Union Square Cafe – A Golden Oldie

I have to admit…I have been here before. I just haven’t blogged it. But when I ate here for lunch, I knew that it deserved a place on the blog. So what if it has been famous for decades? So what if everyone and their mother has written about it? So what if I like to watch Teen Mom 2 while playing online poker?
Whoops, off topic.
Anyway…I knew the time had come to visit once again to make sure that Union Square Cafe wasn’t just an oldie, but a goodie.
As Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe is an elegant but unfussy space that has several rooms, all with enough tables to look busy, but not so many that one feels cramped.
The bread was warm, but not what I would call exceptional. The baguette was a bit cottony and the whole grain lacked the sour or nutty flavors that really great grainy bread has. The olives, however, were outstanding and worthy of mention. Meaty, juicy olives were just salty enough, oily and even sweet with some orange rind in there. I could have eaten the whole bowl.
Actually, I did eat the whole bowl. 
The day’s special was a Crispy Pig Ear Salad with Upland Cress, Candied Pistachios, and Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette. Our INSANELY cool server told us that the chef had just picked up the pig’s ears and the cress (which isn’t actually related to watercress, it is a microgreen) from the farmer’s market that morning. Wow. Fresh. And…freakin amazing. The pig’s ear (one of my FAVORITE parts of the pig) was fried to crispy, greaseless perfection. An airy layer of crunch surrounded a tender, incredibly porky layer of meat. Pig’s ear can be tough if it is not cooked well, but this was exceptional. The candied pistachios added a nutty and substantial component to the dish, while the cress was incredibly herby and fragrant. The champagne vinaigrette was extremely tart, which cut through the fatty aspects of the salad.
Bibb and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad with Gruyère and Dijon Vinaigrette is always on the menu and I ALWAYS get it. The lettuces are so fresh and taste so different – the Bibb is soft and almost ethereal in its lightness and the Red Oak is crunchy and earthy. Dressed in the LIGHTEST, most mild vinaigrette imaginable, neither oil nor vinegar nor mustard is discernible, just the cohesive elements. Here, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. The croutons are deliciously crunchy and soaked in roasted garlic and oil and the gruyere cheese is nutty, salty and rich next to the light lettuces.
These two salads just prove how DIFFERENT and DELICIOUS salads can be…they get a bad rap, you know?
I mean, just throw a pig ear on it and some 3,000 calorie croutons and you are good to go!
Our server heard us exclaiming about the food and brought us a complimentary dish she thought we might enjoy. Please note that she did not know that I would be reviewing this meal – she just wanted us to try it. Like all Danny Meyer restaurants, the level of hospitality here is just non-pareil. This was the Spanish Mackerel Crudo, Artichoke Puree, Olive Tapenade, and Chili Oil. The mackerel was SO light and mild it tasted more like hamachi than anything else! The artichoke puree was fresh, vegetal and incredibly artichokey, and there seemed to be no salt other than that from the olives. The light hand with the seasoning let the fish and the artichokes shine – a combination I would not have made, but the lightness of both really complimented each other, especially with the slight heat from the chili. 
Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. Do yourself a favor, and get a pasta dish here. It is all housemade and it is all delicious. 
Yes I just made a blanket statement…and I stand by it.
The pappardelle was smooth, toothsome but not hard and rich with yolks. It was with a long braised pork ragout that tasted of sage and perhaps juniper berries…truly aromatic, complex and deep. The boar was less sweet than pork usually is, with a heartier and slightly gamy taste – not unpleasant, but the way that lamb is gamy. Rich and a little wild tasting, hitting flavor darker and deeper notes that pork does not often hit. With a sprinkling of Parmesan, this dish came together on a creamy high note.
And that is what this whole meal was…a high note. Well priced, well fed and EXTREMELY well served, we left feeling as if we had REALLY had an experience, with people who loved to cook and eat as much as we do. You have to make a reservation, often weeks in advance, because this place fills up, but it is worth it. Cause sometimes an oldie really is a goody.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wow looks amazing!

  2. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Anon-It really was pretty delish!

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  1. [...] still maintain a high level of service and food at each and every one of his establishments. From high-end dining to some of the most sought after burgers in the city, he brings hospitality to new levels. When [...]

  2. [...] 2012 offshoot of the very popular Mas(farmhouse). The decor and atmosphere remind me very much of Union Square Cafe – elegant, light flooded, but still relaxed and casual enough to go wearing jeans (not ripped [...]

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