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Urena


Eatmywords
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I was going to say the same thing . . . .

Actually, I think the River Cafe is very good as well, but I recall a few people saying it's the view that attracts most of the people, not the food.

That list is there as an example of things mentioned in posts based on my recollection - and most are not mine (for instance, I would never include Luger, but most would). I'm sure many of the listed restos would draw varying opinions on both food and ambiance.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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The comments posted here made me intensely curious about Urena, and so I found a friend and went last night. I asked for a reservation at 6pm and got it, on the condition that I'd be gone by 7:45. I asked if that would be a problem and was told it would not be. I was very happy to see that they were doing so well.

Upon our arrival at Urena, I was just as disappointed as everyone else by the atmosphere ("it really is bad" was my first thought). If anyone has read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" in high-school, they will have some idea of the overall "feel" of the physical ambience at Urena. Aesthetic indiscretions imposed themselves upon my consciousness everywhere. While washing my hands in the bathroom (to stay with the "Yellow Wallpaper" theme a little longer), I found myself impressed by what must be the cheapest looking piece of "modern art" faucetry ever conceived. Those who have had the pleasure of the restrooms at Urena will be very aware of what I mean. But I had arrived determined to look beyond such things and focus on food, which I mainly managed to do throughout most of the meal.

And the food is truly wonderful. By the time it came to order, we had decided that we'd order the longer chef's tasting menu, which unfolded over the next 2.5 hours like a slow ritual that was, overall, an experience of the highest caliber. Indeed, I would claim that, with a few exceptions--like the good but somewhat over-salted salted cod amuse--one dined on one superb dish after another. I would even claim that after experiencing the sweet corn and basil broth amuse, one waits anxiously in expectation of each subsequent course. I was practically giddy, for instance, after I had experienced a small appetizer of sea bass that mingled the slightest intimations of smokiness with a robust, cirtus sharpness. The texture and flavor of the fish was like that of the finest sushi that I've had. The perfectly portioned piece of seared artic char with blood orange sliver was sublime, a masterpiece of dedicated and inventive cooking, both delicate in texture and sunny in disposition. Memorable also were the chicken with foie gras foam and the short rib stuffed with chorizo mousse and paired with boar in a lush foie gras sauce. By these last dishes, you see what a marvelous progression was made from delicate vegetable and fish flavors and preparations to the more carnal and earthy plates. It was a progression that seemed evocatively Spanish to me. With the short ribs I felt, in fact, like a forraging pig with my snout buried beneath some mouldering leaves in hot pursuit of a truffle. The two deserts were good enough too. Although I wasn't entirely convinced by the chocolate pudding with mustard foam, the beet panna cotta was delicious and interesting, paired as it was with a little chocolate.

The chef's tasting menu costs $110. I am not altogether convinced that there are an infinite number of NYC diners who will pay that amount even to experience great food as I did under the conditions set at Urena. My table bordered a serving station that was constantly filled with animated comotion. It was undignified to be spending that much and seated there. The service was good on getting things out, extremely courteous, but not always on clearly annunciating ingredients and explanations. When 7:45 came and went, nobody said a thing (the restaurant, in fact, was not entirely full. Quite a few tables were open). I appreciate their courtesy in overlooking my infraction of the agree-upon time limit.

Urena is a restaurant, in my opinion, that deserves our attention and patronage. It serves great, sometimes lofty food. This is enough, in my thinking, for occasional visits. I do hope that they look to a remodel sooner rather than later, if only because I could recommend the restaurant wholeheartedly to my "lay" friends more readily as a result. I would also feel more inclined to return more often myself.

But let me end, again, with the core of the Urena experience, the food itself, which was most definitely at 4 star level. To begin so well at the seashore with a sense of the light and color of some of the best Spanish cuisine and to arrive gradually by a luxurious and capable pacing at the more rustic, but deeply sophisticated, earth of the interior (this is my mental image anyhow) was a tremendous dining experience. Urena's kitchen is a great kitchen, and I had a great time.

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  • 2 months later...

