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When the recession hit, Laurel was floundering as a special-occasion restaurant in leaner times. Realizing that a completely different approach was needed, Borkum evidently found inspiration in San Francisco (where she’s a frequent visitor) for models of the style of eatery she now envisioned — one that locals could regard as an anyday, everyday spot, whether for a light nosh and a glass of wine or a good meal and a couple of bottles. She renovated the space more radically this time but kept the same chef to create the less formal, more affordable, and highly flexible Mediterranean menu that marks Cucina Urbana.

Note: Due to deadline pressure, I didn’t attempt to interview Tracy Borkum for this review. Over the years, we’ve had several lengthy conversations (revealing, e.g., her enthusiasm for the San Francisco restaurant scene, where neighborhood restaurants with superior food are actually commonplace). I’ve also interviewed a number of chefs who have worked for her at Chive or Laurel. Like Kevin the Wonder Waiter with our wine, I am, I hope, making an accurate guess as to her intentions regarding Cucina Urbana.

Cucina Urbana

  • 3.5 stars>
  • (Very Good to Excellent)

505 Laurel Street (at Fifth Avenue), Banker’s Hill, 619-239-2222, sdurbankitchen.com
HOURS: Tuesday–Saturday 5:00–10:00 p.m., with light dishes and pizzas Friday–Saturday until midnight; Sunday 5:00–9:00 p.m.
PRICES: Small appetizers and spreads, $5.50–$7; antipasti and salads, $9.50–$13.50 (plus $10 more for “family size” salads to serve four); large appetizers and pizzas, $12–$14; pastas, $15.50–$18.50 (plus $18 for “family style” to serve up to four); entrées, $15.50–$20; desserts, $7.50–$9.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Creative, playful Italian food, emphasizing light, shareable dishes in numerous formats. Exciting wine list, all bottles $7 corkage over retail price. Full bar, inventive but sugary cocktails.
PICK HITS: Chicken liver paté, fried squash blossoms, soft polenta with nightly ragu, pizza, goat-cheese ravioli, braised black cod. “Good bets” too numerous to list.
NEED TO KNOW: Wheelchair lift and handicapped parking slot just past front door of garage on Fifth Avenue (sign: Laurel Staff Parking). Be careful at bathrooms: third door is busy service door (wham!). Happy-hour specials 5:00–6:00 p.m. Very noisy but not painfully so. Hog heaven for lacto-vegetarians.

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Comments

Naomi Wise Sept. 29, 2009 @ 4:24 p.m.

Thanks, Mr. Istrian -- your info about speck is tremendously useful, much better than I can find in most "food dictionaries." (Now I'll have to memorize this new definition for future appearances of this delicious stuff.)

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istracpsboss Sept. 24, 2009 @ 5:36 a.m.

Interesting and enthusiastic write up !

However, having lived in Istria for the last eight years I would comment on quote The same was true of veal piccata bedecked with sensual oyster mushrooms and a load of white-corn kernels, with slim slices of speck (the Austrian version of prosciutto, common to Italy’s northeast border, e.g., Trieste, and the formerly Italian territory of Istria). unquote

Speck is definitely not the same as prosciutto, known locally here as prsut. Prosciutto and prsut are lean and from the hindquarters. Speck is more fatty and from the flank.

Istria was only occupied by Italy for twenty years between the two world wars, as spoils for the victors, Italy having fought on the allied side in WWI and Istria having been previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It had never been part of Mazzini's modern Italy, although it had been part of the Venetian Empire before 1797.

HTH

Peter

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GG Oct. 23, 2009 @ 1:19 p.m.

I MISS Laurel!!! I was SO SO sad to see its gone!!! That was my favorite restaurant!!!! They had a Great happy hour as well!!! Laurel was just a FAB place to relax over a cocktail if you didn't want a big dinner even though their food was always Impeccable!!! WOW!!! Some of the best food I ever had in SD!!!At Laurel the decor was so hip & chic, felt like I was in a swank Parisian lounge! My friends and I use to love to meet for drinks/appz & soak up the ambience there! We need more fabulous french food in SD!!!

I can't believe they replaced it w/ yet another boring italian rest. As if we don't have enough of those & the italian food in SD is always such a huge dissappointment, nobody can ever get it right!!! It really is sad that due to the recession we lost a gem like Laurel.

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