Union Square Café is back! When I heard of the closing of this long-standing pioneer of farm-to-table classics from Danny Meyer in 2014, I lamented how the crazy rent hike was driving away all the fine restaurants in the city, being replaced by another branch of a large Wall Street bank, another Starbucks that is already way over-crowded in Manhattan, or another Duane Reade. I always loved the restaurant’s vibe in the original bi-level dining space, and was very sad to see this charming and classy place exit the New York dining scene. Thankfully, Mr. Meyer was able to find a suitable space for the rebirth of his flagship restaurant nearby the original location last fall, and on a recent visit with my wife Jun, the kitchen still delivered the high level of cooking that was both approachable and sophisticated at the same time.
There is nothing magical or fancy about the menus at Union Square Café. A lot of these dishes were what you see in a typical New American restaurant purportedly displaying farm-to-table classics. Yet, I’ve always been a fan of Union Square Café for its straightforward cooking that is faithful to the ingredients and emphasizes thoughtful execution that sets this restaurant apart from dozens of others in, say, West Village. By now, I’ve tasted dozens of polenta dishes before, but the creamy sensation of the dish here is at another level. There is no fancy ingredient like white truffle being added and yet it makes for a perfect starter to whet my appetite. Calamari, one of the go-to starters or bar snacks, is oftentimes quite difficult to pull off perfectly. According to Jun, you have to have ideal level of thickness to the fried shell and be judicious in the use of seasoning. Fritto misto at Union Square Café in that respect really makes a statement on how best to do calamari dishes right, with that crisp texture and balanced flavor that made for another wonderful appetizer.
Pasta has long been a strength at Union Square Café, and the pappardelle with rabbit and parmagiano reggiano that Jun and I tasted was another example of a simple-looing dish that delivers so much satisfaction with a hearty feel to the flavor that wasn’t at the same time overpowering to our palate. For main dish, we enjoyed the spiced chicken with fingerling potatoes. We are always partial to dynamic effects that the use of spices can bring to the table, and the chicken brought that versatility in full swing while still maintaining proper balance in flavor. Our satisfying dinner ended with delightful panna cotta accompanied by citrus, granola and clementine sorbet. Again, a very solid dish with optimal level of sweetness that we were happy to gobble up in a matter of a couple of minutes.
Getting a reservation at Union Square Café was always a challenge in its original location, and still is in the new 2.0 version, so I would always recommend booking in advance. There is a full bar with some old-school classic cocktails and extensive wine lists to complement your meal. Hospitality and services remain another strength for the restaurant, with attentive staffs that make you feel welcomed. I’m so glad that Union Square Café has more or less maintained that continuity from the original space; a restaurant that moves from its iconic space oftentimes suffers from a few kinks and setbacks, but it seems thankfully the transition has been more or less seamless.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 9.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 101 East 19th Street, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (212) 243-4020