Urbana lets fictional proprietor’s design vision take over

Urbana lets fictional proprietor’s design vision take over

WASHINGTON Urbana [2], the new Northern Italian and French restaurant in the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group’s Hotel Palomar here. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Confronted with an underground space and few windows, the design team members found imaginative ways to give the area a brighter personality—literally—according to Robert Polacek, creative director of the San Francisco-based Puccini Group design firm and Urbana’s lead designer. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“Our biggest challenge was that it was a subterranean space,” Polacek said. “There were only two windows. It was a typical Washington, D.C., English basement, and it had 8-foot ceilings. We took that negative aspect of our space and decided to make something good out of it, so we went with the theme of the old-world Tuscan wine cellar. But we made it contemporary and urban.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Polacek said the design team created the space around the idea of a fictional proprietor—a young, Italian socialite whose grandfather made wine and grandmother cooked—who brought his family here and created Urbana as a restaurant that blends his young, urban lifestyle with his family traditions. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Creating a story or a character “helps give personality to a space,” Polacek said. “Most of our restaurants have a driving personality. It keeps [the concept] together if we pretend there’s actually someone coming up with all this.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

The make-believe proprietor’s “family roots” are represented by the restaurant’s Green Tree host stand—a 6-foot-diameter tree stump that was stripped, hollowed out and covered in green lacquer. It creates a center of attention and, Polacek said, lends Urbana a whimsical aspect that complements the cuisine, which executive chef Richard Brandenberg described as “Northern Italian and French; classic but with a twist.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“It’s got a rustic feel with a contemporary flair,” general manager Peter Berntsen said of the decor. “And the food has a similar aspect because it’s a traditional Italian cuisine with a lot of simple, basic ingredients, but [Brandenberg] is a young chef…someone who’s got new concepts, new tastes, new ideas, and he wants to incorporate all that. But it’s very subtle and very traditional; it’s not fusion at all.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Blending a hip, modern setting with old-world Italian and French cuisine has made Urbana a popular destination in the city’s chic DuPont Circle neighborhood. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“The neighborhood is eclectic, Castro-ish,” Berntsen said. “It’s an affluent demographic, a 30- to 40-something, upwardly mobile demographic.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Urbana serves three dayparts, Berntsen said, and the lunch and dinner crowds are mostly locals, while breakfast visitors are frequently guests at Hotel Palomar. Hotel Palomar is one of more than 40 boutique hotels operated by San Francisco-based Kimpton. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

To reach the 173-seat restaurant, guests descend through a hidden entrance marked with glowing lights, which gives the spot a secretive, clubby feeling. Upon entry they encounter a nod to the traditional Tuscan wine cellar—a wall of wine bottles emblazoned with a bold “U” for Urbana. Behind the bottles a backlit, sepia-toned photograph in forced perspective gives viewers the impression of looking into an old wine cavern. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Men’s suiting materials, such as striped wool and herringbone patterns, and handmade, green-glazed Italian tile accents give the space a fashionable, masculine atmosphere. The lounge’s focal point is a custom-built, ebony bar marked with a traditional Italian-lace motif that is echoed on the restaurant’s cushions and curtains. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“There is lots of marble and hard wood, but then the walls are covered in an Italian metallic tile,” Berntsen said. “And the pizza oven has little mirrors all around it, so it’s almost like a disco ball. These little touches make the space look a lot more contemporary, so it’s a lot different than walking in and just seeing wine bottles and hard wood.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

The wine-cellar decor is not just a stylish affectation for Urbana. The restaurant boasts a comprehensive wine program of more than 200 bottles, offers 30 wines by the glass and features special flights every evening. The lounge has become a destination in its own right, and on weekends the bar crowd overflows into the main dining room, Polacek said. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Urbana’s moody, dimly lit lounge, where spotlights cast bright pools of light over every table, has become a gathering place for locals to enjoy a late-night menu and pizzas as well as an extensive list of hand-crafted cocktails and aperitifs. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“They’re not your typical martini cocktails,” Berntsen said of Urbana’s bar menu, which includes such signature drinks as the Provence, an aperitif made of Armagnac infused with raisin, orange peel, cinnamon and vanilla, and topped with sparkling wine. “They’re rooted in the traditional French-Mediterranean and Italian aperitif. There’s more of a sophisticated flair to them. They’re really pretty different.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Urbana’s private dining room seats up to 12 guests at a custom-built communal table that weighs about 500 pounds and is inlaid with the restaurant’s signature scrolling lace motif. A modern chandelier is recessed into the ceiling, and the frosted-glass windows can be opened to look out onto the dining room or closed to create a private enclave. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“The room looks into the kitchen, but it’s frosted glass, so you get to see the shadows of people moving and the flames, but it’s very private,” Berntsen said. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“The decor is very sleek and kind of hip,” said executive chef Brandenberg, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America [3] in Hyde Park, N.Y., who has worked in such renowned restaurants as Le Bernardin in New York and London’s Michelin-rated Atelier. “It’s kind of a modern take on an Italian wine cellar, and all the dishes I’m doing are like something you could find if you found yourself out in a vineyard in Italy and you could eat it while tasting wine.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

Among the most popular dishes are pumpkin agnolotti with chorizo and lobster and a “Flintstone-size” osso buco for two, served in a copper vessel with quince, green beans with fried shallots, sauté of chard and olive oil mashed potatoes. —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind

“It’s very rustic and comfortable,” Brandenberg said. “I wouldn’t say comfort food, but I’d say comfortable.” —A major problem became a source of inspiration for the design team behind