Orlando has a new contender for best new restaurant, and the list of Central Florida chefs vying for national recognition and awards is almost certainly to add another name.
The restaurant is Urbain 40, a chic and classy brasserie that opened last month at Dellagio Plaza in the Restaurant Row district, and the chef is Jean-Stephane Poinard, a French native who of late has been holding forth at St. Augustine’s Bistro de Leon.
Before we go any further, I need to mention that although I made my reservation anonymously, I was recognized when I arrived. Subsequently, I was served a chef’s degustation and was not presented a check. (In such situations, I always leave money on the table.) That said, I must also point out that although I liked Urbain 40 and Poinard’s food very much, the experience was not a perfect one. The service staff is unpolished and lacks training, and even rudimentary knowledge of the menu and food preparations was missing. That will need to be addressed if the restaurant is to join any Best Of list.
But in terms of atmosphere and food, Urbain 40 is already there. The former Cantina Laredo space has been transformed — at a cost of $2.5 million, I was told — into a brasserie as Parisian as any you’d find on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Wood paneled walls, crisp white table linens, stylish banquettes and upholstered chairs add a touch of elegance. Proper attention was given to lighting, including specially designed fixtures that angle by the dozens from the walls over the tables, and golden chandeliers with a pantograph design overhead. Even the black-and-white small format tile floor so typical of French bistros is there, though I think I would have discouraged the tiled spelling of “Bon Appetit” on one edge. One design element came without extra charge: The massive Dellagio fountain in the center courtyard fills the window and gives the setting a bit of majesty.
Poinard’s menu reflects his Central France upbringing and his training in Lyon. Poinard’s father, who was also a chef, was a contemporary of Paul Bocuse and had restaurants in Lyon. Jean-Stephane is a fifth generation chef and himself had five restaurants there before coming to Florida. He is also a member of Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises, a society of chefs.
Oddly, Poinard’s name appears nowhere on the Urbain 40 website. But then neither does Rashid Choufani’s. That omission is understandable, seeing as he is not the owner. That would be his son, Orlando attorney Jaafer Choufani, who heads Boulevard Restaurants, Urbain’s new parent company. Rashid is the owner of Paradiso 37 at Disney Springs as well as the restaurants in the Morocco pavilion at Epcot. Because of an exclusive agreement with Walt Disney World, Choufani is not permitted to own another restaurant so close to the resort.
But I would urge Rashid or Jaafer or anyone else with real or imagined authority with the restaurant to amend the website to more prominently feature Poinard. You have a star working with you and you should spotlight him.
Don’t believe me? Just try his Onion Soup Gratinee, which features a base of chicken stock. And before you gasp, “Mon dieu! Ou est le bouillon de veau?”, you should know that chicken broth is the traditional base of authentic French onion soup. Add chewy strands of onions, a house-made crouton and Emmental cheese — just enough, not too much — and you have your proof.
Or try the Billi Bi Soup, a puddle of rich saffron cream broth with two beignets holding P.E.I. mussels surrounded by orange dots of smoked paprika oil.
The Striped Bass Meuniere was served on a platform of cauliflower potato puree, drizzled with a bit of brown butter, and garnished with lemon confit. The hunks of lemon were a tad too large, but the fish was perfect.
So, too, the Applewood-smoked Bacon Scallops, which included corn puree and candied bacon.
The Veal Chop was about as tender as veal gets, a characteristic of this particular veal’s milk feeding. The crust had a peppery seasoning, and the inside was a perfect medium-rare red. (Note that photos don’t necessarily indicate actual portion sizes as the chef served only samplings of each dish. This dish would have been served as a full chop.)
Desserts, all made in house, are as elegantly prepared and styled as everything that comes before.
There are two dining areas: the main room and the lounge, where a curved bar sits in front of a stage that included live music the evening I dined. Appropriate music that befitted the forties theme indicated in the restaurant’s name. There are also two private dining rooms and a terrace next to the fountain.
I liked the main room. I indeed felt urbane, and I enjoyed sitting there and relishing that Orlando has a restaurant of this caliber.
Urbain 40 is at 8000 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily and late nights until 12:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Brunch will be added soon. The phone number is 407-872-2640.