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Apr 1, 2008 11:09 AM

San Diego- Urban Solace brings wellness to your wallet

Who needs gravy when you have orange honey butter? This citrus twist acted as wing man in America’s answer to chips and salsa. An immediate call for cheddar cheese biscuits ($4) threw a hot ball of chive ridden dough in our grabby mitts before our hunger led to any dire dining decisions. Another pre-meal munching was the Sonoma goat cheese and squash spread ($5) whose buttery tang was only upstaged by the cornmeal fried delights that Solace referred to as “crackers”.

Appetizers opened with a thick, potent Caesar ($6.50) boldly grabbing Romaine’s whole leaf contours. Chewy croutons were soon forgiven for their true bread backgrounds (no pre-cut, box brand here) and as I find it nearly impossible to run across a decent Caesar, I was satisfied. Tender skillet shrimp ($7.50) had a strong side when it came to seasoning, but pearls of chili grit wisdom softened the blow with an unusual “Southern risotto” smoothness that occurs when grits are prepared correctly. Sweet potato fries* (SPF*) ($5) were hailed my new favorite snack as I gorged on fingers of candy, fried starch contrasted by the pungency of the blue cheese/ buttermilk dressing.

Macaroni and cheese ($10.50) made a headlining debut in entrees (with co-stars bacon and charred tomatoes as part of their entourage) and we enjoyed every creamy crescendo. Unfortunately, sour notes were hit with non-contenders (or “non-content-ers”) in the entrée arena. One companion wrestled with a cinnamon brined pork chop ( $15.25) that was one tough customer, while my chicken and dumplings ($13.50)longed for more simmer time and the usual "stick to your rib" thickness associated with the dish. Maine lobster and artichoke potpie with homemade, fennel infused crust ($15.75) sounded too good to be true since my east coast roots constantly have me longing for “the claw”, but there wasn’t much luck finding claw meat and when I did it was a bit rubbery. The crust was homemade and flaky, but wasn’t enough to save the dish.

Amazingly enough, my favorite mainstay of the meal was their burger ($8.75) – Brandt Farms ground chuck married with a marinade that would surely provide many years of happiness to many loyal customers- white cheddar and sautéed onions further ensured this happy union and I was already taking mental notes of all the lunches I would schedule here for the same price as fast food (not to mention it came with SPF*).

Desserts (all $6) ensnared us in a chocolate vice with the “warm and gooey chocolate cake” oozing cocoa lava from its porous shell. On the tart side, we puckered then perked to key lime pie accompanied by a butter cookie reminiscent of my grandmother’s baking (with the addition of a clean, citrus finish).We weren’t brave enough to test Solace’s baked apple soaked in black cherry soda atop French toast- yet.

I would suggest sticking to appetizers, sandwiches and desserts for a taste of everything under $10 (not to mention a corking fee of $10 for two bottles- unheard of!)

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  1. Thanks, I liked your colorful report, quite enjoyable. There's another thread on this place, given the excellent price points, if you're careful on the selection of entree's this place is a home-run. Awesome burgers!

    1. wow sounds like you ate enough for 3 meals! hahaha thanks for the great write up

      1. I love Urban Solace. Being able to walk there aside... Good food, competent service and dinner for 3, with beer/wine, 2 shared appetizers, entrees and 2 shared desserts under $50 pre-tip. Hard to find these days...

        1. I didn't particularly think i was getting a deal here when i went. Sure its not that expensive, but I really wasn't blown away by the food. I expected something amazing due to all the hype.

          I got the Monte Diego and it was extremely soggy... the pear also adds the wrong type of flavor to the sandwich when you consider they have a strawberry jam with it.
          The beef cheek was stringy and lacked in flavor(salt).
          The Artic Char was really average, nothing special nothing bad.
          The biscuits.. uh.. i can get those for free at Red Lobster with more flavor.

          What i did like.. was.... The Mussels (appetizer), the flank steak.

          And service was really really really slow. The guy took forever to get us wine glasses, between ordered the appetizer and ordering the entree was easily 15-20 minutes. Getting the dessert menu after all the plates were cleared away was another 10-15 minutes. Getting the bill after dessert took awhile as well.

          We were at the restaurant for 3 hours... I really don't get what all the hype is about. I do agree its not expensive and I don't feel ripped off, but i felt like i really did pay for what i got.

          20 Replies
          1. re: clayfu

            Kind of agree with you here. I had a burger, and while it was a very good burger, it wasn't transcendent or anything.

