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Jul 10, 2009 03:54 PM

Union review

Had the pleasure of checking out Union last week. Although I wasn't wowed, I enjoyed the experience and will return in the near future once the opening week dust has settled.

We made reservations two days in advance for a Thursday 8pm seating without trouble. When we arrived, there were many patrons standing around the horseshoe-shaped bar at the front and every table was occupied. It was relatively loud inside but it was a happy, enjoyable din.

My friend and I initially reserved the chef's bar at the back which gives an excellent view of the kitchen. However the seating was rather awkward since your legs can't go under the bar (it's a sloped bar wall). As such, you're left either spreading your legs or sitting to the side in order to eat. As my friend was wearing a dress, neither was a desirable option.

We instead opted for a nearby table and settled down. The friendly waitress brought us two tasty and complimentary glasses of Perrier-Jouet since they ran out of their regular prosecco (I forget the name). They have a short but decent cocktail menu of properly-mixed drinks. We opted for two Tanqueray and tonics.

Their menu is also rather short but well-constructed with several tasty, if safe, options. I'm attaching their dinner and red wine menu. Sorry for the poor picture quality.

We were presented with a bite-sized yet hearty amuse-bouche of fried pickerel on a piece of Ontario bacon on top of a rosti pillow with a sauce resembling hollandaise. It was quite flavorful without the pickerel being too fishy or the bacon too greasy. It wasn't exactly delicate or exquisite, but enjoyable nonetheless.

We shared elk sliders and the summer salad as starters. The elk sliders were a hit, with the meat being flavorful without being too fatty or greasy. The mini burgers sat on triangular pieces of toasted challah (a bit awkward to eat since the patty only sits at one end) which was spread with what tasted like a homemade aioli and topped with crunchy pickle slices. The plate was scatted with a sweet-ish and light galangal glaze which gave an exotic kick to the dish.

The summer salad (which apparently changes daily) was mixed greens with rosti, fried bacon bits, and an entire baked goat cheese round. This dish was a bit of a miss for a few reasons. The greens got soggy from the heat of the cheese and the bacon/rosti inclusion reminded me too much of the amuse. The goat cheese was surprisingly rather bland and my friend found the rind offputting (though I always like a good, stinky rind). It was a somewhat boring dish which I wouldn't order again, even though it's perhaps the only light and "healthy" item on the menu.

We paired the appetizers with a bottle of pinot noir recommended by Christopher, the sommelier. It was an excellent choice and would be a crowd-pleasing pinot noir. It was a harmonious, balanced French pinot that wasn't overly peppery or fruity like some other pinots (often Californian) tend to be.

For the main we split the Cote de Boeuf which looks positively Flinstonian in presentation. A massive bone jutting out of a plate filled with long slices, thinnish slices of prime rib. We ordered it medium rare but it came out rare, a typical French thing if you ask me. Not sure if it was purposeful or not, but it was still to our liking.

The meat was tender but mottled with chunks of fat (perhaps 60-70% was fat). You could excise the meat with relative ease since the fat wasn't particularly flavorful as it sometimes can be. It was nicely broiled or grilled such that they exterior had a nice darkened crust, a nice counterpoint to the meaty goodness inside. We opted for a side of frites which were decently prepared, if not outstanding. Thin, hotly fried and addictive. The seasonal greens were also fine, though I can't remember anything noteworthy about them.

Like the boozehounds we are, we grabbed another bottle to pair with the main. Our server recommended the Cogno (last on the list and fairly priced at $65) which was a fuller-bodied nebbiolo and barbera concoction that paired wonderfully with the meat. It wasn't overwhelming and allowed the meat to shine.

We were too full and toasted for desserts but I'll have to make a return to give them a try.

The service was lopsided but skilled. While we initially waited a long time to place our order, the food came at a perfect pace and once it started, the servers were extremely attentive and friendly. Given that we arrived during their peak hour, it can be forgiven.

The bill came out to $226 for 2 cocktails, 2 appetizers, 1 main (for two), and two bottles of wine. I'd say the price is very fair for what we got. I must make special mention of their wine list which, while small, is economically priced (no bottle over $65) and chosen with expertise.

