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Union Square Cafe

December 18th, 2007 · No Comments


Union Square Café, Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, opened over twenty years ago. While I am a big Meyer fan (and really, how can you consume NYC food and not be?), embarrassingly I had not dined at his freshman effort, an establishment that ushered in a new era in New York City dining. This quaint café bares the distinct Meyer mark, serving American food with seasonal accents, and it is worth a visit, if only to see where it all began.

Union Square Café has an impressive number of tables, but its tri-level layout creates cozy nooks with more-than-adequate elbow space. Table cloths don’t convey pretention here, but rather an old school charm that is both casual and elegant. The only music is the pleasant din of conversation.  The service is friendly (maybe even a bit too informal) but it feels true to the surroundings.

We sampled an array of starters and entrees, all of which were cooked with expert precision – lamb chops were a deep pink, chicken was moist, and fish was succulent. The only exception was the Farrotto starter. The grains, meant to be al dente, bordered on mushy. It would be unfair, however, if that was all I said about the Farrotto, whose cheesy morsels, laced with the sweetness and acid of balsamic-glazed onions, was otherwise divine. Puree of Butternut Squash, delectably creamy and thick, was much more than a soup. Swirls of Eggnog crème fraiche teased the palate with a hint of nutmeg. Seared Yellow Fin Tuna melted on the tongue, a result of its freshness.

Portion sizes, impressively large, were supplemented with strong accompaniments, some more tantalizing and inventive than others. Spoonfuls of decadent chestnut puree, perfectly sweetened, brought unique flavor to each bite of the light and flaky Cod. The bacon, brussel sprout and turnip mix, on the other hand, felt tired. The moist and flavorful Herb-roasted Chicken could have used a crispier skin, but the savory soufflé of Parmigano Bread Pudding was sublime enough to make up for it. Criss-crossed with char, the Lamp Chops cut as obediently as butter. For Monday night’s special of Lobster “Shepherd’s Pie,” a cover of fluffy but over salted mashed potatoes protected vegetables, lobster meat and lobster sauce. The result was undeniably decadent, but the seasoning could have used an adjustment.

For dessert, a chocolate Budino, with bananas cooked in rum and white chocolate ice cream, was deep and rich, both in color and taste. It was an elegant respite from the all too common lava cake. The Brioche French Toast, a close cousin of bread pudding, was heavenly.

Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 243-4020

Neighborhood: Union Square

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