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Sep 13, 2008 10:39 AM

Olives, Gramercy Tavern, or Union Square Cafe?

I am looking for a pretheater dinner and since we are staying in the W Union Square, the above restaurants came to mind based on opinions from this board. We have not been to any restaurants in this part of Manhattan so any will be new to us. Is there a better choice that I am not aware of?

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  1. All of your options are close to your hotel but where is your theatre located? Make sure you allot enough time to get to Midtown if you're going to a Broadway show. An 8pm curtain means leaving the restaurant a good half hour in advance to go north about thirty blocks.

    Note that Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe are both very popular restaurants (usually coming in at #1 and #2 on the Zagat's most popular list) and book up pretty quickly. GT is my favored one (have never been to Olives) since USC, while good, seems a bit dated in terms of food and decor. Union Square Cafe was Danny Meyer's first restaurant and one of the trailblazers who set up camp in Union Square back when it was a bit "sketchy," and consequently has regulars who've been eating the same dishes for years upon years...

    2 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Our first dinner at USC many years ago was quite disappointing, so we never thought about going there again. However, several months ago, we were encouraged by one of the staff at Eleven Madison Park to give USC another try because there had been some changes and, she said, the food had improved significantly. Chef Michael Romano is no longer in charge of the kitchen on a daily basis though he continues to be a partner and consultant. Executive chef duties are now the responsibility of Carmen Quagliata, and the menu has been retooled.

      So, we took that advice, went there for dinner, and were quite impressed. I had a seared foie gras starter which was outstanding, the equal of many I've had at more upscale restaurants, and my husband's beef carpaccio appetizer was first-rate. We both had main course lamb chops with a potato gratin and sauteed greens, all impeccably prepared and delicious. At this point, I can't recall exactly what desserts we had (I think one was some sort of upside down cake), but they were definitely to our liking. Service was first-rate (as it is in all Danny Meyer restaurants). As for the ambiance, this time, instead of being shunted to the balcony level (aka "Siberia), we were seated in the main dining room, which has pleasant decor and an upbeat vibe. We left supremely satisfied.

      As you've mentioned, because USC remains extremely popular, securing a reservation can be difficult. (We went for a late dinner -- 9:45 p.m. -- and were seated immediately.) But if John can get an early reservation, I recommend it.

      If I were choosing between USC and GT for a pre-theater dinner, I'd pick USC because I prefer to go to the formal dining room at Gramercy Tavern when I can make it my "entertainment" for the evening. But if he can't get a reservation at USC and lucks out with one for GT, of course, I say, "Go for it!"

      1. re: kathryn

        Travel note-you can catch the N, R or W train at Union Square to 49th St and you'll be two blocks from the Winter be safe, I'd give it 45 minutes.
        Gramercy Tavern is by far the best choice, but I agree with RGR that it isn't quite right for pre-theater...on the other hand, if you are visiting you may want to do it anyway...just let them know your time problem, so they can pace the meal properly-and you'll need a 5:30 reservation.
        I'm a fan of USC, though I usually go there at lunchtime. I know there are many who disparage it on this board, but I still find it to be a lovely spot-it is not cutting edge or high cuisine, nor is it meant to be.

      2. Our theatre is on Broadway at 50th (Mamma Mia). I appreciate the advice on time allotment.

        3 Replies
        1. re: johnnolesmd

          "A good half hour...." That's gutsy. If you can't get a taxi, get into a traffic jam, then you become one of those people who arrives just as the curtain goes up and disturbs everyone else. I realize I'm conservative on this issue, but it would seem a good 45 minutes would be more accurate. Then you actually get to catch your breath and enjoy that you are in NY seeing a Broadway show. My personal preference is to eat within walking distance. Molyvos is one choice for that area. If you are going more high end, there is the Modern. Or Le Bernardin.

          1. re: elizabeth2929

            I actually agree with you, Elizabeth. When we dine pre-theater, pre-concert, pre-ballet, etc., we always eat in the vicinity, i.e., walking distance, of the particular venue. I think it makes for a more hassle-free situation.

            1. re: RGR

              It sounds like the better plan would be to eat closer to the theater district. I would hate to ruin a nice dinner by worrying about missing the start of the musical. I will post a new question about recs for that area. Thanks to all who replied.

        2. I haven't been to Olives, nor do I have a real desire to. Between GT and USC, definitely go to GT--much better food. Casa Mono is also close to your hotel.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Lucia

            Gramercy Tavern hands down anytime.