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Mar 25, 2012 03:12 PM

Urban Solace Visit

full review with pictures:

I first made plans to visit Urban Solace over a year ago. It’s not that reservations aren’t that hard to come by, it’s one of San Diego’s most popular restaurants, but a week should secure you a table. It was just one place that I had every intention of visiting during my initial visit to San Diego, but somehow missed before returning to PA.

Well, I finally made it out to Matt Gordon‘s namesake restaurant, and it couldn’t have happened at a better a time. The restaurant just finished with an updating of the interior, and coincidentally some anti-foie ass-hat decided to try and get himself some publicity the night before I visited. He won’t be getting any of the attention he so desperately desires here, but my two dining companions and I would like to thank him for his accidental recommendation.

Seared Artisan Foie Gras, Brandied Cherry Reduction, French Toast, Cress
I don’t want to turn this post into a foie debate, but I will say that for anyone who considers themselves a proponent of environmentalism; trying to start a feud with Urban Solace seems an awful lot like friendly fire. I wonder if said protestor even read about the restaurant..or took a look at the menu aside from one misunderstood ingredient.

Free Raised Strauss Sweetbreads, Mustard Crust, Pickled Chard and Mustard Seed
Moving on, I don’t see sweetbreads on menus nearly as often as I’d like, and if you know anything about veal..let me emphasize the free raised. These had a very light mustard crust which complemented rather than hid the flavor of the pancreas itself. I’m generally not much of a mustard fan, but the various forms in this dish won me over.

Steamed Black Mussels, Potatoes, Bacon Lardon, Herbs, Touch of Cream
Not a bad mussel on the plate. Every shell was open and showing sweet, plump pieces meat. The accouterments spoke for themselves.

Seared Albacore Chop Chop: Avocado, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Peppers, Spiced Pine nuts
There was no shortage of albacore or avocado, which gave a very light- tasting dish a bit more substance. The cucumbers, peppers, and pine nuts added a great textural element that I feel it often times missing from ceviche-esq dishes. Would order again…and again.

Duckaroni: Mac 'n Cheese with Duck Confit, Blue Cheese, Roasted Garlic, Arugula, Scallion
I can see why the duckaroni is a signature item. The noodles and cheese would be enough, but add in huge pieces of duck confit and I only recommend ordering this as a side so there is more room for entrees.

Sumac Rubbed Wild Sockeye Salmon, Quinoa, Spiced Roasted Lemon Butter
Choosing an entree really comes down to what you’re in the mood for. All three were great. However, I wanted to pay special mind to the Wild Salmon, the one that comes “direct from the fishing vessel Vortex in Bristol Bay“

Seared Maple Leaf Duck Breast, Caramelized Brussels and Squash, Root Veg Gratin

I also tried a famed cheese biscuit with orange-honey butter (highly recommended) and that would have to suffice for sweets on this visit. As our waiter was all too happy to remark on the amount of food the three of us had taken down, we thought it best that we give our stomachs a rest…which ended up being about 30 minutes before we saw a sign for frozen yogurt…

"Not Your Momma's Meatloaf", Ground Lamb, Bacon, Figs, Pine Nuts, Feta, Fig Jus, Sweet Potato Mash

I’ll have to leave desserts for my next visit, but I surely sampled enough to see why Urban Solace has become one of the most popular restaurants in San Diego. The space is great, the menu is accommodating to carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans alike, and it’s food that people can feel good about eating.

Ethically sourced meats, sustainable seafood, and regionally sourced ingredients won’t make great dishes alone; but they’re certainly making the ones at Urban Solace that much better.

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  1. We were also yesterday night at US with friends and we like a lot of their current and previous appetizers, e.g. lamb riblets etc and had their foie gras and sweetbreads to try them again ( we had them the first time when they were put on the menu) and still think they are some of the weakest appetizers, especially the foie gras, of US. Both dishes are quite unbalanced and in addition the serving size of the foie gras for the price is laughable

    4 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      Were those your feelings when you first had them?

      I did think the foie could stand to be bigger - but I don't think you'll ever hear me say my portion of foie was too big :D I was a bit dissapointed, but thought it could be a reasonable portion if it were for one person.

      The seared foie itself tasted very good, as did the french toast. I'm guessing some of the balance issues you mentioned were from just how sweet the cherries were. I got around that by mixing the foie with just the cherry syrup rather than an entire cherry.

      Still, the mussels and chop chop ended up being the highlights for me, and all of our entrees were great.

      Overall I really enjoyed the food. I wish I had known you were there, we've been meaning to cross paths for much too long now!

