Posts Tagged ‘Crudo’

Chalkboard – Healdsburg, CA

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by virginia

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We arrived in San Francisco on a misty and foggy (per usual) Wednesday morning. After picking up our rental and enjoying an awesome dim sum breakfast with my godparents, we headed into downtown SF to meet up with our friends Claire and Sean, and their adorable son, L. From their apartment we headed off to Healdsburg in our respective cars, stopping once at the Vista Point by the Golden Gate Bridge (which was completely whited out by the fog) to swap passengers (Claire and I needed some girl talk time).

The trip to Healdsburg took about 1.5 hours with minimal traffic. After checking into our hotel (make sure you never accidentally request a smoking room when filling out a reservation online!), Josh and I took a drive around downtown before meeting up with Claire, Sean, and L again for an early dinner at Chalkboard. During my usual pre-trip research, Chalkboard was one of the more heralded restaurants I read about, and the menu looked fabulous, so I had Josh book reservations for us well in advance.

We opted to sit outside on the back patio and enjoy the gorgeous weather. The menu features small plates, and our party of 4 (plus L, who picked off a little from every dish and has an incredible palate for a 1 year old) was the perfect size for sharing everything. We pretty much ordered to our hearts’ content, hitting almost every dish on the menu.

First up was the beef tartare, which had a wonderful texture to it and tons of beef flavor, as the meat was cut in larger chunks rather than the over-chopped mush we’ve seen in many other places. It was topped with a quail egg yolk that gave the beef a creamy richness, and was served with parsley, celery hearts, calabrian chile (which wasn’t too spicy), and smoked salt. We scooped up the tartare with the accompanying crunchy crostini, and it was a well balanced, well seasoned bite to start off our meal.

Beef tartare

Beef tartare

The trio of bruschetta featured duck rillete with peach mostarda, pickled beet with crescenza cheese and pistachio, and smoked salmon with smashed avocado, creme fraiche, and pickled onions. The rillete with peach was a nice combination of savory and sweet, while the tanginess of the pickled beet was mellowed out by the creamy and milky crescenza. Smoked salmon with avocado and creme fraiche is a pretty standard combination, but the pickled onions added a nice touch of acid and a bit of crunch to the mix. All three were pretty delicious.

Bruschetta trio

Bruschetta trio

The only vegetable dish we ordered was the caramelized baby carrots, which came with kohlrabi sauerkraut, caraway-dill yogurt, and rye crunch. I’m usually not a fan of carrots in general, but these were bursting with flavor. The sweet carrots were soft but not mushy and paired nicely with slightly sour sauerkraut. The yogurt was bright and fresh-tasting from the dill, and the rye crunch added a nice textural contrast. It was a great combination that I never would have thought of in a million years, nor did I think I would enjoy it, but it was a sleeper hit on the table.

Caramelized baby carrots

Caramelized baby carrots

The crudo of the day was ishidai (a Japanese fish) with pickled nectarines and fried olives. The fish was mild in flavor but definitely fresh, and the nectarines and olives added a burst of brininess without overwhelming the fish. Definitely an interesting combination, and the fried olives were a nice twist.

Crudo of the day

Crudo of the day

From the pasta section, we chose the squid ink gigli with dungeness crab, calabrian chile, black truffle butter, and lemon verbena. We couldn’t detect any truffle flavor in the dish, but we also didn’t miss it. The pasta itself had lots of depth and savoriness to it from the squid ink, and there was tons of crab meat mixed throughout. We could taste the fruitiness of the chile but it wasn’t overly spicy. My only complaint would be that the pasta was slightly mushy.

Squid ink gigli

Squid ink gigli

The lamb meatballs were another huge hit at our table. The meatballs were gamey but not overly so, and juicy and tender. They were served with charred grapes, mint, harissa, feta, and saba (a grape syrup). The sweetness of the grapes and syrup was unexpected but paired well with the meatiness of the lamb, and the fresh mint finished the dish on a bright note.

Lamb meatballs

Lamb meatballs

The dungeness crab tater tots were well executed, with perfectly crispy tots and a big heap of dungeness crab meat on top of each cube. The crab meat was sweet and fresh, while the tots had great potato flavor and were not the least bit greasy. Compared to the other dishes on the table, however, these were tasty but not as exciting.

Dungeness crab tater tots

Dungeness crab tater tots (some of the crab bundles fell off en route to the table)

The PEI mussels steamed with white wine was another more classic dish that was well executed. The mussels were plump and juicy though, and the broth had a lot of flavor from big pieces of bacon and fennel mixed throughout.

