Under the able hand of Chef Ke’o Velasaquez, Urbano Café grew into one of the city’s dining meccas, a not-so-well-kept secret among Dallas foodies. Affable owner Mitch Kauffman and his capable staff keep the tiny space humming in a swirling but efficiently choreographed ballet, the restaurant’s intimate interior lending itself to not infrequent exchanges of BYO wine bottles between tables populated by strangers. The noise level can be difficult at times, but diners don’t go to Urbano for pinky-out dining; they go for impeccably prepared food that never fails to satisfy.
Recently, however, Chef Velasquez, desiring to reduce his workload, resigned his position under, in Mr. Kauffman’s words, “… the friendliest of terms…” and turned the reins over to Chef Kevin Top, former sous chef at Bowery and Union Bear and most recently of the same position at Bistro N. It was, therefore, with slight trepidation that I recently introduced 3 friends to Urbano. After all, I have been raving about this place for years. Could it possibly live up to the hype? Every chef brings unique skills to the kitchen, and would Chef Top’s interpretation of the menu mesh with our palates? There was, of course, only one way to find out.
We shared two appetizers, Crispy Oysters with ginger scallion remoulade and Tempura Brussels Sprouts and Steamed Mussells with basil, garlic, chorizo, julienne onions and tomato broth. The briny oysters were, indeed, crispy in their corn meal batter, pleasantly complemented by the remoulade, and the Brussels sprouts, while not life-affirming, disappeared quickly as well. The grand slam, though, were the mussels, which were as plump and tasty as any I’ve had anywhere. We thought we detected Spanish paprika in the broth, but that could easily have been a byproduct of the chorizo. Regardless, the broth’s bright tang kept us dipping the provided focaccia repeatedly as we opined that, independent of the mussels, the brick-red fluid would be magnificent served over eggs, served as a pasta sauce, or simply slurped with a spoon.
Two diners ordered the blackboard special Beef Tenderloin with garlic horseradish mashed potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, green beans with pine nuts and red wine reduction. Both steaks were cooked to perfection, and the savory sides provided a satisfying balance to the steaks’ intense flavor. A third’s Pork Chop, also a blackboard special, was a 12 oz. beauty served with raspberry chipotle glaze, mayocoba beans, roasted Yukon potatoes, corn relish, and baby carrots. Like the steaks, the pork chop was perfectly grilled, exploding with flavor drawn out by the glaze. However, the star of the dish was the small, oval, yellow-colored mayocoba beans, heretofore relatively rare because of a restrictive U. S. patent which has since been rejected. The beans exuded a delightful creamy texture and deep, umami flavor profile, and I would be more than satisfied to make a cold-weather meal of a bowl of them over home-made cornbread.
The fourth member of our party ordered the Veal Bolognese with pappardelle pasta. The dish was generous enough to have a second meal from the leftovers; however, such plans went awry when one of our party couldn’t resist helping herself to the remnants of the silky pasta with the perfectly spiced Bolognese. Seeing the paucity of food remaining on our plates, our server sheepishly offered desserts, knowing that the sweet endings would have to wait for another visit.
Urbano’s fans are fiercely loyal, and I am happy to report to any who have not been since the change at the top of the kitchen that the transition from Chef Velasquez to Chef Top has been accomplished without the loss of any momentum.
Urbano Cafe | 1410 N Fitzhugh, Dallas | 214-823-8550
David Indorf is an avid Dallas food enthusiast, attorney and former judge who will be reviewing a variety of restaurants locally for craveDFW.