Thursday, January 13, 2011

Union Square Cafe Review

Danny Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, when he was 27 years old. That was twenty five years ago, last fall. These days it seems as though it takes a particularly tough alignment of factors for a place to persevere that long. When you visit Union Square Cafe, it's not hard to see why it has thrived without even seeming dated.

Tucked away on 16th Street, just west of Union Square, the restaurant manages to appeal to those looking for a casual meal and those who want to get gussied up for a special occasion. Although one would be wise to book in advance, it's not so coveted that you won't be able to get a reservation for months. The menu is wide ranging enough to bring people of varying tastes together at one table. Despite the restaurant's apparent popularity, the service isn't rushed and my dining companion and I were allowed to have a leisurely dinner.

We started with the Cara Cara blood orange salad with fennel vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts and smoked ricotta. A dish filled with complex flavors, but the underlying sweetness of the oranges tied it all together. The restaurant also kindly split some of the dishes for us.

The local fluke crudo with Meyer lemon, seasoning peppers and sea beans was delicious. The citrus was again the main flavor, making for a refreshing appetizer. 

Much to my surprise, I loved the spaghettini with Peconic Bay scallops, chickpea sauce, black truffle and baby spinach. When I think of scallops, I think bland and chewy. But these small ones were tender and imbued with the flavors of the sea, which dominated the dish. Though black truffles usually have a strong presence, they took a back seat here. The wonderful sauce also seemed to have some white wine tossed in.

The roasted Roman-style baby lamb with lentils and marinated artichoke salad was the daily special. The shredded meat was composed into a lovely square covered with what I assume was a crispy layer of skin and made for a hearty end to the savory part of the meal.

The warm chocolate brownie custard with coffee ice cream and Kahlua caramel sauce was Union Square Cafe's offering of the most traditional American dessert and it did the job well, something this restaurant knows how to do.

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