Steamed PEI mussels

Steamed PEI mussels

The hamachi crudo featured summer squash, kimchi, and crispy quinoa. It was a surprisingly large portion, which was not a bad thing, and I liked that the hamachi was cut into large chunks rather than the thin slices we were expecting. The kimchi flavor on the summer squash was present but mild, and I liked the textural crunch of the quinoa. It was definitely a more rustic dish than the crudo of the day, but both were tasty in different ways.

Hamachi crudo

Hamachi crudo

Last, but definitely not least, we had the pork belly biscuits. The pork belly was glazed with maple and perfectly cooked so that it was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The biscuit itself was fluffy and delicate, and pickled onions and chipotle mayo rounded out the little sandwiches. The salty sweet flavors were spot on, and I could have eaten all four of them by myself.

Pork belly biscuits

Pork belly biscuits

Overall, Josh and I both thought our meal at Chalkboard was one of the best that we’ve had in recent memory. The company was definitely part of it (it’s always a pleasure dining with Claire and Sean), but the food itself was well executed, and most of the combinations of flavors were innovative and exciting. The restaurant tries to use local produce and ingredients, and the care taken with each individual component was evident on the plate. At about $9-$16 per dish, the prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food and the portion sizes. We all walked away satisfied but not overwhelmingly full. Service was attentive, and the back patio area was just lovely. I highly recommend checking out the restaurant if you’re ever in the Healdsburg area.

Chalkboard
29 North St.
Healdsburg, CA

Apiary

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 by virginia

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Just wanted to take a break in between the Louisiana and Texas trip to talk about a semi-recent meal we had at Aviary in NYC in February to celebrate our 16th anniversary as a couple. It was a notable anniversary for us because we were both 16 years old when we started dating, so sometime in between this anniversary and the next, we’ll have been together for more than half our lives. I think that’s a pretty cool milestone.

Since J came into the picture, it’s rare for us to have a dinner on our own. We either bring her along with us, or if we can get someone to watch her, we’re usually meeting friends for dinner or going to a party. So when Josh’s parents graciously agreed to watch her for our anniversary, we knew we wanted to have a nice meal out in the city, which is a rare luxury for us these days. After doing a bit of research, we settled on Apiary, a fairly under the radar restaurant with a chef we were both curious about – Scott Bryan.

We had both read about Scott Bryan in Kitchen Confidential, where author/chef Anthony Bourdain sings his praises. After leaving Veritas in 2007, however, we hadn’t really heard much about Chef Bryan since then. He seems like such a talented, passionate cook who is really just focused on the food, not all the PR and other hype surrounding chefs these days, and so we were eager to sample his offerings.

As a side bonus, we went on a Monday, when the restaurant offers no corkage fees. We stopped at Astor Wines nearby and picked up a bottle of white from Tuscany and a bottle of red Chateauneuf du Pape to go with our meal. I had researched the menu online beforehand so I had a good idea of what I wanted to order, but of course I needed Josh to agree with me. Our waiter also came up with a long list of recommendations when asked what dishes he preferred. Rather than going for the 5 course tasting menu, we decided to come up with our own tasting with four appetizers and two entrees, so that we could try more dishes.

While we waited for our food to come out, we noshed on the bread, slices of sourdough with a hearty yet crispy crust. It was delicious with the fruity olive oil that came on the side for dipping.

Sourdough bread and olive oil

Sourdough bread and olive oil

We told our waiter that we planned to share all the dishes, so the kitchen thoughtfully split some of them into two plates for us. For the first course, we were each presented with our own plates of hamachi crudo, and our order of grilled quail was placed in the middle of the table. The hamachi, which is yellowtail fish, was sliced thin and served raw with slices of avocado, hearts of palm, chopped chives, finely diced jalapenos, and a microgreen salad on top. The dish was dressed with a yuzu vinaigrette, and while I loved the pop of the acid and the freshness of the fish and vegetables, Josh thought there was a bit too much citrus on the fish that overwhelmed its delicate flavors. Overall though, we both thought it was a bright dish that woke up our taste buds and was a great start to the meal.

