The restaurants on Alex Ureña’s resume read like a Who’s Who of the dining industry, from the River Café in Brooklyn, to Bouley, Blue Hill, and Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli in Spain. Earlier this year, he finally opened his own place, the aptly named Ureña, which we visited on Saturday evening.
The appetizers seemed to show the influence of the El Bulli apprenticeship. Texturas De Foie Gras ($17) had three treatments of foie gras, described on the menu as “foie gras buffuelo with spice scented red plum puree, foiegras terrine with cocoa rib garache and chocolate tuile, foie gras yogurt with yellow current.” A bit less wacky, but still unusual, was my friend’s foie gras terrine ($17), in which foie gras was interleaved with braised beef cheeks.
The entrees, on the other hand, seemed to be out of the Blue Hill playbook. Cochinillo Confitado ($25), or suckling pig confit, came with a granny smith apple puree, shitake mushrooms, and wilted green leaf lettuce. My friend’s slow-cooked chicken ($25) was another example of unfussed ingredients skillfully prepared. The amuse bouche was also in this category, a delicious warm parsnip soup. The petits-fours showed Ureña’s wilder side again, with delicately sculpted chocolate lollipops.
After it opened, the critics lambasted Ureña’s décor, truly a charmless performance. If the designer was paid, the restaurant deserves a refund. They have made the corrections they could. Harsh white lighting mentioned in early reviews seems to be dimmer now, and I didn’t hear any of the “cheesy recorded music” Frank Bruni complained about. But the place still screams for a makeover, as do the staff, who don’t seem to be held to any kind of dress code. A flat screen TV in the bar area looks new; the only thing it plays is a video of a roaring fireplace.
On the plus side, service was fairly good for a restaurant in Ureña’s class. Most tables were occupied, but the staff didn’t lose track of us, which isn’t a given at mid-priced restaurants these days. The noise level was modest, and tables were more generously spaced than at many comparable establishments.
We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Ureña. We weren’t in the mood for a long tasting menu, but a $125 chef’s degustation caught our eye, and we made a mental note to come back and try it. Aside from the tasting menu, prices are quite modest for a restaurant of this caliber, with no entrees priced higher than $29. The wine list, too, is unusually generous, with several fine choices under $40.
Ureña (37 East 28th Street between Park & Madison Avenues, Gramercy)