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Urban Solace pushing comfort food envelope

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Matt Gordon is owner and executive chef of Urban Solace. Gordon, and business partner Scott Watkins, currently own and run Urban Solace restaurant in North Park, and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge, scheduled to open in Encinitas, later this year.

Q: How would you describe the overall food philosophy of Urban Solace?

A: We just want to make great food at Urban Solace. We do that by sourcing our ingredients with a philosophy of responsibly produced products. We use all 100 percent natural meats, sustainable seafood, local eggs and as much organic produce as makes sense (sometimes local produce is better than certified organic, and often times it is organically grown, just not certified through a cumbersome process).

We take excellent products and create dishes that let the natural flavors shine through. We try to keep menu items recognizable, so we lean toward things that are often referred to as "comfort food," but we like to push the envelope just a little bit.

Q: Why did you decide to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sugars and flavors from your menu?

A: We chose to do this based on our own personal eating habits. At home, we have always tried to utilize as few over-processed foods and stay with as many natural ingredients as possible. To do that in a commercial food service setting proved a greater challenge. We really wanted to make the switch at work without compromising what our customers were used to.

The bar area was far more of a challenge than the kitchen because so many flavored liqueurs and mixers are made with fake stuff and HFCS (and most every soda in bulk bag-in-box for dispenser use). So the Urban Solace bar switched to making all of our mixers and sourcing some very artisan flavored liquors. And after an exhaustive search, we found Boylan Bottling Company's sodas in the bag-in-box bulk pack, so we could serve it just like any other restaurant pours other name brand sodas. We really wanted to maintain the restaurant's price point and if we switched to bottled sodas or other more available ingredients, they would have become too expensive.

Our goal was to prove we could operate a "traditionally" run restaurant but try to stay outside the system at the same time.

Q: Why do you believe organic liquors/alcohol are better?

A: Not all of them are. And we won't use them if they are not up to flavor standards. We see what we are doing as paving the way for the industry to grow. Urban Solace and others like us who are supporting these producers allow them to grow their brands and produce more products that we want to use.

Q: What has the response been from your customers?

A: Amazing! We have had an outpouring of thanks from many people who are happy we did this.

Q: Describe the process of finding and securing vendors for your HFCS-free and more natural approach?

A: We really worked hard, in some cases sourcing items ourselves, as well as convincing our vendors to stock certain things for us.

Q: Outside the menu, does Urban Solace follow any other sustainable practices?

A: We recycle everything we can. We give a large portion of our bottles to a company that "re-purposes" them. You will see our blue water bottles on our tables as votives and many other cut bottles as product holders behind the bar. We are also using re-used glass for a lot of our light fixtures for our new restaurant (opening later this fall), Solace and the Moonlight Lounge. Urban Solace has also eliminated plastic to-go bags and instead use 100 percent recycled to-go boxes, as well as hand towels.

We have submitted paperwork with SDGE to be a test business for revamping our energy use. We are constantly on the lookout for other sustainable practices that we can fit into our model.

The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma on Thursday, Oct. 21, is holding its second annual Pumpkin Carving.

This free event starts at 8:30 p.m. and includes entertainment and giveaways for the best pumpkin carvings.

Oganizers of the San Diego Spirits Festival have created a new series of competitions titled Taste de Mixology that pairs local bartenders and chefs in a team challenge to create a food and drink combo worthy of "The Gold."

The event, planned for Sunday, Nov. 7, at the Hard Rock Hotel, will also provide attendees the opportunity to participate as apprentice bartenders, chefs and judges in an interactive challenge called "10 Minutes to Ironhood."

For more information, visit sandiegospiritsfestival.com.

San Diego Beer Week is taking place Nov. 5-14, promoting San Diego's thriving brewing culture with more than 300 events happening across the country.

The 10-day celebration kicks off Nov. 6 with Brewers Guild Festival and concludes Nov. 14 with the Beer Garden-Chef Celebration of San Diego Beer.

Visit SDBW.org for more info.


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