Dined at Urena tonight and, as usual, ordered the chef's tasting menu. It was very good, but perhaps this is not the restaurant for a tasting menu, more on that later.

I was served:

Plato de pequenas locuras - daily selection of chef's tapas. Today it included chilled beet soup with yogurt sorbet, tuna tartare in phyllo cones (a Keller salute to be sure), deconstructed bruschetta, beer and cheese croquette, and smoked wild bass with paprika oil

Cannelloni de cangrejo y piquillo - Crab cannelloni wrapped in piquillo peppers, Cava tomato water gelee, micro herb salad

Ravioli de cepia y crema de cabra - Goat cheese and cuttlefish ravioli, spring garlic sauce

Salmon pochado - Poached salmon, Englise pea puree, Grapefruit elderflower sauce

Degustacion de bogavante - Lobster broth, lobster salad with avocado and caviar, poached lobster with sorrel and blood orange

Texturas de foie gras - Bunelo with candied kumquats, terrine with cocoa nib ganache and choclate tuile, yogurt with tellow currants

Lomo de cordero - Roasted lamb loin, shelled-wheat risotto, black olive sauce (One of my party also subbed out the lamb for pork belly with granny smith apple puree, rich and sweet and just a bit sour)

Sorbete de Eneldo- Dill yogurt sorbet, lemon curd

Chocolate y sal - Sweet soy panna cotta, salty chocolate sorbet, sour cream sauce

To be sure, this place serves unique food, and that is why I chose to dine here as opposed to Eleven Madison Park or Le Cirque, two other restaurant I had previously held reservations at for this evening. There were lots of foams, interesting uses of yogurt and other "pantry staples," and some novel flavor combinations.

Highlights included the texturas de foie gras and the squid ravioli. The cuttlefish ravioli was especially creative in that the cuttlefish acted as the "skin" which held the creamy goat cheese. The spring garlic foam was great, too. I'm also really into foie gras paired with citrus of late and the candied kumquats worked great with the oozing foie gras croquette.

The one item that fell short was the tuna tartare; it was noticeably fishy. An homage to Keller in this regard should have been treated with more respect. Also, there was supposed to be caviar on one of the lobster preparations, but I specifically remember not seeing any on all three of dishes at my table. It doesn't really bother me, as I don't feel it would add significantly to the dish (caviar garnishes rarely do) but some might feel "cheated" out of a luxury ingredient.

The chef's tasting menu is now $125, up from the $115 on the menu I was faxed two days ago. The difference of $10 isn't all that significant, but I would've preferred receiving an up-to-date menu. With that said, I'm glad to have ordered it, as I learned a lot even from the courses I wasn't in love with. Intervals between courses were somewhat long and the space and service, while not at all objectionable, do not create an atmosphere suited for luxurious lounging or high-energy dining. Three hours seems to fly by at places like per se or wd-50, restaurants with unique personalities, but 2:45 seemed to drag at times here.

All in a very good restaurant, but I would probably go back to dine a la carte and pick from the most cutting-edge dishes on the menu. The chef here is doing a lot of cool things but the overall atmosphere isn't one of luxury or passionate foodie-dom.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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  • 1 month later...

We made a last-minute decision to go to Urena Friday night. The place was perhaps 60% full, not too surprising for a summer in the city.

We followed Bryan's recommendation and ordered a la carte, however we realized that most of the interesting items are only available on the tasting menu. The table next to ours had the tasting menu and it seemed to be moving very smoothly, I don't think they took more than 2 hours for the whole dinner.

We ordered the lasagna, the Mero, the scallops and they let us order the lamb off the tasting menu. We found the quality of the food to be very good and very well executed.

I didn't think much of the ambience, but was not horrified like so many others. I did find however, a disconnect between the quality of the food and the atmosphere, as Bryan noted. For the prices the restaurant charges, one is expecting a little bit more than the food being good. It struck me as expensive, but in reality I think that it's more a consequence of the environment not being at the same level as the food.

As I mentioned earlier, we were happy with the food we ate, but it is clear that the more exciting food is served on the tasting menu. Not making these items available a la carte, is a mistake in my opinion.

