A More Perfect Union
The supergroup of restaurants has sky-high ambitions
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But to me, Union isn’t a place you go for a burger. Try something more elegant, like the trout, from Wisconsin’s Star Prairie farm. Two fillets, turned on their sides, form a ring around watercress, smoked ham, and artichoke chips. The ravioli are also prettily presented, plump with kabocha squash, their edges turned up like small, puffy hats. They’re glossed in nutty brown butter and drizzled with apple-balsamic vinegar that cuts through the richness.
Braised pork and veal entrées from the first-floor menu are equally delicious. Crisp-skinned suckling pig is married with apple and sage; the fork-tender veal, a twist on Italy’s classic vitello tonnato, arrives encased in a breaded crust with its creamy tuna sauce aerated to a cloud.
Culinary foam has a bad rap—how many Worst Culinary Trends lists has it made?—but Christiansen smartly uses it so robust flavors hit boldly then instantly fade. They’re excellent in two salads: goat-cheese foam adds a salty note to apples, sunchokes, and hazelnuts, while a tiny Roquefort-foam-filled savory cannoli lends a delightful, pungent crunch to a heap of frisée.
Right out of the gate, Union’s cocktail list was more consistent than its pastries, so I tended toward liquid desserts. The fresh flavors and frisky names on the cocktail list are courtesy of mix-master Johnny Michaels. One dubbed Margie Had Sex in the Pantry is what every White Russian should aspire to, substituting vanilla, maple, and cardamom for the coffee liqueur. The Dutch Treat martini hits your lips with coconut froth, then slides into a bitter, boozy dark chocolate before finishing with the fiery tingle of curry.
Christiansen is adding even more items to Union’s menu, which should only increase the restaurant’s appeal, so long as the inventiveness is subject to a little editing now and then—every great artist needs a collaborative curator, an Ezra Pound to T.S. Eliot.
Aside from the burger, the only other misfire I sampled was the sharable crudité platter: $14 worth of cooked-but-cold potatoes and raw veggies planted in ice. The concept is very Noma: pure, fresh, and certainly relevant to dining in a “greenhouse.” But unpeeled carrots, with their brown splotches and thin, hairy roots, are probably a little “organic” for most diners.
It’s a worthy goal to bridge the gap between farm and table, and it may be time we move beyond baby carrots (the Joan Rivers of vegetables: they’ve had waaay too much work done). Which leaves us here, on the roof, so inside the next big thing that we can’t quite grasp what it means.
Beneath its much-hyped retractable rooftop, Union proves that crowd-pleasing and inspired aren’t contradictory.
Ideal Meal: Beef tartare and a salad—either the endive or frisée—followed by the suckling pig. Tip: Servers may let you order off the main-level menu on the rooftop, if you ask nicely. Hours: Lunch: Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Dinner: Sun.–Wed., 5 p.m.–10 p.m.; Thurs., 5 p.m.–11 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–12 a.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5–13; entrées $14-$29 Address: 731 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-455-6690, unionmpls.com
Rachel Hutton is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.