Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Urbain 40's bustling French fare is exquisite, distinctive and pricey

Class action



"Like a stunning beauty who holds your gaze no matter what comes out of her mouth, Urbain 40 is easy on the eyes, but you have to put up with a lot."

Those words, recorded for posterity in our list of 2015's Top Tables, bear some truth, though the part about having to put up with a lot seems a tad brassy now, a couple of months after it was written. The French Colonial brasserie with a Swing-era vibe is still one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in the city, but many of the deficiencies plaguing both the front and back of the house in those nascent months have, as we predicted, been improved on. Sure, you might have to put up with longer-than-normal wait times for drinks, bread service and desserts, and the wait staff can still get confused as to which table to serve, but at least you're treated with class, and class is precisely what owner Jaafar Choufani and his father, noted restaurateur Rashid Choufani, bring. The duo aren't the type to let things slide, so my expectation is that faults will continue to be corrected and chef Jean-Stephane Poinard, their proverbial ace in the hole, will continue to impress.

Poinard has pedigree, representing the fifth generation of one of Lyon's cooking dynasties. His father, Jean-François Poinard, was hailed as one of France's great chefs of the 1970s and '80s before his bizarre and gruesome demise at the hands of his girlfriend in 2010. Lyon newspaper Le Progrès said of the elder Poinard, "He was a passionate and exacting chef, but also a true 'bon viveur.'"

Seems the pomme doesn't fall far from the arbre. Poinard's crêpe urbain ($12) typifies the sort of crossroads dish Lyonnaise cuisine is known for. Wild mushrooms, oven-dried tomatoes and a fig reduction reflect the terroir of France's south, while a roasted-leek beurre blanc evokes the north. Whatever the influence, this crepe "pie" is simply outstanding. We opted to enjoy the duck trio ($26), one of Poinard's specialties, as a starter, and enjoy it we did. Each bite of the duck sausage, duck confit and duck breast served with a pecan-currant bread pudding yielded groans of gustatory satisfaction. If it's a trio of Blue Point oysters you desire, the shooters (market price; we paid $28) – in ponzu citrus, spiked bloody Mary, and cucumber gin wasabi – pack a punch to the face, a knee to the throat and a kick in the gut.

I couldn't really get a straight answer as to whether or not the New York strip in the steak frites ($37) was a USDA Prime cut, though, after making a kitchen inquiry, our server gave us an unsure nod of affirmation. No matter; the steak was lovely and the fries crisp and salty. Bouillabaise Provençal ($28) was a classic bowl of seafood awesome: mussels, clams, octopus, shrimp and sea bass in a clear broth. Baguette slices spread with rouille, a spiced, garlicky mayo, were duly employed to soak up the broth.

Another trio, the Urbain 40 trio ($12) – with raspberry macarons (not "macaroons," as the menu states), chocolate and pistachio popsicles, and chocolate truffles – is an expertly crafted ending by pastry chef Amanda McFall. Same goes for the chocolate peanut butter torte ($7) and the potent baba au rhum ($12), a simple cake doused in copious amounts of rum. Dessert and post-meal cocktails are best enjoyed in the lounge, though wine lovers will be less than impressed by the standard offerings and the fact that no French wines are available by the glass, and comparatively few by the bottle.

"Urbain 40 is just too damned gorgeous to fail," I wrote last year. I think I'll add, "and it won't" – just for posterity.

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