Arley Sasson

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  • 1 month later...

Ambience? Never noticed the ambience. Too much preoccupied with the food and wonderfully paired wines. Chairs were functional, table was solid, service was great (friendly and informative) and my guests were as appreciative of what came out of the kitchen as I was. One interesting observation though, the chef is as understated as his surroundings. Maybe, just maybe, he only wants us to see the food.

Jay

You are what you eat.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had nothing to do one recent night and, when I found myself walking by 28th St., realized that I had always wanted to try Urena. I walked in alone, and -- this is a testament to how small the NYC foodie community really is -- found Cachaca Dave and a lovely companion of his at the bar. We chatted for a few minutes and, not wanting to intrude (his companion really was lovely) and vaguely thinking I might settle in for the long term with a tasting menu, I moved on to a table. Not surprisingly (Cachaca Dave is a prostiletyzer, a zealot, a missionary), one of the signature house cocktails, which happened to be a mango caiparinha (delicious), soon appeared before me, a gift from Dave at the bar. Thanks, Dave!

The place was practically empty.

I was so prepared to be appalled by the decor that I found it inoffensive. Even the too-bright lighting bothered me less than the inky darkness you tend to find at some other places (admittedly, I might feel differently about that if I were on a date). Most importantly, I liked the food enough to overcome whatever reservations I might have had about the decor.

The tasting menu included enough of the a la carte items that I found interesting to induce me to order it. $125 for eight courses, with another $60 for the imaginative and interesting wine (and, with one course, beer) pairings.

I don't really understand the questioning of whether the food here is "really" Spanish. If you've been to Spain since their culinary revolution, you'll recognize the style immediately. There's practicually nothing "molecular" about it; rather, it's solidly contemporary, perhaps descending more from Arzak than from his pupil Adria. I don't want to oversell Urena: it's nowhere near that exalted level. But it's good, very good.

Favorite courses included the tapas selection, the crabmeat lasagna, and the scallops wrapped in chorizo with safron foam and squid-ink rice. Nothing was less than good. Everything was moderately surprising. The Bouley influence is clear, but there really isn't anything comparable to this food elsewhere in New York. And there's no comparing this food with the stuff Urena prepared at Suba: he has a free hand here, and he uses it.

Of course, you've got to do a price analysis. $125 for an eight-course tasting menu puts this restaurant in the upper reaches of expense in New York (although of course not at the very top). On the one hand, you might point out that the food here is nowhere near as refined or well-prepared as at, for example, Eleven Madison Park, whose tasting menu is a little cheaper (although also less generous). But on the other hand, you might note -- a frequent refrain from me, I know -- that the styles of cooking at the two places are so dissimilar that they aren't really comparable. If you want this kind of food, you have to go here. Although I could imagine Urena's food being even better -- and he's a really young guy; in time, I'm sure it will be -- I in no way felt that I paid excessively for a meal that consistently surprised and delighted me. One of the very best restaurants in New York? No. A place that's well worth visiting? Absolutely. As I said, no one else is really cooking anything like this stuff anywhere else in the City.

One personal note: there was probably a time when I could have easily handled the cocktail I ordered, the cocktail Dave sent me, and the seven or eight or maybe even nine generous pours that accompanied my meal. But if there was such a time, it was probably during the Ford or Carter administrations. I'd like to publicly apologize to the staff at Urena for the way I sort of staggered out of their place (it was that extra cocktail from Dave that did me in: I swear it). But they can be assured I staggered out happy.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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Rereading this thread after I posted my review, I was rather startled to notice a 25% increase in the price of the tasting menu, from $100 to $125. The a la carte prices struck me as being commensurate with the tasting menu's price, but I guess that doesn't necessarily mean they went up since opening.

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Alex is one of the most talented chefs in the city.

I agree with Sneakeater that no one else in the city is cooking food like his. It is unfortunate that the dining room decor isnt on par with other serious restaurants that charge the same prices but hey, there are reasons for it. Go there and pay attention to what is on the plate,it is simply delicious and forget about what is around you.

