Monday, October 19, 2009

A Union League of its Own

10 October 2009

As you remember we posted a competition last week where a date with Hans and Mendez was the prize. We are proud to announce Dream Jeanie from Boise, Idaho, is the winner! She wrote the best five paragraph essay as to why she, Dream Jeanie, deserved to win what will probably be the best date of her life!


12 October 2009

We arranged to fly her in. She was to meet us promptly in front of The Union League Cafe at six that evening. We waited for five minutes, but she never showed. We went inside. Do we strike you as the kind of guys who would wait around for a dame?

Imagine a restaurant of immense beauty complete with chandelier, roaring fireplace and silverware that dances and breaks into song. The waitstaff is fluent with every grape that has been pressed this year and the chef never sneezes: The Union League Cafe is that close to perfection.

When Hans and Mendez walked in they were greeted with the usual excitement that New Haven blog royalty are often greeted with, "Why, Mister Jagger...and my, Keith Richards! You look younger in person, sacre bleu! To our best table." Confused and slightly flattered we interrupted, "We're Hans and Mendez, you know, of New Haven Eats It fame."

Whenever a host asks if you are a god, you say yes: Otherwise you sit next to a column facing the Daft Punk of Matire D's. This is because the two men rhythmically share one computer. We feel uncomfortable in this overly refined environment. No one else in the restaurant shares our sense of humor, or understands the pressures of cultural relevance, but we came for the food, not to pass out resumes. We wore "Press Pass" tags like crucifixes in a Transylvania crypt: we let our freak flags fly.

From McDonalds to el Bulli all service staff follow a script when interacting with guests. Our waiter, Richard R., stuck to his script fearfully. If you thought the British Navy was all rum, sodomy and the lash; you never worked at The Union League Cafe. Richard R. is to foie grois as Dr. Henry Lee is to cadavers. In layman's terms he is French. We originally thought to bring walkie talkies and flashlights as means to steal recipes. We slapped our foreheads. Mixing work with pleasure is bad dating etiquette. We brought only "reduced for quick sale" chocolates and prophylactics.

If Dream Jeanie had arrived to drip off of every word we said, two baskets of bread would have been enough. With only two people, it is too much. The white and wheat bread were excellent though. A little side of butter didn't hurt either.

Mirrors create an optical illusion; there are people around you but you can't see them through the glass. The music was too faint to distinguish between big band, standards or Sinatra. The waitstaff are the knights, their bussers the squires. They dodge and weave tables as if preparing to square against the dastardly Scots. Their quick hands suggest they know nothing else of a world outside The Union League Cafe's doors. At home they practice clearing and setting tables blindfolded. Richard R. seemed hesitant to laugh with us during our encounters. Unsure how to approach unscripted feelings of comradeship and good tidings, he fought to keep his stone face and scuttered back to the kitchen.

If The Union League Cafe is one waiter's lash, it is a food blogger's Bacardi 151. Han's ordered a duck confit with a side of french fries. These are french fries men would sail the ends of the ocean for. Rene-August Calile dreamt of these fries in the final days of his suffering yellow fever. Paired with béarnaise sauce, these fries make a hell of a last meal. The duck confit is good enough to say "Wowzer" over. Bits of juicy apple hide beneath the tender duck ending beautifully. The french version of lasagna filled with vegetables is their second greatest gift to America since the Statue of Liberty (Mendez prefers the French kiss). Like the statue (and the after effect of the kiss), it rises high and commands attention. Unlike the statue (...), it's better to eat than to see.

The dessert was a carpet bombing of chocolate sauce on chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream on the side. If the French knew how to control Algeria like they do desserts...

Because our date never showed we had some money left over in the company account to enjoy a night cap at the neighboring Anchor. Big enough for strangers, small enough for friends, it is where everybody knows your name. On Mondays, a five dollar bill covers two Miller High Lifes and tip. Sam Cooke plays on the last standing offline jukebox in New Haven. The beauty of our town is this: Italian, French, Indian, and all of the cuisine in between, like the bar of our dreams, call New Haven home.

We-we, bon-bons, and all-that-good-stuff,

Hans and Mendez.