            1. re: clayfu

              The beef cheeks are normally very good, and I also like the duckaroni and the the lamb meatloaf. (I don't know anything about the sandwichs or burgers. I never understand how someone goes to the "more upscale" place for burgers or sandwich, but that is just my opinion). I think that the food is clearly above average especially for the price.

              1. re: honkman

                If you want to understand the upscale burger, go to Cafe 910 for lunch. The Wagyu beef burger on brioche will make you a believer.

                1. re: honkman

                  It doesn't make a difference if we have the cheapest item on the menu or the most expensive, from top to bottom a restaurant with hype like this should deliver on every aspect, not just on a handful of dishes. As well their Monte Diego is one of their "signature" dishes, even if it is a sandwich.

                  and it is your opinion that its clearly above average for the price, just not my dining party's (and apparently josh). Everything tasted like the price point it ought to have been.

                  1. re: clayfu

                    I don't see really where there is any hype about Urban Solace (beside in your post) and so far I have tried most of the entrees (beside sandwiches and burgers) and didn't have anything bad.

                    1. re: honkman

                      its not bad its just not good.

                      Alice Q cataloged a few places that have reviewed it, i think i'd consider that hype.
                      As well as all the people on yelp raving over it and you even posted on the chowhound post where people were all hyped about it.

                      1. re: clayfu

                        "its not bad its just not good." - totally. I've been to Urban Solace three times now and still couldn't figure out what was wrong with the place until I read this post. What it is, it nothing I've had there seemed like it was put together by anyone who gave a damn what it tasted like. Which is too bad, because it all *sounds* really good on the menu, doesn't it?

                    2. re: clayfu

                      Have you been more than once? Because I've had varying experiences with a couple of dishes. I also think the popularity is leading some people to have unrealistic expectations, which seems to be happening a lot lately around here. We have a place that's everyone's new "darling" - then it puts out one bad meal and everyone starts squawking - it happened with Jayne's, it's happening with Farmhouse - everyone loves to tear down whatever happens to be on the pedestal.

                      I think they are overwhelmed with business, and it's sometimes hard to meet everyone's expectations under those circumstances. I'd say give it another chance though - maybe at a less busy time - and you might have a better experience.

                      1. re: Alice Q

                        Alice, I think you've touched on a really important thing...unrealistic expectations. The restaurant business is hard, very hard, and it is almost impossible to be all things to all people and perfect every meal. Certainly some things should not be overlooked, but other things, I think, can definitely be chalked up to the way a service period plays out...which can be different day to day and even meal to meal.

                        I ate at Urban Solace before the hype. Our server was new and it showed. The Monte Diego was so-so in my opinion, but my dining companion liked it. The orange butter with the biscuits was awful. But in spite of the misses the place had a good vibe to it and showed potential. My second meal there was much better. The service had obviously improved and there wasn't much to dislike about the meal. Naomi Wise, however, in her review in the Reader a few weeks ago had a dreadful service experience and, based on my own experiences, I could see how that could have happened. I'm not ready or willing to write Urban Solace off as being over-hyped and not worth the dining $$$. Does it have service issues? You bet. Is the kitchen uneven? You bet, they need to find their stride and stick to it. After 6 months there shouldn't still be as many of the wide swings in quality and taste as are being reported.

                        I love The Better Half, for me it's one of the most interesting new restaurants to open in SD in a while. But it's not perfect either. Not all their dishes work for me. I had dinner there last week with PMacias and we had a foie gras dish. PMacias liked it a lot, I thought it was over dressed and too acidic and was, frankly, somewhat disappointed in the dish since I know the kitchen is capable of so much more. Am I willing to write The Better Half off as being over-hyped and not worth the dining $$$? Not in the least, the food is still a notch or two better than a lot of what else is in the neighborhood and the service is some of the best in town.

                        I've never had a bad meal at Laurel, but there are a zillion people on this list that will jump in to describe just how bad their meal was there. I do think, tho', that the kitchen at Laurel is stretched to the limits of their skill set and that their prices are at the top of the scale for what they're serving.

                        As consumers we've probably all been struggling with the wildly escalating cost of food. Eggs are up 40% since December, wheat and corn are at all time highs and supplies are at 30 year lows. Produce has gone up 10-20% over the last year and we don't even want to talk about what's happened to the price of cheese. Restaurants have been struggling with these issues as well, plus they're all probably being hit with fuel surcharges of some sort from their vendors. That we can still go to a restaurant and have a reasonably good to very good meal for a reasonable amount of money is astonishing to me. Urban Solace is uneven but usually pretty decent and at price points that are very reasonable compared to what it costs to purchase.