Cheers Alex.

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It is unfortunate that the dining room decor isnt on par with other serious restaurants that charge the same prices but hey, there are reasons for it.

Having said all the positive things I said, I have to express the knee-jerk reaction that, if you find the decor offensive (as I didn't but many others have), there's no reason in the world you have to cut the restaurant slack because "there are reasons for it." I'm a consumer. I'm paying heavily for a meal there. Whatever problems they have are their problems, not mine.

That said, I'll repeat that I was pleasantly surprised not to be offended by the decor at Urena -- probably because I'd been so prepared for it by the overwhelmingly negative commentary.

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  • 2 months later...

GOOD ENTREE ALERT

1. Tuna Wrapped In Bacon On Chickpea Puree With Olives While tuna steaks often taste meaty, this tasted fishy -- in a good way. The bacon, sliced very thin, doesn't contribute its own flavor so much as it somehow serves to punch up the flavor of the tuna. Very successful.

2. Braised Short Ribs Infused With Chorizo Here, the chorizo definitely contributes a flavor element. With each mouthful, you taste the beef, but you also taste the spicy sausage flavor. So something new under the sun: a short rib preparation that's not like all the others.

***************************************

Based on my recent meal here, I think I can finally understand something that had previously puzzled me: why Vadouvan disliked this place so much. I think the level of execution in the kitchen doesn't match Chef Urena's conceptions. The food all tastes very good, but you can see that it isn't produced in as fine and clean a manner as at a real top-level place. Some fried items are the slightest bit soggy, for example. (I have neither the vocabulary nor the training to explain anything further, but I think most people who've eaten here, if they think about it, will see what I mean.)

Given how much I like what the kitchen is producing, I view this as acceptable in the context of a developing young chef operating under obvious constraints. OTOH, prices here aren't rock bottom, and I can see how this would bother someone with more training and experience than I have, who is more hung up on sheer technical cooking. Speaking for myself, I enjoy the food here very much, and am always happy to return.

Edited by Sneakeater (log)
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So I stopped by last night to have some tapas at the bar. I got there around 7 and was the only person at the bar. The dining room was probably 60% full. My first impression when walking in the room was, "Jeeze, it is bright in here" At first I thought it was the xmas tree and all the xmas lights in the window, but then I realized the lights above the bar were the worst offender. It is really bright. Great for taking pictures, but not much for atmosphere. Also the big tv behind the bar playing ice age the movie was slightly weird.

We sampled a few tapas some of the same ones that donbert had here.

Jamon Serrano

Pincho De Boqueron marianted sardines, sweet garlic, ginidilla peppers

Cochinillo Confitado confit suckling pig, granny smith apple puree, star anise scented sauce

Tarta De Ropa Vieja duck confit, pork chorizo, foie gras, truffles with chorizo aioli

Patatas Bravas home fries dusted with paprika served with chorizo aioli

The food was good, but not spectacular. I think for the money the preparation and size of the portions are a good deal, it seems that it is just lacking a bit on the execution.

The highlight of the evening was the Tarta De Ropa. It was really well balanced flavor wise, but slightly too oily. Almost like it was fried at too low of an oil temp. It was fully cooked through but not as hot and crispy as you would expect coming out of the fryer. It is similar I think to the experience Sneakeater had.

The Cochinillo was good, but I would have liked a crisper skin on the pork. Granted it is a confit of pig, but the whole crispy pig skin thing is what it should be about.

The one big letdown of the evening was the Jamon. It was cold -- not just out of the fridge cold, but cold. It didn't have the glistening of the fat that a Jamon has after it has been out at room temperature for a few hours. It was also sliced too thickly for my taste. It was about double as thick as it should be. Unfortunately we had to leave pretty soon after, otherwise I would have just sat there for 20 minutes until the plate warmed up.

