(Sorry for the lack of delicious food photos….I guess you’ll just have to go and see for yourself)
Symmetry. Often times when you go to a restaurant and order a dish, you aren’t looking for symmetry, but in actuality you are often receiving it on every plate. When you get carrots or slices of meat, they come in sets of 3 or 5 or 7 (unless you are Wylie Dufresne, where there are no rules). Last night at Union Square Café, it wasn’t the symmetry of the food that caught my eye, it was that of the service. The minute you walk into USC you are greeted by the maitre d’, and after receiving impeccable service and wonderful food, you are given a final greeting as you leave.
By all accounts, Union Square Café is a NYC institution, a place where locals and tourists alike come for a delicious meal and to be treated the way Danny Meyer intended you to be treated when he opened the doors in 1985.
Because we arrived a few minutes before our reservation, we were asked to patiently wait in the bar area until our table was ready. Sometimes in a similar situation you can receive a hard time or are ushered outside on the curb to wait. Not in the USC where each dining room area has a feeling of its own.
The bar area has the feeling of being in a country house with the exposed black and white wood panels on the ceiling. Of course they have an extensive bar with everything from infused vodka to Johnny Walker.
After a short wait, and at the time of our actual reservation, we were seated in dining room located toward the front of the restaurant. This section felt like a small restaurant with every table appearing to be attended to with each meticulous detail considered. Your water glass never ran dry, your table’s breadbasket never empty and your crumbs always swept away.
Aside from the simple details being addressed, the waitress was able to put us at immediate ease with her subtle jokes and charismatic personality. She made you felt taken care of, as she came for our drink orders very quickly, and then allowing time for our wine selection. Questions answered almost effortlessly, though there were not too many of those. The rapport between our waitress and our table felt natural, unforced and warm. Seemingly with years of experience, you knew you were in great hands, and we were.
Each dish clearly was crafted with attention to detail, as each component fit with the dish and was not unnecessary. My “elegant” macaroni and cheese (though actually Frascatelli alla Romana with Pancetta, Sweet Corn and Parmigiano Reggiano, the name I have donned my pasta, was filled with cheese, leeks and pancetta, coming together for a creamy, yet not overfilling pasta dish.
I had the pleasure of tasting the other three dishes, including the special of the evening which was a double cut Berkshire pork chop, accompanied by a salad of micro greens, peaches and spicy peppers. The pork was nearly enough for two, so I helped out in the eating of one of the chops.
I also tasted the Ricotta gnocchi, which was carefully topped with a tomato sauce and plenty of pecorino Romano. Each piece of gnocchi nearly melted before it touched your tongue and I have to wonder how that even stayed together when it was boiled. A truly magnificent dish. Finally, I tasted the Prosciutto wrapped sea scallops. Sometimes scallop dishes are 4, maybe 5 on a plate with a small amount of sauce. Not here. A summer bean salad with basil sherry vinaigrette adorned the scallops, giving color, additional flavors and textures, not details overlooked.
For dessert, we chose the Blueberry pie with honey-vanilla ice cream. In fact, early on in our meal, after our waitress saw us eying the pie being delivered to another table, asked if we would like that to be held for us, as the supplies were running low. Of course we accepted with great ease and were later given the pie with a chocolate writing of “Congratulations” in honor of my recent marriage two weeks earlier. We had mentioned it to our waitress and she clearly took it to heart with this kind gesture. We also ordered a flourless lemon cake with berries and moscato d’Asti Zabaglione (basically a crème sauce). I am not a huge lemon lover, but it was quite delicious.
It must be evident through my consistent praise that USC really provided both an excellent meal and a perfect dining experience. Between the friendly and cordial waitress, to the perfectly cooked pork chop, to the chocolate congratulations, there was no stone left unturned. A truly delicious meal supplemented by truly excellent service, or was the excellent service accompanied by a delicious meal. Either way, it is a restaurant that clearly has not lost its touch since it opened.