Many of the Manhattan restaurants who were powerless throughout Hurricane Sandy reopened for service on Saturday. There was little question of where I would dine.
Union Square Cafe was still busy at a quarter past 9, when I entered. All of the barstools were occupied except for one; I scored a seat towards the service-end of the bar. Immediately, I ordered a glass of Cava. Bartender Michael presented me with their menu:
I loved the honesty of this vintage font on letterhead paper. As I was on entree, one of the managers, Sam, greeted me at the bar and thanked me for coming. I introduced myself as the maitre d’ of (the restaurant) and we chatted about those we have in common. “The menu,” I said. “Did you amend this on the back of the house POS computer and print it on letterhead?” I asked. He laughed. That’s exactly what they’d done, he admitted. He thanked me sincerely for coming in.
Start: Kale Salad – Roasted Pears, Delicata Squash, Crumbled Blue Cheese (14). Blue Cheese and pear, a winning combination every time (especially with textured kale and chili flake).
Entree: Mararoni – Tomato Sauce, Chili, Ricotta (14/24). This dish was intended to be a “deconstructed” play on USC’s staple Ricotta Gnocchi (which wasn’t on the menu), Sam said. The sauce has a delicate, almost sweet flavor and, when played on the texture of the gnocchi, tastes savory without being salty or heavy. The dish is consistently pitch-perfect. Last night’s macaroni loops were tangled in the sauce, topped with a chunk of cool ricotta, shredded basil.
Wine: “Dolcetto d’Alba,” Denominazione di Origne Controllata, Vigna Vaglio, Eraldo Viberti, from the Piemonte region of Italy (18)
Dessert: Spiced Ginger Cake – Bosc Pears, Cardomom Cream (9.5) This was so good. USC’s dessert menu was of standard presentation, but limited to four choices. The ring of cake was soft and moist, offset by the sweetness of the slivers of pears.
I was drinking down my first glass of Dolcetto and asked the bartender to wait before he fired my dessert. It was about this time that I noticed the couple sitting at the bar, four vacant seats to my far left. From where had they materialized? With the edge of my fork, I cut into dessert, slowly calculating the chances. Union Square Cafe is USHG’s flagship restaurant. I’d read somewhere that although Danny Meyer (“mega-restauranteur”/ USHG CEO/ my idol) loved to dine at the bar there, he’d stopped because he was too easily recognized.
As the maitre d’ of a celebrity-chef owned restaurant in New York City, I deal regularly with a celebrity cliental. I’ve seated Meg Ryan, Alia Shawkat, Jack White, Chad Smith (who I didn’t confuse for Will Farrell). There’s an ongoing progression of A-list actors and Fortune 500’s who come into the restaurant, and though they never sway me I was, I have to admit, silently excited–thrilled to be seated at the bar of Union Square Cafe alongside Danny Meyer.
I texted Phillip, who I’d worked with at the G in Savannah (I was the events coordinator; he was a maître d’). Phillip is formerly a chef who transitioned his career to FOH while still working in NYC and had worked as maître d’ at USHG’s Blue Smoke. “Danny Meyer is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. Make him one of yours………” Phillip texted.
I was soon engaged in conversation with the couple beside me–one of the men is the GM of USHG’s The Modern. He and his partner were both so sweet. We talked about New York, the storm and restaurants throughout my dessert and second glass of Dolcetto. Dino said he started his career in NYC hospitality as a maître d’; I mentioned that likewise, I’m aspiring to ascent into upper level management. (From his bio on the Modern’s website, it says he began in 2005; it took him five years.) When the Meyers got up to leave, Dino introduced me.
This is such a spectacular moment, to meet the man whose NYC restaurant empire I most admire (by chance, and at his flagship restaurant). He and his wife are genuinely nice people. He’d retrieved their coats and held up a scarf that wasn’t hers. “Don’t just leave it there. You’d better go put that back,” she told him.
“Oh!” He said, returning it to coat check. They were funny and social and natural and sweet. We talked a little bit about the company that I work for (many of the higher ups in my company have worked under Danny Meyer, or with him, at one point in their careers). Excellent to know people and make natural, common conversation. I’ll meet him again, I know. I’m getting into the ranks of NYC’s restaurant scene–I’m just getting started. Many good things will happen here.