.
After such an auspicious start, where might this dining experience be heading?
With my Roasted Venison Loin, it bounded forward. Four generous filets were cooked medium-rare for ideal tenderness and flavor. To those who might cower in fear of ‘the gaminess,’ I recommend they get over it and give venison a try. At The Urban Kitchen, it was mild in flavor and plated up with exciting flavor combinations.
Nestled among the venison, roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms were thick and meaty and woodsy in flavor. Wonderful! Venison is often teamed with berries of some sort. In this case, it was a sautée of softened cranberries, each bursting with tart flavor. Then, there were the fresh-steamed artichokes; if you’ve prepared your own, you’ll recognize the hand-carved rustic nature and their mild nutty flavor.
Continuing our tour through the wild kingdom, my friend chose Seared Duck Breast, served with wild mushrooms and sweet potatoes over date purée. Another generously-sized entree, these slices of breast meat had glistening, pink interiors and a thin layer of wonderfully rich-tasting sear on the outside. They came with a tumble of earthy-tasting wild mushrooms and were garnished with bright-green nasturtium leaves.
The Urban offers four selections of side orders. This evening we chose the Mushroom and Leek Bread Pudding. Unusual? Certainly, but the Garlic Spinach is another option I’ve enjoyed. Both were delicious.
For beverage pairings, my friend chose a glass of merlot from Bedell, a vineyard in Long Island, and complimented its soft and rich dark-berry flavors. Continuing my shift toward craft brews, I chose Mayflower IPA. Its moderately sharp-bitter flavor also featured hints of citrus; it posed no danger of overwhelming the food courses.
For dessert, we ordered Zeppole, puffy balls of dough fried crusty brown on the outside with creamy centers. They were delicious dipped in maple crème anglaise – another example, I dare say, of peasant chic.
In support of this exciting dining experience was a level of service that anticipated our needs, no matter how subtle. Perhaps I was distracted by the plates set before me, but in my experiences at Urban Kitchen, it seemed as if a waiter magically appeared with whatever I required, just as I looked up.
I’ll credit manager Ian Nal with attention to every detail and an exceptional level of staff training and Chef Jacob Bowser with assurance that Urban Kitchen waiters are familiar with and enthusiastic about the creations they serve.
The Urban Kitchen + Bar | 225 Shrewsbury St., Worcester | (508) 755-8331 | theurbanworcester.com