WEEKEND | Restaurant Week: Union League Cafe

The fact that I had to Google what part of the cow “beef cheeks” refers to should tell you I’m not the intended customer for Union League Cafe. But after hanging the old Jansport in the coat check closet, they sat me and my two friends down and gave us the deluxe treatment.

My lunch at Union League was defined by the fancy-pants routine of “fine dining” that you’d expect: oddly shaped knives, forks and spoons, a caraffe of water placed on the table that the waiter always poured for you, the absence of plastic cups.

Moving all that aside (because service and ambiance are going to be the strong suit of a place like Union League), how was the actual food itself?

The Restaurant Week lunch menu included a main course and a dessert. For the main course, there was a choice of butternut squash risotto, seared arctic char “grenoblaise” (pronounced “jenoblahshdhshh”), or slow-braised beef cheeks. Whenever I see red meat not cooked in a dining hall, I jump on it, so I got the beef cheeks, which was accompanied by house-made potato gnocchi, carrots and pearl onions.

The cheeks came in fours. My first two were tender, stringy, roasted to perfection — I could have sliced them with a spoon. The second two cheeks, on the other hand, were fatty and chunky — one of them was like a meat Rolo with a fatty center. Averaging the four chunks together (two good, two bad), it was still a pretty darn good plate of beef cheeks. I particularly enjoyed the gnocchi, which achieved that great doughy quality of the pasta without tasting undercooked.

For dessert, I had snow eggs with light meringue and vanilla creme anglaise. What are snow eggs? Your guess is as good as mine. The waiter described them as meringue that was cooked like a poached egg, but they looked and tasted an awful lot like a marshmallow, which was fine because I like marshmallows. You get two big plops of fluffy snow swimming in vanilla creme anglaise (which is basically melted ice cream) per serving, and though it’s a challenge to finish it all, it’s definitely worth it.

Overall, it was a good, if not really good, meal, but I’m not knocking down Union League’s doors to go back any time soon. In a place where the ambiance is so fancy and the service is so perfect, how could any food ever match it? But then again, I brought a backpack to the place, so perhaps it’s the type of food meant for people who wear business suits.

Comments

  • Yalie

    “My first two were tender, stringy, roasted to perfection”
    – You got it right earlier in the article: braised, not roasted.
    “The second two cheeks, on the other hand, were fatty and chunky”
    – Not sure what you meant by chunky, but some fat is not unusual in this type of dish or cooking. It’s where the meat derives much of its flavor. I guess it’s a personal thing, but for me a little fat in such a dish is a desirable thing.
    “Overall, it was a good, if not really good, meal”
    – For $16, it was an *excellent* meal, imho.