Mission Chinese Food (San Francisco, CA)

Mission Chinese Food
Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant
2234 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Dining date: 11/25/11

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Mission Chinese Food, the permanent pop-up from the Mission Street Food team (Commonwealth) has been one of the most talked-about restaurants in San Francisco this year. SF Chronicle food writer Michael Bauer and GQ’s Alan Richman both loved the food. It was named one of the 10 best new restaurants by Bon Appétit this year. And when Ferran Adria came to San Francisco two months ago to give a talk, he was seen with Manresa’s David Kinch coming here afterwards. It must be worth a try, right?

The restaurant calls its food “Americanized oriental” cuisine. Items like a rice porridge with Dungeness crab and oxtail, broccoli beef cheek, salt cod fried rice and Asian style barbecued brisket sound intriguing enough. Dishes are priced from $7 to $13.

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After dinner at Commonwealth last year, my mother and I dropped in to get some takeout for the rest of the family. I didn’t get a chance to try any (or see any of it), but the words “terrible” and “awful” were both used in their description of the food. I was totally shocked, but I knew I’d have to try it myself.

Not surprisingly given the hype, lines are a frequent occurrence outside the no-reservation restaurant; there must’ve been at least 20 people waiting outside this past Saturday night at 9pm. However while everyone else was still nursing their Thanksgiving food coma, my mom, dad and I dropped in for lunch the day after Thanksgiving. What do you know – there was no line!

Westlake Rice Porridge oxtail, dungeness crab, soft-poached egg, cilantro

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This was a sort of a hybrid between a Westlake beef soup and a traditional congee (rice porridge). The lineup of ingredients was an all-star cast so I had to order it. Served piping hot, small pieces of crab and oxtail were scattered throughout the bowl filled with bits of soft rice, strands of egg and a clear soup. The dish was fine, somewhat disappointing. I expected the oxtail and crab to play a more prominent role, maybe with a little bit of oxtail stock incorporated into the soup. In actuality, the soup was very mild in flavor and the oxtail/crab really didn’t bring a lot to the bowl. Don’t get me wrong, the soup was tasty but it didn’t live up to its all-star cast of characters.

Salt Cod Fried Rice escolar confit, chinese sausage, egg, scallion

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I thought this was another fun dish using salt cod instead of Chinese dried fish. Its effect was similar, adding a fishy flavor to the rice to pair with the sausage and aromatics. However, we all thought this plate was a bit heavy-handed with the salt.

Smoked Beef Brisket Soup Noodles cheung fun, mire poix, cardamom, turnip, broth

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Whereas the rice porridge was served hot amid wisps of steam, this soup was served warm. The brisket here was very tender and incredibly smoky, infusing the soup with that flavor. Rice roll noodles added some additional substance to the full-flavored dish.

Kung Pao Pastrami explosive chili, celery, potato, roasted peanut, steamed rice

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A familiar preparation of pastrami was stir fried kung pao style with something called “explosive chili.” I was fearful but actually found the heat to be present but not unbearable. The meat was tender and flavorful, and I thought there was a pretty decent balance of ingredients. My dad wanted more meat and less “filler” ingredients though.

Dessert isn’t served at Mission Chinese, but why would it need to if Bi-Rite Creamery is only a few blocks away?

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Salted caramel on the bottom, honey lavender on top. I don’t miss Carmela at all.

My dad said this meal was definitely better than his previous experience, but the meal still did not live up to high hopes. I thought the food was “just okay” (definitely not awful), with flavors not really coming together as well as I had wanted. The menu is incredibly intriguing, integrating Chinese food with Western techniques and ingredients. I so badly want something like this to succeed and elevate Chinese food on both the local and national scene. Although this meal failed to impress me, Mission Chinese Food seems to be doing just that.

Second Anniversary: Top 5 Meals of the Blog Year

11/28/11

Today marks two years since I started this blog. It has been quite a year trying new foods and meeting new people. There’s been so many memorable food experiences (both good and bad), but in keeping with “tradition” I’m going to try to sum up and rank the top ones. It’s not necessarily the most delicious, more like most memorable – the experiences that will stay me going forward.

This list won’t include last night’s meal from The French Laundry given that I have yet to fully digest it (literally and figuratively); there’s a good chance it would’ve cracked this list though.

