Union Park Dining Room
The Macomber Hotel
727 Beach Avenue
Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
November 8, 1999
Precious few Garden State restaurants can measure up to the exceedingly high standards set by the Union Park Dining Room. The ambiance is decidedly upscale, the cuisine meticulously prepared and exquisitely presented, and the service attentive and completely professional. This charming BYOB has quickly established itself as Cape May's premier port-of-call for those in search of a sophisticated romantic evening.
Sequestered in the newly renovated Macomber hotel, you will find the formal dining area both elegant and spacious, yet not at all intimidating. Rich cherry and mahogany funishings predominate, and the large, well-spaced tables are lovingly caressed by candlelight and adorned with fresh flowers. Whether casually attired or decked out in sartorial finery, you are certain to feel at home here.
From the moment the airy snowflake rolls arrive at table, you realize that you've hitched your wagon to a gastronomic star. They are prepared by La Patisserie, a French bakery located on the Washington Mall, and are accompanied by an utterly addictive garlic/herb butter. To complement your meal, you will also be treated to an excellent house salad of impeccably fresh assorted greens dressed in a light tomato vinaigrette and, prior to your main course, a refreshing sorbet to cleanse the palate.
Executive Chef Michael Giampa, formerly of Striped Bass and Brasserie Perrier in Philadelphia, will beguile you with his classic French offerings... although, he has been known to mix in a few tasty Oriental and American tidbits upon occasion. The menu changes on a regular basis, so be assured that you will partake of the very best that the individual seasons have to offer.
No matter what time of the year you decide to pay a call, however, an appetizer of "Caramelized Diver Sea Scallops" ($8.00) is the most auspicious way to begin your meal. They are perfectly seared and, during one visit, served up with a coconut cucumber salad and light ginger dressing; on another, they were presented a la nage, swimming in a delicate white-wine-based sweet pea stock, accented with wilted spring greens and crisp taro root. But whichever presentation you may encounter, you will be treated to an absolutely enchanting interplay of tastes and textures.
If you really want to start things off with a bang, the seared French foie gras ($12.00) is a decadent and delightful indulgence. It is attractively plated with a celeriac and pear salad wrapped in a wafer-thin cucumber slice and garnished with an enticing sweet pear chutney. You may also wish to try the fabulous paillard of rare big-eye tuna ($12.00). Pan-seared on one side, and escorted by a lovely fig confit, it is consummated with a tangy splash of aged balsamic vinegar.
Soups ($7.00) should also not be overlooked. They arrive piping hot in a tasteful silver server and are poured into an oversize China bowl at table. The red pepper soup made with chicken stock is irresistibly rich and full-bodied, yet it contains not a hint of heavy cream. Equally appealing is a positively seductive carrot and ginger puree.
If anything, you will find the innovative entrees even more intriguing -- and delicious -- than their forebears. Mr. Giampa's most popular dish is the tenderloin of veal Casimir ($28.00). Twin mignons of veal are pan-seared, set in a pool of bordelaise sauce, teamed up with a creamy potato gratin, and crowned with a lobster tail and horseradish beurre compose. Superb!
Meat eaters may also revel in the grilled beef tenderloin ($27.00). It is served up with pommes grillees, a wild mushroom ragout, and finished with an intensely flavorful veal reduction and black truffle essence. The pan-roasted rack of Wyoming lamb ($28.00) and Asian-rubbed Peking duck ($26.00) are also top-notch. The former is jazzed up with curried potato tartlets and an anise-accented jus d'agneau; the latter reclines on a bed of crisp bok choy and is finished with an intoxicating tamarind broth.
Seafood lovers will likewise be pleased with the possibilities here. A special sauteed black bass ($29.00), for instance, is simply too good to pass up. A pair of diminutive filets are layered atop a bed of braised cabbage and embellished with golden chanterelle mushrooms in a white wine mushroom broth. Another delectable special that puts in a guest appearance from time to time is the pan-seared twin filets of Maine salmon ($25.00). They are presented on a bed of sticky rice and adorned with gingered bok choy and an exotic coconut curry broth. And, if you're a trout fan, be sure to set your sights on the pan-roasted rainbow embellished with smoked portobello mushrooms, pommes Parisenne, and a jus a la moutarde ($26.00).
You will always find at least one vegetarian specialty on the printed menu. And, when it is available, Caskia's Asian Napoleon ($23.00) is a truly exciting alternative to meat, fish or fowl. Layers of wilted greens and a host of mixed veggies are arranged between crisp wontons and yummy mashed potatoes, and are given an added kick with the infusion of a downright delectable soy tomato broth.
Desserts ($7.00), courtesy of Pastry Chef Diana Czworkowski, continue the kitchen's exemplary work. Choose from such dynamite denouements as Valrhona chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and hazelnut praline, Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee, or a dense flourless chocolate cake layered with mint creme fraiche ice cream and warm citrus sald. But if you really want to experience Ms. Czworkowski's considerable culinary talents, opt for her signature dessert: "Cezanne's Apple Cloud." Slices of Granny Smith apples are gently sauteed with brown sugar, port wine and raisins, then layered with delicate phyllo squares and garnished with an incredibly rich caramel sauce and homemade ice cream. This is one sweet ending that you will not soon forget.
As noted above, this establihsment does not have a liquor license; but you should feel free to bring along your own wine -- a superior vintage at that -- and you will be pleased to learn that it will be properly handled. On one occasion, our 1989 Bordeaux was carefully decanted, and then both foil and cork were presented for inspection on a tiny silver tray.
Cape May is an especially desirable destination in the quiet off season or during the warmth of the holidays. Should you be planning a sojourn to this lovely Victorian hamlet, be sure to place the Union Park Dining Room at the very top of your dining agenda. You will not be disappointed.
Cuisine: French with Oriental and American Accents
Hours: Open 5:00 p.m. - Closing daily mid-May to end of October; Off Season: Open on weekends, but be sure to call for exact hours; Closed from January 2nd - mid-March
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Attire: Sharp Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant
Reservations: Essential, especially during the summer months
Parking: Adequate street parking
Handicapped Accessible: No