Union Square Cafe

Union Square Cafe has won five James Beard Awards and also earned Zagat Survey’s #1 ranking as New York’s Most Popular Restaurant an unprecedented nine times. Pretty amazing. USC, was Danny Meyer’s first venture in the City, he then went on to open Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park and The Modern to name just a few of his highly acclaimed outposts.

It’s not so amazing, however, if you have had the pleasure of dining here. USC is wonderful for lunch (or brunch), it’s great to eat alone at the bar for dinner and yet it is warm and cozy for a romantic meal with someone special.

The feel is comfortable and warm, just what you might expect in a café with gleaming hardwood floors, crisp white walls above hunter green wainscoting and striking artwork for a bit of color. Chalkboard specials, waiters in long aprons and great lighting complete the café look.

The menu is Chef Carmen Quagliata’s American cuisine with an Italian soul, using fresh ingredients from the local Greenmarket. It is basic food, expertly prepared and oh so satisfying. The menu changes, but here are some things not to miss if they are on the menu: iced oysters always delicious, lasagna Bolognese, butternut squash tortelli with cranberries, balsamic and sage brown butter, grilled tuna with a white bean puree, braised rabbit leg with fennel sausage, rosemary cannellini beans, warm garlic potato chips, the USC burger, Farmstead cheeses and the apple tart

Very good wine list (Wine Spectator Award of Excellence) with plenty of reasonably priced wines. About 17 wines by the glass and the same number of half bottle choices. Great selection of craft and imported beers and some pretty neat cocktails. Even some cool sodas like Bartlett pear-rosemary, pomegranate-hibiscus and Granny Smith apple-ginger.

ROMANTIC QUOTIENT: Lively, yet seductive at night.

Wine Spectator Award

After relocating from its original digs of 30 years, this Danny Meyer groundbreaker (his first restaurant) is back with a similar New American menu, which includes old favorites alongside new choices; the Park Avenue South space is bigger but retains a familiar warmth, and gratuity is built into menu prices. ZAGAT