Lettuce Tell You About Our Salad Greens

Tractor in the Lettuce Field

Why do you sometimes need a knife for a salad at Urban Plates? It is an interesting question and I answer it all the time. We want to be trusted as your advocate when you come in to eat with us, and this is a perfect example of something we do differently. On purpose.

We buy our salad greens from Tanimura and Antle (T&A), a very well respected grower in the Salinas Valley. The company is known for being excellent stewards of their land and doing everything possible to grow phenomenal produce. The company has been thriving for three generations for good reason. T&A is a good fit for us as a partner because of the quality of their product and the way in which they conduct their business. The fields are managed responsibly in many ways including a focus on soil vitality by rotating crops, utilizing beneficial and nutritive cover crops, efficient tillage and minimized tractor passes. Minimizing water use is a top priority in our drought affected state and the farms use long range weather forecasts, soil moisture testing and computer modeling to manage watering schedules and gain efficiencies. These factors, plus a focus on food waste reduction, excellent supply chain management and crop traceability are all reasons Tanimura and Antle are such great vendor partners for us. We feel lucky and proud to be able to share such a fantastic product with our guests.

We have sourced baby heads of lettuce that are 4-5” when they are harvested and shipped to us. To prep them, we just cut the ends off the heads, separate and fluff the leaves, then wash them twice in very cold water. We then spin them dry and put them into a bin that lets the air move through the leaves and lets any last water drain off. Now the lettuce is ready to become the foundation for your salad.

Here is the part that answers the question. We have these beautiful and natural whole leaves of lettuce. They are delicate, crunchy, and colorful. We want to highlight what we have sourced and prepared for you. If we were to cut the leaves smaller, it would look like any other pre-washed, bagged lettuce (and we could use it, really, who would know.) If you see perfect little uncut leaves in your salad, you know someone went through some trouble to get them to you. Yes, you may have to use a knife to cut them, but you can tell with your own eyes the quality of what you are putting into your body. We have chosen to be transparent and to be held accountable for what we serve you. If it is not whole leaf, baby head lettuce, you will be able to tell right away. I like being held to that standard, so we will not cut down the leaves, we will ask you to do it when you enjoy the salad…and you will know we are not cheating. We hope this more than makes up for the hassle of using a knife.

As I said, I get asked about this a lot. After I explain our motivation for the way we do things, not one person has asked us to cut the leaves down smaller. I consider that very telling. Thank you for the time you took to read this and thank you for your support of Urban Plates. We could cook all day long, if no one is there to enjoy it, it just won’t work out for us. We value every guest that comes to dine with us. We know you have a choice and we appreciate your business.

-Chef Zac

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Soup Weather is Upon Us

rainy days

It doesn’t happen all that often here in SoCal, but when the temperature dips and the rain clouds make an appearance, there is nothing better than a great bowl of soup. It warms your insides and gives you the culinary version of a big hug. We take soup very seriously at Urban Plates. It is a side sometimes, but other times it is the entire meal. If a soup isn’t outstanding, you don’t remember it. We want our soup to be what comes to mind when you see a wet shine on the street or rain on the window.

Our Corporate Chef, Joe Noonan, is our Soup Hero. He is responsible for the new items on our rotating menu, and he loves making soups. He is from the Northeast originally, he is a CIA graduate and cut his teeth at the Boston Four Seasons and went on from there. Stints at Aviara and abroad with Four Seasons before The Grand Del Mar, then most recently at Rancho Valencia. Any Chef is a product of the kitchens they work in. Chef Joe’s talent is result of decades of hard work in very good kitchens, he is gifted and driven and you will feel his talent when you taste the soups. We just began running his New England Clam Chowder and it is perfect timing. If you have a chill in your bones that you can’t shake, try his awesome Chowdah…so good. Thick and rich in all the right ways, there is some heft to it. Plenty of seafood and potato give it a long finish and it pairs very well with a hoppy pint of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. If you are at the Crossroads in Irvine, the hidden secret is the Cismontane Citizen, it is very similar to the San Franciscan steam beers and is a perfect pairing with chowder. Our soups rotate all the time and we love keeping things interesting for ourselves and our guests. You can always tell by what soups are running if a restaurant takes seasonality to heart.

We are running four of his soup creations right now and none will disappoint. I already mentioned the Chowdah, of course. We also have the smooth, velvety, wintry goodness that we call our Butternut Squash soup. You could pay four times as much at a white table cloth restaurant and not get this quality. It comes with a garnish of cinnamon crema, or you can leave that off and enjoy it as a great vegan option. Our Creamy Tomato is always a crowd pleaser, it is best friends with our grilled fresh focaccia. The combination is perfect when you do some dipping. We are also offering our Chicken Tomatillo, a southwestern revolt to run of the mill chicken soup. Slightly piquant, it will use its spice to break the chill without being heavy. Lot’s of veggies and chicken in a broth base. We make sure you have choices at Urban Plates. You can be slightly decadent or healthy depending how you feel, but always with quality ingredients and great recipes made from scratch. There will be a new one soon, Chef Joe is banging out the next recipe now, the working menu title is “Chicken and Heavy Vegetable” but it might end up with a different name so don’t quote me. We will let you know when it’s ready and we go live.

