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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven
Upmarket restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:30am–2:30pm
Mon–Thu 5:30pm–9:30pm
Fri 11:30am–2:30pm
Fri 5:00pm–10:00pm
Sat 5:00pm–10:00pm

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential


Chapel District
1032 Chapel St.
New Haven, CT
(203) 562-4299
Union League Café
This gracious grande dame is still swimming along—especially when it comes to fish

This lovely French restaurant—still one of the power centers of New Haven, after all these years—has a unique talent for being all things to all people. Certainly Union League Café encompasses New Haven’s big-city ambitions: you’re greeted with a real French accent, and your coat is slipped off your back with surreptitious grace. Yet there is also a certain small-town appeal to Union League, a rejection of its snooty Sherman Club past: it’s a place into which anyone can walk in without a reservation, be treated with respect, sit (in winter) by the roaring fireplace, and probably run into a few friends. Where else but New Haven?

The brasserie-ish menu is problematically static, but happily, the gracious atmosphere and attention to correct service are also unchanging. After a long, elaborate dinner and a couple excellent bottles of Bordeaux from the well-thought-out, if hardly inexpensive, wine list—followed, of course, by dessert, digestifs, and such—it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the most civilized place in the city to dine. The kitchen is hardly perfect, but Union League remains one of our favorite restaurants in New Haven.

This is especially so when we seek seafood, whether oysters or tender, pan-roasted skate with nutty brown butter and capers, as good a piece of fish as we’ve had anywhere in Connecticut. Irreproachable, too, are slowly braised veal cheeks with creamed spinach and potato gnocchi, along with the classic duck leg confit, a wonder of tender, duck-fat deliciousness that’s set off against a crisp potato galette. Marbled terrine of flawless duck foie gras, salty duck prosciutto, salsify, black truffle, and a mâche salad tossed with a truffle vinaigrette sounds like an overbearing plating, but it’s beautifully harmonized. Entrecôte is similarly exalted—it’s luscious, ideally cooked, and well seasoned.

Vegetable and garde-manger problems, however, seem systematic. An expertly cooked wild striped bass with a fingerling potato crust has come overwhelmed by a compote of inedibly tough fennel and a Syrah reduction that’s too big for this fish. Worse still, we’ve had a salade Lyonnaise—usually one of our favorite recipes—come with a seemingly undrained poached egg, whose water seeped into the lardons and overcooked chicken livers, sogging the dish.

A new cheese menu now comes alongside the dessert list, which is reliable as ever. Prices are generally high but reasonable, but what’s up with the $5.75 for a cup of Kona coffee? Superpremium coffee is enough of a racket, but if you’re going to serve it, you should at least brew it correctly; here, it tastes like bitter, brown water—the emperor’s new clothes. Surely New Haven’s emperor knows better than this.

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