37 East 28th Street between Park and Madison Avenues
about $150 for two, with two drinks, without tip
♥ ♥
Update, 2007: Renovated as Pamplona

Ureña is the latest restaurant to open in Murray Hill from one of David Bouley’s apprentice and ex-executive chef of Blue Hill, Alex Ureña. The restaurant has been dubbed one of the ugliest by New York blogs when it opened, but it was obvious that they’ve listened to the critics by the time we visited. They’ve softened the lights to tone down the harshness of the yellow walls and swirl-patterned carpet. The bar is still by the door, but New York City real estate doesn’t come cheap and I can imagine that it will stay there.

Alex Ureña is Dominican and Ureña is billed under Spanish food, but I would categorize it under New American because the menu was a mishmash of different ingredients and cooking techniques. There’s a lot more fish in the menu than I expected, but there’s really nothing unheard of. I wanted to see more of the experimental side of the chef–the El Bulli techniques he’s learned from another mentor, Ferran Adrià.

I did enjoy the octopus and the arctic char with the sweetbreads. The beef ribs also melted like butter. The sauce was a good match to our Grenache. The reward came during dessert with one of Caryn Stabinsky’s creations, of Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50. I loved the beet panna cotta; it was in perfect harmony with the sour cream and orange salt.

Our waiter did not warm up to us until he saw that we loved our dessert. When we were seated, he asked us if we wanted tap or sparkling water. When the boy answered tap, he asked us what “chap” was. He may have left us perplexed, but I’m pretty sure Ureña will finally surprise us the next time we drop by.