Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rumblings #6: Union

Our final Seattle Restaurant Week stop was Union, a few blocks from Pike Place Market. We wanted to choose an Ethan Stowell restaurant before the end of the week. For me, he's one of the premier chefs in generation's version of Tom Douglas.

Union is, or was, the oldest of his four restaurants, the one that established Stowell's reputation as a Northwest cuisine practitioner that infuses Italian influences into many of the dishes. Little did we know that Stowell would announce that Union would be shuttered in less than a month after our visit. Probably a combination of high downtown rent + difficult parking lead to its closing, or the fact that Stowell restaurants have taken a decidedly neighborhoodie approach.

As for his other restaurants, I had been to Tavolata and gorged myself on gnocchi. I've chowed down on carpaccios and crudos at How To Cook A Wolf. Each experience had been positive, so Union seemed to be a safe and potentially satisfying last stop.

Our party of five was seated on a relatively quiet Thursday, the very last night of Restaurant Week. As we cruised by the kitchen pass, I spotted none other than the man himself, Ethan Stowell cooking on the line. Ethan and his sous were both rockin' their traditional striped headbands. We were highly encouraged by this...that the chef overseeing four restaurants just happened to be manning ours the night we choose to visit. After a round of red wine, we moved on to the first course:

Pea Soup w/ olive tapenade (her)
Pork Terrine w/ salad (him) 

Ann's soup was light and fresh, with distinct Italian flavors. The island of olive tapenade gave the soup a great texture and added a great dimension.

As for my pork terrine...I was a little underwhelmed. It was slightly stringy, like carnitas, but was lukewarm. It definitely had a strong piggy flavor, but I would prefer my terrine to have a distinct layered look and taste.

Seared halibut over spring beans (her)
Gnocchi w/ lamb ragu & mint (him)

Ann had her third piece of halibut in 2 weeks, and while still not up to the level she had at Rover's, Union's halibut was superior to what we saw at Avila. The flaky fish rested on top of a bed of beans, radishes, and other spring herbs and veggies that gave a great fresh texture. As for the halibut, the sear was a little heavy.

My gnocchi was soft and dense but the ragu just hit the wrong note. It was a lamb ragu with mint. Mint is tough. It's best executed in light dishes like a Canlis Salad. In a heavy meat sauce, on top of a heavy pasta, the mint ragu wasn't was distracting. I ended up having terrible indigestion immediately afterwards too. Not fond memories of that course.

Pecan tart w/ coffee ice cream (both)

Highlight of our evening...again. Our desserts, which truthfully is our least favorite course of meals, was generally the strongest offering at the restaurants that we visited. This sugary sweet pecan tart was a southern throwback, and definitely gave us a strong finish to a pretty average meal. The coffee ice cream was deep and sharp, yet mellowed the nutty sugarbomb that was the tart.

Overall, Union stood up to the other restuarants that we visited during the week. But for a variety of reasons, fell short in terms of what I was hoping for. The plating was average, and some of the courses did not have the type of flavor and texture I've come to expect from Stowell's haunts. We look forward to visiting Anchioves & Olives and having one of the five best dishes of 2010, and also Stowell's latest venture: Staple & Fancy Mercantile (which doesn't exactly roll trippingly off the tongue).

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