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Uptown Kitchen Perfects the Egg

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 26, 2009

“When I hold an egg in my hand I feel that it represents the image of the universe, and it awakens and increases my respect for life.” This citation, taken from the world-renowned chef Michel Roux, is the first thing to greet customers at Uptown Kitchen, located in the new Toscana Park Shopping Center, just off Gumwood and north of Cleveland St./Highway 23.

Welcoming patrons in with such a comprehensive quotation, painted onto the wall in front of the door, is a bold move. The words give the impression of intellectual chefs and cerebral menus. To invite the judgment to lie on just one ingredient, the egg, is a potentially dangerous game. If the eggs aren’t prepared just right, the chefs (or at least decorators) look like fools. Even if the eggs are worthy of reference, it could undermine dishes without it.

Fortunately, the eggs at Uptown Kitchen stood up to Roux’s vision. In fact, the eggs were perfectly prepared – scrambled and cooked not a minute too early or late. Furthermore, just about everything was well-executed throughout the restaurant.

The biggest indicator was the owner, Jonathan Lutz. It is not incredibly uncommon to see owners or managers chatting with patrons every once in a while, but Lutz maintains a steady presence in the restaurant and visited almost every table. On top of that, within a one-hour span, Lutz acted as busser, host and sommelier. But most impressive of all was his eating dinner at the restaurant with his wife and three children. Any restaurant tied so closely with its owner is bound to be well-run.

Clear evidence of this is in the food. The “breakfast all day” shtick can be easily phoned in, but as Roux would have it, Lutz seems to have devoted himself to it. The three “House Specialties” indicated on the menu are the Stuffed French Toast ($8.49), the Breakfast Burrito ($8.99) and the House Made Corned Beef Hash ($8.79). This burrito’s size gives Chipotle a run for its money. With spicy chorizo, perfect scrambled eggs, avocado, potato, jalapeño, red onion and melted cheese, all stuffed in a jalapeño tortilla, this dish is everything many people would want out of a breakfast – any time of day. The salsa on the side was a fine addendum to the taste, but really only got in the way of this amazing burrito.

Non-egg dishes are positively satisfactory. The 12-inch pizza made for a tasty but overwhelming appetizer. The soup was the kind that is too difficult to hold off on until it’s cooled down. But not ordering some dish with eggs here would be like being a fan of Michael Jordan as a Birmingham Baron.

Around every corner, Uptown Kitchen performed well. Even things on the side were exceptionally prepared. The fresh squeezed orange juice had a great taste and not too much pulp. And the granola cookie, with raisins, cranberries and white chocolate, is too good to turn down. Desserts are finely presented. Specialty brewed coffee will suit a casual or serious drinker, and the bagels aren’t haphazardly presented, like so many Midwestern offerings. Simply offering lox with the bagels shows that Lutz, raised in Chicago and influenced by San Francisco culinary arts, has some qualification.

The décor was fitting for Lutz’ organic, fresh focus. Soft, faded colors covered walls and paintings that surrounded a well-lit dining area and a clean, surprisingly small open kitchen. The lofty ceilings gave a sense of open space.

The room would be a sight to see in candlelight, and there’s an excellent opportunity coming up. On Saturday, March 29 at 8:30 p.m., Uptown Kitchen will be one of the few restaurants participating in Earth Hour. Besides the changed menu specials, the restaurant will also adopt a more environmentally friendly lighting system with candles.

With food like the restaurant’s – with a focus on organic and fresh ingredients – Uptown Kitchen won’t find itself lacking business. The restaurant finds a way to provide high quality food and a superior atmosphere while avoiding pretentiousness. Its attention to detail and genuine care for food come through in every bite.