Chef’s Picks: Carmen Quagliata of Union Square Cafe

Photo Credit: Nathan Rawlinson

Photo Credit: Nathan Rawlinson

Chef Carmen Quagliata is the Executive Chef/Partner at one of New York’s most beloved institutions, Union Square Cafe. There, he imbues seasonal American classics with Italian soul, with fresh ingredients from the Greenmarket just 50 yards away. ” I really look forward to ramps in late April, but there’s a surprise every week and it’s not just vegetables. It could be different kinds of seafood too, like Bay Scallops.”

Depending on the season and Greenmarket finds, some menu items change daily. The one dish that Chef Quagliata can never take off the menu? “My Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato-Basil Passatina. I tried to take it off the menu once and got so much backlash from customers!”

He can totally relate as he’s had a life-long obsession with pasta, “Nothing sends me there quite like the perfect bowl of pasta with clams. It’s the dish that I have the highest expectations for when I have it out and I also love to make it at home.”

Chef Quagliata lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons, but with the number of hours he puts in at the restaurant, considers the Union Square neighborhood his second home.

Read on for Chef Quagliata’s favorite spots for good eating in the Union Square and beyond.

What is your neighborhood standby?
I don’t really have a standby but I can say that recently I enjoy going to either of April Bloomfield’s places close to our ‘hood and on my way home: The Breslin or John Dory Oyster Bar. At John Dory I had a roasted fish collar dish that was awesome.

What is the best spot to grab a casual afternoon drink and bite?
I’m usually cooking at Union Square Cafe or in meetings every afternoon but if I were to loosen up a bit and play hooky I would run across the square to Bar Jamón or Casa Mono. At Casa Mono I love to eat langoustines with a glass of Spanish white wine, like Alberino.

What place in New York do you think is an undiscovered or underrated gem?
That’s a tough one because I’m so busy and rarely have time to get out. I recently had a great experience at Maysville. A bakery that I’ve been excited about just opened across the street from us a couple days ago – it’s called Breads Bakery. I went over to welcome them to the neighborhood and tasted a number of items, all of which were amazing.

What is your date spot?
15 East right around the corner is a place I really want to bring my wife, but my hours plus our 11 and 13 year old boys (who play year-round sports) make it a challenge to set date nights.

What is your favorite special occasion restaurant?
I love having family and friends over to relax and celebrate so I usually cook at home for special occasions. One of my favorite dishes to make is paella – my wife and I went to Spain on our honeymoon years ago and I’ve been in love with Spanish food ever since. If I ever have a big occasion that warrants me not having to clean up I really want to go to Le Bernardin; I’ve never been, shame on me!

What are your top picks for Italian restaurants?
All of the pastas at Osteria Morini are great and I really appreciate their thoughtful approach to the dishes. I’ve always been sentimentally fond of Lupa; though I haven’t been in awhile, I remember this awesome pork shank dish with ginger.

What is your after work watering hole?
The real answer is being able to leave work early and have a few beers at Yankee Stadium but since this is about restaurants it would be Alta to try a few sherries. I hate to sound boring but honestly my “watering hole” days are pretty much over. I love being in the restaurant or with my family; I’m sure in ten years my boys will give me reason to visit a few watering holes with them.

What is your current food obsession?
This month it’s clams – I love them raw, fried, steamed and baked. Whether they’re Geoduck, Littleneck, Manila, Razor, clams from Maine…I’ll cook with and eat them all.

Where is a place you like to go that would surprise your fans and what do you get there?
Twice a year I have to have a Rafiqi’s Gyro. You have to get extra hot sauce and white sauce so it runs down your arm when you eat it. The meat fond that gets scraped up off the griddle is addicting.