So here we go, here are my top 5 meals of the blog year:

5. Urasawa (Beverly Hills) – 6/18/11

A reliably excellent meal, to me Urasawa is the ideal special occasion restaurant in LA. No molecular gastronomy here, everything is kept very simple. Flavors are thoughtful, clean. Urasawa’s plating and sushi-making is so meticulous, yet seems so effortless at times. And it’s the best sushi I’ve ever had, by far. I just wish it wasn’t so damn expensive.

Pictured: sesame ice cream, red bean, black truffle, gold flake.

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4. Wolvesmouth (Los Angeles) – 1/15/11

My first underground dining experience was fascinating. One man, Craig Thornton, put together a suite of interesting and tasty dishes with a very small team in a downtown loft. One oven. Four burners. I haven’t been able to go back since, but I’m sure I’ll have my fill at an upcoming 40-course meal next weekend.

Pictured: Dungeness crab, meyer lemon, malt vinegar sabayon, old bay profiterole, mustard mizuna.

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3. Breadbar Japan Benefit Dinner (Los Angeles) – 5/16/11

This was a relative bargain at $110 for a meal featuring such names as Urasawa, Manzke, and Cimarusti…especially as all proceeds went to Japanese earthquake relief. The food lived up to expectations, including one of the best (in both presentation and taste) dishes I ate all year – Cimarusti’s soymilk panna cotta with sea urchin, geoduck and wasabi (pictured).

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2. é by Jose Andres (Las Vegas) – 3/26/11

Everyone was seated at a small counter where we could watch as each of the ~20 dishes took shape. Maybe the most intimate and personal of the meals I had during the year, almost each dish came with a story from Jose Andres’ experiences in food. The food was very good, and the service may have been even better. A clear step above the Saam Room at the Bazaar.

Pictured: A whole lobe of foie gras baked in salt then sliced, yielding one of the best foie gras preparations I’ve had.

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1. KCET Uncorked @ Bouchon (Beverly Hills) – 6/13/11

Easily the best meal I’ve had at a Bouchon, but that alone wouldn’t make this list. Thomas Keller was in the restaurant for this special event and dined on one course at each table. He sat right next to me for the cheese course. That experience pushes this one straight to the top.

Pictured: carnaroli risotto with summer truffles, English peas, sweet pea shoots & parmesan mousse.

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Honorable Mention (in chronological order):

Test Kitchen: Closing Night (Los Angeles) – 12/13/10 The closing of such an intriguing concept, and an all-star chef cast to send it off.
Commonwealth (San Francisco) – 12/28/10 Just a very good meal. I returned two days ago and it was even better.
Spago (Beverly Hills) – 2/25/11 23 courses at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship is my longest meal ever.
Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas) – 3/28/11 Truly an extravagant meal, but just fell short of this list.
Walter Manzke @ Biergarten (Los Angeles) – 4/10/11 Tons of meat, fantastic french fries and craft beer from one of my favorite LA chefs.
Test Kitchen Reunion (Los Angeles) – 9/19/11 Another all-star chef cast came together to celebrate Test Kitchen.

See also: First Anniversary: Top 5 Meals

Thanksgiving 2011

Dining date: 11/24/11

I’m not sure how long we’ve been doing it, but Thanksgiving has traditionally been spent with a lunch on my mom’s side and a dinner on my dad’s side. That way, no one has to pick-and-choose/rotate where Thanksgiving is spent. With two large meals, I’ve learned pacing becomes key.

Lunch is in Alameda at my aunt & uncle’s. The food has a base in traditional Thanksgiving fare, but essentially everyone cooks what they want to eat. Technically it’s a potluck, though the majority is prepared by the host family. This leads to a pretty wide variety of dishes with a definite Asian slant. Because I fly in the morning of, I don’t actually contribute any food (my family brings a cake).

Dinner, at my grandmother’s in San Francisco, also has a traditional turkey but that’s not really the focus. My grandmother tends to cook what the family likes to eat, and that’s a lot of meat. Red meat.

Lunch is served buffet style.

