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union square cafe -- thoughts, impressions, recs?

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hi hounds,

a friend recently gave me dinner for two a union square cafe. having never been, i thought i would tap the best resource i know of for this sort of stuff---y'all.

any general thoughts on the place? interesting anecdotes to share? specific things to order/avoid?

any and all commentary is welcome. cheers!

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  1. You have a generous friend, given the prices at USC. That said, I have to say that I was there last Friday, and it was a big disappointment. Our appetizers -- the Frascatelli and the Penne -- were very good, but the entrees were just plain bad. The steak (it was a special, I believe) was tough and stringy, and the duck was grey, dry, and overcooked. Throw in a clueless waiter and some pretentious staff, and we were way not impressed. Maybe we just ordered the wrong things on an off night, but I'm not going back (on my tab).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dallas Alice

      I was also there last week and it was disappointing. While the service and atmosphere are very pleasant, the food left something to be desired. The steak (special) was ordinary, the broccoli rabe side order so salty as to be inedible and the dessert--some concoction with corn and other unidentifiable ingredients--was cloyingly sweet.

    2. If you've never been, I recommend that you order the classic USC meal: calamari appetizer, filet of tuna entree, and the banana macadamia dessert.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Blumie

        I have not been to USC in years. We went in the heyday. I even have a personalized, signed USC cookbook that was a gift. Sad to learn it is not what it used to be (or are the masses just chasing the latest, greatest trend?). We also had the filet of tuna. I can still remember the baked banana tart with caramel and macadamia nuts vividly, I loved it.

      2. meh...one of the most overrated restaurants of ALL-TIME.

        1. The calamari at USC are on a different plane. As a first-timer, I highly recommend you try them. I wasn't as fond of my lamb entree, but it wasn't bad. On another positive note, I tried a companion's scallop entree and that was terrific. The banana tart was a nice way to end the meal.

          1. I had a great experience a few months ago - lively & informative waitress, amazing appetizers (mushroom gnocchi, fennel/grapefruit salad w/mint & seabeans), and my entree (lamb, a special) was fantastic. Some of the other entrees looked a bit overwhelming (tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes), but overall the experience was great. Dessert also fantastic, though I can't remember exactly what we ordered (there were a few). I loved it because I felt it was very low-key and our waitress very unpretentious, but we were already pretty happy & bent on enjoying ourselves before we got there too.

            1. Given the level of hype and popularity, the food's a little common and thus underwhelming. But its still a nice place for a comforting, relaxed meal and the banana tart is truely amazing.

              1 Reply
              1. re: xigua

                I don't think USC gets overhyped. If fact, one of the things I like about the place is the lack of hype. Don't go to USC is you're looking for the latest and greatest. The menu is hardly the most creative. The place is intentionally unhip. It's as unpretentious as an upscale restaurant can be. What I've always loved about the place is the warm and inviting welcome, the great -- even if unchallenging -- food, and the fact that, unlike so many other popular, high-end places, they don't make you feel like they're doing you a favor by allowing you to eat there. To the contrary, they do a great job of making you feel as special as the celebrity sitting at the table next to yours.

              2. Polenta with gorgonzola...amazing. That's about it.

                1. Highly recommend the calamari and banana tart...

                  1. Went to Union Square Cafe 2 monyhs ago with 3 others. The space is probably the most unimpressive of anything in its price class. The service was ordinary. Most importantly, the food was good.
                    That's the problem. I can't believe the reputation was built on food that was this pedestrian.
                    I expected more. 4 meals. No homeruns.