The Saturday-night scene at Urbana, the subterranean restaurant/lounge in the new Palomar Hotel, can be hard to figure. Tourists in shorts mix with mojito-downing GW students in the sleek dining room. In the lounge, DC politico David Catania unwinds on a couch as a gaggle of veiled gals out for a bachelorette party traipses in.
The food is an odd mix, too. Chef Richard Brandenburg’s menu pulls from Provence, northern Italy, and elsewhere. Pizzas with luxe toppings share space with starters like brandade beignets (they taste like deep-fried mashed potatoes—where’s the salt cod?), salade niçoise, and fries cooked in duck fat.
Brandenburg’s résumé includes a stint as sous chef at the New York seafood temple Le Bernardin, so fish would be a natural place to start on his menu. But here it tends to be overcooked, whether in a could’ve-been-nice appetizer of sardines and seared cantaloupe or an entrée of salmon with thin clam jus. There’s more evidence of uncareful cooking: Agnolotti with poached lobster, chorizo, and peas would be satisfying enough if the tiny pasta rolls weren’t hard as pencil erasers. Gorgonzola-stuffed battered figs are blunted by corn-dog-like breading.
The best thing on the menu is an osso buco for two, served in a rustic copper pan and carved at the table. Aside from underwhelming sides—too-rich olive-oil mashed potatoes, barely caramelized onions—the veal shank, especially the meat near the bone, is luscious.
Dessert brings crème brûlée, a sugary almond shortcake with berries, and a tiramisu speckled with …pink glitter? The bachelorette taking shots by the bar will appreciate it.
Urbana: 2121 P St., NW; 202-956-6651. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.