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Country fried potatoes bacon, cheese

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Green beans sliced almonds

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Turkey

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Pork ribs

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Sweet potatoes and yams marshmallows

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Vermicelli barbecued pork, mushrooms, egg

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Farfalle pasta

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Salad

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Chow mein

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Chinese sticky rice

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Chicken pot pie

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Fried wonton chili sauce

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Egg rolls

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Sauteed shrimp

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Coconut and pandan waffle

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Shrimp toast

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An assortment of desserts are usually served up around the 2:00 hour.

Homemade pumpkin pie

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Homemade pumpkin cheesecake

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Homemade cranberry pumpkin bread

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Ice cream cake rocky road, pecan, red velvet

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Chocolate mousse cake

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We cross the Bay Bridge into San Francisco for dinner. Lots of meat on the menu.

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New York strip roast

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Turkey

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Lobster tails

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Mashed potatoes

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Gravy

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Stuffing

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Chinese sticky rice

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Mixed Vegetables

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Dream cake

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Homemade apple pie

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Just like that, another Thanksgiving is over. As usual, it was a ton of food but I was able to fit in everything I wanted to eat!

Susan Feniger’s Street (Los Angeles, CA)

Susan Feniger’s Street
742 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Dining date: 11/21/11

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Susan Feniger (with Mary Sue Milliken make up the “Two Hot Tamales” and co-owners of the Border Grill chain) opened up solo venture Street in 2009. The name says it all – the restaurant serves street food from all over the globe. Cool concept right? Interestingly, there isn’t a lot of European representation; the menu seems to cover a large part of Asia and the Middle East. It’s an intriguing concept, as far as I know unique in its breadth, but it begs the question “can one restaurant have a strong command over so many styles of cooking?”

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We had  2 vegetarians in the party, so many of the dishes we ordered were non-meat.

ANGRY EGGS deviled eggs with Malaysian hot chile relish topped with green sriracha

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A good deviled egg, with some extra heat from a green sriracha sauce.

SHRIMP LUMPIA crispy Fillipino style spring roll served with chile dipping sauce and fresh herb salad

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These were fried to a nice crisp, though I would’ve appreciated just a little more shrimp flavor. The herb salad was a nice touch. Cool and refreshing.

KAYA TOAST toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam, served with a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper

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This has to be the most popular dish here and for good reason. It’s an unexpected combination of flavors (at least to the American palate) that works really well – the sweetness of the coconut jam, the rich egg yolk and the salty dark soy all come together quite well. We actually got two orders of this.

ANATOLIAN MUSHROOM RAVIOLI tossed in a smoked paprika lemon butter with mint yogurt sauce and fried chickpeas

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I didn’t try these, but I heard they were good.

ALBACORE POKE small salad of diced sashimi tuna, honey crisp apple, spicy sesame over crispy leeks

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I feel like poke has become a fairly mainstream dish nowadays (following on the heels of the tuna tartare) so this wasn’t as intriguing as the other dishes. The poke was decent; the crispy leeks added some texture but there was something in here that was pretty sweet.

SINGAPORE STREET NOODLES stir fried rice noodles with homemade madras-style curry, rock shrimp and marinated pork loin

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This was one of the dishes I was most looking forward to, but I thought the noodles were disappointingly mushy.  There was a hint of curry but the flavors were largely muddled. The shrimp was cooked well, though.

TRINIDAD DUCK CURRY Caribbean fresh herb curry paste, potato, green beans, and plantain

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For the vegetarians, we got this without duck. Sadly, couldn’t even get the duck on the side. There was definitely some heat to this dish, but it was also very sweet. The rice made it the most filling dish we ordered.

VIETNAMESE SKIRT STEAK with chilled vermicelli rice noodles, marinated vegetables, fresh herbs, crunchy peanut topping and green sriracha sauce

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The steak was cooked well and I thought the peanuts added some good texture as well as depth. The green sriracha sauce was on the mild side, but I still enjoyed the balance between the cool, refreshing vermicelli.

Street’s Kaya Toast is the real deal, but I thought everything else was more on the “okay” side. I appreciate the fact that one can try so many countries’ street food in one spot, but it’s going to be significantly more expensive and less authentic than the real thing.

