Friday, July 23, 2010

Foodie Friday- Cucina Urbana in San Diego

Through the recommendation of a friend, I recently discovered this fantastic little website called Chowhound. It's such a great resource- not only for Dallas, but also when I'm in other cities.

We had no plans for dinner our first night in California and my dad was craving italian so I pulled up Chowhound San Diego.  We narrowed it down to Alexander's on 30th (my brother's fave that my parents had also been to) or this new place I found on CH, Cucina Urbana.  We decided to try something new and headed out to Cucina.

I'm not sure if it was the cool atmosphere, the super knowledgeable bartenders, the delicious food, or the fact that I was a little wine drunk, but I loved this place.

The place is in the Banker's Hill area of San Diego and I don't even know how to describe the decor... Rustic Modern? Urban Chic? Who knows, I'm a foodie not a decorator so I just took pictures instead:

Apparently walking into Cucina Urbana at 7pm on a Wednesday and expecting a table is a laughable aspiration (Note: they did not laugh at us. Just politely suggested that we Eagle Eye the open seating at the bar or take their next open reservation available far beyond the timeframe of our trip.)  Lucky for us, we found three spots at the bar shortly after arriving.

The bartenders are probably what made the experience for me. After this and my dinner at Neighborhood Services, I'm almost tempted to sit at the bar everywhere I go.  I love the ongoing dialogue that you can have with the bar staff that just doesn't happen when you are at a table with a sporadically seen waiter that has ten tables.  It should be noted that this is only cool when you have bartenders that a) are passionate about food, and b) know their menu well.

The bartenders at Cucina Urbana were both.  My pet peeve at restaurants is when you ask what's good and the waitperson looks at you (slightly annoyed) and says, "I don't know... everything".  I try to order not what I'm hungry for, but what the restaurant is either known for or the server raves about. Because if they're blatently saying ORDER THIS, I'm thinking I should listen.  Trust me on this, some of my best meals have been after I've ordered what they've told me to and not what I'm craving.

I took this approach in ordering my cocktail as well.  CU infuses their own liquors in-house.  {mango-passionfruit vodka, gazpacho vodka, coconut sugarcane rum, cucumber mint lime gin, vanilla bean bourban, red jalapeno tequila, and apricot brandy}.  I tried the mango-passionfruit vodka at the bartenders rec with soda.  So delicious that I googled "how to infuse vodka" when I got home. (ALEX: PROJECT!!)

CU is "an italian kitchen and wine shop".  Therefore, wines are sold at normal prices as opposed to restaurant prices.  We had a bottle of Peju Merlot for $25 + $7 corkage fee (probs a different year, but Peju is currently selling Merlot for $35 on their website).  Very cool that you can order good wine and not get your head ripped off.

The food. Mmmmm... the food. We started with the polenta with ragu, which changes daily and is obviously very fresh since they literally pour it out in front of you, as seen here (complete with The Dot's commentary):
Creamy with a great texture and the ragu was delicious.

For dinner, I ordered the grilled duroc pork chop with fennel sofrito at the suggestion of the bartender:

It was delicious, but it was no match for the short rib pappardelle with cremini mushrooms and parmesan that my dad ordered.  It kind of reminded me of the short rib stroganoff at The Porch only a grown up, more gourmet, much richer version (The Porch is one of my favorites but this dish was that good) Seriously, I've had dreams about it since:

Finally, my mom ordered the lasagna al forno (no complaints from her end either):

And for desert, some sort of delicious cookies + ice cream (forgive the lame description, the wine had already set in at this point):

It was one of the best meals I've had in a really long time. I raved about it so much that Clint and Whit went on Sunday after their wedding. It will definitely be first on my list for the next time I go back to San Diego.  I already have my sights on the following:
  • Vanilla bean bourban cocktail.
  • Stuffed fried squash blossoms with herb ricotta, basil pesto and cured lemon dressing.
  • Lemon goat cheese, zucchini, cherry tomato, and carmelized onion pizza. 
  • Spicy shrimp puttanesca over angel hair.
Can't wait to go back... Bon App├ętit!

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