We were running late. Very late. I called and asked to have our reservation moved from 8 to 8:30, and they said to get there as fast as we could. They were booked solid until 10p.m., but they’d fit us in. We arrived at 8:30. After valeting and wading through a sea of patrons, I gave my phone number to one of the three hosts. He said he’d call as soon as something became available for the four of us.
I’ve never been to Two Urban Licks when it was quiet or empty. Everyone scurries and pushes and crams and demands and appears too cool to really worry about eating. There is nothing intimate about a meal here, unless you consider having to pull out a lighter to see your menu a “close encounter.” Conversing is complicated, at best. Just look at each other and smile–deviously. Enter and be seen. Walk with purpose.
We squeezed into bar stools and ordered Jack and Coke, Crown and Coke, and two vodka sodas. Twice. My phone never rang.
Finally, my date made a trip to the restroom and inquired about our table. It was ready. Ten o’clock. A good sign? So busy that we’d nearly been forgotten? Maybe.
At a corner table, we ordered a “thief” (the wine is taken directly from the barrel, and it’s equivalent to about five glasses) of di arie barbera, salmon chips, and tuna tartare [sic]. A friend had recommended the salmon chips, and I’d had the tuna tartare before. Fifteen minutes later, we saw, swirled, sniffed, and sipped the Barbera, which was smooth and satisfying, a hint of licorice. We shouted across the table, commenting on the pork shoulder being absent from the menu.
The lamb enticed me; however, I’d had lamb three times the previous week. I just didn’t think I could do it again, even with the apple cider jus. I also considered the beef rib, really more for the NY mac & cheese that comes with it than anything else.
Half an hour after being seated, our server was ready for us to order (urgent!!!). I settled on prime rib, rare, smoked, with roasted red potatoes, shitake mushrooms, and red wine jus. I have declared repeatedly that it’s silly to order steak at a restaurant. At home, you’re in charge. You can have any cut you want, straight off the grill or out of the pan, seared to perfection, bloody and running and rare. You lose control when you’re out. There could be a good twenty minutes between the fire and your first bite. I’m not talking about rest time, which is necessary and vital for any amazing steak to come to fruition. I’m talking about ten minutes of taste—gone forever. I’m talking about the onset of a rubbery, Waffle House version of what should be a quality cut. Thank goodness my friend ordered the duck.
The salmon chips and tuna tartar arrived. The salmon chips were delectable in their own way, laden with chipotle cream cheese, capers, and red onion. This was no ordinary lox, but the cream cheese overpowered everything else. Nothing like salmon-flavored cream cheese. Not that I cared at that point. I was starving, and cream cheese is, well, cream cheese.
The tuna tartare, with green apples, red onions, and spicy sesame dressing on housemade potato chips, refreshed the palate. I savored the sweet crunch of the apples juxtaposed with the salty chips and the smoky tuna mingling and melting its way among it all.
Another half hour passed, and then, magically, an entourage of servers descended. An enormous, inch-and-a-half thick slab of juicy carnage appeared before me, garnished with tiny toadstools, tips reaching for the sky. Plopped nearby, huge chucks of red potatoes rocked and rolled in a thin, brown jus. Potential.
M.F.K. Fisher argued that “…most bereaved souls crave nourishment more tangible than prayers: they want a steak.” Arguably, however bereaved, smart souls would prefer prayers to my steak. I started to worry when I had to saw rather than slice through the prime rib. Yes, it was rare, but I was hoping for tender and delicate, not tenacious and tough. I chewed, and chewed, and chewed. At least, I thought, the potatoes would be kinder, gentler. Not so. They were undercooked to the point that I might as well have taken them straight out of the ground and chomped in. Apples and chips should be crunchy. New potatoes, not so much.
Luckily, the duck, pan roasted, with andouille sausage, white sweet potatoes, and apple-pumpkin seed salad, was edible. Tender and moist inside, seasoned and succulently seared outside. Much, much better. I didn’t try the sides, but the duck was delicious.
The bronzed scallops with gouda grits, pico de gallo, and smoked tomato broth also fared better than the prime rib. The sweet, creamy grits and fresh, zesty salsa complimented the mild, perfectly-cooked scallops. I’ve heard that a well-cooked scallop should have the texture of filet mignon. These scallops were almost that good.
We passed on dessert. We hadn’t really been able to speak to each other in nearly three hours. We’d have to socialize in the car on the way home, a few hundred dollars poorer and pooped.
I knew what I was getting into when I agreed to dine at Two Urban Licks. It’s fun and loud, and when it’s warm enough, there’s bocce ball out back. This is not haute cuisine. Don’t take your parents here or plan to pop the question. Sit back, people-watch, and skip the prime rib.