The Reopening Of Union Square Cafe

Long time New Yorkers remember when the Union Square Cafe opened in 1985 on 16th street. It was billed, and still is, as one of the first restaurants in NYC, and possibly the East Coast, to present customers with contemporary American cuisine. Owned by New York restauranteur, Danny Meyer’s, it was his first venture into the Manhattan food and beverage business. What followed from its success were a string of hit restaurants, under the Union Square Hospitality Group, such as North End Grill, Untitled at the Whitney, Blue Smoke and Gramercy Tavern. But after 30 years, and exorbitant Manhattan rents, Union Square Cafe came to a sudden end.

That end was brief, for in December last year, Meyer’s reopened the beloved eatery four blocks away in the former City Crab space. Which is ideal for Executive Chef Carmen Qualiata, who can still walk down to the green market in Union Square to stock his kitchen with produce and so on from local and regional farmers. Chef Carmen holds onto what people loved most about the restaurant— fancy comfort food that walks the line between Tuscan/Italian fair and elevated American bistro staples.

These include lunch dishes like candele pasta with carrots, fresno chilies, scallion, greek yogurt, and pancetta, or a simple house burger with Bleecher’s cheddar, bacon on a brioche. Dinner has more involved and hearty items like roasted pork rack with shell beans, kale and fennel-apple mostarda. There’s brunch too. All the menu’s are vast including the wines (mostly from Italy, France and the US), and spirits menu, with tasty seasonal cocktails.

The new Union Square Cafe has an uncanny resemblance to its predecessor; it’s a collective of wide open and cozy and private spaces spread over two levels. the space was designed by architect, David Rockwell. There is an enormous bar downstairs, dark green wainscoting and warm wood throughout. The restaurant seats 150, with an additional seating for 40 in two private dinning rooms. If you can, reserve a leather booth near the upstairs bar. It’s more private up there, with nice views over the balcony onto rollicking diners below.

101 East 19th Street, New York, NY 10003; T. (212)-243-4020; www.unionsquarecafe.com

Words by Rocky Casale