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

Hamachi crudo, avocado, hearts of palm, jalapeno

We were more mixed about the grilled quail dish, as we thought that was a bit odd for them to have presented us with individual crudos while the quail just sort of sat on the table and got cold while we ate our fish. Maybe they expected us to finish our crudo quickly, and then move on to the quail immediately? Logistically, it was also kind of hard to eat the quail while reaching over our crudo plates. I think our waiter saw us struggling a bit and quickly removed the empty plates and provided us with clean small plates to transfer the quail onto, which was a slightly¬† messy affair. The quail itself was well seasoned, but the meat was pretty chewy. Josh picked up his half with his hands and ate the meat off the bone, while I tried a more delicate approach with my knife and fork, which wasn’t very successful. It came with lentils on the side, curried spiced yogurt, and drizzle of paprika oil that added a bit more smoke to the dish. The flavors were intense and exotic, which we enjoyed, but it was hard to get past the chewiness of the quail.

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

Grilled quail, curried spiced yogurt, french green lentils, orange

For our second course, the kitchen split our order of swiss chard and ricotta ravioli. There were two plump raviolis in each bowl that were topped with a piece of fried sage, brown butter, and poppy seeds. The pasta itself was perfectly cooked and gorgeously delicate, both in texture and flavor. The brown butter was a tad greasy but otherwise appropriately rich, and worked well with the sage. The surprise element of the dish was the poppy seeds sprinkled on top, which added a nice dainty crunch to each bite.

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage brown butter, poppy

Swiss chard and ricotta ravioli, sage, brown
butter, poppy

The last of our appetizer courses was the grilled octopus, which they also split for us. Each portion of tentacle came with romesco sauce, chorizo oil, and arugula dressed with lemon. I took a bite and commented to Josh about how it was probably the most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, and he looked back at me in surprise and said the texture was only ok. We traded bites and indeed, his octopus was much chewier, with a sort of bounciness to it, while I could have cut my portion with just the side of my fork. Coincidentally, this has happened to us before, where we each had two completely different tentacle textures from the same serving. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular preparation, especially the smokiness from the grill and from the chorizo oil. The arugula salad lightened up the dish and prevented it from feeling too heavy.

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Grilled octopus, romesco, baby arugula, lemon

For our entree course, the kitchen did that thing again where they split one of our dishes (the duck breast) and served the other one (the pork chop) whole at the same time, where it also sat in the middle of the table until we were ready for it. Nevertheless, the duck was simply fabulous – medium rare, beautifully pink, rendered skin, and perfectly seasoned. There were whole green peppercorns in the jus drizzled on top, which had gave each bite a little peppery pop and a slight floral hint. I wasn’t a big fan of the glazed turnips on the side (I found them to be slightly too bitter and acidic, although Josh didn’t mind them), but I enjoyed the pureed parsnips and chewy farro underneath. The duck was the real star of the plate though, and it was our favorite dish of the night.

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Long Island duck breast, parsnip puree, farro, glazed Tokyo turnips, green peppercorn-armagnac jus

Josh finished his duck first and dug into the pork chop, still having to reach awkwardly across his duck plate. The pork chop was massive, probably the thickest pork chop we’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, and was cooked through to medium as the chef recommended. It was served on top of a bed of black bean tinga, which is a Mexican style sauce made with chipotles. I thought the beans were just slightly too al dente for my taste, but Josh disagreed and liked that they had texture to them. There was a spiced avocado mash on top of the pork, but I didn’t taste any of the orange ginger glaze that was mentioned on the menu. I thought the pork was seasoned well and the dish had a lot of flavor to it, but it didn’t really wow us. We felt like it was something we can make at home, and Josh’s mom has a similar dish in her repertoire that involves simmering pork chops and black beans in a combination of salsa and tomato sauce. Obviously this was a much more refined dish than the one she makes, and the quality of the pork was vastly superior, but the flavors were almost identical.

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

Berkshire pork chop, black bean tinga, orange ginger glaze, spiced avocado

I was stuffed to the gills by this point and didn’t even finish my half of the gigantic pork chop, so we were prepared to pass on dessert. Plus we heard from Josh’s mom that J was getting a little fussy and was probably going to be ready for bed soon, and we wanted to see her before she went down for the night since we had left for work before she had gotten up for the day. The waiter surprised us by bringing a vanilla panna cotta with our check, in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly nice gesture, and helped to cap off a lovely evening. The panna cotta was smooth and creamy, and we could see real vanilla bean seeds on top. It was served with raspberry coulis that was just slightly tart, which helped cut through the richness of the cream.

