Thursday, April 7, 2011

A lovely, lovely evening at Union Square Cafe

For my birthday (yes, that would be last July), my parents got me a sizeable gift certificate to Union Square Hospitality Group. Thrilled, I put it in my desk and left it there. For months. Well, two weeks ago I got exciting news (business school!) that means I'll actually be moving away from New York City in a few short months. Of course, one of the first things that popped into my head was a small but growing list of things I have to do before I left the city. First on that list: use that gift card!

So last Saturday, I got the privilege and honor of taking the lovely SL out to dinner at Union Square Cafe. A delicious, free, wine-soaked dinner at a Danny Meyer restaurant AND a few uninterrupted hours of one-on-one time with SL? Count me in.

I've been to USC a few times before, and I really like it. It's a lovely, quirky space, although the quirks may mean that your table is in a bit of a corner with the back of a chair holding a very, very large man abutting one side of the table. You know, hypothetically. It also may mean that midway through the meal a fork may fall from the balcony above onto the ground a few feet from your un-hard-hatted heads. More on that later.

But first, wine and bread. Even though I'm no longer Wine Centurying, I chose a glass of Blanco Seleccio Can Feixes, a Spanish wine I'd never heard of. It was light and crisp and delicious. SL toasted with a classic glass of prosecco.

My wine!

A bread basket landed promptly, full of delights: Crunchy, crisp mini baguettes; hearty half-slices of seeded multigrain bread; and a sheet of paper-thin flatbread. On the side was a large square of butter sprinkled with interestingly herbed salt in addition to a dish of orange-rind-studded olives. Quite a treat to begin the meal.

A lovely variety

And accompaniments

Out exceptionally professional waitress left us as much time as we liked to place our order, so the meal proceeded at a leisurely place. But our entrees appeared soon enough. For SL, the meal was homemade lasagna bolognese, topped with a sunny side up egg that, punctured, becomes part of the rich sauce. SL really liked it, although as the dinner (rather than appetizer) portion, it was on the small side.

Pretty, eh?

My choice, in contrast, was the bibb and red leaf lettuce salad, mixed with a dijon dressing and crowned with ample shavings of gruyere. This salad was unusually satisfying: the ingredients were all fresh and tasty (particularly the handful of crisp croutons that made their way in there), but more importantly there was just so much of it. I kept eating and eating and it seemed like I was eating forever. Which I like, mind you-- I'm definitely a volume eater. But I did feel bad when SL was finished and I was still plowing along. (That's what she said?)

So many leaves!

Oh, and then all of a sudden a fork fell from the balcony above, almost on our heads but thankfully not quite, clattering from the ground next to us. Yikes?

Potential forks-in-noggins aside, we pressed on to dessert. USC's desserts pretty much all seemed appealing, but we made our tough choices. SL went for the banana tart with macademia brittle and honey-vanilla ice cream. This was actually a really large portion, although SL noted there was too much banana and not enough crust. The exterior of the tart was actually a whole banana covered with crackly caramelized sugar; the only crust was really in the center. When she had tired of slogging through the banana, I ate a bit of it... and a few of the sugar-covered macadamias.

There's a lot of banana in there. (That's what she-- oh, nevermind)

And, of course, I ate my own dessert, too. That would be the Italian apple cake with cara cara oranges and country cream. The cake was absolutely delicious, moist and studded with tender, cooked apples and sitting in a pool of sweet syrup. The center of the cake was sublime; the crust was a different texture sensation and equally entrancing. The cream was a perfect complement, though I wished there had been about four times as much of it so I didn't have to ration. Oh, and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream would have been nice, too. But that's just gluttonous.

Traditional and simple but oh so satisfying

Our dinner was just so lovely. The food was incredible, the service flawless, the whole evening just special: a four spatula experience if ever there were one, and a gift-certificate-meal worth waiting for.

Union Square Cafe
21 E. 16th Street

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