Rebuilt Brasserie Reopens, by Claudia Van Nes

New Haven’s Union League Café Recovers From Catastrophe

“The Union League Café, a French brasserie in New Haven, has recovered from an unusual catastrophe to befall a restaurant and has reopened with a new kitchen and a refurbished dining room.

The restaurant was the victim last Nov. 1 of a collapse of the roof of the historic Hyperion Theater, which crashed down on the back of the café, situated in the adjacent Roger Sherman building.

The restaurant was rebuilt by owner Jean Pierre Vuillerment, and it recently reopened with much the same menu and atmosphere.

The kitchen, however, is brand new and spiffy, and upstairs there is a new catering facility and conference center.

The Union League, at 1032 Chapel St., started as Robert Henry’s Restaurant, opened 13 years ago by the late Robert Henry McKenzie and his wife, Jo, who had previously owned the Copper Beech Inn in the Ivoryton section of Essex.

Vuillerment, the McKenzies’ son-in-law, was the chef at Robert Henry’s and opened the more casual French Union League at the same spot after the McKenzies’ operation closed in 1993.

The restaurant is open for lunch Mondays through Fridays, 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and for dinner Mondays through Thursdays, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Dinner is served Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30 to 11 p.m. It also is open Sundays from noon to 9 p.m. Telephone: (203) 562-4299.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Hartford Courant, “Rebuilt Brasserie Reopens,” by Claudia Van Nes, Wednesday, March 10, 1999. (top) Image courtesy of Newspapers.com, The Hartford Courant, March 18, 1999

-Image courtesy of the Union League Café photo collection, 2019
-Image courtesy of the Union League Café photo collection, 2019
-Image courtesy of the Union League Café photo collection, 2019
-Image courtesy of the Union League Café photo collection, 2019
-Image courtesy of the Union League Café photo collection, 2019

DINING OUT; Classic French Fare, Stately Surroundings, by Patricia Brooks

“AFTER a short hiatus (the result of damage caused by the demolition of the adjoining Hyperion Theater), the Union League Café in New Haven has reopened. The good news is that the interior is as attractive as ever, polished, sophisticated, comfortable and inviting.

The even better news is that the food in the brasserie look-alike is more memorable than in the past, which is saying a lot. Not only that, but the prices are surprisingly reasonable for the high quality of the food and the entire dining experience.

As we have watched restaurant prices spiral ever upward all over the state — and especially in the southwest corner — it is refreshing to find a restaurant as good as this at reasonable prices.

We began one dinner with a quartet of starters, led by moules marinieres. The steamed Prince Edward Island mussels were exemplary: large and rich with their own flavor as well as an added intensity provided by a white wine-shallots-parsley-saffron steam bath and broth.

Seared yellowfin tuna tartar, a little round cake embellished with capers, tomatoes and grilled marinated red and green peppers, was another appetite arouser. Equally pleasing was a salad of polenta-crusted (i.e. cornmeal) Vermont goat cheese (creamy, with a welcome sharpness) served with a medley of arugula, basil and other fresh greens and marinated red and yellow tomatoes sliced carpaccio-thin.

Excellent duck leg confit had all the components of a tasty light meal, with apples, walnuts, a little potato galette and refreshing mache.

Entrees were just as rewarding. Especially so was the cassoulet with braised lamb shank, falling-off-the-bone tender, accompanied by a zesty grilled lamb sausage. The lamb was surrounded by a long-simmered, well-seasoned ragout of succulent white beans. Delighted to discover shad on the specials menu, we ordered it with alacrity. Shad fillet, roasted and expertly boned, came with shad roe meuniere, fresh asparagus spears and a generous amount of sorrel sauce that worked its pleasingly sour magic with elan.

Seared striped bass Grenobloise was lightly and properly cooked, enhanced by a parsley and olive oil caper vinaigrette and mashed potatoes. We also reveled in perfectly grilled Atlantic salmon, which arrived in a mildly spiced red pepper coulis with asparagus tips. The menu changes seasonally, and, just a week before, we had enjoyed similarly grilled salmon on a creamy sauce with lentils, an attractive match-up.

Lunch is also a pleasant experience at the Café, though the menu is more limited. We enjoyed both a hearty croque monsieur on toasted country bread and grilled sea scallops accompanied by grilled red peppers, pine nuts and fresh basil.

Only one dish disappointed: A dinner entree of roasted duck breast was done in a deliciously creamy green peppercorn sauce, but the duck meat was tough and fatty.

Desserts, often the pinnacle of a French meal, lived up to their promise. Leading the short list was plaisir au chocolat, a sensuously semi-bitter chocolate cake with vanilla mousse, embraced by a warm, rich chocolate sauce. Tarte Tatin (the caramelized apple tart enhanced by Calvados and walnut nougatine cream), creme brulee (with a vanilla kick), and gateau au chocolat (made with French chocolate fudge), all were spirit-lifting.

Two of us enjoyed a three-course dinner each for a total of $65, before tax, tip or drinks. An imposing wine list, mostly French and Californian, begins at $18. The French chef-owner Jean-Pierre Vuillermet and his well-trained staff continue to cosset guests. (Tables by the windows and fireplace should be specified when making reservations.)”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “DINING OUT; Classic French Fare, Stately Surroundings,” by Patricia Brooks, June 6, 1999

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