- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A look at chef Alexander Bollinger’s menu at Urbana reveals the world is his oyster — but he also finds fine ingredients much closer to home for the restaurant in the Hotel Palomar on P Street near Dupont Circle.

His mussels are from Prince Edward Island; chorizo sausages from Spain; mortadella and prosciutto from Italy; cheeses from Spain and the United States, including Piedmont from Rapidan, Va.; polenta from Anson Mills in South Carolina; the beef for his carpaccio from Pineland Farms in Maine; and produce from nearby states.

As for the oysters, he stocks a daily selection from around the nation for his new raw-bar menu — at the friendly price of $1 each from 5 to 7 and 10 to 11 p.m. Otherwise, they are $2 each or $16 per dozen.

Mr. Bollinger dices the chorizo — pork, garlic and pimenton (Spanish paprika) — for the Portuguese kale soup, his take on Portugal’s caldo verde. He also uses white beans and adds small shrimp as well as the requisite shredded, lightly cooked kale. This hearty soup along with some of the good bread served in Urbana could make a main course or a meal.

Another soup with an interesting variation is Mr. Bollinger’s gazpacho, made with yellow instead of red tomatoes.

The house-made pastas are linguine with heirloom grape tomatoes, baby zucchini, pine nuts and brown butter; pappardelle with braised pork a la Bolognese with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; and lobster-and-corn agnolotti with corn puree, chanterelle mushrooms and English peas.

The perfectly cooked bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, accompanied by polenta, Vidalia onions and baby carrots, is the only holdover from the previous menu. May it never disappear.

The Alaskan halibut, served with several Virginia top-neck clams, chorizo, corn, baby globe artichokes and sweet Georgia white prawns, also was perfectly cooked and was so hot it obviously had just come from the pan.

Urbana also serves a selection of small plates, such as ahi tuna tartare and escabeche of local fluke. When it is available, the cucumber crudo is made with a cucumber developed in India and grown by the Tuscarora farmers cooperative based in Pennsylvania. On Sunday, Mr. Bollinger substituted an Asian slicing cucumber; it was refreshingly summer-cool, nicely spiced and handsomely presented, with the small cucumber slices overlapping in a circle surrounding thinly sliced red onion and baby fennel and a few of its fronds.

The seared diver sea scallops also were properly cooked and were served on a bed of brandade (mashed potatoes and salt cod), which was fine. I preferred them without the dollop of apricot-pepper chutney, which is easily removed from the top of each scallop.

Mr. Bollinger’s six desserts are served in kind portions — the proper size without being overwhelming. The chocolate brioche — English toffee bread pudding with bing cherries and cherry-chocolate gelato — received raves; I preferred it to the chocolate-peanut-butter mousse with hazelnut crunch and caramel sauce, although the mousse by itself was intriguing because of the remarkably restrained use of peanut butter and subtle blend of flavors.

Another dessert, bananas Foster cheesecake, is more of a contrast in flavors: the sweetness of the caramelized banana slices playing up to the coyness of the mound of cheesecake beneath, made perhaps with a hint of lemon — hot and cold and sweet and tart.

Urbana’s sleek black interior is broken into sections by partitions of marble and dark-glazed bricks. The lighting is sparse, which can make reading the menu difficult despite the style. A busy bar scene at one end is on the loud and chattery side, but the area on the opposite side is quiet enough for comfortable conversation. If the Urbana martini is an example of the bartender’s skill, the bar deserves its popularity, and it’s open until 2 a.m. on weekends.

RESTAURANT: Urbana, 2121 P St. NW, 202/956-6650; www.urbana.com

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; brunch 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday

PRICES: Soups and salads $7 to $13; entrees $9 to $17 (lunch), $26 to $29 (dinner); pizzas $13 to $14; pasta $19 to $24

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible through hotel lobby

METRO: Dupont Circle

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