Union Square Café Revisited
As Danny Meyer increasingly focuses his attention on an expanding Shake Shack empire, seeding locations up and down the Eastern Seaboard, you've got to wonder, is he still paying attention to his white tablecloth joints? To answer this question, a friend and I returned to his first restaurant, Union Square Café, which celebrated its 27th birthday this month.
It was one of the city's first farm-to-restaurant establishments, showcasing the produce of the farmers' market at Union Square, then in its infancy. The emphasis was on New American cooking with prominent Italian influences, a mix of styles still popular among new restaurants today. Yet rumors of the restaurant's decline have been common, as newer places were added to the Meyer portfolio, which includes Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke in several permutations, Maialino, North End Grill, and Untitled.
As we stepped inside the semi-subterranean space at lunchtime, we recognized much of the old decor in a labyrinthine space that includes three dining rooms -- one upstairs on a mezzanine -- plus a long commodious barroom. The rooms are decorated with vases of flowers, still-life paintings featuring food and flowers, and, in a rear room, a large mural that looks like a Matisse that the artist walked away from and never finished.
At lunch on a Friday the place was mobbed, but we were shown to a nice table near the front window. In lieu of an amuse, a bread basket was brought with a big pat of butter sprinkled with herbed sea salt. What a relief to see the bread basket appear, when most establishments these days stingily withhold it.