I was fortunate enough to be working at the old 16th St Union Square Cafe during the time that Chef Carmen Quagliata debuted his ricotta gnocchi. I remember assuming I knew what they would taste like, and my surprise at first bite. There was nothing tough or leaden about them. These pale pillows of barely-held-together ricotta and mascarpone melt instantly on your tongue. They come sauced with a concentrated, tomato passatina, sweet but bright, velvety, simple. In the decade since I worked at Union Square Cafe, it’s the one dish I order every time I dine.
When I scored a lunch reservation at the new Union Square Cafe, I tried to keep my head clear of expectations. It’s no fun to play the comparison game, especially since I was so excited to see what Chef Quagliata was cooking. But when I saw the ricotta gnocchi, I exclaimed to my dining companion, ‘It’s still here!’ Which is my response to everything about that gorgeous lunch -- the atmosphere, the din, the flowers, the service, and the cloud-light gnocchi -- it’s all better than ever.