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Originally published Friday, May 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant review

Hyatt's Urbane a promising newcomer

Urbane — a casual, contemporary-American restaurant in the eco-friendly Hyatt at Olive 8 in downtown Seattle — pursues local ingredients, offers only Northwest wines and pours purified water gratis. Lunch is geared toward meals on the go; dinner offers a flexible menu of small and large plates.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Vegetable soup $9
Dungeness crab risotto $12
Salsify ravioli $21
Grilled half chicken $22
Halibut with nettles $23

Urbane2.5 stars

Contemporary American

1635 Eighth Ave., Seattle

206-676-4600

www.urbaneseattle.com

Reservations: Accepted.

Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.-2.30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; breakfast 6:30-11 a.m. Mondays-Fridays; brunch 6:30 a.m.-2.30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; happy hour 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight daily.

Prices: $$$ (Breakfast/brunch $5-$15; lunch $10-$15; dinner starters $9-$12, entrees $21-$24.)

Drinks: Full bar; all-Northwest wine list.

Parking: Nearby lots and garages; valet parking ($8 with validation) available at hotel-lobby entrance.

Sound: Varies from moderate to loud, depending on location.

Who should go: Ideal for a business lunch or dinner; convenient to theaters, convention center and shopping at Pacific Place.

Credit cards: All major.

Access: No obstacles.

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Urbane is a noble effort by Hyatt Corp. to break out of the ho-hum hotel-dining rut.

It's not its first attempt here. Remember 727 Pine? The Grand Hyatt's glamorous dining room opened at the start of this decade with a rising-star chef at the helm (Danielle Custer, now overseeing Taste at Seattle Art Museum). Four years and a few chefs later, it was superseded by Ruth's Chris.

As part of the new Hyatt at Olive 8 in downtown Seattle, an eco-friendly hotel crowned with luxury condos and a "living" roof, Urbane is going for green rather than glitz. Hyatt executive chef Brent Martin and Urbane chef de cuisine Dan Gilmore pursue a sustainable path, using local ingredients when practical, offering Northwest-only wines and pouring Natura-purified tap water — still and sparkling — free of charge.

If you work within walking distance, give lunch a try. The menu of large plates and small is geared toward eating on the go. Consider a saucy slab of short rib topped with spicy cabbage and carrot slaw bursting from a brioche torpedo roll — a knife-and-fork sandwich if ever there was one. Dip superb fish and chips into tangy rémoulade or luxuriate in crab-studded macaroni and cheese enriched with Beecher's curds.

A more ambitious bill of fare at dinner offers the variety and flexibility diners have come to demand. Small plates are substantial, entrees are ample. Augmenting those is a long list of $4 sides, from starches and grains to veggies such as cauliflower, lentils and kale. The list is so varied people have been known to order a bunch and make it a meal.

Vegetables starred in the dishes I found most compelling. One was a ramekin of roasted cauliflower sweetly punctuated with raisins. Another was vegetable soup, its flavor amped with a spoonful of walnut pesto and a splash of Trampetti olive oil. This garden in a bowl yielded kale, turnip, potato, carrot, fennel, tomato and zucchini. I even found some nutty, chewy farro grains in the dregs.

Farro also embellished ricotta-stuffed ravioli. The tender, house-made pasta hobnobbed happily with salsify, wild mushrooms and spinach in a light garlic and herb sauce imbued with those vegetables' earthy jus.

Crunchy fiddlehead ferns adorned a fine fillet of seared halibut propped up by a butter-rich bundle of nettles that was nearly as creamy as the sauce: a cloud of carrot purée sparked with lemon thyme. But that vibrant orange sauce was cold, a jarring note on an otherwise hot plate. And surely the blue-cheese tart should have been warmed. Served cool, the filling was timid and the crust soggy, no competition for the sweet, crunchy salad of pear, celery, grapes and walnuts that shared the plate.

Lamb was undermined by a tepid, mint-infused sauce with a curiously bitter finish, but the precisely cooked small rack comes with a cumin-stoked lamb sausage, and, once again, lovely vegetables: roasted fennel, zucchini and spring onion.

For dessert, two can demolish a wonderful butterscotch sundae with peanut brittle and chocolate marshmallows. Lemon pound cake, served with supersweet poached rhubarb and whipped cream, is daintier, but the cake was a little dry.

As the name implies, Urbane aims to be refined and sophisticated but also relaxed. Natural light floods the high-ceilinged, L-shaped space wrapped on two sides with windows. The contemporary décor merges glass and metal with warm woods and earth-toned walls. Tabletops are bamboo; food is served on sturdy earthenware.

The dining room is partitioned into three sections, which creates intimacy but makes the area farthest from the front door feel like Siberia — or at least Spokane.

The mood is predictably looser in the lounge. ("So what do we know?" was the waiter's greeting.) In the dining room, the royal "we" was used more formally. ("Are we from out of town?") Both waiters displayed commendable wine and food knowledge.

Convenient for hotel guests, shoppers, theatergoers and conventioneers, Urbane has location on its side. With a little more attention to detail, it could win a local following, too. Download the 20 percent coupon from the Web site (good until June 30) and give it a try.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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