Thanks for reading and supporting Urban Plates. We know we could cook all day and if there isn’t anyone to eat it, it will not work out. We exist because you like what we do. That makes us proud and makes us want to do more. We will always strive to get you more better ingredients for the price. We want to be less expensive than you making the same thing at home. How are we doing?

Thanksgiving

chef zac and sons

chef zac and sons

I think Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It is an American/Canadian holiday, no other countries get it, and everybody likes to have something that is all their own. It is a holiday based around the harvest feast and it celebrates the bounty that the season has supplied if you worked hard, and we all do. It marks the line between the spring and summer’s warm, vibrant and fertile energy and the cold, resting, rejuvenating winter months. It is the celebration of the filled silo and root cellar, the newly resting wine and aging provisions. We may not have these things, but we know what they mean. As a Chef, it is one of the big holidays as the focus is on food. We get our ya-ya’s out for Thanksgiving. Most of my past I have been on duty for this holiday, because as Chefs, we work when others want to party. It is an honor because we live to make people happy with food.

When we started Urban Plates we had to decide what our SOP would be moving forward. To the delight of my wife and children, it was decided that our cooks work so hard for the entire year, they deserve to be with their families for Thanksgiving. That first year we were open, I was so happy to share that with our team. What a special restaurant it is that makes Thanksgiving a day for family. Of course, don’t get it twisted, we are probably all cooking as hard as we do at work that day…but it is for our loved ones. We live to hear people say, “that was the best I have ever tasted.” We thrive when we see smiles on the faces of our guests in a full dining room. We are proud when we can figure out that special thing that delights a certain person. We feel like we accomplished something when we nail a recipe and it is perfection. It feeds us as people, and that helps us generate the energy we need to do our job.

We are very aware that food can be merely fuel…and we hate it. We want food to reflect our passion as cooks. We want it to be more than sustenance, we want it to nourish you and your family. When I was growing up, my extended family would gather for a feast and everyone would bring something. We would sit together and that food that was shared would represent the love we have for each other. We would share in the bounty of the season and the company of those that are important to you. We want our team to get that feeling and we want them to come back from the holiday fired up and refreshed. We want to create a space that you can have the same experience every day. A place you can sit down with your family and eat a meal made with the highest quality ingredients and just connect up for a little while. You can do it even with everyone’s busy schedules because we are making food all day long. We do it at a price that won’t break the bank to boot! Enjoy your Thanksgiving and we hope to see you Friday. Thank you, I am Chef Zac.

Our Signature Silky Mango Tart

What better way to finish off an excellent meal than with an awesome dessert? When I want to crush my sweet tooth I head for our mango tart. It is a perfectly crisp tart shell with silky ripe mango held in place with some airy cream. It’s as complex as the mango itself, sweet and sour, plump and smooth. This is one of those items that gives you a choice, you can be decadent from a flavor perspective and conscious from a calorie perspective. The way it’s cut and assembled makes it as gorgeous as a flower. It is a crowd favorite. People buy the whole thing to take to Thanksgiving, a pot luck, an office party or family gatherings and I am sure they claim they made it…I will never tell, I will keep it our little secret. Actually, we take it as a compliment and people will talk about it until the next event when they will ask for it again.  It’s simple, beautiful and delicious, a perfect ending to any meal. Pairs well with champagne…just saying.
 Full mango tart 2

Brussels Sprouts

True story:
I love Brussels Sprouts. However, I don’t like them frozen and boiled like so many people imagine when they hear “Brussels Sprouts.” If you are going to eat them, they need to be roasted at high heat, then sautéed with Garlic, Bacon and Olive Oil in the Tuscan style. We make it our own way by using Turkey Bacon, but it’s the same idea. When we decided to run with the recipe, someone said people won’t buy Brussels Sprouts. I was confident that what we were serving was worthy. I told everyone on the line, if you tell the guest what it is and they wrinkle their nose, put up their hand or turn their head…just give them a sample. Don’t ask, don’t wait…just give them a sample. Guess what, Brussels Sprouts are one of our biggest sellers. They are becoming mainstream, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. We took something that people are basically afraid to eat because of a past experience and changed their mind. They are cabbage…if you eat roasted cabbage, your body will know you gave it some good food. They are hearty, filling and delicious in addition to being nutritious. Win, win, win.

brussel-sprout-ready-for-cooking

Hey, from Chef Zac

Hey, it’s Chef Zac at Urban Plates. I’m the Executive Chef for Corporate Support. I was the opening Chef/GM in Del Mar and I assisted the opening at the Crossroads location in Irvine. I work all the restaurants now to help everyone keep up the quality standards and expectations we have set. I am in the utility player position because I have such a deep understanding of what we do and what we should be doing to keep everyone happy. It is my job to keep us on task. It is my job to make sure we don’t lose sight of what makes us special. It is my job to make sure when we put out a new menu item it is a representation of what we think is important. It is my job to guarantee that when we bring in an ingredient, I can check all the boxes and stand behind it as an advocate for our guests. It is my job to keep us connected to our People and ensure we never lose that fanatical bond. I will be carrying this blog forward and I am very excited that you are curious enough to want to know more!Chef Zac

take a tour

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