My birthday was Saturday. Unfortunately, I had a headache all day which meant the planned dinner at Union Square Cafe was pushed back to Sunday. USC is one of my favorite restaurants here in NYC for several reasons - 1) the service doesn't get any better than this 2) the food is always rich, slightly unexpected, and fresh 3) the ambiance is relaxed, not stuffy, but casually elegant. I like to eat at the bar here. Rather than just give you a fork and knife like so many other "eat at bar" establishments do, USC puts down white linens, give you a full place setting, and starts you off with fresh breads, butter, and herb & citrus olives. You get treated the same way you would if you were sitting at one of the dining room tables.
I also like sitting at the bar because the bartenders at USC are great. They are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I think you probably get more interaction to with the bartenders than you would with your waiter at a table. The bartenders are there when you need them and not hanging around interrupting your meal or conversation.
Last night, I ordered a bunch of things to try. The bartender told me that even though the menu has appetizers and appetizer sizes available for the pasta dishes, that I could order quarter portions so I could try even more items. Yay! Here's what I got:
Warm Garlic Potato Chips
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Toasted Brioche, Glazed Belgian Endive and Blood Orange Salad
Chilled First of the Season Asparagus soup with Creme Fraiche
Caramelized Onion Risotto, Balsamic-Roasted Spring Onions, Chives and Parmigiano Reggiano
Capellini with Flaked Halibut, Broccoli Rabe, Garlic, Chili, White Wine and Rustic Breadcrumbs
Fagioli alla Toscana – White Beans with Rosemary, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and Pecorino
Steve had tastes of everything I ordered but he opted for an entree rather than lots of little dishes and got the Grilled Smoked Cedar River Shell Steak, Vin Cotto-Glazed Grilled Radicchio and Whipped Potatoes.
For dessert, we ordered the USC’s Banana Tart, Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream and Macadamia Brittle.
After all this we waddled to the subway.
Everything was very good. My favorite was the risotto. Carmelized onions are one of my favorite things and this was rich with them. Served in a miniature copper paella-type dish, it was topped with a halved caramelized shallot. Yuuuummmmmmm.
The Capellini and halibut dish was very light and fresh, but a little heavy on the raw garlic. If I attempted to replicate this dish at home, I would leave out some of the garlic. This dish also had a surprising addition of heat thanks to some red chili.
The foie gras was delectable and cooked perfectly, as usual, but I thought the blood orange marmalade "salad" was a little too sweet and if I got too much of it on my fork, overwhelmed the foie gras. Rather than flip through the 39-page wine & spirits list, I let the bartender select my wines for the evening. For the foie gras, he poured me a Sauternes-like sweet white wine to have with it (Cadillac Chateau Reynon). For my entrees he poured me a deliciously grassy and light white called Mâcon Fuissé, J.Pierre & Michel Auvigue, Mâconnais 2006. That might mean something to someone somewhere, but all it meant to me was yummy.
We also loved the white beans. Little did we know that a side order of these was really enough to feed four people. Needless to say, we took our leftovers home and they will be great with little toasted rounds or just by themselves.
Dessert was also excellent and you know I'm not partial to banana based desserts. We were so stuffed we couldn't finish the last two bites.
We arrived at the restaurant a little after 5:30 for early dinner. I also know that dining at the bar at USC is very popular although I didn't know what it would be like on a Sunday night. Turned out that the bar filled up by the time we left and seemed to be populated by locals as all the tourists were gone for the weekend. Several people were dining alone at the bar - it's the kind of place where one can do that. Apparently several regulars were there as well since the bartenders greeted them by name.
Union Square Cafe is not hip or trendy. It's not one of the hot places in the city right now. But it remains popular because of the down-home feel and excellent service. I'm always pleased with the food I get there, too, but I know there have been criticisms of it's food recently. It's been around since 1985 and is the first restaurant in the Danny Meyer restaurant kingdom.
I've eaten at several other Danny Meyer places - Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, Eleven Madison Park, and Tabla, and I've enjoyed every one of them. Tonight, I'll be out at new CitiField and I think we are going to dine at the Blue Smoke outlet there. Will be curious to see what menu items from the restaurant they deemed stadium friendly. Or maybe we'll eat at Tabla's Floyd Cardoz's Verano Taqueria. Or maybe we'll just got hot dogs and peanuts, it is a baseball stadium after all.