Almost everything that can be done has been done to the sandwich, an innovation named after the fourth Earl of Sandwich from the town of Sandwich, a municipality in southeast England. It's been injected with special sauce, prodded with deviled this and that, smeared with Jiff and fruit, frilled with sprouts, infected with a case of the crabs (both blue and Dungeness), stuffed with shaved steak and bulked-up with nine grains. Yet it's still amusing to see what comes out when the Italians get a hold of it (look at what they keep doing to shoes).
The panini is an Italian sandwich, though it's breeding doesn't come from English earls. Yet these pressed and grilled composites were the inspiration for Mitch and Kristen Kaufman's Urbano Paninoteca, a sort of double-decker counter-service Italian sandwich boutique done up sparsely, with wall-mounted vases holding fake Gerber daisies being the only frill. Which doesn't mean the experience is Spartan. Kaufman serves wine by the half-bottle, and he'll pull the cork and splash a bit in your glass for a little counter-service swirl-sniff-slurp ceremony if you want: geek on the cheap.
Those sandwiches aren't bad either. Urbano's panini roster is ripe with permutations and combinations involving all manner of chicken, turkey, Italian meat, cheese and vegetable matter. They're dense and tasty and accompanied with a well-seasoned rat's nest of matchstick fries. "The Imported" is a wicked layering of mortadella, cappicola, soppressata, salami and provolone zipped with a garlic Parmesan dressing. The flesh mesh ranges from salty and intense, to understated with inklings of sweet all framed in an assertive dressing. Prosciutto followed this same format with Gorgonzola boosting the prosciutto tang and arugula, though feeble in application, instilling still more complexity.
But there's more here than just sandwiches overstuffed with vowels. Tomato basil soup is smooth and tangy, with clean richness and a taut salty undercurrent. Italian chef's salad is a fresh layering of greens shingled with strips of provolone, mortadella and salami adroitly washed in a vigorous dressing. Roasted red pepper bruschetta with basil and goat cheese was a crush of blunted piquancy, with the bitterness of bread singe consorting with the subdued pepper bite and sharp basil; all the sharpness was buffered by goat cheese. Rigatoni with roasted red peppers in a cream pesto sauce was swamped with smooth earthy and nutty flavors studded with chunks of tender juicy chicken. And though it was short on noodles, grilled rosemary chicken lasagna was filled with chewy chicken in a sassy but light tomato sauce that was exquisitely herbed.
Urbano is a fast-food vacation, a respite of simple culinary eloquence. Maybe they can figure out how to get a whole crab into a panini.
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