Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Urban Deli – Italian by Night – A Review

Few experiences in life excite me more than trying out a new restaurant. Recently in Saint John, The Urban Deli took a leap of faith and expanded their hours of operation and opened for dinner three nights a week. What was most remarkable was the departure from their usual fare of hearty delicious “deli” food to authentic Italian cuisine. What a smart move they have made. Discovering that the Chef for this new menu is Michelle Hooten, former Deputy Mayor of the city, added to my anticipation.

Entering the restaurant through a heavy dark green velvet curtain momentarily transports one back to the days of speakeasies. Italian soloist Andrea Bocelli’s enchanting voice welcomed us into the familiar space and the friendly staff was quick to offer to hang our coats and seat us in a comfortable booth. One feels immediately relaxed and very welcome. The fact that the space is small and uncluttered added to the ambiance. A critical eye would also notice how immaculately clean everything is, including the washrooms.

The simplicity of the beautifully designed menu served only to enhance the enticing offerings. The three of us opted to ask the chef to decide what we would eat, which greatly reduced the impossible decision making process that could have ensued. We began with a traditional Antipasto di Verdure that tasted as fresh and delicious as any I have ever had, with everything made from the freshest ingredients. We shared a Primo course of Penne con Sugo di Salsiccie, wonderfully seasoned house-made veal and pork sausage on imported pasta. For a Secondo, we tied into the most delicious slow-roasted Oxtail one could imagine, completely fall-off-the-bone juicy and rich. We shared a delightfully light Cioccolato Crème Brulee for dessert, served in a demitasse cup and perfect.

As brilliant as the food was, the experience would not have been as memorable without the knowledgeable ebullient server and the dedicated owner whose love of food is unmistakable. But it was the chef herself who came to table to describe each course that made the evening ever so special. As she was describing the Oxtail, she alluded to a secret ingredient that made it so wonderful. The pure joy emanating from her rosy-cheeked face and her wide grin indicated she was in her element. I came to the conclusion that secret element could be none other than what is a hallmark of any great food – Love.

Although this does not pretend to be a fine dining establishment, I found the whole experience better than many I have had in more pretentious (and expensive) restaurants in major cities around the world. I was impressed and thrilled to find a world-class gem right in my own back yard!