The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Union Square Cafe and CNY

"They're so...nice here."

"Yeah, that's their thing."

Kathryn and I went for another round of Restaurant Week 2006 (which is more like Restaurant Weeks, but whatever) this past Tuesday at Union Square Cafe. Restaurant Week ended today so if after reading my review you decide you want a $24.07 prix fixe lunch, you...can't. I'M SORRY. SO. SORRY. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE PUPPY DOG EYES.

Union Square Cafe easily won me over better than DB Bistro Moderne, which Kathryn and I ate at last Tuesday. (It helps that USC's website doesn't blast music; if you wanna get on my bad side, interrupt my solitude with BLARING TRUMPETS.) While both restaurants had great food, USQ felt much more relaxed and welcoming compared to DB's...uh...stuffiness and loud decor involving monsterous flowers. USC is apparently known for their extremely nice service. If you want me to remember your place, you either have to offer mind blowingly delicious food (I won't forget DB's frozen vanilla plop, nuh uh) or offer good service. Preferably, you'd have both. I wouldn't say that USC's food was mind blowingly good (not that I'd want something to be so tasty that my brain explodes upon registering the sensory delight imparted on my tastebuds...or do I?) but it was better than most food I've had and didn't disappoint. (I suppose I could say it was pleasing instead of saying it didn't disappoint, but "pleasing" sounds so...fluffy. Like a mound of puppies. ...Wait, puppies are awesome! Nevermind.)

Union Square Cafe
Union Square Cafe

USC opens at noon, which was the time when a gazillion people, besides ourselves, made reservations. Over the course of our meal, more people came in just to wait to eat at the bar. Popular place? Yes'm.

bread, butter, and olives
bread, butter, and olives

Ah, ain't nothing more comforting than a basket overflowing with wheat-based goods, accompanied by a slice of churned milk. I'd seriously eat that every day (maybe include some honey for when I want to be fructosified) if I didn't think that would result in a carbohydrate coma. When I was little, most restaurants I went to provided bread baskets (they were mainly Italian), thus I always expected it. These days I rarely go to a restaurant that provides a bread basket, and it's probably for the best since bread is delicious and filling. So delicious. So. Delicious...

...Dude, we should have bread bars! People can get some kind of bread medley, akin to a cheese plate, with an assortment of olive oils or other dipping sauces (check out 101 Cookbook's olive oil tasting post; I actually read the whole thing, hot damn). And they can have...cake if they want. And chocolate. And...I guess that's almost like a bakery. Damn, I'm slow.

bread basket
bread basket

One of the best things in the bread basket was actually the flatbread. Kathryn and I agreed that it was like a giant Saltine, but hopefully better. (Don't we love Saltines? I LOVE SALTINES. So boring, yet so tasty.) She also informed me about the existence of Saltine eating contests guys have in college. Huh? I've never heard of that before, but apparently it's fun to watch guys suffer at the anhydrous hands of simple little crackers.

tato chips
garlic potato chips

We ordered a side of garlic potato chips since that's one of USC's signature dishes. The flavor was just right--not too subtle or strong, but erring more on the side of subtle. Like any potato chip, they were crispy, although I suspect if left out too long they might become limp. Of course, there's no reason they would be left out too long because YOU'D EAT THEM ALL. I pride myself on being able to eat craploads of potato chips (they were one of the first junk foods I ate coming off the raw food diet and I recall saying something like, "Jesus, these aren't potato chips, but pure crack") but I couldn't stuff these down my hole like I would while mindlessly ruffling my hand through a bag of Kettle Chips, turning my hand a nice shade of oil in the process. You should think about these potato chips while you eat them. Eat slowly. Chew. Chewing is good. These chips are good. I wasn't completely enamoured by them, but I rarely eat savory snacks so I'm not one to judge.

