In the midst of my incessant apartment search this past week, I managed to fit in quite a few notable dining experiences. Unfortunately, the first was somewhat of a negative one, for I am convinced it was the cause of my current stomach illness. My boyfriend, Mike, and I decided to try Choshi Sushi , a fast service, well-priced tiny sushi joint near a park at Irving Place and 19th. We arrived starving on a Wednesday night at 8pm, and we still had to wait about 15 minutes to be seated. The hostess definitely appeared to be flustered by the mass of lingering people anxiously awaiting a table. When we were finally seated, it took a while to get some attention from the wait-staff, who were flying by at the speed of light.
After getting the waitress’ attention, Mike and I ordered a “healthy” silken tofu salad to start. The salad, only $7, had a generous amount of lettuce, asparagus, cucumber, tomatoes, and cold and delicious tofu with a light and flavorful dressing on the side. Love it when the dressing comes on the side. Our next dish, steamed shrimp shumai, was simply mediocre. The five dumplings arrived in the shape of ping pong balls with what looked like shredded coconut surrounding the dumpling skin. The inside of the shumai had the texture and appearance similar to that of the inside of a McDonald’s chicken nugget. The one I managed to finish packed in a fishy flavor and a mealy texture. I passed the rest on to my boyfriend.
We finished the meal off with two special sushi rolls: the “CF” roll and a special Spicy Choshi roll. The CF roll had lettuce, tomato, onion, and our choice of crab (though the waitress initially and mistakingly brought out one with tuna – took about 10 minutes to replace), and the Spicy Choshi roll had chunks of spicy tuna, scallions, tempura flakes and red pepper. The menu fortunately provides photos of some of the specialty rolls, so the overwhelming list of specialty sushi becomes a little easier to decipher. The sushi overall was tasty, but not necessarily quality…too much rice, fake crab, obviously unfresh tuna, and not enough spice. The salad is what stood out to me most. But, if you are looking for sushi on a budget, and your expectations aren’t set too high, you are in for a laid back and legitimate dining experience. Except for the fact that I am pretty sure it was the cause of this stomach bug I am dealing with…
OVERALL RATING (Including service, ambiance, and food, on a scale of one to ten): 5
Would I go back? Possibly if I were DYING for sushi and was out for cash…but sushi is one of those things that requires good quality and expertise – it shouldn’t be the food you try to skimp on.
The restaurant I would like to discuss next is the one I went to last night and had anticipated trying for a month: The Union Square Cafe. My boyfriend and I decided to go there for our one year anniversary based on the constant amazing reviews that the restaurant receives. Upon entering, we were greeted by the hostess who asked us kindly to wait for our table. After only 5 minutes of lingering, Mike (my boyfriend) and I were seated at a nice booth directly past the bar – side by side. It felt as if we were watching a movie, and it became more and more awkward as we continued to make eye contact with the people across the way. After some discussion we requested to move, and the waiter happily found a table upstairs overlooking the downstairs table. It was a little more remote, but it was much better than our initial placement.
We were left without menus for a few minutes, and it took a while to get the waitress’ attention to put in our cocktail order. My impatient self actually had to ask the manager to take our order because I was afraid we would be neglected for longer. More than a half an our without a cocktail on our anniversary? I don’t think so. Fortunately, however, my cosmopolitan came up almost immediately and I have to say it was the best cosmo I have tasted. Perfectly chilled, sweet but no overwhelmingly so, and strong enough to put me at ease after one sip. Definitely recommend it.
The waitress seemed to be exactly on point after our initial (minor) setback, and she happily helped us decide on our order. To start, Mike and I split the simple bibb and red oak leaf lettuce salad with grated gruyere and dijon vinaigrette. I never knew such a simple salad could be so delicious! The gruyere was finely shredded and the portion was extremely generous – there was a large chunk of cheese for every bite of lettuce. The dressing was mildly tangy and light enough to taste the freshness of the greens. A+ on the salad.
Mike and I decided to split two pastas for our next course because the pastas on the menu all sounded delicious. After much negotiation we agreed on the spring greens ravioli with crispy golden garlic, bread crumbs, lemon and parsley and the pappardelle al Sugo di Coniglio – a homemade pasta with a ragu of braised rabbit, tomato, and parmigiano reggiano. The ravioli dish came with four ravioli in a tiny copper frying pan. Unfortunately, Mike and I were not crazy about this dish, especially because we came in with very high expectations for the pastas. The ravioli were doused in oil, and the ravioli filling was overwhelmingly salty. I was excited for the idea of both a cheese-less and meat-less ravioli filling, but the parsley ended up unfulfilling and a tad grainy. The bread crumbs seemed a bit out of place and slightly overbearing on an already heavy dish. The flavors were bold, but I can’t say that they all came together.
The pappardelle, on the other hand, hit a home run for me. I was surprised that the chef was able to make such a smooth and flavorful ragu out of rabbit. The tomato-based sauce was creamy, cheesy, and flavorful, but not overbearing, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. The dish came together quite well and it was simple and delicious.
Our final course, the gulf prawns with tomatoes was simple, light, and flavorful, but nothing to write home about (unless you’re writing a blog like me). The broth at the bottom was tasty, but resembled nothing more than a watered down tomato soup. The flavors weren’t necessarily BOLD, but subtle, so if you like a dish like that I would recommend this one.
The desserts are what I would come back for, and the restaurant’s service really shined through when Mike and I ordered them. We had been debating between the greenmarket peach and buleberry tarte and the flourless chocolate cake with espresso zabaglione. Mike is allergic to coffee, however, so we asked if the chocolate cake was made with coffee. The waitress said that she would find out and if it didn’t, she would surprise us with one so we wouldn’t have to decide for ourselves. Within minutes, the waitress returned with both desserts in her hand, and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream replacing the coffee ice cream on the chocolate cake plate. She brought us one dessert on the house to ease our decision-making stress, and brought up even more vanilla ice cream to accompany our tart. Both desserts were phenomenal, but I have to say that the chocolate cake won the battle between the two. The tart was more of a fruit “cake” rather than a thin, traditional french tart. Regardless, it was still delicious, and the kind gesture of the waitress made us feel even more full with satisfaction than we had before.
Overall, the Union Square Cafe is a great place to go for friendly, unpretentious service and traditional foods with a modern twist. The waiters are mostly veterans to the place and do their job with pride. The portions are sufficient, and the food, overall, was very satisfying. Our total came to about $150 without tip, and the cost was well worth the uniquely hospitable experience.
OVERALL RATING: 7 out of 10