Au Revoir Union Square Cafe

As Gourmay readers are aware, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe or “USC” has been one of our favorite restaurants in New York City (see links to other Gourmay articles below).  The food is always very good – but not great – however, USC is a wonderful oasis of tranquility and friendliness that is so difficult to find in bustling New York.   After 30 glorious years, USC will be closing its doors on December 12th.   USC is scheduled to reopen again in May, 2016 nearby on 19th street and Park Avenue.  Personally, I don’t think it will be the same.

We were fortunate to book a table on Monday (Dec 7) for its final 12 Days of Christmas pre-fixe menu.   What a wonderful experience filled with so many lovely memories.  In fact, Sheila and I used the occasion to walk down 5th Avenue (from 59th street) to Union Square to see the Christmas decorations on this particularly balmy December day.  Simply glorious as this sunset image of the Flatiron Building below suggests:

Flatiron Building in NYC

Flatiron Building in NYC

While the windows at Bergdorf, the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center and the boozy hot chocolate at Bryant Park were spectacular as always, we couldn’t wait to get to USC to say goodbye.

Closing Menu at USC

Sheila opted for the “White Truffle Crispy Egg” followed by a breast of squab served on farro (not shown on this particular menu). I had the “winter greens raviolini” but was sorely tempted by the scallops and trumpet mushroom tagliarini which also looked wonderful.  I followed with a perfectly cooked pork chop served with crispy polenta (“Rack of Pork Market”).    The Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino was an exceptional bargain.

Our appetizers were wonderful, but the desserts (not shown here) were rather pedestrian.   I thought the pork was excellent, but probably should have opted for the pesce misto.    Sheila’s squab was very good, but filling.

Needless to say, we will have to give the “new” USC a go next year, but it is terribly sad to see this culinary landmark of  good taste close its doors.  You will be missed.

More Gourmay features on Danny Meyer NYC experiences:

A Betty Crocker Thanksgiving

As readers to GourMay are aware, our Texas relatives will be joining us for Thanksgiving and for that we are most grateful.  I had hoped to welcome them with this ice-breaker joke:  “A family reunion is an effective form of birth control,” but my timing was off by about 10 years.   I suppose I could chime in and say “You don’t choose your relatives,” but I actually like mine and so does Pitbull Nora.   

Betty Crocker

While I am OK with nostalgia, I do draw the line at Betty Crocker when it comes to food.   Some critics trace the decline in American morality, drug addiction, childhood obesity and propensity for consuming vast quantities of colorful but largely unappetizing processed foods to Betty Crocker.  I find this criticism of Betty a bit harsh, but memories of her gelatin tomato aspic still turns my stomach.

In this delightful video, the New York Times commissioned artists Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari to interpret the 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library. They were faithful to the period, but not particularly kind to the “good” Betty.

I bring this up, because – sadly – Betty Crocker recipes are now beginning to appear as family favorites for Thanksgiving.  I thought I had seen everything until “Love My Family” Leslie insisted on Betty’s “Mystery Pink Salad.”  Mind you, I could easily see this hideous dish served at a Breast Cancer Awareness lunch, but hardly see its place at the Thanksgiving table.

Fellow Gourmand, Lord Cheseline of Maiden Lot Farm has just returned from a month of eating his way through Europe.  Fortunately, the folks in Spain and France had never heard of Betty Crocker.  He sent me this delightful collage of the tasting menu at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain.    According to the Financial Times, this is the number 1 ranked restaurant in the world.  I can see why.

Celler Can Roca

Needless to say, this is what I had in mind for Thanksgiving, but as the pious Pilgrims would say, “you must avoid giving the natives anything out of their culinary comfort zone.”

Three Days in Milano

My offspring have let it be known that they expect regular Blog posts while Sheila and I are on vacation in Italy.  Frankly, I can’t stand to write on an iPad and WiFi connections in Milan and Venice have not been great.  If motivated, I will write when I can in an effort to keep you up to date with our culinary tour of Italy.

We arrived safely at Malpensa airport some 40 minutes early on Air Emirates.  Nice flight, adequate food and the cabin staff were both young and quite courteous as opposed to the staff on US carriers.  We took the Express train to Cadorna station in central Milan.  Hotel Ritter was adequate, but a great location to walk to downtown Milan (Duomo), restaurants and subway connections to Expo 2015.

Now Milano has a reputation of being the most congested city in Europe, but I didn’t find it so.  People walk, cycle (includes motorcycles) and use public transportation, but few seem inclined to drive – how civilized!

After checking into the hotel and changing into something a bit more comfortable, we took the subway to the newly restored Duomo.  What a remarkable Cathedral!  While I probably could have used a touch of divine guidance, I settled instead for a Campari spritz at Bifi Bar in the Galleria.  Nets have been placed at all of the entrances to the Galleria to keep marauding pigeons in check.

Having failed to get a ticket to see Da Vinci’s recently restored Last Supper, we settled instead for an even more impressive exhibit of Leonardo’s engineering and artistic brilliance in a nearby gallery.  Working from Da Vinci’s manuscripts (codex), designers had recreated models of his flying machines, cannons, bridges, musical instruments, city plans and the occasional piece of art: the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper where he was simply experimenting with paints.  What genius!

Dinner was at Giaccomo Argentario (Anna and Claudio’s wise recommendation), which overlooks the Duomo.  The food and views were magnificent.  Sheila and I split the traditional and wonderful risotto Milanese, followed by the best grilled calamari I have ever eaten and puntarele (a bitter green escarole).

Expo 2015 Milano

The following day we were off to Expo 2015.  While still not totally completed, this World Fair celebrating the sustainability of food is a gigantic undertaking that showcases the artistry and rich culinary diversity of the world’s nations.  You walk under a great open-air canopy and can visit one or more of the many wonderful national exhibits.  The Brazil exhibit featured a rope-walk over a simulated rain forest; the UK showcased a wild flowering garden and eccentric “humming” piece of modern architecture; and the U.S. exhibit featured hanging gardens (see picture above).  Although very interesting, the Expo was simply too large and overwhelming to fully embrace.  Like most Italian visitors, we eventually settled for San Daniele prosciutto and mozzarella di buffala at Eataly.

The food highlight of the visit to Milano was dinner at Prime near Piazza Garbaldi.  Sheila had a remarkable dish of marinated sliced salmon served over mozzarella with a thin wedge of filo and honey – an unusual but remarkable combination.

Just south of our hotel is the lovely area of Brera – narrow streets and interesting boutiques.  The University of Milano has taken over a very large Jesuit Church.  The enclosed botanical gardens are used to study scents and we were most fortunate to have a walk-through as it is normally closed to the public.

It is now Sunday and we are off to Venice.