                        I don't go to restaurants expecting to be wowed and bowled over. I've found it's best to go with no expectations and to pay attention and observe what's going on in the dining room and with the staff. Good or merely so-so, I'm just hopping my favorite places can hold on through this food cost crisis and economic downturn. The reality is folks, that we're going to see some really good places go out of business because of the state of the economy. For better or worse, enjoy them now, they may not be here in a year.

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          Well said Gayla - I couldn't agree more.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            you raise some good points. I don't disagree with you in principle, any place can have an off night. That being said, when a place is simply uneven, that's a different story. Places become favorites for me by being dependable. I don't expect perfection every time, but once you pass a certain price point there should be a pretty consistent execution.

                            1. re: DiningDiva

                              too bad Urban Solace isn't good right?
                              And if the food is almost universally disliked by my whole party of 7 I tend to not go back to a restaurant to get my money taken again.

                              the problem is the place shouldn't be popular, its just an average restaurant, i have no idea why people like it so much. I wasn't expected to be wowed by $15 a dish, i just expected it to be worth at least $15 a dish which i don't think it really met.

                              Just because you can put new twists on old favorites doesn't mean it'll taste good. Jono said it perfectly.

                              I think now that more than a handful of people have tried it, it's really getting exposed as a restaurant that isn't meeting any expectations.

                              1. re: clayfu

                                Did you really go there with a party of 7? That might be the problem right there. As busy as they generally are, I'd think they might have a hard time getting good food out to a table that size. Sounds like a recipe for disaster with a sandwich like the Monte Diego.

                                1. re: Alice Q

                                  I'm sorry, so its my fault for having a table of 7?
                                  The restaurant should be able to handle serving food for a table of 7, other places do it fine I don't see why they can't.

                                  It ought to be pretty common knowledge for a restaurant to be able to prepare the food so it all comes out partially fresh.

                                  I can't believe that you're trying to justify the problem of my experience with it being a large party.

                                  So either the food here is average or the service/kitchen staff is way below average?

                                  1. re: clayfu

                                    Obviously a lot of people have liked it - including myself - which would seem to indicate that your experience was outside the norm. In looking for reasons for that, there's a good chance that the large party and what you ordered could be (at least part of) the explanation.

                                    Even food critics eat somewhere at least 3 times before writing a review, and it's possible to order poorly at just about any restaurant. It's also not as if there are only two options here - a) the restaurant sucks, and b) the restaurant is great - more likely it's c) the restaurant is overall pretty decent, but occasionally puts out a dud - and you happened to get one.

                                2. re: clayfu

                                  As you see from this discussion (and blogs) there are a lot of people that really like Urban Solace. Just because you didn't like it means that everybody else (or even the majority) agrees with it or that it "gets exposed".

                                  1. re: honkman

                                    It's about prespective, this place has very good and fairly priced chow, especially the burger, US is not five star dining and never claims to be. For me, it's pick and choose what they do best and go with that. As for service, at those prices, I can forgive a little slowness.

                                    1. re: cstr

                                      Honestly, I'd rather have the burger at Ritual Tavern. The beer selection is better, and the burger is just as good if not better.

                                    2. re: honkman

                                      just because you like a restaurant doesn't mean other people don't. I think you've seen from this thread alone, quite a few people haven't had good experiences there.

                                      So yes.. its "exposed", people are finally trying it out after all the people talking about how great it is and realizing its really not that special.

                                      1. re: clayfu

                                        I think that's dreadfully unfair. As DD pointed out the restaurant business is hard and I would say you'd have to go at least three times before you can make a definitive decision on if a restaurant is good or bad. To many people go to a restaurant once and then whine about something out of the chef's control & post endless angry comments on boards like this. In my opinion this is uninformed and a differentiate those remarks compared to people who have tried the restaurant several times and who thus have a broad background to make an informed decision.

                        2. To be honest, I wasn't that enthused about it. I enjoyed the fact that when we went they told us it was going to be an hour wait and really it was only fifteen minutes. I really liked the sweet potato fries but my BLT was average to below average. They had all the right ingredients: brioche, tasty lettuce, apple smoked bacon but it just didn't come together. We also had the steak which was way below others in the same price range & style i.e. Farmhouse, Cafe Chloe and Modus. All in all, not somewhere I would return to unless pressed or going to the awesome bar next door (in which case I would probably get a nacho cheese burger at Tioli's Crazy Burger--try it!) I do appreciate that they are trying to serve good food at a reasonable price point but it just didn't work. Maybe it will and I should try it again once the "hype" dies down.