Overall I think I would go back if I was in the neighborhood for the tapas. I am not sure if I would have the regular menu just yet.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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GOOD ENTREE ALERT

1.  Tuna Wrapped In Bacon On Chickpea Puree With Olives  While tuna steaks often taste meaty, this tasted fishy -- in a good way.  The bacon, sliced very thin, doesn't contribute its own flavor so much as it somehow serves to punch up the flavor of the tuna.  Very successful.

2.  Braised Short Ribs Infused With Chorizo  Here, the chorizo definitely contributes a flavor element.  With each mouthful, you taste the beef, but you also taste the spicy sausage flavor.  So something new under the sun:  a short rib preparation that's not like all the others.

***************************************

Based on my recent meal here, I think I can finally understand something that had previously puzzled me:  why Vadouvan disliked this place so much.  I think the level of execution in the kitchen doesn't match Chef Urena's conceptions.  The food all tastes very good, but you can see that it isn't produced in as fine and clean a manner as at a real top-level place.  Some fried items are the slightest bit soggy, for example.  (I have neither the vocabulary nor the training to explain anything further, but I think most people who've eaten here, if they think about it, will see what I mean.)

Given how much I like what the kitchen is producing, I view this as acceptable in the context of a developing young chef operating under obvious constraints.  OTOH, prices here aren't rock bottom, and I can see how this would bother someone with more training and experience than I have, who is more hung up on sheer technical cooking.  Speaking for myself, I enjoy the food here very much, and am always happy to return.

Sneakeater, I agree completely with your post.

I dined there about a week and a half ago and while I thoroughly enjoyed the food and my meal, I felt that something was off. Reading your post, I now understand what it is.

That said, I still like the place and would definitely stop by if in the neighborhood.

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  • 7 months later...

Sadly, it looks like they're going to close Urena (and reopen as a basque style bistro called Pamplona). While the appeal of the food itself at Urena was a matter of debate (see previous posts in this thread), it's sad to lose any place that tries to do something interesting culinarily. Personally, I agree with previous posters that at its best, the food was very well conceived if sometimes a bit roughly executed.

While I wish Alex the best, the new venture sounds mostly like another watering down of an unsuccessful but costly venture (see Nish, Cote Basque, etc.) by trying to make it into a more casual, less ambitious place. Personally, I think the location and look of the room at Urena were also major contributors to its downfall so it'll be tough to make this new incarnation work. With any luck, Alex will eventually open a spot that gets all the notes right, so he can showcase his most conceptual cooking in a part of town where people are interested in serious food, with an attractive room that matches his style (and presumably with a kitchen line that hits their marks better).

Here's the link to the post on Eaterwire announcing the closing:

http://eater.com/archives/2007/08/eaterwire_urena.php#more

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My one experience here was lunch a few months ago and I thought the food was both salty and a little overpriced. The location is probably not a big issue, A Voce is within 2 blocks I believe.

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My one experience here was lunch a few months ago and I thought the food was both salty and a little overpriced.  The location is probably not a big issue, A Voce is within 2 blocks I believe.

Although it seems a subtlety, I think the location was, in fact, an issue, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the location, despite being close to A Voce, isn't nearly as desirable. There is essentially NO foot traffic of worth on its block. A Voce is a large space that includes the corner lot, and borders Madison Square Park. It's also near a couple of other top high end restaurants (EMP and Tabla). There's a lot more foot traffic, and it's right off the avenue. Even though Urena is only two blocks up, it's in the middle of a block with no other restaurants or places of interest, and while A Voce is on the upper edge of Flatiron, Urena is officially in no man's land. Those few blocks make a difference. (Country is the closest restaurant in the 'hood, and it's not doing that well, plus it has hotel traffic to support it.) More immportantly, Urena is smaller, less attractive and not really visible clearly from the street, since it has so little frontage.

More important than any of that, though, is the type of cuisine they're trying to peddle in that neighborhood. Urena's food is less mainstream, and it's in an even less "hip" 'hood by a little bit. The type of food they proffer is more geared to a downtown crowd. Meanwhile, A Voce has a more populist (if much better prepared) kind of menu. I do think all that is a factor, along with A Voce having much more PR and being a more ambitious (and overall better) restaurant.

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