Short Order LA (Los Angeles, CA)

Short Order LA
Farmers Market
6333 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 11/19/11

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Short Order is the newest addition to the Farmers Market/Grove dining options in mid-city, opened Friday. The concept is rather simple, centered on high quality burgers and conceived by the late Amy Pressman and Mozza’s Nancy Silverton. I first had a taste of Short Order at this year’s Taste of the Nation, where one of the highlights was a bolognese slider. It was both different and delicious; just like that, my interest was piqued.

The restaurant had a friends and family night Thursday and grand opened Friday. Overwhelming reports from those nights praised the good food, but also expressed frustration at extremely long waits for food. I will admit I was a little apprehensive about going so soon, but I’m glad I did.

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The restaurant has two floors, with an abbreviated menu on the ground level (take-out window shown above). When we first arrived, we were told the upstairs was closed to customers because it was packed full. Bummer. We were willing to wait, so we asked the host to check how long the wait would be. When he came back, he said that there were two seats available at the bar (there were actually four empty spots). Score!

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Dining at the bar was the perfect opportunity to see Julian Cox (who has to be the busiest man in LA mixology this year) and his team in action. Cox is in charge of the cocktails; a limited list of craft beers and wines are also available.

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Fistful of Dollars craft method brandy, Combier, Amaro Montanegro, fresh lemon, cinnamon bark syrup, angostura, spiced castor sugar

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Palma Fizz vodka, szechuan pepper corn ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, Bruce Cost’s unfiltered ginger ale, rose water

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I really enjoyed the Palma Fizz, lightly carbonated with ginger and lime notes up front. Thankfully, the cocktail contained just the flavor and not the heat (or numbing sensation) of the szechuan peppercorns. The Fistful of Dollars had a strong brandy flavor, complemented by the lemon rind and some cinnamon spice.

The menu features 7-9 burger options (beef, turkey, pork, lamb and tuna are the proteins offered), and a few other sandwiches and salads. Frozen custard is made in-house with Northern California’s Straus Creamery dairy (same dairy as San Francisco’s Bi-Rite and Humphry Slocombe); a variety of custard shakes are offered as well. We opted to try three burgers, a custard shake, and fully-loaded spuds (french fries weren’t available).

Short Order Burger grass-fed beef, morbier, griddled mushrooms, bibb, mustardy mayo

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The first thing I noticed here was the beef. A thick patty was cooked medium-rare, pink/red throughout. Looked like the cross-section of a perfectly grilled steak.  Clearly the restaurant wanted to showcase this meat and it didn’t disappoint – beefy and juicy, delicious. Some mushrooms added an extra earthy flavor, while the lettuce was crisp and cool. The bun was soft, warm and yielding to each bite. A well-constructed and tasty burger.

Lamb Burger Sonoma lamb, feta, lamb’s lettuce, salsa verde

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This lamb burger wasn’t nearly as pink as the beef; the temperature was medium-ish, almost medium-well (not sure if this was intentional). The lamb flavor was there, slightly gamey, complemented by a rich feta cheese. Not quite as exciting as the Short Order Burger, but I gobbled this down just as easily.

Frisée Lardon Raft grass-fed beef, frisée, artisan slab bacon pieces, fried egg, lemon vinaigrette

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The raft was a variation on the burger where an uncut bun served as a “raft” on the bottom, while the rest of the ingredients were piled on top, open-faced. Unfortunately, the egg yolk broke, and the kitchen opted to present it upside-down (sigh). As with the Short Order burger, the perfectly cooked slab of grass-fed beef was tasty on its own. A fried egg and smoky chunks of bacon added a ton more flavor and richness, while the frisee, dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, helped to cut through some of the richness. I didn’t see the appeal of the raft over a typical burger (makes it more of a fork-and-knife sandwich), but the flavors were all there.

Coffee Malt Custard Shake

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As expected, the shake was rich and had a deep coffee, malty flavor. I heard that some spiked shakes will be offered in the future, so I’d be interested to see what Cox puts together here.

Short Order Spuds with Dipping Sauce and Truffle Salt

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The dipping sauce and truffle salt were both optional add-ons at $2 apiece, but we decided to go all out on these spuds.  These potato wedge-like creations were baked, lightly smashed then fried, yielding a very crispy exterior and fluffy interior. Fried potatoes are almost always better with truffle salt, but these would have been delicious on their own. The dipping sauce, a sour cream/chive/bacon mix, clearly resembled the flavors of a baked potato.