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Vanilla panna cotta, raspberry coulis

Overall, we really enjoyed our anniversary meal at Apiary. The meal hit some really high highs (the duck, the raviolis), and didn’t really have any misses. While the quail and the pork chop weren’t our favorites of the evening, they still had great flavor and would probably appeal to a lot of other people. I loved the hamachi and the octopus courses, but the kitchen showed a bit of inconsistency in those dishes as Josh’s octopus was far from the tender specimen I received, and his crudo had too much acid on the plate. As a side note, Josh later confessed that he’s actually not a big fan of octopus in general, because he feels it has no flavor, while I vehemently disagreed. See, even after 16 years together, there are still surprises in our relationship! But in general, we had a great dinner, and service was fabulous. Our waiter was knowledgeable, enthusiastic about the food, and came by to check on us often. With BYO Mondays, Apiary is a great place to go out for a nice, upscale meal without blowing your budget. They also offer a three course prix fixe menu on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for $38, with items from the regular menu. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Apiary
60 Third Ave.
New York, NY

The NoMad

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by virginia

Josh and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and to honor the occasion, we had a rare night out in the city by ourselves. With Josh’s parents watching J for us, we were finally able to have a nice meal without worrying about diaper bags, teethers, toys, baby food, or imminent meltdowns. We didn’t have much debate on where to eat for our anniversary dinner. Josh and I are both big fans of Eleven Madison Park, where we celebrated our second anniversary, and so making a reservation at The NoMad, Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara’s newish restaurant (they’re the team behind EMP), was a no-brainer.

When Josh called the restaurant earlier in the week to confirm our reservation, he let them know that we were celebrating our anniversary, and requested a “romantic” table. While they said there’s really no table more romantic than others, they did seat us at a nice table in the center of the Parlour room, next to a pillar so that we had a little privacy, with not many other tables so close by. We were also wished a happy anniversary by several people before we were even seated, which I thought was very nice, and they poured us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine to toast with.

Bread was served first, and it was pretty fantastic. It was a whole loaf of flatbread, similar to foccacia but slightly crustier, that was topped with rosemary and garlic and filled with chickpeas. The bread was served warm, and the aroma coming off of it was heavenly. It was light, not dense, and had just the perfect amount of salt on the outside. I’ve read that the toppings change depending on the season, but I really enjoyed the combination we received. I think we showed a lot of restraint by pacing ourselves and not polishing the bread off immediately, and we refrained from asking for a second loaf when it was finished (although I was really tempted to!).

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

The menu is split into three sections – snacks, appetizers, and entrees. As The NoMad is known for its cocktails, I can see ordering a few of the snacks if you are just stopping by for a few drinks and a little nosh. While some of the snack items did seem tempting, like the sweetbreads croustillant and the beef tartare, too many things on the appetizer/entree menu were calling out to us instead. We decided to put together a mini tasting menu of our own, selecting four appetizers and two entrees to share. We asked the waiter to bring the dishes two at a time, in whatever order the kitchen deemed appropriate. Josh also asked the sommelier to put together a wine pairing for each of the dishes.

For our first course, they brought us the spring garlic veloute and the fluke. The fluke was sliced thin and served raw, though it was marinated with acid so it had a ceviche-like quality. The fish was still fresh, it just had a nice pop of brightness to it that permeated the flesh. It was served with a sorrel puree, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms. The sorrel and the baby lettuce on the plate added a refreshing aspect to the dish, and the mushrooms a bit of earthiness. The amaranth provided a nice textural crunch.

Fluke with ...

Fluke marinated with sorrel, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms

The spring garlic veloute was not what I expected. First, it was cold. That was fine, it was just surprising at first taste when you’re expecting something to be hot. Second, it was sour, in a vinegary sort of way. Not unpleasantly so, but it also didn’t taste much like garlic to me. We had some experience with spring garlic when we were part of a CSA, and I found it to be intensely garlicky in flavor, but not pungent. This veloute was sort of the opposite, in that it was pungent, but not garlicky. I didn’t love the veloute by itself, but when eaten with the accompanying fresh fava beans, ricotta, ham (which I think was prosciutto), and toasted crouton, it was more balanced; the other ingredients helped to mellow out the tanginess. It was also good when sopped up with the above mentioned flatbread. I just wonder if the acidity of veloute was intentional.

