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Union Square Cafe

I had an absolutely perfect evening at Union Square Cafe. I don't know why this restaurant has fallen off the CH radar. It's sort of a perfect restaurant in many ways.

First, the service. The staff is attentive in a way that is constantly present and available, but never stuffy or pretentious. Our waitress had some personality, she wasn't just a formal drone of discretion and good service. But she also possessed a perfect gauge of how much to engage, and how much space to give. The food was delivered in perfectly timed intervals, and there was always somebody nearby to tend to us.

Second, the environment. I hadn't been in years and I'd forgotten how much I love that back room. Elegant and lively, it feels like old New York to me. Like you'd see Bobby Short eating at the next table. (Though I doubt he left the Upper East all that often.)

Third, the food. We had some of the freshest and most buttery oysters I've ever had. Then, the beet green bruschetta was so flavorful and well balanced. I had the calamari with spicy anchovy aioli, which was a hit with the whole table. Tender and not too heavy with the batter. I had their famous lamb chops as my entree, and they certainly lived up to their reputation. I haven't savored a dish like that for a long time. I think I paused with every single bite... I really had something of a love affair with that dish. For dessert, the blueberry pie with corn ice cream was quite nice. The pie was good, but the ice cream was spectacular. Just enough depth of sweet corn flavor, while still maintaining a kind of, how do I put it, icy brightness.

What a lovely night. I love Union Square Cafe!

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Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th St., New York, NY 10003

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  1. I had two excellent meals here in the last year. If this place opens today in the meatpacking or LES it would be all the rage

    1. It is my favorite restaurant also. They use to be the gem of Zagat a few years back. I dont know what happened. But still my overall favorite place to go with close friends....even when I want to dine alone.

      15 Replies
      1. re: msqueensfoodie

        Yes, I was thinking it would be fun to eat alone at the bar.

        1. re: luckiestduck

          Just came back from eating at the Union Square Cafe....the food was simply AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The dessert.....OMG!!!! I was with a friend and I could not say a word during the entire desert portion of the meal. I was speechless!

          Word to ZAGAT - WAKE UP!!!!!! You need to put them back on the list as the best restaurant. What is your criteria?????? Chef Carmen is really cooking up some really nice dishes. You need to go back and put them back on the list as one of the top 10 restaurants for 2012.

          1. re: msqueensfoodie

            Zagat is a survey. They simply compile diners' submissions.

            1. re: Blumie

              Interesting....I thought also that Zagat (or the powers that be) had raters that would visit the restaurants themselves and grade them? Ten years ago, they were the gem of Zagat...now....they are not even mentioned. What needs to be done to put Union Square back on the radar. Many patrons visit Union Square Cafe, and are amazed by their culinary excellence night after night.....so I have come to believe that it is more than a simple compile of diners submissions. Everyone is always satisfied with the food and service....and mentions it at every turn....so what gives???

              1. re: msqueensfoodie

                Blumie is correct. Unlike Michelin which sends out paid raters, Zagat is a survey in which the dining public does the ratings. If you want to boost USC, you can participate in the NY survey on the Zagat site next spring. If you rate a certain number of restaurants -- I think it's 12 -- you can receive a free copy of the guide.

                Hard to believe but USC has been around for more than 25 years. Since food forums like CH tend to focus on new places, old-timers like USC don't get much mention. However, threads like this one can do a lot to raise its profile again and remind everyone how good it is.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

            2. re: msqueensfoodie

              It is diners who participate in the survery that determine the Zagat ratings. In the 2011 Zagat, USC is No. 5 in *popularity*. Its food rating is 26 -- not exactly too shabby.

              We have recently re-discovered USC and have had two superb lunches there during the past few months. Chef Carmen Quagliata and his kitchen crew are at the top of their game, and G.M. Sam Lipp and his foh team provide stellar service.

              USC photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

              and here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

              http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

              1. re: RGR

                Agreed.....Chef Carmen is doing a stellar job with the cuisine at UNC.....I just wish that more recognition was given....it is one of the most popular restaurants for a good reason.

                1. re: msqueensfoodie

                  Do you even see the irony in your statement? It's like Yogi Berra claiming, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded"! USC is a wonderful restaurant that still is recognized for serving excellent food to full houses, but the "buzz" has moved on to other, newer, more innovative places. That's not a knock on USC. None of us can stay young forever!

                  1. re: Blumie

                    Irony....sorry. I am sure that you are trying to make a point. Please explain your point and in tactfully doing so remember that everyone has a right to their opinion.

                    Your point please?????

                    1. re: msqueensfoodie

                      Has nothing to do with your opinion, it is just that you contradicted yourself:

                      In one breath: "I just wish that more recognition was given."

                      Then: "It is one of the most popular restaurants for a good reason."

                      It IS given recognition in that "It is one of the most popular restaurants..."

                      If no one was going that would mean no one was giving it recognition, and vice versa.

                2. re: RGR

                  I hate to be the voice of dissension and "that guy' but as you know I didn't leave too impressed with USC. I mean it was good, serviceable, but I just left with mixed feelings. Some dishes were good but others were uninteresting and disappointing. Nothing to the point where it was inedible and I wouldn't return but nonetheless I wasn't floored. It could have just been that the items I chose weren't the best at that time. Their menu does change seasonally and quite often, so perhaps it would serve me well to go back and it give another go when the dishes really sound appealing to me.

                  I really wanted to love the place because I am a big fan of Danny Meyer's other restaurants but I had to be honest in my heart of hearts with my rating of Union Square Cafe. However, I am glad to hear from so many reviewers that they had great meals. It definitely makes me want to go back and give it another shot very soon.

                  1. re: steakrules85

                    steakrules,

                    Did you have the lamb chops?

                    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                    1. re: RGR

                      No I did not even though I know that's one of their signatures.

                      1. re: steakrules85

                        I've had them twice -- at dinner several years ago and again when we had lunch there in March with uhockey. There's a good reason they're a signature. So, if and when you do go back, you should definitely try them. Lots of bones to gnaw on! lol

                        To whet your appetite: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                        http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                  2. re: RGR

                    What happened to Christopher Russell?

            3. Had an excellent meal at Union Square Cafe a few weeks ago. It was very busy, especially for a Wednesday in July.

              1. Going this week for the first time (birthday celebration). Any must haves? There willl be 4 of us. I know the lamb chops....anything else? Thanks all!

                1. I've always wondered this - I have read such good things but don't see much thrown around on this Board about it!

                  1. one of my favorite places to grab a great meal in the city. Oddly enough, when i say that to my friends who still live in the city- it isn't "cool" enough for them and they say leave it to the burbs crowd. I've never come away unhappy. GFreat dishes, great service and love the wine list.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: scholar399

                      good to know! thanks!!!