Union League Café Serves Up Elegant Fare, by Rebecca Howland

“The prices may have been slashed in half, but the new Union League Café, which replaces New Haven’s former Robert Henry’s restaurant on Chapel street, has lost none of its pomp, splendor and old boy mystique.

Admittedly my dinner companions and I, misled by the word café, might have arrived a little under-dressed. When we were asked, ‘…are you dining?’ by the maitre’d, we realized that not only was almost every table in the restaurant filled, but the clientele was definitely of the suit and tie variety.

But the food, as one of my companions said, is ‘delectable’ and not outrageously priced. The restaurant retains the talents of Robert Henry’s previous chef Jean Rene Vuillermet, who mysteriously manages to create similar dishes at a much lower price.

The meals may be less pricey, but the atmosphere is still upper crust, and students may be more than a little intimidated. The elegantly dressed waiters, when they are not serving their tables, stand as sentries in front of the huge fireplace that dominates the room. Adopting a European custom rarely seen in this country, they offer to bring over bottled Evian water when you are seated. (Be warned, you do have to pay for it.)

“The atmosphere at the Union League Café is as sophisticated as its entrees.” Image courtesy of Yale Library’s Yale Daily News Historical Archive, photo by Cara Horowitz, YDN staff, 1993

The French menu mercifully has translations in English describing every entree, much to the relief of non-Francophiles. The menu, although small, covers all of the bases. The entrees, not one of which is over $20., include fish, chicken, duck, veal, and steak, as well as a vegetarian entree. The smoked salmon is tender and delicious, as is the spit-roasted chicken served with macaroni au gratin.

The wine list would also satisfy almost any customer with its numerous options in price and type. If the wine list is too pricey for budget-conscious students, the restaurant also sells an inexpensive house wine by the half carafe or glass.

The culmination of any meal is indubitably dessert, and the Union League Café tops off its evenings admirably. Here the restaurant gets a little less predictable, especially with the Calvados-soaked apple crepes and the double mousse torte.

Students will find the café a great place to drag their parents on Parents’ Weekend, but the atmosphere may not be the greatest for dates. Not only will the couple be worried about offending the waiters with errors in etiquette, the acoustics make intimate conversation next to impossible. With every table in one large room, leaving just enough space between them for the waiters to weave, the restaurant is definitely loud.

Volume level has not seemed to deter any customers yet, and a non-Italian, reasonably priced, nice restaurant in downtown New Haven seems bound for success. Although the café is still in its honeymoon phase, it is already popular with the pre-theater crowd and reservations were difficult to obtain on a Tuesday night.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Yale Library’s Yale Daily News Historical Archive, After Hours, “Union League Café Serves Up Elegant Fare,” by Rebecca Howland, October 15, 1993. (top) Image courtesy of the Yale Library’s Yale Daily News Historical Archive, After Hours cover, by Andrew Ellis, 1993

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