Apple, Caramelized Onion & Thyme Risotto with Taleggio and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Apple, Caramelized Onion & Thyme Risotto with Taleggio and Parmigiano-Reggiano

And out comes the appetizers (you know, after we ate a crapload of bread and potato chips). After tasting a bite of Kathryn's "Apple, Caramelized Onion & Thyme Risotto with Taleggio and Parmigiano-Reggiano" (ACOTRTPR...damn, that's too long), one word came to mind: creamy. If I could extend that to two words: uber creamy. I've never had real risotto before, but my assumption is that this was some really good risotto. Creamy with a strong cheese taste, but not in the offensively cheesy sense. Hearty cheesy? Earthy cheesy? I don't know how to describe it exactly, but it was good, so what else do you need to know?

Roasted Chestnut-Polenta Cake with Pancetta, Mushroom & Fris�e Salad
This photo didn't suck too much, meaning I can bust out the medium size and fill up the screen

My "Roasted Chestnut-Polenta Cake with Pancetta, Mushroom & Fris�e Salad" (, that didn't acronymize very well) was new to me, as I've never had real polenta. (When I say I haven't had "real" risotto or polenta, I mean that I've had something like that from a cooking class, which obviously doesn't count because we didn't really know know what we were doing, harhar!) The triangular polenta cake had a crispy surface and soft innards (which I'd compare to something else in order to better describe it, except all I can come up with is "polenta", which isn't helpful because it is polenta. The consistency reminded me a bit of the buffalo milk yogurt I had today and thick mashed potatoes; I'm sure that doesn't help you at all) with embedded chestnut bits. Sadly, I forgot what the sauce tasted like, which means it must've been pretty subtle. I think it may have been a little sweet, but I don't remember much else. I don't know what kind of mushrooms were sprinkled atop the polenta, but they know, mushroom-y. Small. Soft. Cute.

Grilled Beef Sirloin Skewers with Spinach-Gorgonzola Bread Pudding and Pickled Onions
Grilled Beef Sirloin Skewers with Spinach-Gorgonzola Bread Pudding and Pickled Onions

I tried a plump, juicy beef cube off of Kathryn's skewer along with a bit of the bread pudding. The pudding may have perhaps been a little too strong in the cheese department to eat by itself, but I liked it, maybe more than the beef. I like beef but would it surprise you that one of my least favorite forms of beef is in a steak? I rarely ever eat steak and couldn't even tell you the last time I had it. The beef cube was steaky. I guess if I had to have steak in any form, cubed would be optimal (because that means I wouldn't have to cut anything, bwahaha).

Roasted Monkfish with Lentil-Mushroom Rago�t, Preserved Meyer Lemon, and Rocket
Roasted Monkfish with Lentil-Mushroom Rago�t, Preserved Meyer Lemon, and Rocket

I was very happy with my entree; fish rarely fails to please. I suck at cooking but even I wouldn't mess up fish too badly (I once pan fried a filet but moved it around too much, resulting in less "fish filet" and more "fish that look like it got mauled by a weedwhacker"). The monkfish was unlike any other fish I had eaten, not because of the fish's flavor but because of how it was cooked. The surface was lightly crispy, almost airy, and the inside was...normal fish consistency. It was the crust that I really liked. My other favorite part were the bits of preserved Meyer lemon. They were only a few bits on the plate, but the chef obviously knew that one only needed a miniscule piece to flavor something that is comparatively 5000000 times larger. Fish bit + lemon bit = deliciousness. The lentils and rocket were fine, but it was the fish and lemon I remembered best.

Coffee-Cocoa Nib Fudge Cake with Kahl�a Whipped Cream
Coffee-Cocoa Nib Fudge Cake with Kahl�a Whipped Cream

I didn't try Kathryn's dessert since as you can see, it contains two Robyn no-nos: coffee and alcohol. I'm sure it was someone without my taste buds. Kathryn liked it.

Butterscotch Pudding with Chocolate Chip Blondies
Butterscotch Pudding with Chocolate Chip Blondies

I've rarely ever eaten butterscotch pudding or blondies in my life, so this was a good opportunity to try something new. The pudding didn't have a gloppy, Jell-O style consistency, but something more like flan or creme brulee. The flavor wasn't strongly like butterscotch, but in all honesty I probably have no idea what "real" butterscotch tastes like, so..nevermind that.

