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The Del Mar Highlands Town Center is undergoing a major facelift, with a newly renovated movie theatre, new shops, and new restaurants. Urban Plates is one of the latest eateries to open there.

According to their website, the owners of Urban Plates spent two years traveling and researching their concept, which they say is "farm to plate and won't break the bank", "freshly delivered from local farms and producers" and "represents the future of how we will eat food prepared outside the home and will quickly become an integral part of our eating experiences." Sounded interesting, I was curious to see how revolutionary this was going to be.

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You grab a tray, walk along a line, order your food, and when you get to the end you pay. If this sounds familiar, it should. It's called a cafeteria. Nothing revolutionary so far.

The food stations are labeled with cutesy names - "Mix UP" for salads, "Pile UP" for sandwiches, "Carve UP" for entrees, "Stir UP" for rice with various braises and "Urban Pizzettes" (which, for some goofy reason, reminded me of the "urban sombrero" on Seinfeld). The main dishes were surprisingly lacking in variety, for example, of eight sandwiches listed, four are turkey. Most dishes come with a piece of focaccia, entrees come with two hot or cold sides, sandwiches come with homemade potato chips and one side.

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John decided on turkey meatloaf, rosemary roasted potatoes, and grilled summer squash ($10). I'm not sure what "local farm" is growing zucchini in December. I chose the grilled Urban steak sandwich ($10), which comes with the chips, and sautéed mushrooms and leeks.

We got our food and cutlery, napkins (printed "in case you mess UP") and cups ("drink UP"). Enough already with the UP. This is when the weirdness began. We were taking pictures of the food when a young lady came over and said, "Please stop taking pictures. The owner doesn't like it." Well, what's UP with that? If you have a website with pictures of your restaurant and food, your Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube and foursquare on it, you shouldn't be too worried about a few more pictures. It's not like I was in their office stealing recipes. We put the camera away, but it felt like we were being monitored after that. Maybe I was just paranoid (and a little embarrassed).

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Anyway, on to how it tasted. My sandwich was supposed to have roasted red and Anaheim peppers and chimichurri aioli, but came only with a few strips of red pepper. The beef, which looked beautifully rare, was surprisingly lacking in beef flavor. The beef and the inside and outside of the roll were aggressively grilled, which gave it a bitter, acrid taste. The mushrooms and leeks were okay but nothing special. Those chips, though, boy oh boy, they were really good. Fried golden brown in rice oil, they were super crunchy and had great potato flavor.

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John's entree had two small slices of turkey meatloaf, topped with a too-sweet red sauce. I'm not a fan of turkey meatloaf, and this was no exception - it was dry, and lacked any distinct flavor. It was better as leftovers, cold out of the refrigerator, but that's not the point of eating in a restaurant. The potatoes were decent enough, but had none of the promised rosemary flavor. The grilled summer squash was a complete failure, curiously, it had slices of nearly raw eggplant in it, no seasoning at all, and was totally tasteless.

Whatever the next revolution in food will be, I have no idea. I do know that Urban Plates isn't likely to be a part of it.

Urban Plates

12857 El Camino Real - Del Mar Highlands Town Center

San Diego, CA 92130

858-509-1800

Hours:

Sunday - Thursday – 11 am - 9 pm

Friday - Saturday – 11 am - 10 pm

Free lot parking.

Kid's menu available.

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