By Amy Drew Thompson
1940's glamor meets what both chef and owner call "everyday fun" at Orlando's newest dining offering on "Restaurant Row" on Sand Lake Road. Visitors looking for great dining in Orlando will find high style meshed with a diverse menu at Urbain 40, where live music enhances a rich atmosphere nightly and the food - continental offerings crafted from largely local, seasonal ingredients - exudes comfort.
Entrees range from upmarket to rustic and a carefully curated wine list matches menu selections while craft cocktails infused with fresh produce and herbs pair delightfully with the music if you're only stopping in for a quick drink and perhaps a spin around a colorful charcuterie board rife with cured meats, creamy cheeses, pork terrine and a variety of crisp palate cleansers, sweet and vinegary.
"We're very familiar with this area and we realized it was missing a homey and familiar neighborhood restaurant," says owner-operator Jaafar Choufani of the venue's parent company, Boulevard Restaurants. Urbain40's concept is that of an American brasserie. "It's become something of an en vogue term," he says, "much like the gastropubs of a few years back - but we thought we could mesh that together with old Florida and European continental sensibilities and make something special."
At the helm, Lyon, France-native Jean-Stephane Poinard, a fifth-generation chef and stalwart supporter of the slow-food movement. As such, the food is painstakingly handcrafted.
A menu highlight, Chef Poinard's version of Billi-Bi Soup, gets an American south makeover. Amid saffron cream broth and smoked paprika oil, "a Prince Edward Island mussel beignet," he notes. "It's a New Orleans twist on a French classic."
A show-stopping, sumptuous starter, the Prince Edward Island Mussels come two ways - white wine and Pernod butter-steamed or cast iron skillet-roasted and served with drawn butter. Salt encrusted shells create a gemstone-like effect on the latter. Inside, tender, delicate bivalves await discovery, off the fork or perhaps seated royally on fresh, crusty baguette.
House-made pappardelle is paired with slow-roasted beef and pork in the Bolognese, among Poinard's personal favorites; the tender meat disintegrates on the palate while wide ribbons of hearty pasta counter with a lovely, firm chew.
Classics abound from the stage area, as well, with musicians paying homage to the likes of Sinatra, Piaf, Gershwin and more. Jazz plays a role, both vocal and instrumental. The cuisine, however, may take center stage.
"The idea is that Urbain40 is not a place for anniversaries," says Poinard. "You don't have to wait for a special occasion to come here. You only have to be in the mood to have a good time in a good place with good food and good friends."
You and your family are in for a treat because there is something for every food craving in Orlando. See why dining in Orlando can be a thrill ride for your taste buds. Just come hungry!
Amy Drew Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a journalist and roughly two decades as a Floridian. A roller coaster enthusiast, she readily admits there is fun to be had amid the theme-park madness, but has found magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey's long shadow. She is a full-time freelancer, an editorial jack-of-all-trades and the Orlando Local Expert for USA Today's 10Best.com