Tag Archives: Union Square Cafe

If Time Out New York can do it, so can I. I’ve been inspired and satiated by Time Out’s 2009 Top 100 list and look forward to conquering their 2010 list very soon. But from now until the end of the year, I present my own Top 100 Dishes of the year in reverse order. Look for another five dishes every few days.

5. TOMATO COURSE at THE KITCHEN AT BROOKLYN FARE

You can’t get this amazing tomato dish without making a reservation well in advance, paying the $135, and sitting through the fantastic eight-course meal at Brooklyn Fare (which is a kitchen attached to a high end grocery store). So in many ways, the entire meal should be on my Top 100. And it’s a spectacular meal, but early in the dinner something happened that really stood out from the rest of the food.

On the “menu” it’s labeled as the tomato course and we watched as the sous chefs all helped Chef César Ramirez compose the six-part dish that featured tomatoes every possible way you can imagine. Even the ways you can’t imagine, including my favorite: the tomato marshmallow. Each component was explosive with flavor. And you kept finding more components to the components, like the little gazpacho underneath the white tomato mousse. And of course, as almost an afterthought (or palate cleanser), we got a scoop of some sweet, spicy tomato sorbet. It was fantastic.

And it really stole the show that made the rest of the meal pale in comparison. And the rest of the meal was phenomenal. Explain that. Price: Available seasonally with the $135 prix-fixe

KITCHEN AT BROOKLYN FARE
212 Schermerhorn Street (between Hoyt Street and Bond Street)
Downtown Brooklyn
(718) 243-0050
brooklynfare.com

4. SMOKED MEAT SANDWICH at MILE END

Oh boy, Mile End! This is one of my favorite new restaurants in the city. The owners, Noah Bernamoff and his wife Rachel Cohen are both savvy business people, innovative foodies, and an important addition to the neighborhoods near Boerum Hill.

Mile End is the first Montreal style deli in the city and it’s much more modern and culinary focused than our typical New York delicatessens. And it’s the place I first discovered the Smoked Meat Sandwich. Smoked meat is very similar to what we think of as pastrami, but the seasonings are more aggressive (clove, fennel seed, and paprika). And unlike most delis in the city (Katz’s being the exception), the briskets are sliced to order so they break down for as long as possible in the steamer. That ensures perfect tenderness and meatiness. These are no cold cuts.

The sandwich has so much flavor and literally falls apart in your mouth. The small layer of fat is soft and not greasy or overwhelming at all. And the smoke and spices really light up your taste buds. It reminds me of both Jewish pastrami and Southern smoked brisket. Two of my favorite things in the world.

And unlike most of the corned beef/pastrami sandwiches in this city, this baby is more manageable and you can actually finish one all by yourself. And trust me, there’s no better feeling. Price: $9

MILE END
97A Hoyt Street (between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street)
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
(718) 852-7510
mileendbrooklyn.com

3. KUMAMOTO TASTING at LE BERNARDIN

I was blessed to be invited to one of the most famous, well-respected restaurants in the city by a dear friend. Her boss had bought her an all-expense paid dinner to Le Bernardin. If you live in New York, you know that this seafood restaurant is one of the few NY Times four star restaurants, along with perfect scores in Zagat, and lots of respect from the Michelin people.

This dining experience is as good as it gets. And of course, it’s ridiculously expensive. And I’d like to say that the best part of the experience was that I didn’t have to reach for my wallet, but the truth is, the food was phenomenal.

One of the stand-outs that I will never forget was a bit unexpected. It was simply labeled kumamoto, which referred to a “progressive tasting of kumamoto oyster ‘en gelee’, from light and refreshing to complex and spicy.” I absolutely love oysters, but I find it hard to tell a kumamoto at one restaurant from that at another. So unless you do something special to it, it’s all about the freshness (which I always hope is the highest possible).

Well, celebrity chef Eric Ripert doesn’t just get the freshest, sweetest kumamotos possible, but he adds an extra flavor component to each one. There were eight raw oysters and each one had a special flavored gelee to bring out the natural flavors of the shellfish. I find flavored gelee one of the most unique and exciting additions to any meal. And the fact that they were all so unusual and sat above a pearly white oyster made my night.

The tasting started with a light green apple gelee that was tart and fruity and played off the briny richness of the oyster itself. Six oysters later the tasting ended with kimchi gelee that had a nice smoky, spicy quality that contrasted the natural flavors of the kumo. In between, we got to try everything from shiso gelee to dashi gelee.  It was a beautifully constructed start to an immaculate evening of feasting.

The only downside to this dish is I may never get to taste it again. And I’m not referring to the fact that Le Bernardin changes the menu every so often, I mean I can’t afford this stuff on my own!

LE BERNARDIN
155 West 51st Street (between Sixth Avenue and Seventh Avenue)
Inside the Equitable Building
Midtown West
(212) 554-1515
le-bernardin.com

2. YUBA AND UNI YOSHINO-STYLE at KYO YA

Let me just say up front that I love Japanese food. Which is weird because the one really bad food experience I remember from childhood was eating at the casual Japan restaurant at EPCOT. There was some brewed flavor (soy perhaps?) in their soup that really turned me off to Japanese cuisine for many years.

