Monday, July 14, 2014


I was thrilled to experience the food of Wayne Nish soon as I heard he was to be the chef at the controversial new restaurant reopening in Union Square.  But perhaps some of the controversy rubbed off on him, and prior to its debut, Nish and the restaurant had already parted ways.  I would like to think that some of his influence survived, however, for much to my surprise, the food at The Pavilion was surprisingly good, despite them not really having a designated chef, so far as I could tell.  Our server imparted the name of the man in the kitchen, but it rang no bells and I can find no mention of him on their website, so I'm assuming it's a capable cook taking Nish's contribution and running with it.

And on an atypically temperate summer night,with the bonus of a lively, cooling breeze, there are few more desirable outdoor dining destinations than this renovated atrium of The Pavilion in Union Square.  Personally, dining outside for me in New York is exponentially more appealing in theory than in practice.  You either have noxious exhaust fumes, raucous passersby, revoltingly thick humidity, unpredictable temperature swings, and less attention from servers that are prudently investing the majority of their efforts inside where the air is cool and dry and clean and the atmosphere just all together more civil.  But we hit the lottery that night given all the possible variables, and the palm-frondy, airy dining room was absolutely as attractive and comfortable as is could ever be, and with an open table for two available, to boot.

Getting a table was sort of a crapshoot, too, because despite attempting to secure a spot via Open Table (malfunctioning) and calling (incessant rings unanswered), we showed up sans reservation.  We were seated quickly enough; the restaurant was maybe 70% full.  Offered a cocktail, one summery mojito for the gentleman, which seemed in good keeping with the environs.  I opted for wine, and our waiter suggested one of their three roses by the glass.  I chose a Gruner instead .... but he brought me the rose anyways.   I sincerely think he just misheard my order, but he queried "I thought we agreed on the rose??", while I didn't agree on anything... I had simply ordered a Gruner.  At any rate, he whisked it away somewhat brusquely, but them probably realizing there was no benefit in my duping him, realized it was an honest miscommunication and returned with the correct beverage and a gracious apology.  But it was an odd little kerfuffle, and was unfortunately not the only misstep throughout the course of the evening.

The menu itself is well-rounded, although a little less produce-centric than I had expected given it's proximity to the city best farmer's market.  The side dishes offered only a spicy kale as a vegetable: the others were all potatoes and macaroni.  We began with wild mushroom crostini, which seemed the easiest of the bunch to share.  Which would have been true had the Italian been correct, as crostini is plural and implies two or more little toasts, i.e. perfectly divisible.  Instead, what arrived was a crostinO: one big piece groaning with mushrooms and mantled with a fat, organic poached egg- it's golden yolk oozing from atop into the pools of olive oil and balsamic.  Not an insurmountable misnomer.  I had a knife.  But since we had specifically chosen it so we could each have a crostino, the error struck me.  Also, the strangely orange truffle butter that accompanied it off to the side in its own dish was not only superfluous (I mean, where are you going to put truffle butter on this already decadently composed app?) but wholly forgotten until they took the plate away, and then I saw that strange little crock, untouched.  Oh, well.  It was delicious and adequately lubricated, with zero need for more anything, let alone truffle or butter.   With this, our waiter said our entrees would be arriving soon.

A little less than one lifetime later, our waiter reappeared with another crostino.  I mean, maybe that's why the menu said crostini: you get one crostino and then a half an hour later, another one?  No: it was simply another fuddled maneuver, either intended for another table or someone didn't check our completed order off the list.  Normally, most places would offer it as a freebie, since technically I think it has to get thrown out once it was set on our table, but instead our confused server asked if we were sure we had already had our appetizer (yes, I'm pretty sure I already ate that), and he retracted like a puppy, tail between legs.  Two lifetimes later, our entrees finally arrived.  Suffice it to say that the attractive surroundings became increasingly imperative as the service verged on buffoonery.  Thankfully the food, too, wasn't a disappointment to have waited around for.  Hanger steak arrived perfectly medium as requested, just barely pink to the middle and grilled to a flavorful crust.  A lip-smackingly saucy bordelaise pooled beneath around a bed of chive-flecked mashed potatoes, which may have not been the summeriest of dishes, but with the lethargy of service, an evening cool had settled and it seemed perfectly befitting of the clime.   Both entrees came bedecked in a bale's worth of sprouty garnish: this
 seemed the most vigorous nod to greenmarket produce.  My snapper was deftly sauteed, and surrounded by a liquidy coulis of haricot, which somewhat masked the quality (or lack thereof... who knows?) the peak-season vegetable, but roasted radishes and sunchokes (also somewhat of a surprise, since the menu stated "artichokes" and while I expected real ones, the Jerusalem variety were not disappointing, and made no mention whatsoever of radishes).  The coulis was bright and vegetal, the tubers earthy, and the snapper fresh and supple.   Really, the food itself leaves little to complain about.

The dessert menu is extensive, under the charge of Terri Dreisbach.  I passed over the coconut mousse with black sesame cake and rhubarb despite my adoration of piefruit, because on the contrary, I'm not such a huge fan of coconut.  The buttermilk and berries are what convinced me of the summer berry verrine, a glass coupe showcasing ripe raspberries and blackberries atop creamy buttermilk panna cotta.  A nutty crumble of of almonds and a cool scoop of pistachio gelato topped off the concoction, with enough diverse elements to keep your attention as the gelato melts into the pudding and the fruit juices assimilate into a creamy, fruity slurry that beckons until the glass is empty.

With the tragic closing of Union Square cafe nearby, I think The Pavilion will help pick up some of its slack.  While on no level is it the same caliber restaurant as was Danny Meyer's and Michael Romano's iconic establishment, this new Pavilion, for what it is.... for WHERE it is, is an altogether pretty enjoyable spot.

20 Union Square West
New York, New York  — 10003
Located at the North End of Union Square Park at 17th Street

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