“With spring on the horizon and a bit of romance in the still-nippy air, a tête-à-tête at a charming French restaurant can be a perfect bridge between winter and the warm-weather pleasures of dining en plein air.
Open since 1993, New Haven’s Union League Café delivers romance in an elegant, Beaux-Arts package. The large dining room has high ceilings and arched windows — some with vintage stained glass — and there was still a fire in the marble-edged fireplace when I lunched there in late February. Tables, covered with butcher paper in traditional brasserie fashion, are comfortably spaced for privacy, and banquettes invite discreet cuddling. The service is appropriately reserved but not stiff, and the room is lively but contained.
The cuisine is classic French with a contemporary sensibility. The chef, Jean Pierre Vuillermet, has worked in some of the most famous kitchens in France; his general manager and sommelier, Jean Michel Gammariello, is a genius with wine and food pairings.
The offerings change seasonally — I enjoyed a beautifully cooked special of monkfish osso buco in February — but fortunately, some of Mr. Vuillermet’s best dishes never leave the menu. Foie gras always appears in some form: for example, served with toasted brioche and a lamb’s lettuce salad. Duck confit is gracefully re-envisioned, shredded and molded atop a potato galette. The roast chicken, garnished with leeks and black truffle, is moist and crisp-skinned.
My choice for dessert is a tour of cheeses with Mr. Gammariello, paired with wines of his choosing. But the vanilla crème brûlée or pear-almond tart will satisfy those with a sweet tooth.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, “Romantic Rendezvous for Spring — A Review of Three French Restaurants in Connecticut,” by Stephanie Lyness, March 16, 2012. (top) Image courtesy of the New York Times, “The exterior of Union League Café in New Haven,” by Christopher Capozziello, 2012