Union Square Cafe: a very useful restaurant
So much has already been said on this board about Union Square Cafe's food and service that I don't really want to belabor those points in another report. However, I did want to mention that USC served me well recently when I encountered a bit of a chowhound dilemma: I needed to organize an important celebratory dinner for eight that could accommodate a group that fell all over the spectrum of chowhoundiness. On the one hand, some of the party (including the guest of honor) are chowhoundy, and wanted a really good meal in an appropriately festive, yet somewhat casual, atmosphere. On the other hand, there were a few who don't insist on great food at all, but are very conservative and suspicious of the unfamiliar (frisee is too wierd). They needed to be happy, too, so we'd all be happy. USC fit the bill. The menu includes some very straightforward things like black bean soup and steak with mashed potatoes, so the suspicious eaters were able to find non-frightening food (the vegetarians did fine, too). It wasn't stellar, but everyone felt thay had a very good meal and came away happy, which was all I wanted.
A couple of notes about USC's accommodations for our large party: we were seated at a single large table at the back of the restauarant in an alcove. The table was far enough from the others in the restaurant that, had we been a raucous group, we would not have disturbed other diners. The alcove meant that the fact that we were next to the bus station was not unpleasant (we didn't really notice the comigs and goings). There was no rushing; they gave us plenty of time to linger over dessert and coffee and then to open gifts afterward. With a 6:30 reservation, we left after 10. I ordered a cake from their pastry chef (it was very good, as one would expect); the cost included tax and gratuity, and was roughly equivalent to eight menu desserts plus tax and tip, although the cake yielded about twelve servings (we took the remainder home). They also comped us ice cream and biscotti to go with it. Service was friendly and efficient but unobtrusive (and not at all oversolicitous); they let us enjoy our party at our own pace.
I will certainly think of USC again if I need to accommodate a wide range of tastes and please everyone.