      1. re: Rodzilla

        We found both appetizers the first time already not great but thought it was mainly because they were just 1-2 days on the menu. The versions on Saturday were actually even more disappointing with the foie gras not completely properly seared and very weak cherry reduction. The sweetbreads had a very uneven mustard crust, sometimes no crust at all, sometimes a very thick layer of mustard which was all you could taste (very much prefer the Cucina Urbana verson). We regretted not getting some of our "normal" appetizers like the liek mussels or the albacore. BTW, when were you there and at which table ?

        1. re: honkman

          I see, well I did split the sweetbreads with two others, but the crust on ours appeared to be even. The mussels and albacore really stood out though. What did you have for entrees?

          We were there around 7 and in the booth by the front window.

          1. re: Rodzilla

            I think he'd have noticed a small dinosaur with a yellow napkin around the neck...

    2. +1 on the Duckaroni and cheese biscuits. Their grilled cheese and fennel tomato soup and cheese plates are also really, really good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: daantaat

        The grilled cheese looks great, I'm also dying to try the monte-diego.

        1. re: Rodzilla

          the grilled cheese was quite divine. the bread didn't get soggy at all and I eat pretty slowly. the cheese didn't congeal or get gloppy either!

      2. Well, husband and I ate at Urban Solace tonight. It was not awful.


        When we walked in, the restaurant appeared nearly empty. We asked for a table for two. The hostess offered us a table outside with a 30 minute wait. No, we said, we would like an indoor table please. She looked at her computer screen and then said, well, hmmmm....if you give me just 5 minutes I can get you a table inside.

        There was nothing rude or terrible about this exchange, and I realize this is a first world rant, but for pete's sake, the place was nearly empty. On a Wednesday night, at 8:00 pm, with several empty tables, the answer is, "Yes," not "hmmmm."

        We sat at the bar for a few minutes, just long enough to get drinks, before the hostess told us our table was ready. We carried our drinks to our table, as the hostess had obviously not been trained or expected to do this. A small quibble.

        Our table was set with four roll-ups. The extra two sat on our table for the duration of our meal. I was curious about a glass containing little blue rocks sitting on our table, until a (different) hostess replaced it with another one that also contained a small propane style candle. Ah! Mystery solved. The table decoration was merely an incomplete mood piece.

        The greeting from our waiter consisted of a harried, "Hi can I getcha some waters to go with those drinks?!?"....... No "good evening," no "Hello." sigh. He told us a quick rundown of some specials and then left.

        We ordered the sweetbreads for an appetizer. They were buttery and delicious, though I could have done without the gallon of mustard slathered over the entire dish.

        Another service quibble: after our appetizers were cleared, the waiter replaced our knives only; "Here ya go for the next round," he said. Sigh, again. Here ya go? And dear waiter, what about forks? Thank heavens the forks were replaced several minutes later.

        I ordered the pork belly for dinner, and my husband ordered the duck confit. Both were excellent. My pork belly was divinely fatty and round and I loved every bite. Husband scarfed his duck confit like a mad man. Our wine (which we requested be served with dinner) arrived at our table about two bites into dinner, despite the fact there was a healthy five minute interval between the appetizer and the entree.

        We dove straight into the Red Velvet cake for dessert, which was perfectly moist and rich.

        Overall, the experience was better than a sharp stick in the eye. My husband and I had funny, clever, great conversation the way we always do. But I can't help be a little annoyed with the overall ramshackle service.

        Great service is just not that difficult! It takes less time to say, "Good evening" than it does to say, "Can I getcha..." US used to be a place where you could expect an excellent meal and polished, polite service without breaking the bank. Now, it just seems way too overpriced for "Can I getcha" style service and a loud echo-ing room.

        All the ranting aside, I might go back, but only for snacks or a quick dinner at the bar.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Dagney

          Playing Devil's Advocate, when a restaurant has a chunk of real estate empty and they make you wait for a table, that is because they need to figure out how to staff it if no one is currently working the area (or the nearest server is maxed on tables). Sometimes they are missing a server or two or have to assign a server working another area to do a single table - in a different area. If you had to wait 30 minutes I would be understandably upset....5 minutes though?

          Secondly, I have gotten the New Knife, No-New-Fork at Urban Solace also. However, they replaced my standard butter knife with a serrated knife for cutting meat. Not sure why you would need a new fork between an appetizer and dinner. A new fork between the entree and dessert is normal.

          First World Problems indeed lol

          1. re: MrKrispy

            We placed our forks on the app plates, which were taken away when we finished that course, so we needed new forks.

            You are absolutely right, they could have been short-staffed. This is a nit-pick, but I suppose what annoyed me was the teeny-boppery, hemming-hawing-ness of the exchange. "Table for two? It will just five minutes, would you like to have a seat at the bar?" is so much more polished, professional, and service oriented than, "Oh, um, okay, well, (looking around) hmmmm, I can get you a table in five minutes."

