Urban Butcher, the edgy new protein palace in Silver Spring, is a combination restaurant, bar, lounge, meat shop and curing room, serving house-made charcuterie, American artisan cheeses and inventive beef, pork, chicken and seafood dishes.
It’s one of a growing number of next-generation steak houses that are popping up around the country. Instead of offering huge slabs of beef from Midwestern feedlots in a mahogany-paneled dining room, Urban Butcher procures local animals from yesteryear breeds, turns them into salamis, pastrami, sausages and hams, and dishes it all up in a relaxed, eclectic setting.
A destination eatery, it provides a stark contrast to the safe, predictable and often boring restaurants in the Bethesda area. And for the most part, the food is really good.
The man behind the meat is Raynold Mendizabal, a Cuban-born mathematician who honed his cooking skills at Pesce and Fujimar in the District and at the Latin Concepts restaurants (including the defunct Silver Spring eatery Ceviche). Most recently, he was the chef-owner of the two Black & Orange burger restaurants downtown.
At Urban Butcher, any meal should begin with a selection of charcuterie items, served on butcher block boards. Go for the thinly sliced chorizo Espanol, emboldened with Spanish smoked pimientos and garlic; and the Greek-style loukanika, a traditional lamb sausage that gets jazzed up here with fennel pollen, orange rind and Aleppo peppers.
I tried four cheeses, and particularly liked Dante and Marisa, two sheep’s milk cheeses from Wisconsin. But I doubt you could go wrong with any of the choices, which will rotate throughout the year.
Another don’t-miss is the smoked bluefish rillette, a simple spread of house-smoked fish and crème fraîche served in a little jar. Silken, smoky and not-too-fishy, it’s divine slathered on a hunk of the chargrilled rustic bread that accompanies the charcuterie.
And speaking of that bread, which comes from Lyon Bakery: It gets a splash of garlic oil before being singed on the grill, and is so addictive you’ll be tearing off pieces long after you’re full.
The main menu, comprised of both small and large plates ranging from $5 to $26, is a bit confusing. There’s no logical organization by portion size, price or food category. Just take the plunge with the lamb tartare, a mound of house-ground raw lamb mixed with a bright, citrusy dressing of lemon juice, fenugreek, paprika, thyme, garlic, cayenne and other spices. It’s served on homemade oval flatbread with a generous slather of hummus. Even those hesitant about raw meat should give it a try, as the flavor layers are both intriguing and compatible.
On the opposite doneness spectrum, the ox brisket is cooked for 48 hours, resulting in meltingly tender chunks served atop a potato purée, surrounded by a moat of honey-ginger jus and topped with a sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds. The “T” word can also be used to describe the thick-cut, house-brined and steamed pastrami, with its rim of fat crusted with black pepper, mustard and coriander. No knives needed for either dish.
In the category of happy-to-eat-again but not a wow: the juicy pinot noir sausages; and the beef empanadas, crispy half moons stuffed with ground beef, raisins, olives and dry salted Italian capers, served with a liquidy chimichurri that adds a mighty kick.
Just so-so: the Chinese barbecued pork ribs, with their somewhat cloying honey and black bean paste coating; the dry lamb sausage; and the pleasant but nothing special Chianti-Finocchiona salami and pâté forestière.