We finally got the chance to check out Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe. Located right off Union Square Park, this iconic New York City staple serves seasonal Italian influenced American fare in an upscale yet relaxed setting. After walking in the door, we loved the restaurant’s clean yet elegant decor. The large, colorful paintings around the restaurant brought life to each of the four dining areas. The large main dining area features a sound insulated ceiling so the chatter from the diners never reaches past the host stand. Since Union Square Cafe is such a well known neighborhood restaurant, the clientele was an interesting mix ranging from older Gramercy locals to younger guests celebrating birthdays and other special occasions.
The menu, while for the most part American, has a heavy Italian influence. Appetizers range from lighter dishes such as the Honey Crisp Apple Salad to more hearty dishes like the Fried Calamari and Beef Carpaccio. And whichever route you decide to take, the starters are very good overall. The Yellowfin Tuna Crudo was light and refreshing and the Beef Carpaccio itself was good but the overall dish became even better when paired with the crispy artichokes and mushrooms that came with the dish. The Fried Calamari was probably the biggest surprise of the starters we tried. Usually it can be unmemorable, but the Fried Calamari we tried here was some of the best we have tried in New York. The portion was quite generous and the squid was perfectly seasoned and not too heavy or oily.
The pastas were equally as good, if not a bit better than the excellent appetizers. The Fettucine Bolognese took a traditional Italian dish but put a modern twist on the sauce by adding butternut squash. As a result, the sauce was lighter than a typical bolognese but packed just as much flavor. The Ricotta Gnocchi, while simply prepared with only a tomato sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese, was excellent as well. The sauce was easily our favorite part of the dish and the gnocchi itself was much lighter than traditional potato gnocchi which was a nice touch considering the simplicity of the dish. The Butternut Squash Tortelli was a bit too sweet for our palate however, we liked the savory Mezzi Paccheri with Guanciale and Brussels Sprouts very much. The entrees were also on par with everything else we enjoyed. The Pork Chop was cooked perfectly and came with cubes of sweet maple glazed rutabaga and brussels sprouts. The Swordfish was a bit undercooked but the delicate flavors saved the dish. The Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops and Lamb Chops were also very good. While the food was excellent overall, the service was the only average part of our dinner. Our waiter seemed forgetful at times of a nut allergy at our table. When requesting the Sundae as a dessert without peanut butter ice cream, we received the dish as it is normally served. Luckily, we noticed it before anyone could eat it. Usually, we don’t mind when substitutions are forgotten but when it is for a food allergy we feel then it should be taken seriously.
We enjoyed our visit to Union Square Cafe very much. The food was excellent and the decor was simple yet charming. While the service wasn’t as stellar as the food, we felt the food compensated for this. We highly recommend Union Square Cafe and since reservations can be hard to come by, suggest making them as soon as you can.
Union Square Cafe
21 E 16th St.
New York, NY 10003