Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lincoln's Birthday Lunch

Don't ask me why, but Connecticut state workers have Lincoln's Birthday off in addition to President's Day. I could understand this special tribute to Lincoln if we were Illinois or Kentucky (where the 16th president was born). But Connecticut has no special connection to the Great Emancipator, so I have no idea why we get a vacation day.

My wife and I have taken to using this day as an excuse to have an early Valentine's Day lunch aux deux. The last few years, we have met in downtown New Haven, where she works part time for Yale, and gone to the Union League Cafe.

The Union League serves high end French food in a formal dining room with starched table clothes and equally starched waiters. It's located in an imposing brick building across the street from Yale's neo-Gothic campus on the site of Roger Sherman's home.

Sherman, the first mayor of New Haven, signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He fashioned the "Connecticut Compromise" which created the Senate and the House. That made the small states happy because they got two votes regardless of population and assured the big states of a chamber in which their large populations gave them greater heft. So it's Sherman's fault (depending on your politics) that the approximately 1.2 million people who live in Vermont and Wyoming have four senators while New York city's 8 million have just two that they must share with the rest of their state.

The Union League's food is generally outstanding, although a little fussy. It's also very expensive which is why we only go for lunch. I ordered a sea bass in a Syrah reduction with fennel and celery. I'm generally leery of sea bass: it has so little taste that the sauce is everything. But I knew the sauce would be excellent. The dish did not disappoint. The fish was flaky and sweet. The reduction had an almost balsamic bite that paired beautifully with the bass. The fennel was excellent. It did not taste licoricey at all, but I know from having braised fennel myself that a long slow cooking results in a rich, subtle flavor.

My wife went for the omelet with shrimp and mushrooms, which she pronounced equally excellent.

A wonderful weekday culinary lark. I'm already looking forward to next year's Lincoln's Birthday.

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