Well, I’m glad I found it again. I love the clean, delicate, raw flavors. Sushi, tempura, ramen, yakitori, wasabi. You name it; I’ll eat it.

Since I love Japanese food, I was so excited to try Kyo Ya in the East Village. It’s a little hideaway below 7th Street and it opens up into a relaxed setting that feels both casual and fancy at the same time. The staff was welcoming and happy and just made us feel at home. I was ready to order everything on their menu and give them all my money. But since I need to pay my rent, I decided to be a little discerning.

I would have probably glossed over the Yuba and Uni Yoshino-style if Time Out hadn’t urged me to try it. I had never had anything like this before in my life, but after my first bite, I hoped I would have it again and again.

Yuba means tofu skin and uni is sea urchin. I’m not a huge fan of tofu, but I don’t mind it if it’s in a flavorful dish. The first time I tasted sea urchin was many years ago at a sushi restaurant in Pittsburgh. At the time, I remember it being the most disgusting thing I had ever put in my mouth.

Well, times have changed and either now I like disgusting things in my mouth (no comments, please) or this was a whole other level of sea urchin. It was so fresh and the texture was both creamy and chewy. The tofu skin was like cold wide noodles with a milky flavor and firm bite. All this was served cold in a clear broth with black seaweed and wasabi for a little texture and heat, respectively.

The sweet and briny flavors made me yearn to be both a sea creature and a vegetarian. Or a vegetarian sea creature. Price: $12

KYO YA
94 East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A)
East Village
(212) 982-4140

1. RICOTTA GNOCCHI at UNION SQUARE CAFE

Here’s one of those dishes I discovered from my Time Out journey that was just heavenly. If I discovered nothing else on the list that was worthwhile, this would have been enough. And it easily became my favorite dish of the year.

The Ricotta Gnocchi at Union Square Cafe made me think of sleeping. I wanted to fall asleep right in the bowl. It would have been a mess and a bit of an embarrassment. But they were so light, delicious, pillowy (there’s the sleep again), and flavorful, that I just wanted to let them take over and let me dream. Dream about perfect food.

The little dumplings were served with a Meyer (Danny?) Lemon Butter and it was garnished with fresh herbs. And as light and tasty as the sauce was, I really don’t think it mattered what these were swimming in. They literally melt in your mouth and give way to a rich ricotta center that’s barely held together, yet there’s still that initial firmness. It’s just as much fun to pop them open with your teeth as it is to savor the flavor in your mouth.

Union Square Cafe is a bit on the pricey side (although they do offer cheaper, smaller portions of their pasta – the gnocchi included), but it is worth the splurge. The dishes are not overly complicated, yet the flavors are balanced and well-executed. Looking at the menu, it seems like you’ve had all this before (lasagna, roasted chicken, gnocchi). And you may have, but here you’ll have them cooked to perfection. Price: $15/$25

UNION SQUARE CAFE
21 East 16th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Union Square West)
Flatiron District
(212) 243-4020
unionsquarecafe.com

It’s not often that I compare eating to sleeping.  Even though they’re two of my favorite activities, I generally like to keep them separate.  For food, I like to be up, alert and have all my senses working.  For sleep, I prefer to relax, dream and just lay there (and for as late as possible).

But the Ricotta Gnocchi at Union Square Cafe made me think of sleeping.  These little dumplings made me want to enter slumber.  I wanted to fall asleep right in the bowl.  It would have been a mess and a bit of an embarrassment.  But they were so light, delicious, pillowy (there’s the sleep again), and flavorful, that I just wanted to let them take over and let me dream.  Dream about perfect food.

And every time I’ve visited Union Square Cafe, I’m treated like a king.  Granted, I work at one of their sister restaurants (The Modern), but I know that this warm hospitality is not selective.  And they clearly don’t make exclusive food just for me (then I’d really be a King), so anybody who picks the gnocchi from the menu, gets a really special treat.

Time Out lists the gnocchi as being served with tomato-basil sauce.  I guess we waited too long to come here because the sauce had changed to Meyer Lemon Butter and it was garnished with fresh herbs. And as light and tasty as the sauce was, I really don’t think it mattered what these were swimming in.  Tomato, basil, butter, lemon.  I’ll take any of them, sure.  But most importantly, I want those ricotta gnocchi.

They literally melt in your mouth and give way to a rich ricotta center that’s barely held together, yet there’s still that initial firmness.  It’s just as much fun to pop them open with your teeth as it is to savor the flavor in your mouth.

Union Square Cafe is a bit on the pricey side (although they do offer cheaper, smaller portions of their pasta – the gnocchi included), but it is worth the splurge.  The dishes are  not overly complicated, yet the flavors are balanced and well-executed.  Looking at the menu, it seems like you’ve had all this before (lasagna, roasted chicken, gnocchi).  And you may have, but here you’ll have them cooked to perfection.

Would Union Square Cafe’s Ricotta Gnocchi make my Top 100 of the year?  They’re light, playful, and probably the best gnocchi I’ve ever had in my life.  How can I not give them a 10 out of10?


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