What to Expect at the New Union Square Café
After delays, the greenmarket-driven spot from restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Carmen Quagliata makes its New York City comeback.
“If you put on blinders, this looks just like table 38,” says Carmen Quagliata, before he settles down at the perfectly set corner table nestled inside the new Union Square Café on 19th Street in New York City.
Paintings by Robert Kushner and Susan Walp, relics of the original restaurant space on 16th Street, flank the surrounding walls, and the excited hum of front-of-house staff training fills in the air. Downstairs, cooks plan the line of attack for dinner service and wait for the real fun to begin.
The gas is on and the tables are set. This sprawling iteration of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café, relocated just two blocks north of its original home, is finally opening on Thursday. (Daily Provisions, the all-day bakery, lunch counter and supper club, will open next door later on.)
“The sous-chefs and me, we’re like caged tigers,” Quagliata says. “I’m craving the kitchen with my team. And I hope our guests are craving our food and hospitality.”
He’s been testing dishes basically since the restaurant closed a year ago, taking over fellow Union Square restaurants around the world for one-night events and menu previews. He’s been cooking according to the hyper-seasonality that Union Square Café has been operating on since opening in 1985, rotating with the 12-day seasons of the farmers market. He’s tweaked the plancha-seared scallops several times: Last summer he tried it with an acidic hit of tomatoes; now he's experimenting with a wintry cipollini onion agrodolce.
“A lot of the time, spontaneity and creativity sound overrated, like it’s the chef’s ego. I’m not like that,” Quagliata says. “At Union Square Café, you’ll never feel like it’s ‘look at what I can do.’ It’s like ‘oh, this is so good.'”
It shows in the dishes he’s excited to introduce, like a garlic-powered, handchopped beef tartare inspired by a version he can’t stop thinking about from Italian meat maven Dario Cecchini—as well as in the original restaurant classics he knew he needed to transfer here, like the pillowy ricotta gnocchi and classic Bibb and Red Oak leaf salad with Gruyère.
That somewhat familiar, incredibly satisfying kind food is Quagliata’s style, and the kind this city is excited to have back.