New York Post

It’s hip at new Union Square Cafe

- Steven Cuozzo

UNION Square Cafe, the city’s favorite three-star restaurant, has pulled off a four-star move. Danny Meyer’s iconic restaurant is so comfy in its larger new skin at Park Avenue South and 19th Street that only those nostalgic for Union Square Park’s dark old days will miss the low ceilings of the 16th Street original, which closed in December 2015.

Fans feared an unrecogniz­able mutation at the new location, but Meyer and designer David Rockwell suavely channeled USC’s intimacy into three levels with 150 seats (25 more than at the old spot), not including bar seats.

Plank floors and green wainscotin­g evoke East 16th Street, but where the old place saw little daylight, the new one’s tall, mullioned windows offer arresting street views.

One more big change: The new USC is “hospitalit­y included,” or no-tipping — which means that starters and pasta from $13 to $29 and mains, mostly in the $30s and $40s, aren’t as expensive as they first look.

After a bumpy start, the waitstaff now describes dishes with pitch-perfect humor and without laying on a cooking lesson.

The old Union Square Cafe won five James Beard Awards and was ranked as the city’s most popular eatery a recordsett­ing nine times by Zagat Survey. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the kitchen was change- and risk-averse in recent years, but the new location has breathed fresh life into executive chef Carmen Quagliata’s food.

Thirteen of the 20 dishes on the menu are new. Standouts include cauliflowe­r sformato, a flanlike affair in which the unassuming vegetable is sexed up by roma-

nesco sauce and black truffles, as well as aggressive­ly spiced chicken that overcomes the “tastes like chicken” cliché. Also not to miss: candele pasta married to sweet, roasted carrots and carrot-juice sauce, and spiked with Fresno chili pepper slivers. Old favorites such as ricotta gnocchi and roasted pork rack remain strong.

Pastry chef Daniel Álvarez’s desserts — like “19th Street banana tart” with honey-vanilla ice cream — keep the fun going.

As more restaurant­s generate buzz with obscure menus, it’s comforting that Union Square Cafe celebrates “comfort” food at a very high level — and does it better than it did before.

Union Square Cafe, 101 E. 19th St.; 212-243-4020, UnionSquar­

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