We went to dinner at Ursino in late October. Mussels with fennel broth and shrimp toast were AMAZING, the moment you dip the toast into the broth the whole dish comes together. My sirloin was perfectly cooked and the souffle duo was terrific. Husband had lamb two ways and pumpkin brulee and the flavors kept going and going. This food here is about balance and it is achieved. One of the cleanest tasting meals I have ever eaten and I have craved the mussels since I had them. Servers seemed nervous but that is understandable since we went on one of the first nights they were open. I predict big things.
After reading lots about Ursino (not here, interestingly enough), I finally got there recently for a business lunch meeting. First of all, the place is beautifully done, and I liked the setting. The restaurant is tucked in to a corner of Kean's new (2-3 yrs old) science building, which is very modern with lots of glass. A small section of the parking lot had signs that they were spots for Ursino only, which was great--I was worried about where I'd park in the middle of the day, as classes were in session.
When you enter, you're upstairs by the bar and lounge areas and you walk down a curving staircase to the ground-level dining room. The entire two stories face wall-to-ceiling glass overlooking a pond with a fountain, trees, wild grasses, and a small (4-6 tables?) patio out in the middle of the lawn. The patio looked lovely, but we were there on a 95+-degree day, so that will have to wait for a cool evening! The tables in the dining room were a mix of tables and banquettes; light, colorful, and welcoming, in my opinion--even on such a hot day. In short, we didn’t feel like we were on Morris Ave., which I’m sure was the idea.
Food-wise, the menu read nicely, but as with most lunch menus, I can't say I was necessarily oohing and ahhing--but that's me. Of course lunch w/friends is also different from a business lunch, and I take that in to account in terms of what I would/wouldn’t order. In the end, I had the baby spinach salad w/bacon, white vinegar emulsion, and grilled chicken. Boring choice, I know--but our client was raving about it, I don't eat much heavier food in that weather, so fine. As soon as it hit the table I could see it was overdressed *for my taste* but I dove in…the dressing was VERY good, full of lemon, which was a pleasant surprise. And the freaking chicken? One of the best-cooked I’ve ever had, and I made that comment. After lunch, we overheard the chef chatting with some people who were planning a dinner there and someone at the table asked him about the chicken on her salad; in short, it’s being cooked sous vide (even though the chef never used the term, I heard his full description, and that’s what’s happening). Suddenly I’m paying more attention to the possibilities of Ursino. My colleague had the summer risotto, which iirc had corn and chanterelles—and a huge layer of foam around the top, which was her only objection. Our client commented that she had the same reaction to that dish. Others had the chilled soup (carrot/ginger I think) and a sandwich, which I’m told were good.
For dessert, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’m NOT a sweets freak, and am genuinely someone who can go without dessert or (for real) have one bite, and that’s all I need. So when I look at a dessert menu of 6-7 choices and want to order almost every one, that’s highly unusual! To wit: beet crème brulee, a lemon-ricotta ice cream sandwich, ‘deconstructed sangria,’ a blueberry soufflé, and (I think) a choc something and a banana something else.
Sadly, the soufflé isn’t served at lunch (Huh? Then take it off the menu!), so we ended up sharing the ice cream sandwich (O.M.G. as the kids say—I wanted my own after the first bite) and the deconstructed sangria. I loved the modernist presentation of the sangria (orange sorbet, big dots of grape (jam?), tiny gelatin squares of citrus (?) and frozen honey yogurt), which came on a plate and looked like a beautiful painting. Scoop a little of each, and it was indeed the flavors of sangria all together. My companions declared it “a waste of a dessert” and I thought it was terrific—a light, interesting way to end the meal. Depends on how you feel about dessert, I guess!
Service notes: the hostess was lovely, but never offered that there was an elevator option down to the dining room. While you might not know it when we walked through the door, my colleague has had knee surgery and commented that there were a LOT of stairs, so we took the elevator up afterwards. Our waiter was less than stellar. He was very busy when we got there, but by the end of lunch, it was the end of lunch at the restaurant and even with just a few tables left, we had to ask a busboy to get our check and waited far too long for it to be picked up.
Our client had been there before since she's often in the area, so when we were asking her what she has enjoyed she mentioned a few dishes from early winter, but then said something about cocktails, and my ears perked up when she said the words "fig vodka" as I love both items. :-) I checked on my way out, as I've only ever tasted one and knew I'd recognize the bottle. Turns out they're infusing their own. A very good sign, imo! I'll def get back for a drink as well...
Overall, what I’ve been saying to people is that I want to get back for drinks/dinner with friends, and that I think the place has potential. Is it the next 4-star restaurant? Based on one lunch, no—but it’s a terrific addition to the area, and definitely worth trying again.
Just realized you can see the place on their home page: www.ursinorestaurant.com
"After reading lots about Ursino (not here, interestingly enough)...."
Actually, I did rave about it on this board, albeit not with the full-on details you have here, and provided a link to photos of our dinner there shortly after it opened. Here's the thread:
It's time for us to make a return visit especially since I presume a lot of the produce being used is from their own farm.
Btw, the original pastry chef left. Sounds as though his replacement is doing a great job.