21 East 16th Street, New York, NY, 212-243-4020 www.unionsquarecafe.com
The menu, touting the freshness of local ingredients, is large enough to provide ample choice but still small enough for the chef to pay attention to each item. The meal was also well paced, leaving enough time to relax between courses despite a full house and the obvious busyness of the staff.
We began our meal with the Black Pearl Salmon Crudo with Cucumber Gazpacho, Creme Fraiche and Steelhead Trout Roe as well as the Eckerton Hill Farm Heirloom Tomatoes with Basil, Red Onion and Ardith Mae Goat Cheese. The salmon was light and gently seasoned so as to allow the excellent taste of the ultra fresh fish to speak for itself. The heirloom tomatoes were amazingly fresh and flavorful, The red onion was very thinly sliced to prevent it masking the fresh tomato taste.
Our entrees were even more superior. In fact, they were completely perfect. The Yellowfin Tuna Burger with Ginger-Mustard Glaze, Grilled Red Onions and Creamy Cabbage Slaw was flawless. The crisp slaw and sharp heat of the picked ginger perfectly complemented the tuna. The Chicken Cutlet Milanese with Syd's Crunchy Vegetable Salad and Pecorino Romano was light, flavorful and expertly prepared. The salad was well-dressed and included lots of fresh veggies from the green market. The flavor combination with the breaded chicken was exactly right and far more interesting than the tomato and arugula salad that typically tops a Milanese. We also indulged in a shared side order of the most ethereal Potato-Gruyere Gratin you could ever imagine. One taste of the creamy, velvety texture and crisp top and we both sat back in wonderment at one of the best things we've eaten yet.
Portions at USC are fairly generous and so we were a bit full after our entrees. We might have otherwise skipped desert but, after experiencing the flavors here, we just had to see what they do with the sweets. We chose something we'd never eaten before, a flourless lemon cake, which arrived moist, fresh and very lemony. It was accompanied by a generous portion of fresh, sweet green market berries and the best zabaglione we've ever had.
Everything we tasted at the cafe was delicious and spot on but also delicate. When we cook, we tend to like our flavors a bit more bold. We would have added more seasoning to the salmon and more red onions to the salads. But, we appreciate the ethos of the chef here to let the freshness and quality of the ingredients speak largely for themselves and we really can't criticize that.
A meal, even lunch, at USC is not cheap but it's worth every penny. We've paid nearly as much for food not half as good. And so, this may have been our first meal at Union Square Cafe but it won't be our last.