I ate it
I ate it

I smooshed together bits of the creme fraiche with the pudding while eating it, down to pointlessly scraping down the remnants. Why do I do that? It's futile! There's nothing left! Just don't lick the inside of the ramekin...NO LICKING, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! (Don't worry, didn't lick it. I really liked the pudding, but not to that degree.)

blondie close up

I'm pretty sure by this point that I just don't like blondies. They're not bad, and there wasn't anything wrong with USC's blondie bits, but all blondies (that I've eaten, which I guess hasn't been very many) share one fatal flaw: they're not brownies. I don't like all brownies, but they have the advantage of boasting chocolateness. I don't know what blondies have going for them. Sorry.

So that was the end of our roughly one and a half hour lunch. While I can't say my brain exploded with deliciousness, it was really good and one of my most enjoyable eating experiences in NYC, something I'd recommend to other people. The couple at a table next to us had ordered platters heaped with fries and scary-huge burgers along with two sides of macaroni & cheese and mashed potatoes. Oh my god...I know what I'm getting next time. Who's with me? You should've seen their spread; people around them were laughing (with them, not them) because of the ridiculous amount of food.

After lunch, we wandered around until we ended up at ABC Home and Carpet to check out Michel Cluizel's section of the store. I wasn't in the mood to eat anything (GASP, STOP THE PRESSES) so I didn't buy anything. I guess I'll talk about it when I get the chance to actually eat one of their desserts.

Unrelated to last Tuesday, but still on the topic of food (obviously!), last Saturday I went to Diana's house for a Cantonese Chinese New Year's Eve dinner. My family wasn't big on CNY while I was growing up, or at least I don't recall eating anything special. The culmination of the holiday's excitment was when my parents handed my brother and me red envelopes full of cash, which I considered to be one of the perks of being Chinese (I haven't figured out the other ones yet). I was happy to join Diana's family for something homecooked and celebratory, after hinting to Diana that I had nothing to do and if she didn't invite me I'd stay alone in my room, huddled in the corner of my bed, suffering from Chinese food withdrawal while nearby Chinatown was a-hopping with hoards of Chinese people, through the power of consumerism and superstition, buying loads of junk to bring prosperity and luck in the New Year.

HAHA, just kidding. I think.

too much food
too much food

There's the spread. Altogether there were maybe nine people; Diana's mum made enough food for 20. Wow.


My favorite dish was easily the steamed fish (or "FISH!@#*&!#$"). I love a good simply steamed and seasoned fish. Maybe it's the mercury.

HAHA, just kidding. I think.

I'd say more but my roommate is going to bed soon. Yes, it's about 12:30 on a Friday night/Saturday morning. Even though she won't gouge my heart out with a stick if I stay up too late, she'll probably want to, thus this is where this entry ends.


eastsidegirl / February 4, 2006 8:30 AM

I'm hungry just reading this. USC's food is good, but it does have a lot going on. It's a bit...fussy, you know?

Love steamed fish w/ ginger, scallion, garlic and soy. One of my favorite meals ever.

lori / February 4, 2006 8:36 AM

What's with all the acronyms today, Robyn? Heh. :p

You asked what blondies have going for them? Brown sugar. Yup, that and butter make it caramel heaven, which paired really well with your butterscotch pudding. If I were there, I would've licked (literally) the bowl clean.

I thought you would've ordered the burgers and the mac and cheese. The dishes you guys ordered looked good enough, but darn, they were fancy.

roboppy / February 4, 2006 11:37 AM

Ani: Thanks! I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say "Can't figure out the other one?" I have to reread my entry? Hehe.

eastsidegirl: It can be a bit fussy, but I suppose that's what I want in an upscale restaurant. Friendly fussiness? :D Potato chips aren't fussy though, hehe. MMM, TATO! And yes, steamed fish with ginger, scallion, garlic and soy is SO AWESOME! And I'm not one to pick out favorite savory foods that readily. Fiiiish!

Lori: I don't know what's with the acronyms; perhaps I wrote this entry too late and my brain was fuzzy? (Which is what usually happens!)

Ahh, good point aobut the blondies. I've never had one that good though. :( It seems that it's easier to find a good brownie than a good blondie (probably because there are more brownies to choose from). I'd LOVE some kind of caramel blondie bar. With nuts! Yeeah. Should I make it my mission to find the best blondie? Fat Witch disappointed me.