            Like I said, this is a nit pick, but it's so EASY to provide polished service, so why not train staff to shine, not merely scratch by and get the job done.

            1. re: Dagney

              "..., so why not train staff to shine, not merely scratch by and get the job done." - Because the majority of customers don't expect it in SD and so it's not necessary for a restaurant to do some "extra" work without having a negative effect on the financial outcome. If more people would complain about service or stop visiting certain restaurants it wouldn't take long and the service would be improved in most restaurants in SD.

              1. re: honkman

                Exactly honkman.
                I deem you the Mayor...with you in charge, SD would have to step up their game.
                I want all of you to complain more...they need to know..
                We can change this low brow mediocrity!

              2. re: Dagney

                I don't think you're nit picking, in fact it's good business to refer customers to the bar/lounge area, it may just generate an additional drink sale or two which might just generate more of a tip.

                1. re: cstr

                  Cucina Urbana is grossly guilty of this, no matter how busy it is if we have reservations it always takes a while to be seated and we are always reminded numerous times that we can have a drink at the bar while waiting.....but there are never any available bar seats haha. Of course, that seems to be the way of doing business at most higher end places also....trickle down economics I guess!

          2. None of those would really bother me - the hostess maybe a bit. The food was good, no one was rude, the server actually sounds friendly, just a bit rushed. Stellar service always helps, but to get the best out of any interaction - at least a genuine one, you usually have to put in some effort as well.

            I understand you were the paying customer, but I'm curious about your demeanor. Servers usually take cues to leave some diners alone.

            My own waiter the last time I visited treated me like a child. I believe he referred to me as young man more than once (I'm 23) and commented on the amount of food my party ordered. In retrospect I wish I would have said something.

            16 Replies
            1. re: Rodzilla

              I understand that it didn't bother you but, a little professional mannerisms and polish would add to the experience and impression of the place. Servers just need to be polite and professional, calling you 'young man' as a paying customer, IMO, is a tad rude.

              1. re: Rodzilla

                "Servers usually take cues to leave some diners alone" - That would be nice but couldn't be further from the truth. (not a problem only in SD) . I think the servers at US are nice and friendly but US is really rushing people (some of the worst in SD and at least for us the worst service "mistake" you can make by far) . If they would stop it they would really become some of the best casual restaurant in SD.

                1. re: honkman

                  "If they would stop it they would really become some of the best casual restaurant in SD." Yes, completely agree. US has the potential to just knock it out of the ballpark, but my last two dinners there have been like a lunch at Applebee's in Mission Valley.

                  One of the great things about Addison, beyond the food and the room, is the service is so top notch; not fussy or stiff or the upsell from hell. They are simply professional, friendly, and courteous.

                  Again, I know this is all first world snipping, but why must one pay $700 to obtain the basic elements of professional service? Simple phrases like, "good evening," and "would you like begin with...?" are soooooo simple, yet they add volumes of polish to the overall dining experience, AND they don't cost anything.

                  1. re: honkman

                    CSTR - completely agree

                    Honk - I see your point, but I think you took what I said in a different direction. If you as a diner are cordial you're likely to have a more pleasant interaction than someone who appears to be in a dysphoric mood.

                    1. re: honkman

                      You've made it clear many many times that you prefer a slower pace of service- I respect that, and I share your opinion.

                      However, the standard of service in the US is NOT the same- you are in the minority. I believe if restaurants provided the type of service you seek, most customers would believe they are underserved.

                      As an example, most American diners will still bristle at having to ask for their bill. Most European diners would feel "rushed" if the staff presented the bill without request. In the two weeks I spent in France this summer, we were never presented with a bill without asking- and in a very wide range of dining levels.

                      While you and I share the slower pace preference, I do not believe the US pace is "bad service"- it's what's demanded of them by patrons.

                      1. re: Fake Name

                        Sigh, Fakey you could be right. I suppose this is where the art of service comes into play.

                        We love the food at US, but our last two visits the service had dwindled from polished and smooth to quick-paced and I mysteriously became a "guy." But, US is a neighborhood place, and it's entirely possible they are catering to their regular customer base.

                        Years ago I used to work at the now defunct Reidy O'Neils, and one of the owners thought the best example of excellent service was Panda Inn in Horton Plaza. When he sat in your section, you literally had to order his entrees immediately after the salad course, because he ate so fast. The man wanted a full course meal, (salad, entree, dessert, and coffee) in 30 minutes. Go figure.

