In today's economy fraught with economic uncertainties, most new restaurants are lucky to survive their first year, let alone two. Then again, Union Square Café hardly qualifies as an ordinary restaurant. Twenty five years ago, Danny Meyer opened this restaurant, his first at the time, that was predicated on utilizing the freshest product available from the nearby Green Market which served unpretentious, but refined classics. Meyer, an incredible scout for talent, recruited chef Michael Romano who helped earn the restaurant a three stars review from the New York Times. More recently, chef Romano was made partner, with Carmen Quagliata filling his former role. But despite this change Union Square Café has yet to skip a beat, remaining one of New York City's most beloved restaurants.
Frequently visited by both tourists and loyal regulars like, makes Union Square Café reservations hard to come by. Although the weather cold when we last visited, once inside, the restaurant's cozy ambiance and accommodating staff immediately helped us warm up. Once seated, we were provided a bowl of Citrus-Scented Niçoise Olives and a bread basket containing: Whole Grain Bread, Ciabatta Rolls and Flatbread. The salty olives and soft and chewy bread kept our hunger at bay while we ordered drinks.
We began with a half dozen Iced Oysters on the Half Shell served with a Mignonette. The daily selection included: Beavertail from Connecticut, Sweet Neck from Massachusetts and Pebble Beach from Washington. The oysters were good, tasting fresh and briny, they were a nice start to our meal.
Next was the restaurant's signature, Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato-Basil Passatina and Pecorino Romano. These gnocchi were outstanding, plump and pillowy soft, they easily eclipsed other versions I've had from various Italian restaurants. The sauce contained a pleasant acidity from the tomatoes but was balanced by the herbacious flavor of the basil, and the saltiness provided by the dusting of pecorino helped tie the whole dish together.
MW ordered the weekly classic, a mammoth Berkshire Porkchop with a White Asparagus Risotto. The chop was moist and juicy, but perhaps a bit too much as the it was undercooked, forcing us to send it back to the kitchen. The personification of hospitality, the entire staff apologized profusely for the mistake and immediately sent us two complimentary glasses of wine, even offering to re-serve my dish as to ensure no one would be forced to eat alone. Perfectly cooked the second time around, the staff's professional manner in which they handed the mishap almost made us forget about the entire incident altogether.
My Grilled Lamb Chops Scotta Dita, Potato-Gruyère Gratin and Wilted Insalata Tricolore was excellent. Though thinner than usual, the lamb chops were tender and contained a smokiness from the grill, which complimented the wilted salad very well. But the star of the plate was the potato gratin. Hot, cheesy and rich, this was the very definition of the word, "comfort," and was the perfect dish on such a frigid evening.
For dessert, MW ordered the Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Chai Ice Cream. The "pudding" was in my opinion, far too dense to appropriately be named as such, but was still delicious. Combined with the slightly spiced chai ice cream, this was a winning combination of flavors.
Earning rave reviews, USC's Banana Tart with Macadamia Brittle and Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream, certainly lived up to the hype. Layered atop the tart sat a banana, that had first been halved and later brûléed, with a scoop of honey-vanilla ice cream completing the plating. The caramel notes from the banana, crunch of the macadamia brittle and contrast of temperatures between the warm tart and cold ice cream had me waxing poetically about how incredible this dessert was. We both agreed that the desserts were very good and as a whole, thoroughly enjoyed our entire meal here.
Twenty five years ago when Danny Meyer first opened Union Square Café, it seems highly improbable that even he could have envisioned the restaurant's successful run. By no means should this statement be misconstrued as some back-handed insult, nor should it imply the restaurant's immense popularity has somehow dwindled, rather, its a testament to the longevity and prominence enjoyed by only a few. New Yorkers know a good thing when they see it (or in this case, taste it) and they continue to pack Union Square Café night in and night out for the market-driven, upscale comfort food they've come to know, expect and love.
Union Square Café
21 E. 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
To see all our pics click the flickr link.