Lunch at Union Square Cafe

Last weekend was my birthday but instead of a fancy dinner I opted for a casual day of football with friends. My birthday’s have a pretty good track record of being horrible. Last year I missed my Locanda Verde reservation because I got into car accident and then Mr. T fell down a flight of stairs. Two years ago both Mr. T and I came down with a nasty case of food poisoning and had serious gastronomic distress for almost a week. I won’t go on and on about my birthday disasters but suffice it to say I’ve learned not to expect anything good on the big day itself. To be honest this year was no different. On the actual day there was a fight at the football bar, we got soaked trying to find a cab home and I ripped a favorite dress of mine. Yay Birthday!

I woke up Monday morning and breathed a sigh of relief. Birthday over! Time for fun again! I had the day off and was ready to celebrate. Since Danny Meyer is my favorite restaurateur it’s almost sacrileges that I’ve never eaten at Union Square Café. Sure I’ve had drinks at the bar a few times but that hardly counts. So Monday afternoon I walked down and booked myself a table for one!

They started me off with a pretty decent basket of bread accompanied by a small bowl of black olives and a square of butter sprinkled with rosemary and salt.

I had done my research on the Union Square staple dishes so I felt fairly confident with my orders. I knew I wanted to get dessert, so I skipped the apps and went straight to my entrée the Yellowfin Tuna Burger.

My burger came out on a fairly big fluffy bun covered in a ginger-mustard glaze and topped off with some big slices of pickled ginger. The ginger pieces had way too much bite for my taste buds and I removed them immediately. Unfortunately without the ginger, the tuna burger didn’t have too much going for it in my book. The glaze was okay, but overall the tuna was just incredibly bland. Luckily the sides were there to help this mediocre burger get elevated to my Danny Meyer expectations.

The coleslaw was super creamy and the onion on the side was one of the best things I’d ever seen. That’s a whole red onion, cut in half and grilled so the entire outside is caramelized and the sweetness of the onion really stands out.. Once I combined a little bit of the sides with each bite of burger I understood why people liked it so much. It probably wouldn’t be my first choice again if I return but I certainly enjoyed it.

I was pretty full after the burger but I couldn’t pass on the dessert USC is known for- the Banana Tart.

You REALLY need to be a banana fan to enjoy this dessert. See the outside ring of this of this tart? That’s straight banana. It was like they took a whole banana coated it in some caramel, salt, a ton of sugar and then baked it up until the entire outside tart resembled the crispy fragile top of a crème brulee. In the center of the banana ring was a nutty core of macadamia brittle topped with a scoop of amazing pure honey-vanilla ice cream. This dessert was ridiculous. Mr. T is not a banana fan but even he would find each crackling bite just as satisfying as the first break of that crème brulee shell.

To be honest my one recommendation would be to share this dessert with someone. I got about two thirds of the way through and I felt myself going into sugar overload. I was to in love with it to stop but I paid for it all day.

So overall it was an incredibly enjoyable lunch. Now just some interesting views on the ambiance. They sat me in the back room with gorgeous wood floors and high white ceilings. Unfortunately they placed me at a middle table where two couples were sitting on either side. This seating choice was awkward because the men of each party were basically staring directly at me. Both couples happened to be tourists and seemed very intrigued that a single woman would dine alone in “the big city” (the Texan to my right actually said that).

I don’t mind tourists at all but they made me very uncomfortable throughout the meal. They would stare at each dish as it came out and make their comments. Then they both whispered loudly about me in general throughout the lunch. Things like “ What’s she reading over there- Vogue?” and “Did you see- I think she just took a picture with her camera!”. First of all I was reading NY Magazine and second of all I always try to be insanely discreet with my Iphone pictures and you calling it out on me makes it that much harder to take.

Next time I would ask to be seated in the front room where at least the tables are spaced out and I wouldn’t be stuck in this situation again. This obviously wasn’t the restaurant’s fault. Just some bad luck seating for me.

However one thing USC could definitely improve upon is their bathrooms. On the outside reads a sign “Please open slowly”. Upon opening the door I quickly realized why. It was beyond minuscule! I mean seriously. You couldn’t wait for a stall or come out of your stall without being hit by the door. This definitely diminishes the fine dining experience in my book. They have more than enough room to expand it a little or possibly make a new one on the upstairs level.

So that’s enough of my ranting and raving. I truly enjoyed the food and service at USC and will return soon. Despite my discomfort at moments it was also delightful.

Union Square Cafer