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.
- 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.