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta, and ham

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta,
and ham

For our second course, we had the tagliatelle and the egg. I think it’s probably hard to convince people to pay $17 (not including tax and tip) for an egg, but I cannot emphasize enough that if you go to The NoMad, you must order this dish. It’s a perfectly poached egg with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa. Breaking the egg released the runny yolk that was rich and creamy, and mixed with the brown butter and quinoa, it was like the best breakfast cereal combination I could ever imagine. The toasted quinoa was nutty and crunchy, and the brown butter added a wonderful savoriness to the dish. I could eat bowl after bowl of this. The asparagus added a taste of spring to the dish and lightened it up a little, cutting through the richness of the yolk and butter just a bit. It was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the night.

egg

Egg poached with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa

The tagliatelle was served with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper. There was lots of crab meat on top that was sweet and fresh. The lemon flavor was kind of subtle – there was a brightness to the dish but I kind of wish there was a bit more punch. The pasta also needed more of a sauce to bind it together, as it was a bit dry texturally. I liked the black pepper though, which added a pop to the dish.

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and
black pepper

For our main course, we shared the suckling pig and the duck. We discussed the famous roast chicken for two before our meal, ultimately deciding against ordering it for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. The reviews have been very mixed, although the consensus has been that it’s not as good as EMP’s famed lavender duck, which we’ve tried and didn’t blow us away. I didn’t want to mar our dinner by regretting spending $79 on roast chicken, even if it did come with foie gras and black truffle, two ingredients I constantly crave.

We enjoyed The NoMad’s duck, which was roasted and served with beets, pistachio, and coriander. The duck was pink, tender, and well seasoned. The beets were pickled and extremely tangy; I might have preferred them to be in their natural state, as I love the earthy sweetness of beets, but I appreciated the acidity they brought to the dish. The pistachios added a nice crunch.

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Duck roasted with beets, pistachio, and coriander

The suckling pig confit was a wonderful mix of textures and tastes. The meat itself was incredibly tender, practically falling apart with a gentle twist of the fork, while the skin was crackly and crispy. The pork flavor was intense, and it was covered with mustard seeds that add little bursts of tanginess. The sweet dried plums, onions, and fresh wild greens complemented the meat very well.

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Suckling pig confit with dried plums, onions, and wild greens

We were pretty full by this point so we decided to share dessert. We had to try the famous milk and honey dessert, which is milk ice cream drizzled with honey and served on top of shortbread, brittle, and dehydrated milk flakes. The ice cream was smooth and light, not overly creamy or rich, and not too sweet. The honey had a caramelized flavor to it, as did the honey the brittle. The shortbread reminded me of graham cracker crumbles, and the milk flakes had the texture of astronaut ice cream, sticking to our tongues and melting in our mouths in an interesting manner. It was refreshing and delicious, a composed yet whimsical dessert, and a great way to finish our meal.

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Milk and honey – shortbread, brittle, and ice cream

Overall, we were incredibly happy with our anniversary meal at The NoMad. We thought the food was pretty fantastic, although there were some individual components of dishes that we didn’t necessarily love. Our favorite dishes of the night were the fluke, the egg, and the suckling pig. Service was mostly wonderful, although there were some minor missteps, like forgetting to bring us a spoon with the veloute and serving our ice cream dessert immediately after I left the table to use the restroom. Fortunately the ice cream held up well. In general, we were pretty pleased with the attentiveness of the staff, and the sommelier was great. Josh gave him a budget to work with for our pairings, and he came in under, which we appreciated. Dinner ended up costing $360 after tax and tip. A splurge for sure, but definitely worth it for the quality and creativeness of the food. It’s also possible to spend far less in the restaurant, as we had three courses each plus a dessert, with wine pairings for three courses. Appetizers are about $15-$20 each, and entrees about $25-$35. If we had gone with two courses, dessert, and a reasonably priced bottle of wine, our bill would have been much less. The NoMad is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in a while, and I would happily go back again.

The NoMad
1170 Broadway at 28th St.
New York, NY

Union Square Cafe

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 by virginia

The Union Square Cafe consistently ranks as one of the most popular restaurants in NYC, according to the Zagat Guide. For years, Josh and I have been saying that we wanted to try it but could never get a reservation for when we wanted to go because we didn’t make the reservation early enough. For our 13th anniversary, Josh surprised me with a coveted USC reservation. Both of us were super excited about the meal because we had read really positive things about the restaurant, and being that it’s part of Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire, we expected great service as well.

There were lots of things on the menu that we wanted to try, so picking our dishes was quite a difficult decision. We debated for a while before finally settling on two appetizers, a shared pasta mid course, and two entrees. After a celebratory cheers with a lovely red wine that Josh picked out, we attacked the bread basket with gusto. There were two mini baguettes that were pretty tasty, with a crackly crust and airy insides. There were also two slices of wheat bread that I wasn’t crazy about because they were kind of cottony and dry in texture. Lastly, there were pieces of large, crispy rosemary crackers that needed just a touch of salt but were otherwise delicious. The baguettes were my favorite, though I found the crackers pretty interesting.

