Laurel has been on my "retry" list for a while, largely based on posts from reliable 'hounds like Dax. Finally got here tonight, and was tremendously impressed.
Short version: excellent bartending, dubious hosting, bargain-priced fine-dining food. We walk in without a reservation, hostess says "I'll look for a table", we say, "We'll get a drink at the bar while you look", hostess says, "I'll let you know in a minute." We never see her again, but luckily find seats at the bar, and stay there for the evening.
The barman knows his proper cocktails. For openers, we get the squash-puree soup and a wedge salad, both winners. Entrees of agnolotti (rather oversauced) and veal meatloaf: not stunning, but very, very good, especially at these price: apps around $5, entrees under $20 (like my veal meatloaf entree: $11, remarkable!)
Dessert of peanut butter cheesecake with bit of excellent brittle on top and a chocolate drizzle is too big by half, very nice, and $7.
Lots of bargains on the wine list, few bottles that look overpriced. We get a modest South African with an animal on the label (the kiss of death by most standards), but it's actually worth the $24 price tag.
A soup-to-nuts meal with cocktails, wine, and dessert comes to $100 pre-tip. We're glad we opted for bar seating: the hostess's inability to manage a Saturday night conventioneer surge means that an out-of-town couple with a reservation has to wait an hour for their table, then gets seated in a crappy spot. Shame on Laurel. Don't be surprised if those folks don't come back!
We are otherwise much impressed. The evening reminds us of one at the Franklin Cafe, minus the excellent music (what they play here is apparently audible in the dining room, but not in the bar), plus brighter lighting. Similarly, surprisingly good food served in fine-dining style but cheap. The wine, both by the glass and bottle, is significantly better than that served at the Franklin.
I am ready to give this place another go, ideally on a weeknight when the dining room isn't crowded with out-of-towners. Cool crowd, good drinks, fine food, low prices. Aside from the bumbling hostess, what's the catch?