The burgers and mac and cheese weren't part of the restaurant week menu or else they would've been very tempting. But those things are part of their regular menu, so I can try them some other day...when I feel like splurging. :)

Rose / February 4, 2006 12:41 PM

I'm glad you had one great Restaurant Week experience. My last one (a year ago) was terrible.

When i asked for the special RW menu they gave me this condescending look like "oh, girl is cheap--wants the el cheapo menu". What they offered on that menu (it was french fare) wasn't spectacular and when it arrived it just looked limpo. I think I had the french onion soup (i love salty stuff) and there was a pathetic looking clump of cheese brunt on top.

The service for the entire meal was bad too. We could never get refills of our water glasses and it took them nearly 20 minutes to get our check.

I guess I should give RW another shot at a better restaurant, but that experience left me scarred.

Jen / February 4, 2006 4:56 PM

Great post about Union Square. I remember doing a case study on the restaurant (yay, Hotel School curriculum) and remembered that the food wasn't too great but the service was oustanding. That said, the food you had still sounds pretty darn good. I'm glad you had a good lunch there.

And yay for Cantonese CNY dinners, though I ended up having Thai this year. Such is college life.

Kathy / February 4, 2006 6:51 PM

Stomach emitting growling noises despite the fact that I just had lunch. Such is the effect of your posts.

I'm glad you're taking advantage of RW - I probably should have done so last year! Oh! Am searching for incredibly good bread pudding when I come during break? Any suggestions? I'm thinking blue ribbion bakery of sullivan st...maybe we could go on a bread pudding/any pudding! hunt?

roboppy / February 4, 2006 9:36 PM

Rose: Oh nooo, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience! Where did you eat? At both restaurants I went to, they automatically gave everyone the RW menu; I'd suppose almost everyone there wanted the menu. Bad service and bad food? :( I hate it when it takes forever to get the check; you'd think they want you out of the restaurant ASAP, haha. Definitely give it another shot next year. I've decided I want to try Eleven Madison Park and Tabla. PREPARE NOW!!!

Jen: Restaurant case study? Well, useful if you want to go into the business. :) The food is good, but not, well I don't have any uber-great experiences to compare it to, hehe. [sigh] Actually, I've had some surprisingly memorable meals in Ridgewood, NJ (surprising because 1) at the time I wasn't anything like a foodie and 2) they were meals I ate yeeeaaars ago) that I should revisit.

Thai food's good! Last year I did nothing for CNY! That's the worst. :P

Kathy: Oops, sorry about your stomach! Mine does that too. I just...ignore it. Or try to.

I didn't do any RW stuff last year, but this year I know more people who like to eat. (Yeah, it's so pooty that we didn't know each other last year.) I heard Blue Ribbon Bakery's bread pudding is aweeesome, so if we can, we should go there. I think I almost went today, except...uh, I ate a huge meal. So. Nah. Gotta be somewhat sensible!

Wei / February 4, 2006 11:30 PM

Burger and fries? How can that be too much food? ;)

I love to go into a place, order a ton of food, and scare the waiter/waitresses heh.

roboppy / February 5, 2006 12:19 AM

Wei: THE BURGER WAS HUUUGE, oh man! I'm not sure about the sides since I looked at the menu and didn't see mac n cheese...but whatever it was, it looked good. And. There was a lot. Hm.

I was wondering if the waitress warned them how much food they were going to get, hehe.

Rose / February 5, 2006 10:09 AM

I don't remember where I went for RW and quite frankly after that experience I don't want to remember (I'm hoping they closed their doors perm.).

I will try it out next time. I liked tabla when I went 3 years ago (or was it 2?) and I've always wanted to try 11 Madison Park as well. I hope some of the Grand Central Station spots hold RW specials because there's a bunch there I want to try too :-)

From Our Kitchen / February 5, 2006 2:14 PM

I love your bread bar idea! I could live off of bread and be completely satisfied. You could have lots of different varieties of bread, from baguettes, to foccacia, to challah. And sweet breads too, like cinnamon raisin and chocolate babkas! And all sorts of dipping sauces and butters to put on them. I have got to start one of these!