                        1. re: Fake Name

                          I agree with you that customers in US restaurants expect a faster paced meal than in Europe and so restaurants have to react to this demand. But at the same time I don't think it is an unrealistic expectation that if you in friendly way communicate with the server and/or GM that you would like a "unusual" slow paced meal that it shouldn't be any problem for the restaurant to accomodate such a request. Unfortunately it seems that this very basic concept of listening to such request in a restaurant is a problem in the US, indpendently of the city or quality of the restaurant (we just recently had in a two star Michelin restaurant to ask the GM multiple times to slow down the tasting menu so that the next course wouldn't be served when we still were eating the previous one - and that wasn't by far the first high-end restaurant where this happened). For us the main problem in the US compared to Europe seems to be the training of the servers. In Europe being a server is a well respected job which includes an apprencticeship and good training (that doesn't mean you can't have bad service in Europe but the likelihood is much smaller and basic mistakes like pacing or how to talk to customers hardly ever happen). In the US it seems that servers are seen as people who hadn't any success with any other job and being server is their last hope. This attitude is than reflected in their non existent training and low basic salary.

                          1. re: honkman

                            I'm curious as to where you encountered the problems though. You do have the culutural habits working against your preference, but there are also restaurants offering both tastings and a la carte where the latter is the more common option. In those restaurants the servers may be unfamiliar with what's appropriate time between courses - and they should watch for cues from the diners (utensils down and/or plates empty) but it's also hard to orchestrate with the busy kitchen, especially if they're doing several menus.

                            I do recall mentioning that I thought the pacing was too slow during my visit to Providence, I nearly felt forgotten - and you mentioning that you thought they were perfect.

                            on a similar note. I HATE when apps and entrees are brought together, or one diners meal is brought out ahead of time.

                            1. re: Rodzilla

                              We have this happen with many tasting menus in high-end restaurants. The latest one was Melisse in LA but the same happened also at Cyrus (SF), Spago (LA), L'Atelier (LV) and Sage (LV) to name just a few. At some places like Sage it was so bad that the GM observed for some time what happened and invited us back to another tasting menu on our enxt trip to LV. Restaurants at that level should be able to train their staff to perform on the expected level. And it shouldn't make a difference if it is a la carte or tasting menu (with the tasting menu actually the easier one to handle for them). And I disagree that it is hard to orchestrate with a busy kitchen and several menus - It is just a matter of training.

                              1. re: honkman

                                Places like that, I'd be throwing a fit as well.

                                Well, no- but I'd be sending back the courses with an admonishment that they'd best not bring back the same plate.

                                But US?

                                1. re: Fake Name

                                  At more casual places like US I don't expect a perfect service like at high-end places but if you ask at the beginning of a dinner to have slow pacing it should also be no problem for US (or any other restaurant) to accomodate this request. And here it also comes down to training as some servers at places like US got better training/experience over time and are really good at timing with the kitchen by telling them when to fire the next course while others nod at your request but obviously don't do anything to actual have a slow pacing. It's always surprising how differerent the service can be at the same restaurant depending which server is at your table that night. Good example was our dinner on Sunday at Cucina Urbana. On a previous visit very rushed service (even though we asked for slow pacing), on Sunday great service with a server who knew that we wanted to have the courses like a 7-course tasting menu and we had very enjoyable three hours at CU. And I doubt it was any extra work for the server to pace the dinner slowly.

                            2. re: honkman

                              One of my favorite ways to experience a meal is as a solo diner. I bring my book (on device) sit down with a cocktail and start a LONG meal.

                              I just keep the menu and order one item at a time. They can rush me if they don't know what I want next ; )

                              Of course, that's a pretty silly thing to do- the server should pace the meal. But it works.

                              1. re: Fake Name

                                I'm with Fake Name on this. So Cal restaurants serve fast because that seems to be what most folks want. We like to take it slow so we usually order one course at a time. They can't fire up that lamb you didn't order yet while you're lingering over your mussels in white wine.

                                1. re: escondido123

                                  I think it is fundamentally wrong in any industry if a customer has to come up with the "suboptimal" solution to fix a problem and not the vendor. Are you also going to your car dealer to get things fixed and if they don't do a complete job you will find ways to get it fixed. If customers always "fix" things for any industry we will never improve standards. (And in addition, when we tried the approach of ordering one dish at a time, in some restaurants (I am looking at you Starlite and Alchemy) the servers came over every two minutes (and in the end complained why we can't order everything at the same time) while we were stll eating to ask for the next order which is similar annoying as a fast paced dinner.)

                                  1. re: honkman

                                    We don't go out to dinner that often so I'd rather spend my time enjoying the evening than trying to figure out how to "fix" a place. There is one place we go most often because we like their food, and they've come to understand that when we say we want to "take it slow" we actually mean it--as long as we get the waiter that understands that.

                      2. Like everything else that truly matters in life, good service is an art. As my chinese ex-sister-in-law once said, "Why do Americans need for the waiters to love them? Isn't it enough that they bring the food as ordered?"