While waiting for dessert, I asked the bar to create a cocktail to pair with our pie.

Bee’s Kiss 12-yr Jamaican rum, cream, honey, cinnamon

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Pear Pie vanilla custard

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A selection of pies will be available depending on the season (pear and cranberry were available this night). The pie was good, though I wish it was warm (maybe I’m just being picky) to capitalize on the hot-cold combination with the custard. The vanilla custard was quite delicious on its own, but did go very well with the pie. The cocktail was a strong pairing; its own creamy sweetness was a welcome addition to the dessert (I was enjoying it so much that I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway through).

Short Order is a place to splurge (calorie-wise) on some hearty burgers, crisp potatoes and thick custard shakes. Maybe even some pie a la mode. I think a lot of places can make a good burger or good fries, but it doesn’t always come together. Short Order has strengths in both of these, and even has good pie, custard and Julian Cox cocktails to boot. Hard to go wrong with that – I expect the restaurant to be popular for the foreseeable future.

Service was good (although I really wish that egg was right-side-up) and our food came out quickly. I imagine the restaurant is still working out some kinks in its system, but there appeared to be a marked improvement already.

Urbano Pizza Bar (Los Angeles, CA)

Urbano Pizza Bar
630 W 6th St
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Dining date: 11/14/11

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There aren’t many good options for pizza downtown. Bottega Louie serves a good, though somewhat inconsistent, pie. Drago Centro can make one, but it’s definitely not a focal point. And chains like Pitfire and California Pizza Kitchen are around. So, whenever a new pizza place opens up, it has the potential to fill a sizable void.

Urbano Pizza Bar opened in June from the same owners of the next-door Library Bar, CoffeeBar and Spring Street Bar. Given that it’s close to the office, I’ve been a few times for lunch.

Looking for a last-minute dinner choice with 7 co-workers, someone mentioned Urbano. Given there was recently a BlackboardEats promotion, this was perfect timing.

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The menu is made up of a large number small plates (almost all under $10)  and about 10 pizza options ($12-18).  A small list of wines and craft beers are also available.

BEEF MEATBALLS with warm pizza bread

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This was the lone appetizer ordered in a sea of pizzas and it was a good one. The meatball was good; dense, with a meaty and herbal flavor…as expected. What separated this dish was the warm pizza bread. Fresh out of the oven, it was soft, slightly chewy and was the perfect bread for a meatball sandwich. I foresee a lunch based on this dish in the near future.

FUNGHI wild mushrooms, burrata, red onion, tomato, thyme

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We had a vegan at the table, so the one pictured had no cheese. I’ve had this pizza (with cheese) at a previous lunch; the mushrooms added an in-your-face, strong earthy flavor to the pie. Definitely good for the mushroom-lover.

QUATTRO FORMAGGI mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola, parmigiano, castelvatrano olives

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Of the pizzas we ordered, this one sounded like the most boring and it didn’t prove to me otherwise. It was fine but I didn’t think it had much depth.

SOPRESSATA mozzarella, fresno chili, tomato, scallions

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In previous visits, this has been my favorite. The sopressata and chili are balanced very well, lending both meaty and spicy flavor profiles. Some scallions provided a fresh bite.

SALSICCIA fennel sausage, caramelized onions, tomato, mozzarella

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Good sausage. For some reason, I thought the caramelized onions were a little bit too sweet though.

SCIMMIETTA smoked bacon, pumpkin, goat cheese

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This may have been my favorite of the pizzas served that night. Perfect for the season, the sweet, creamy pumpkin worked well in tandem with the smoky bacon. The goat cheese was not too pungent, adding an extra richness and creaminess to the pie. Very good.

I don’t think Urbano will make any “best-of-LA” pizza lists, but it’s a very viable option downtown. Is the pizza better than Bottega Louie? Hmm…maybe. I’m not sure, but they’re close. The pizzas at Urbano are a little more creative, topping-wise; but I think some were better balanced, flavor-wise, than others. The crust has been crispy yet chewy, and pretty consistent across visits and pies.