Saturday, March 29, 2008

San Diego restaurant- Urban Solace

Eat retreat- Urban Solace brings wellness to your wallet

Possibly one of the best phrases in the English language, “pile of cheese biscuits with orange honey butter” had me so excited that I called my mom, sensing she would be proud of a daughter who had stumbled upon Urban Solace (3823 30th St), a fresh “feedery” nourishing the soul (and wallet) through upscale, comfort cuisine. A further venture in cleansing North Park’s appetitive aura, Solace staged its September, soft opening to hardcore success as an affordable, neighborhood sanctuary.

Solace’s sponged cake exterior (in texture and hue) sliced by white window trim and embraced by a ‘Big Easy’ style balcony (perfect for throwing beads), never alluded to the cultured kingdom unfolding inside. We were led past crisp linens and diabolically selected color schemes to a candlelit table for four (only after sipping stellar wines at the well-lit, well tended bar and perusing a patio pulsing with electric warmth).

Our waitress, Christine bore no resemblance to Stephen King’s calculating car, but possessed a type of enthusiasm that geared her standard of excellence into overdrive- always attentive, never overbearing. Executive Chef (and founding partner) Matt Gordon continued the coddling by lending 17 years of experience to a menu that would undoubtedly land him on the comfort food fast track.

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.

And that’s when I knew Solace had tipped the scales in their favor- I was already planning on my return visit(s). Acquiring a local, weekly go-to is just as rewarding as winning big at the craps tables. Dining out is usually a gamble and when you’re betting with $5 chips instead of $25 chips, it’s easier to take a loss now and then because you haven’t broken the bank. Gambling at Solace’s tables had high enough odds where I knew I would no longer be paying for craps. However, 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!)

Solace had already soothed my mind (and appetite), but I knew I couldn’t be the only one. As we exited the dining room, I distinctively heard the meditative chanting resembling, “Om”, but upon closer listening, I realized it was the resounding sound of, “Yum”.

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