European Union, 235 E 4th St, 212-254-2900 Price range:$25-$35Rating: 3 L's
I don’t know what Alphabet City pan-European nouveau gastropub European Union did to deserve the bad karma that’s plagued it since the interior was finished in December — that is, December 2005. Some lows of the past 13 months: Liquor license denied, four head chefs, beer and wine license denied, and a flood. Maybe a live sacrifice was in order.
Whatever they did, the curse appears to have been lifted. With a new head chef — Ahktar Nawab, formerly of Craftbar — a beer and wine license, and a revamped menu, E.U. is finally poised to be a major player in the East Village dining scene. The space won’t surprise anyone who’s been to Public or Stanton Social. All three were designed by AvroKo, the firm that’s been making its name through a faux-rustic sensibility epitomized by bare hanging light bulbs, ancient wood, and exposed brick, interspersed with the odd modern touch. Though unoriginal, it’s comfortable, exactly what an East Village gastropub deserves.
E.U.’s menu intends to span the political body for which it’s named. We started with a tingly Lambrusco (sparkling Italian red) wine ($10) and a grassy Saison DuPont (French farmhouse) ale ($9). They paired nicely with a first course of Duck Rillettes ($5), a fatty paste of duck confit that was too one-note for a whole order. Next up were crisp, succulent Sweetbread Nuggets ($10) with grapefruit, turnips and vanilla, and a Rabbit Terrine ($11) with tomato jam and mustard. Both had a pleasing sweet/acidic balance the rillettes were missing.
For a main course, we had baked Strozzapreti ($17), pasta shaped like rolled towels that translates as “Priest Strangler.” It might just be my new favorite pasta, and not just for the name. The tight, ridged ropes added an exciting texture to heaps of milk-braised Berkshire pork, cavolo nero (Italian cabbage), lemon, and breadcrumbs: macaroni casserole of the first order. The Parsnip and Saffron Puree ($6) side was a carb overload, but it’s hard to complain about the luscious melting sweetness of parsnip with a tinge of saffron shining through.
All this made for a pleasant meal, but something was missing. It wasn’t the food: everything was tasty and true to its heritage. It wasn’t the setting: that was perfect. It wasn’t the service: our waiter was knowledgeable and hilarious. It was this pan-European conceit. Looking again at the menu, every dish is French, Italian, or Spanish. Where are Austria, Hungary, Greece, Ireland, or Sweden? Under previous chefs, these countries were more represented, but look what happened there. Perhaps true pan-European just wasn’t meant to be.