Basket of breads

We also received a small bowl of briny olives that were flavored with citrus peel. The flecks of orange and lemon zest were very nice touches and gave each olive some unexpected zip and sweetness. It’s a neat idea that I think we can replicate at home.

Olives with citrus zest

For our first course, Josh and I split the spanish mackerel crudo and the shrimp and sunchoke bisque. The crudo was beautifully cut and presented, featuring artichoke puree, olive tapenade, and chili oil. Mackerel is usually a pretty fishy fish but this one was surprisingly light, though perhaps a bit low in flavor (I actually enjoy the oily fishiness one usually associates with mackerel). Fortunately the accompaniments were delicate enough not to overpower the crudo, even though one would also expect bold flavors from olive tapenade and chili oil. When everything was eaten together, it all worked well and it was very refreshing. I did think the portion was a bit small though, with just four little pieces of fish.

Spanish mackerel crudo

The shrimp and sunchoke bisque was rich and creamy, as one would expect. There was a deep shrimp flavor and a slight toasty-ness/smokiness that was a bit unexpected. It was a well-crafted soup, though not particularly exciting.

Shrimp and sunchoke bisque

For our pasta mid course, we split an appetizer order of winter greens ravioli with preserved lemon, garlic breadcrumbs, and pecorino romano cheese. The appetizer portion came with four plump raviolis that were just bursting with flavor. The winter greens tasted fresh, the lemon added a brightness, and the breadcrumbs were little crunchy garlicky bits. The dish was beautifully composed, perfectly seasoned, and everything was harmonious.

Winter greens ravioli

For our entrees, we split the grilled smoked shell steak and the pan seared venison loin chop. I had never eaten smoked steak before, and even though it looked like a normal, perfectly cooked steak, the flavor was like nothing I had ever tasted. It was extremely smoky in flavor, almost tasting a bit like ham. It was really unusual, but still tender and delicious. The steak was served with roasted cauliflower and bone marrow mashed potatoes that were just out of this world. The bone marrow flavor was really apparent, adding a lovely richness to potatoes. Even though I couldn’t finish my share of the steak because it was such a big portion, I couldn’t stop eating the mashed potatoes.

Grilled smoked shell steak with roasted cauliflower and bone marrow mashed potatoes

The venison was also beautifully cooked, a perfect medium rare on the inside. It was just slightly gamey (I like gamey), and paired wonderfully with the accompanying huckleberry gastrique that added just a bit of sweetness. The venison was served on a bed of a rich and creamy risotto and topped with a light shaved brussels sprout and apple salad. It was also a hearty, rich entree, generously portioned, and we had a hard time finishing this dish as well, though we both enjoyed it immensely.

Pan seared venison

Our eyes turned out to be bigger than stomachs, and we were both too full for dessert. Our waitress was disappointed when we turned it down, and ended up bringing us a box of cookies to take home with us in honor of our anniversary. It was an incredibly sweet and unexpected gesture (apparently she had overheard our toast at the beginning of the meal), and we enjoyed the cookies the next day.

Box of cookies

There were many different types of cookies, including a chocolate biscotti, a pistachio biscotti, a chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate chocolate chunk cookie, a peanut butter sandwich cookie, maple pecan shortbread, a macaroon, a blondie, and a brownie. Of course I had to taste each one, and all were delicious. The pistachio biscotti and the peanut butter sandwich cookie were my favorites.

Assortment of cookies

Overall Josh and I were extremely pleased with our meal at the Union Square Cafe. The food was delicious, and everything was meticulously prepared. We both loved the pasta course, as well as our entrees. While the appetizer portions were a bit small, the entrees were huge, and we were stuffed when we left. There were still lots of things on the menu that we wanted to try so I’m sure we will be back. Our dinner wasn’t cheap but prices were definitely reasonable enough that maybe we won’t have to wait for a special occasion to go next time. Service was wonderful, exactly what you would expect from a Danny Meyer restaurant. Our waitress was helpful and attentive, answering all of our questions and checking up on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal. It was a great experience and I would definitely recommend checking it out – it’s worth it.

Union Square Cafe
21 East 16th St. between 5th Ave. and Union Square West
New York, NY