Hubby and I had a date night and nothing specific planned, so we decided to check out the new Union 50. And then a week or so later, I ended up back there with girlfriends, so I had a chance to sample a fair amount of food. I have always enjoyed Chef Layton Roberts’ cooking (originally at Mesh and then at Meridian) so we were looking to see his spin here.
Union 50 is kind of more of a bar first I think, and then a restaurant. As for the food, I liked it. Hubby and I started with an order of the salmon lox ($10) and a small order of the hand-cut fries ($5). You can get the fries with several different flavors, and you also get to choose two dipping sauces. We had the duck fat and rosemary fries (how can you say no to duck fat?) and the truffle aioli and beer cheese sauces (incidentally we ordered the exact same combo with the girls). The fries were spectacular. Hand cut and super crisp with the extra richness from the duck fat and a touch of woodiness from the rosemary. They looked almost overcooked but were great. I preferred the truffle aioli to the beer cheese, just because the beer cheese was a little thin. I was a little bummed on girls night that the fries were less crisp and a little limp, but everyone else loved them and the sauces. I look forward to trying the poutine as well.
I liked the salmon lox dish more than hubby—it was an interesting blend of a potato salad flavor underneath the salmon (the potatoes were sliced thin and in a mustardy vinaigrette type sauce. The lovely salmon topped that and there was also some cucumber and pickled onions. I really liked the horseradish sauce on the side to mix with it. Hubby isn’t a huge fan of horseradish sauces and I think that’s where this dish lost him because I think it was important to the overall flavor profile.
We then shared a bistro sized (their medium) plate of wood fired roasted mushrooms ($14). There was a heaping helping of mushrooms that had in fact been roasted, although some of the larger ones were a bit too firm and could have used a little more time in the oven (or to have been cut down a bit). The star of this dish was the potato bacon terrine. Wow. That was pure genius layering bacon into what were essentially super delicious au gratin potatoes. They’d do well to serve this as a side dish. There is also a drizzle of Romesco sauce on the plate—which is a roasted pepper sauce. There was also a bit of balsamic. A good dish made even better by that potato terrine.
Finally, with hubby, we had the beef trio ($26) because, duh, tartare. And I am happy to report it is similar to the tartare Chef Roberts did at Meridian—nicely acidic with those wonderful fried chickpeas. The bone marrow was excellent as well—loved it with the warm bread (really good little mini loaves of bread). It was well seasoned and I liked the lightly dressed pea shoots with it. The only disappointment was the chilled ribeye cap—slices of perfectly cooked meat that had little to no seasoning. At least some sauce with it would be good (horseradish maybe?).
With my girlfriends, we shared a cheese board. They did a nice job with it—you get to pick your own cheeses. My only complaint was the “warm Manchego” might have been warmed a little too much and was a little dried out. I like the grainy mustard and cornichons they served along with. Would love to see a sweet set of accompaniments as an option in case you wanted to make it a dessert (fruit, nuts and honey perhaps?) We also tried the mussels with spicy white wine sauce and chorizo (a “bistro” size at $14). There were a lot of fingerling potatoes in the broth as well. The mussels were good and the broth was spicy. The last thing that I tried was a special salmon dish for the evening. Loved the very citrusy flavors and the artichokes with it. The fish also had a nice crisp sear on it—I just wish it had been cooked a little less.
All in all, Union 50 is a very good addition food-wise. But I do feel like the feel of the place is a little confusing. Like maybe the food is more sophisticated than the atmosphere. There are also some service and usability issues in my mind. Our service was spotty and our experiences with the host/hostesses both times were a little off. I’m going to write this off to new restaurant growing pains though, As far as usability though, the entrance is on the side of the building instead of in what seems like the obvious front (is this a Cunningham thing? Bru Burger is the same). The food is almost all also served as more of sharable plates, which is fine, but the tables are a bit small for more than 1-2 of the plates at a time (at least the tables for two and the bar tables). Our food hung off the edge. The round cushy bar stools are comfortable, but if they are all full (as they were on our first visit), there is no way to approach the bar between them. I also appreciate the uniqueness of the menu, although it is interesting how the young staff deals with it. Our server warned us that “lox” is not cooked but didn’t mention anything about the tartare. There is table shuffleboard and skee ball as well as live music later in the evenings further making me wonder exactly what their goal with the space was. It’s pretty though, and the food is good, so we will certainly return.
620 North East Street