I'm definitely going to return to this fun, new addition to the Ossington strip.

Union Restaurant
72 Ossington Street
416.850.0093 (not up yet)

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  1. I realized the attached photo is too small to be legible so I'll quickly type up the dinner menu since I'm sure many are curious (and the website is still not up).

    Soup Du Jour 7
    Summer Salad 8
    Elk Sliders 8
    Seared Rabbit Terrine 8
    Truffle Fonduto 9
    Charcuterie 15

    Sticky Ribs 17
    Cote de boeuf (for two) 50
    Roast Chicken, whole 55, half 27.50, quarter 18
    Sweet Pea Lasagna 16
    Fresh Fish, market price
    Plat du Jour

    All mains served with seasonal greens and a choice of frites, roasted potatoes or crushed new potato w/yogurt, radish, and chives.

    1. The côte de bœuf was 60-70% fat? That's a bit strange.

      1. I also tried Union recently, and while overall I was pleased with the food, the service was atrocious. I appreciate that a new restaurant has kinks to work out, but hiring experienced staff who can properly manage expectations could avoid a lot of drama!

        3 Replies
        1. re: laurelmcg

          my partner and i went for dinner there last night. we had the salad mentioned above, the elk sliders, and we both had the fish (pan seared halibut) with greens, fries and smashed potatoes. vidkid, you'll be pleased to know that the problems with the salad have been fixed - the greens were not wilted, but nice and crisp, the rosti was yummy, and the chevre was broken up. we really enjoyed it. the sliders were good too, altough for me the balance between the meat and bread was not quite right - it was too meaty. my partner disagreed. the fish was delish despite the fact that it was a tad overcooked. but really nice flesh, skin spicy and fragrant from a nice mixture of spices, on top of multi-coloured swiss chard and bokchoy cooked in some kind of chili oil. we loved the smashed potatoes, and the fries were good (not jamie kennedy good but good).

          i agree with the wine list comments - nice selection well priced.

          now onto service. we had reservation at 7:30 when it wasn't yet busy, but in about 20 minutes the place got full. our waiter gave us some time to choose drinks, and so we only put in our food order at around 7:45. big mistake because clearly the kitchen is struggling dealing with the sudden onslaught of all the tables at once. our apps did not arrive till about 8:20ish. we're fairly patient but were annoyed that the waiter kind of ignored us and didn't come over to reassure us taht the food is coming. i also needed another glass of wine and was attended to by the floor manager (who was also waiting, but was keeping an eye on other waiter's table). despite the full house, i don't think a sald should take that long to arrive. that was the only hiccup though. the mains came out as needed and it seems that all the tables started getting their food out in reasonable time after the initial gap.

          we found the manager to be very attentive, the waiter a bit less so (he was very nice but clearly attended to a table of his friends with greater care. since they were sitting right beside us, it was annoying to witness). we enjoyed our meal a lot, and really like the warmth of the space. for a first week, i think they are handling the pressure relatively well (i remember well the wait nightmares at libretto in their first month!).

          btw, the menu was as listed above, with halibut as the fish, and lamb-beef sausage as the plat du jour. soup was cucumber type of some kind (can't remember all the ingredients).

          1. re: Kasia

            Went there last night for dinner and it was one of the best meals we've had in a long time. Started with an appetizer of elk sliders, which as mentioned were great. Also got a scallop sashimi on smoked duck breast on top of toast. It was exceptional. The smoked duck was truly one of the better things I've eaten in a long time.

            Mains were good all around with the sticky ribs coming out on top as everyone's favourite. Desert was flourless chocolate cake with brown sugar ice cream. Subtle and quite good, though I'm not a fan of chocolate.

            The whole meal was awesome, but what got me motivated to write a review was the duck. It was cured in a brine of brown sugar, salt and vinegar. Then smoked with maple syrup. It's really something else and if it's a limited time thing, then I'm going to head back very soon.

            Our party of six was unanimous in our praise.

            1. re: langefisch

              Oh man, that duck sounds like a PERFECT dish to me, just my style. Ill have to check it out, thanks.