over the years, i’ve become more and more aware that my first impressions are often incorrect. i try to be conscious of this while meeting people, and to withhold judgement until i have some evidence.
and yet, when it came to union, i failed.
i’ve long had the assumption that union was stuffy. expensive. that the dining room wasn’t a comfortable place to be. but i’d had snacks from the late night happy hour menu – not stuffy or expensive, actually a generous deal, particularly with ethan stowell’s industry discount and particularly when it came to the house made garganelli with rabbit bolognese – and wanted to taste more.
perhaps it was that i’d only been in late at night, had only seen the dining room empty. maybe the menu had once been a little pricier. whatever the reasoning, i’m happy to admit i was wrong about it all.
once seated in the red-carpeted l of a room, the huge, sidewalk-facing windows retreat, and you start to understand the space. the bright colors don’t seem over the top once the room is full. there’s an elegance and a maturity to the space that i’m not sure i live up to. and as it turned out, the menu wasn’t expensive. well, sure, it was – food is just expensive. but no more so than any other upscale dining facility in town. pasta dishes are around $15, and meat dishes don’t go much higher. and for the $50 deal, you can select four courses.
it’s been awhile since i’ve seen a seattle menu without an ahi/yellowtail/hamachi/kampachi carpaccio/crudo/tartar upon it. we are a coastal town, however, and more often than not, the fish is fantastic and should be eaten at every opportunity. union offered kampachi, a specific brand of sustainable kona tuna with a clean, buttery flavor. highlighted with just a shaving of fennel, a scatter of micro basil, some basil oil and sea salt, the fish was a perfect way to ease our palettes into the meal.
the ocean trout was soft and fatty, as if no moisture had escaped during cooking. it was served with a strip of crispy skin remaining, something i’d love to see more often. of course, some people don’t like it (some people don’t like anything), but it’s easy to peel off if that’s the case. beneath the fish were small, buttered vegetables, and it was garnished with just a spoonful of bouillabaisse foam. simplicity done perfectly.
tender and mild rabbit meat looks almost like a lobster, wrapped in crispy pancetta. spring onions are gently cooked and sweet, snap peas are cut diagonally and retain some snap. my favorite part of the dish, the part that made it both rich and fun – a halved rabbit kidney alongside. it’s slight organ-y flavor was ideal when combined with a bite of meat.
there’s no good way to say it, but i like it when my food – meat, in particular – resembles what it started out as. i don’t want to not think that my bacon once had trotters, my burger big brown eyes. i’m not worthy of eating these things if i’m not aware of what they actually are.
this is why i was happy to see that the squab at union still had its feet. it must have been a purely visual decision, as there was almost no meat upon them. the rest of the bird, however, was tender and rich, enhanced by a powerful, dense reduction. simple carrots and carrot purée teamed up with sautéed greens to round things out.
understatement: sauce is a common component of dishes. obvious, yes, yet it’s easy to not give it the credit we give to meat or vegetables. i find myself dipping a tine into whatever sauce is on my plate before i pull out my knife to really go for it; just for a preview, just for a hint, just to make things last longer. at union, i was never disappointed.
first of all, there was always sauce. every element had a coating, no matter how light. and often they were light, just butter and herbs or the cooking juices from greens. for me, this indicated a thoughtfulness about the food. nothing was placed on the plate casually, without purpose. no one sauce served a whole dish. a sauce never hid another flavor, merely enhanced.
i owe union an apology for all time i’ve neglected it. i can only promise i’ll be better in the future.