The 1940s era conjures up romantic memories of a time when the war was just won, the boys were back home, and the American Dream was ramping back into full swing after the long Depression. It was a time to let the good times roll again, in style and class, preferably with a martini glass in hand.
Urbain 40 American Brasserie and Lounge transports diners back to all the nostalgic swank and sophistication of the big-band era with a classic yet seasonal American and European continental menu. The French term brasserie refers to a restaurant that serves beer and food in a relaxed, comfortable setting yet with professional service. Urbain 40 fits that billing to a tee.
Urbain 40’s owner-operator Jaafar Choufani, an executive for parent company Boulevard Restaurants, teamed up with his father, famed restaurateur and former Bocuse d’Or judge Rashid Choufani, to run the brasserie. Rashid also leads restaurant operations at Walt Disney World’s Morocco pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase.
The 330-seat restaurant, located inside the Dellagio shopping center on Sand Lake Road in Dr. Phillips, offers brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night dining. Although the location is on a quiet stretch of Restaurant Row, the dining room’s atmosphere has just enough hustle and bustle to make it feel like you’re in the big city.
Recent renovations bring the restaurant to life with burnished wood, white linen tables and banquette seats. Private rooms modeled after library rooms or an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club are also available, along with a wide selection of wine including more than 40 Old World and New World selections offered by the glass.
A live band complete with its own ritzy crooners performs vintage big-band music while television screens above show a live feed of the chefs and line cooks undertaking their own performance in the kitchen, cooking at the stoves and preparing beautifully presented plates.
Executive Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard was born in Lyon, the French city known worldwide for being at the forefront of gastronomy and culinary arts. Naturally, he began his training at a young age in his father’s restaurant kitchen. Poinard, who is a past guest chef of the James Beard House in New York, is also a member of Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises, an elite society of chefs. He most recently opened Bistro de Leon in St. Augustine, Florida, before coming to Orlando for Urbain 40.
“Orlando really reminds me of a little New York with a real city feeling and a diverse population and culture,” he says. “And the access to incredible food, shopping and entertainment makes Orlando the perfect choice for our family.”
A faithful devotee of the slow-food movement, Poinard sources fresh ingredients locally when possible to transform continental and American classics into original creations. He also brings his interpretations of French favorites with a decidedly American, and often southern twist, to the table.
The Billi-Bi Soup is a luxurious French classic with an elegant saffron cream broth that surrounds a Prince Edward Island mussels beignet and is finished with drips of smoked paprika oil. For a shareable starter, try the Crepe Urbain from the hors d’oeuvres portion of the menu. This signature dish layers thin crepe pancakes with roasted wild mushrooms and oven-dried tomatoes and is topped with a drizzle of roasted leek beurre blanc and fig balsamic reduction sauces.
Seafood lovers should be sure to start with the stunning Prince Edward Mussels, which are plump and perfectly cooked. This appetizer can be prepared two ways: roasted in a cast iron skillet with drawn butter or steamed with white wine and Pernod butter. Sop up some of the delectable broth with a bite of the lovely fresh-out-of-the-oven French baguette.
Everything at Urbain 40 is prepared fresh in-house, including the bread, pastas like pappardelle and ravioli, and desserts. A must try is the Bolognese, a delicately tender pappardelle pasta mixed with slow-roasted beef, pork and Grana Pardano cheese that melts in your mouth.
For dessert, you’ll find yourself in a sweet dilemma as the bevy of goods created by Pastry Chef Amanda McFall are so enticing that it’s hard to choose just one. Her masterful dessert creations include Croissant Bread Pudding topped with butter pecan and bourbon ice cream and Baba au Rhum, a French version of upside-down cake infused with rum syrup, raisins and delicate hints of citrus and vanilla bean. McFall’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte with fresh raspberry ice cream is almost too pretty to eat.
Urbain 40 is both enchanting and charming. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear Ol’ Blue Eyes crooning to you from the piano while you dine.