When a good friend of mine – a gourmet chef that teaches several culinary classes in the San Diego area – asked me to join her for lunch the other day, I was delighted to accept. I met her at her house in North Park about 11:15am so that we were one of the first patron’s at the restaurant when it opened at 11:30am.
The restaurant could easily be missed if you did not know where you were going. The name is on a sign high above eye level; and the entrance is very unpretentious. Upon entering into a darkened room, with the hostess desk and the bar on the left, I was immediately struck with how long and narrow the room was, and it reminded me of many of the restaurants in San Francisco. There was an outside eating area on the right, but because it was overcast and damp we elected to eat indoors.
We were seated at the farthest seat at the back of the dining room, up against the wall that obviously housed the kitchen. (I say “obviously” because we could feel the vibrations from the kitchen on the wall nearest to where we were seated.) It was not distracting; we just knew it was there. There were several small tables set up a long side of us, as well as tables running down the opposite wall. Although I did not count the tables, I would venture to say that there were about 5 tables that faced the front part of the restaurant with 3-4 tables on the wall opposite us that ran perpendicular to those tables. We walked up one step to get to those tables. Meanwhile there were probably 20 tables or so that we in the front part of the restaurant so the space was well used. The music being played was not loud, and there was good ambiance for the diners.
Our waiter was training a new waitress and introduced both of them to us and asked us for our drink order. We both ordered only water, that was refilled several times during the meal. The menu was eclectic – something that one would expect in North Park.
It began with “STARTERS” and ranged in price from $5.50 for “Kennebec French Fries, smoked sea salt and herb-buttermilk blue cheese dip.” to $15.50 for “Foie!! Seared Artisan Foie Gras Brandied Cherry Reduction, French Toast, Cress.” The menu also had a section of Salads and Soup – the “house” soup is a Cream tomato fennel with garlic crouton, and Smoked Pepper Fraiche. There was a “special” soup of the day consisting of Asparagus and Mushroom that was creamy, served with a crouton.
Additionally, the menu offered sandwich and full plates, and ranged from $9 for a Roasted Chicken Salad sandwich tossed with grapes and pecans and served on grilled egg bread to BBQ Glazed Duroc Pork Belly, Creamed Corn, Pickled Tomato Salsa and served with a Spicy Herb Sauce for $19.50
My friend ordered the “Sassafras Marinated White Shrimp and Chili, infused with White Corn Grit Cakes” that was listed on the “Starter” menu. The price was $12.50. She also ordered a cup of the Tomato Fennel Soup ($3.00 for a cup and $4.50 for a bowl.) She said that both items were very good and had actually ordered them before.
I was not quite so lucky. I know! I know! I can just hear some of my critics now. I ordered the ½ sandwich, soup and salad for $10.25. I had my choice of either a Pastrami or Chicken Salad sandwich and I chose the Pastrami. It was attractively served – although the two pieces of bread were not put together right so the pastrami fell out of one side of the sandwich, but, more importantly, the pastrami was so salty that I could not eat it. The soup – asparagus and mushroom – was very tasty and the salad dressing was also good
After finishing the soup, the waiter and the trainee came to the table to ask how things were and my friend told them how salty the pastrami was. He said he was sorry and asked if I wanted something else instead. I said “no” because the soup and salad were adequate. When we received the bill my friend stated that she was surprised they did not take the sandwich off of the tab.
All six of the items on the dessert menu were $7 except the Artisan Cheese Plate which consisted of either 3, 4 or 5 cheeses, Anise Bread, Urban Red Figgy Compote, Honeycomb, Spiced Pecans and Sliced Apples. The prices varied from $13 for three cheeses; $16 for 4 cheeses, and $19 for 5 cheeses.
There was an extensive wine and beer list also.
Looking at the web site for the “Urban Solace” it appears that, while similar, the dinner menu is different. Would I go back to the restaurant? In all probability I would. I don’t think that it was necessarily the fault of the chef that the pastrami was so salty. It may have been brined that way and the chef was not aware of that. Besides, it wasn’t until later that I noticed that my very favorite dish was listed under the starters – that being “Sweetbreads” so I must return to try them. When we left, the place was quite full so the idea of getting there early was a good one. It should also be noted that they do take reservations.