Words By Logan Hollers, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
Cicchetti (ch-ketti): small snacks or side dishes, typically served in traditional osterias in Italy. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it, either.
Interested in learning more? Visit Dupont Circle’s Italian gem Urbana, where Executive Chef Ethan McKee recently introduced his new tasting menu. $65 gets you a front-row seat to a parade of (usually) 7-9 Italian “small” plates. They’re not that small.
The menu, designed from scratch every Saturday morning, is based on the whims of Chef McKee and focuses heavily on what looks good in his produce, meat, and seafood deliveries. It truly is of the moment, what’s growing, and what’s in season.
Even cooler: the last few menus have focused on the restaurant’s enormous rooftop garden, with each dish featuring at least one homegrown ingredient. FYI, the upstairs apiary is also awesome.
Our night began with a spread of antipasti, including a house-made spicy giardiniera, marinated olives, and a crisp pesto flatbread baked in the kitchen’s massive hearth oven. That flatbread came in handy for the first real course, a salmon belly and scallop crudo with smoked caviar, yuzu, green peppercorn, and chives. Chef McKee is a smart chef; he knows full well that pristine ingredients speak for themselves. And these Japanese diver scallops sang…sweet and buttery, and perfectly offset by the briny pops of caviar and the tartness of the yuzu reduction.
Even better (and the dish of the night, honestly) was Urbana’s version of an East Coast classic: Maryland softshell crab. The softy was impeccably flash-fried, paired with pickled ramps (hella Spring), arugula from the rooftop, and a hazelnut and lemon brown butter sauce. Texturally, flavor-wise…this plate was straight up ridiculous – easily one of the best dishes I’ve had in 2017.
Urbana’s and Italian restaurant. There has to be pasta. It has to be handmade. There is. And it is. First, a pillowy agnolotti with sautéed swiss chard, garlic confit, parmesan, truffled taleggio fonduta, and garlic crumbs. Decadent and rich, a larger plate would’ve been too much. As it was: outstanding. Likewise, the truffled kale papardelle was a stunner; Chef McKee purees kale from the rooftop garden, then uses that puree to make the papardelle, pairing it with a spicy fennel sausage and tomato ragu. A classic pasta with red sauce, elevated.
Then, the main event: rosy slices of Colorado lamb loin, minerally and a perfect medium-rare. A summer squash salsa verde and turnip puree matched the lamb bite for bite, marrying deep umami from the loin with the bright acidity of the toppings. A great, great dish.
I usually don’t like dessert, but I’ll be goddamned if I didn’t dig on the strawberry shortcake. No chocolate, which is great, Virginia strawberries, and a simple lemon curd and orange confit. Hyperlocal, hyperseasonal, hyperdelicious.
Our meal ended with a shot of house-made limoncello, creamy and sweet with a bite of booze, and a cup of Fernet affogato, but coffee’s gross – hold the espresso, pass the shot of Fernet.
Stomach: settled. Meal: fantastic. Mind: blown. Chef McKee couldn’t be cooler; you can tell he and his team really love interacting with eager diners, and he was more than helpful in answering questions, shooting the shit, and taking joy in serving good food to good people.
Date? This is a great call. Celebrating a birthday / anniversary / new job? This is a great call. Just looking to enjoy a new experience, filled with great food and an intimate atmosphere? This is *definitely* a great call.
Check the ‘Cicchetti at Urbana’ Eventbrite for available dates.