This review will not be a lengthy comparison to the original Union Square Cafe. That place is gone forever, and though much has been retained for the new Union Square Cafe, drawing direct parallels between the two will only lead to frustration. Plus, I’m very bad at drawing.
We will say that, as fans of the first incarnation of this restaurant, we are pleased that this new location, just a few blocks over at 19th and Park, still feels a bit like the original Union Square Cafe. A few of the menu items have transferred over, some of the art on the walls is familiar, and the kitchen is still run by the chef who has been overseeing things since 2007.
And that’s where we’re going to leave it. The reality is, as time goes on, less and less of you will have experienced the original, and references to the past will do you no service. Also, nostalgia is for the weak.
The good news is that the new Union Square Cafe is incredible on its own. It’s a master class in Danny Meyer restaurant operation, with perfect service and the kind of attention to detail that will impress you but also remind you that you’ve never been good at anything. The room is big and beautiful, the wine list is varied and full of great values, and the food ranges from “pretty damn good” to “did you just put a bowl of pasta in your purse?”
The vibe is both formal and just the right amount of informal, like sitting down in a restaurant you’ve been in a hundred times before, even if it’s your first time. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it will be full of a bunch of people wearing suits. But as much as Union Square Cafe is a special occasion restaurant, it’s also great for simply having a good time with some good friends over too much wine. We also love hitting it for a burger and beer during lunch, and if you really want the baller move, swing by the bar for dessert after a more casual date night nearby.
That said, whatever you want to use Union Square Cafe for, have a strategy. Reservations are extremely hard to come by, and while we’ve had some success with the early walk-in, it’s never an easy proposition. The restaurant does have two large bars that you can put your name in for and have a drink or three while you wait - something that wouldn’t have been practical in the original location.
Moral of the story? Change doesn’t have to be scary. At least when it comes to restaurants. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be outside enjoying a 60º day in February.
Want to know how good this pasta is? It has carrots in it, and we still love it. How those things can exist together and still be delicious will forever be one of humanity’s great mysteries, and until I can convince someone to put this in the Large Hadron Collider for answers, all I know is you should eat it.
Do you eat meat? Do you have taste buds? Eat this.
An excellent roast chicken with tons of of flavor. We tend to lean heavier on the pasta and fish dishes while we’re here, but this is also a very solid order.
A classic, to say the least. Eat this and drink a good glass of wine and thank yourself for being so good to you.
You know what we don’t often do? Order a piece of fish at a restaurant. But on one of our visits, a server convinced us to order this, and we are very glad we did. It’s perfectly cooked and kind of spicy. Do it.
One of the best things about Union Square Cafe is the desserts, and while the selections change often, you really can’t go wrong. This espresso chocolate cake will not bum you out, and if you see the banana tart, get that, too. Get all of it, actually. You’re an adult.