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Cucina Urbana

Ragu Polenta
Copyright©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

Finding something delicious to enjoy at the new and stylish Cucina Urbana is a cinch. The former Laurel received a fabulous if not uuber trendy facelift and new name showcasing an innovative menu with something for every palette. You’ll leave happy whether you’re looking for refined or just good ole comfort food. Best of all, nothing on the menu is over 20 bucks.

Cucina Urbana is a sexy, eclectic little venue. And it’s really not that little. The Tuesday night crowd was three deep at the hostess stand and you better dang well have reservations. The economic crisis may well be history with the advent of this must-go-to Tracy Borkum creation. Whatever the case, the energy of the place was infectious.

Love the fact that you walk into Cucina Urbana’s dining room, descending a staircase making an entrance into the hippest place to grace this neighborhood in quite a while. Funky chandeliers shimmer offering a striking contrast to the wood-paneled crate like walls. A huge shelving unit rests smack dap in the middle of the room filled with glasses, plates and bowls. An odd location but it looks cool – frankly not unlike something you’d pick up at Pottery Barn. A beautiful subtle mural of painted-on-plywood looms large on the back wall adding a luster to the room.

Love the bar area with wine descriptions written on multiple mirrors with little notes about their complexities. It’s a great way to figure out your libation and make sure your hair looks good at the same time. Dining at the bar is also offered with many taking advantage due to the overwhelming popularity of the dining room. The bartenders did ignore us for the better part of ten minutes when we first arrived. The one guy didn’t think it was funny when we asked if he worked there. Ah the glory and slight attitude of a of a newly designated “in” spot.

A pizza bar where diners can sit, eat and watch pizzas literally emerge bubbling from the oven is a nice touch. These are snappy tasting morsels that while thin crusted, still have a soft texture and the topping choices are completely, well, top notch. A normally basic pepperoni pizza featured pepperoni, fennel seed sausage, mozzarella and papadew pepper ($14). An excellent pizza that puts most other to shame. Dine on Thursdays for ½ price pizzas.

Pepperoni Pizza
Copyright©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

If waiting for your table (and a 20 minute wait we did but, like we said, they were busy) stroll over to the back section where they have wines for sale to take home or choose for the table. Something relaxing about browsing through the racks and making your choices. A very interactive experience and there were some good deals to be had. Select your choice(s) and bring it with you to your table. There is an additional $7 corkage fee which is truly a steal considering what other places gouge you for. The breadth of wine is wonderful with everything from lovely Italian table reds to Opus One.

The dining area is comprised of lounge benches and chairs along the back wall and the usual table settings elsewhere. The benches are fun as they have throw pillows throughout for extra comfort.

Cucina Unrbana’s menu embodies an abundance of selections and genres. Appetizers include antipasti, vasi, insalate and “boards” of either bruschetta, polenta, formaggi and/or salami. The polenta “board” is a steamy and creamy polenta poured over a wooden board at your table and then topped with the night’s ragu, which changes daily ($12.50). Our table gorged on the chicken sausage version which was wonderful. Stuffed fried squash blossoms made of herb ricotta, purple basil pesto and cured lemon dressing ($9.50) were delectable and perfectly textured treats. The blossoms delightfully crackled and crunched into a delicious moist center of ricotta. Ricotta gnocchi with sage brown butter, parmigiano and amaretti ($11) were a little on the large and doughy side, but we’d order them again. Split the gnocchi open and let them soak up the enchanting sage brown butter, then take a bite and smile.

Short Rib Pappardelle
Copyright©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

A highly recommended entrée from the savvy server was the fan favorite short rib pappardelle with creamy mushroom and parmigiano ($18.50). The dish lived up to its accolades. Thick strands of pasta bathed in a decadent creamy sauce with mushrooms galore and the portion of short ribs was extremely generous. They could have gotten away with lots-of-noodles and less meat but Cucina Urbana held its mettle and presented a truly hearty and savory dish.

Grilled “duroc” pork chop with mascarpone polenta, brussel sprouts, chestnut and cranberry honey glaze offered a moist, thick piece of protein ($19.50). Maybe too thick as the chop got rather red as we dug in. The recommended medium rare would have stood better cooked medium. Like the other dishes, the flavors continued to shine through with great balance and texture. Braised black cod with pistachio caper crust, smashed potato, peperonata and limocello butter ($18.50) had a lovely flavor composition but came off a little fishy with an awkward texture.

Grilled "Duroc" Pork Chop
Copyright©2009 sandiego.com, Inc.

Desserts abounded but were shamefully passed upon even though the knowledgeable server indicated the pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust and roasted pineapple was “to die for”. It’ll have to wait until another time.

The sheer act of taking a property with the history of the high-end Laurel and transforming it into the bustling Cucina Urbana is a test of a brilliant restaurateur. Owner Tracy Borkum deserves much respect for pulling off this difficult feat. Cucina Urbana delights, satisfies and helps keep an eye on the pocket book. Other specials include Take-out-Tuesday which offers a pizza, insalate and a bottle of wine for $30 and Wild Wednesday where for $14 enjoy a burger and beer. Not really kid friendly, Cucina Urbana is a place to let you be a kid in a culinary sand box. Plus the staff clearly knows how to treat their customers and that is a wonderful thing. Enjoy!

The Good - Everything under $20 - we like

The Bad - Waiting for 20 minutes even with a reservation

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-239-2222
  • Name: Cucina Urbana
  • Address: 505 Laurel