Ian Anderson 2 p.m., March 9
Why not drink more bitters?
After-dinner digestives aren't as big a custom in American restaurants as they could be. Urban Solace, for one, leads the way in stocking a bar with the herbal cordials.
Rumors of a new-ish dessert menu led me to Urban Solace. I guess you could call something that came out in May “new,” since sometimes it takes a while to stay on top of things. Regardless, I thought perhaps some kicked-up pastry prep might put a fresh coat of polish on the neighborhood favorite. The restaurant’s style of smart comfort food hasn’t changed much at all. Not that it has had to. It’s managed to remain fresh by rotating dishes around the menu, but interesting pastry is in perpetual short supply all across town, so the thought of something novel drew me like a moth to a lamp.
From a kitchen known for unexpected cleverness, I expected more invention on the pastry menu. Puddings and cobblers are tasty, but they’re items that chefs put on menus when they’re pressed for time and don’t have skilled pastry cooks about to make actual desserts. Anybody can bake a ramekin full of fruit or custard. I tried the strawberry coffee cake, which was more bready than cakey, and more boring than anything. The “peanut butter cup” sounds novel, but it’s really just a chocolate and peanut butter layer cake.
Why not turn the savoir faire that goes into the monthly veggie tasting menus towards dessert?
It’s hard to fault Urban Solace on anything, however, as the restaurant is generally excellent. Underwhelming pastry doesn’t help the restaurant, but it doesn’t really hurt it, either. In fact, the “meh” desserting experience found salvation in a most excellent selection of Amaro behind the bar.
Amaro, Italian bitter cordials that find favor at European tables as post-prandial digestives, are truly underutilized in American restaurants. Urban, for whatever reason, stockpiles a wide selection of the wonderful liquors, even going so far as to age their own Fernet, a process that imparts a musky/minty funk to the dark spirit. Additionally, the bar staff has some ideas about serving a glass of Amaro. Ramazzotti with just a few ice cubes and a twist of orange peel? Excellent.
Looking behind the bar, I saw quite a few random bottles of Amaro hanging out in the shadows. Some (if not all) of them are going into the restaurant’s signature cocktails, but diners should think seriously about dabbling in a Cynar aperitif, or an Averna digestif, or both. It would be wonderful to see other restaurants follow suit, encouraging guests to take in a small digestive after a meal. The custom could easily find a home in local dining rooms, and we’d be that much better of for it!