And about that saltines contest, I've heard it's not possible to eat more than 6 (or 8?) in a minute, without any liquid, because of all the saltyness. So what's the point anyway? I don't get guys...

roboppy / February 5, 2006 7:17 PM

Rose: Ah, I guess it's good to wipe that restaurant from your mind. Maybe they did close! HOORAAH!!! I'm already looking forward to next year, hehee.

From Our Kitchen: We need to get this bread bar in order! ;) And we could offer 20 KINDS OF BUTTER...yeaaaah. Buuuutttterrrrr!

I had no idea about the saltines thing, but I don't think I've ever tried to eat that many in one minute. I honestly think I COULD though. Should we test this theory? For the sake of...well, nothing? CURIOSITY?

One guy told me a story about how he and some friends got the idea to spray one guy's hair with cologne and set it on fire. So...they did. Um. Yeah. (I forgot whether they were under the influence or not, but I don't think they were, which makes it scarier.) I don't get guys either.

AugustusGloop / February 5, 2006 8:43 PM

omg the USC food looks fantastic. Risotto looks v creamy and the polenta shot... foodpornworthy camera work!

The CYNE feast looks great too. Don't you love hanging out with foodie (read: Asian) families?

roboppy / February 6, 2006 10:12 AM

AugustusGloop: Thanks! Foodpornworthy = sweeeeet. Or disturbing. I still need to get a mini tripod!

Foodie families are cool, yes. :D But most families are more foodie than mine. My friend's family isn't even that foodie but her mum went all out this year, hehe.

From Our Kitchen / February 8, 2006 11:49 PM

Mmmm, 20 kinds of butter. That sounds so good. I'm liking this idea even more. We have to open this place!

I've never tried the saltine thing myself, but I've witnessed others (guys suprisingly) attempt it. They failed. But it's fun when they try and talk afterwards and spray crumbs everywhere. Just don't stand too close.

Well lighting one's hair on fire makes perfect sense to me. (How do you show sarcasm over the internet?)

roboppy / February 9, 2006 7:40 PM

From Our Kitchen: You can [roll eyes] or do <sarcasm>blah blah, I'm sarcastic!</sarcasm>, although that second method is probably too nerdy. Emoticons! Those are good. :P >__ You can [roll eyes] or do <sarcasm>blah blah, I'm sarcastic!</sarcasm>, although that second method is probably too nerdy. Emoticons! Those are good. :P >__

Not just butter, but all kinds of oil! "Bread and Lipids Bar". ...Okay, that's not really mouthwatering. Lipids. Funky word.

I want to try the Saltine thing now. Just a smidgen.

The Unemployed Cook / February 10, 2006 11:55 PM

Wonderful entry and pictures. One of the things I miss most since moving away is restaurant week and the endless possibilities surrounding it. And I think your bread bar is a fantastic idea, we just need to knock some sense into these low-carb devotees! Or, would it be like a dirty little secret, the ultimate eff you to Dr. Atkins? Ha!

I'm new to your blog, and I quite like it. I write a lot about cooking, you should come over and check things out next time you have a bored moment.

roboppy / February 12, 2006 12:53 PM

The Unemployed Cook: Glad you liked the entry! Yes, WE NEED BREAD! LOTS OF IT. And LOTS OF ACCOMPANYING FATS. My other idea is a place that only serves pancakes and waffles, but over time that might make people (like myself) hate pancakes and waffles. But...they're so tasty...

Anna / December 30, 2006 7:24 PM

Thanks for the review. I'll be staying at the W New York next month and have only two nights to eat out. I'm trying to choose between USC, Veritas and Tabla. Your photos from Union Square Cafe are very helpful. Plus, I've heard they have a nice bar.

Friendly service is really important. Frankly, it would be nice to make up for the crappy treatment I got at the last restaurant I tried in NYC. Usually, servers are professional and service is great, but for the first time in years I got the nasty treatment and it still stings. I devoted too much time trying to *make the waitress like me*. That shouldn't have to happen. I chalk it up to her being an inexperienced kid, but still....that's no excuse.

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