Pete Wells overheard a guest at Union Square Cafe ask the bartender if a dish on the menu was “exactly the same” as the version served at the original location. While the dish — a Bibb and red oak leaf salad — stayed true during the move a few blocks north, Wells is pleased to find that the second coming of Danny Meyer’s first restaurant isn’t all exactly the same.
Wells writes that he was more of an admirer of the original, noting “I was never quite as amazed by the food as it seemed I was supposed to be.” Critics before him all reviewed the restaurant in their time, mostly recently Frank Bruni who gave USC two stars in 2009 - the same rating Eater’s Ryan Sutton gave the restaurant this month. Here is Wells on some of the best things about the new Union Square Cafe:
They are not so much gnocchi as little cushions of ricotta that have been tricked into holding their cylindrical shape only for as long as it takes to move them from the plate to the mouth.
Consider me a fanboy when it comes to the ideally crunchy fritto misto, and the polenta, too, a $13 bowl of warm fluff that has absorbed its weight, and then some, in milk and creamy young cow’s milk cheese. With maitake mushrooms and shiny green pesto, it’s so filling and likable that you could make a meal of it and walk away more content than if you’d had a 12-course tasting somewhere else.
The risk in churning out old recipes like this is that the kitchen becomes bored, and the food boring. That’s not happening at Union Square Cafe right now.
Since this is a Danny Meyer restaurant, Wells would be remiss to not mention service:
I’d remember how happy the service had made one of my guests, who had shown up before me, but still about 30 seconds too late to grab a seat at the downstairs bar. She spun around in agitation for a moment, but a manager spotted her and offered to call upstairs to see if there were any open bar stools there.
Wells notes that the quintessential Meyer brand of hospitality is in “its purest and most effective form at Union Square Cafe.” He adds: It’s rare anywhere, and it lifts this restaurant above fashion, to a plateau that it occupies all by itself. Three stars.