By Tiffany Maleshefski

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Urban Tavern, the new eatery brought to you by wunderchef Laurent Manrique and restaurateur Chris Condy (together they are C&L Partners) has got to step up its service. That is, if it’s going to survive among San Francisco’s already flush hoity-toity restaurant scene.

The staff, though friendly enough, is sloooooooww. Painfully slow. For reals, we’ve had better service at the nearby Cheesecake Factory.

The good news is the food overall is quite outstanding. While I was expecting dressed up helpings of Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips, what I got was heaps of southern French comfort food that Francophiles and ex-pats alike will coo over.

We started out with the Pissaladiere ($11), a delicious tart covered with kalamata olives, grilled sardines, and caramelized onions. These tarts are the equivalent of hot dogs or pretzels in places like Nice and can be bought from roadside vendors. Though served in a more sophisticated element, the tart doesn’t lose its hearty appeal. Our other starter, the Goat Cheese ($13) is a yummy, generous dollop of creamy goodness served on roasted beets and sprinkled with walnuts and cumin vinaigrette. The dish was refreshing enough for sure, and though a common sight on a lot of menus these days, was executed perfectly.

Moving on to the entrees, the Chicken "Bouillabaisse" Style, which can be ordered to serve 1, 2, or 4 people ($19, $38, $72, respectively) was downright dreamy. Now lovers of this dish know traditional bouillabaisse is essentially fish stew, but here in its chicken incarnation, it is still heavenly. The broth was light, but almost creamy as if it were a curry, which is the saffron coming through. (I wanted to ask for a wine glass to drink the last drop of broth.) The chicken was tender, moist, yet a little hard to eat, but who the hell cares when you really want to suck every bone hollow.

The grilled Halibut ($23), however, which we ordered with the citrus and saffron vinaigrette, was on the bland side. Most of Laurent Manrique's menu here is designed to be a la carte. Though most entrees come with a choice of one sauce or vinaigrette, folks can order additional sides: a gravy boat of sauce or vinaigrette at $3 a pop.