Union, the newest restaurant in Kaskaid Hospitality’s ever-expanding Empire (which includes Crave, Urban Eatery, and Figlio), celebrated Saturday night with a luxurious invite-only party.
The restaurant appears ready to make a major splash in the dining scene. The all-star staff put together a multi-level event from the basement level Marquee Lounge bar cum nightclub (or is it the other way around, hard to tell), to the full service main level dining room, and the crowning glory: the rooftop restaurant and bar complete with retractable greenhouse style roof.
After a major renovation by Shea Architects (which now offices on the second floor), the building that once housed Shinder’s bookstore on Hennepin Avenue is hardly recognizable—dark neon in the basement bar, both comfortable and trendy on the main floor, and stunning on the roof.
Rising star Chef Jim Christiansen served a selection of appetizers, including lamb meatballs, squash croquettas, and a dazzling ice bar filled with raw and poached seafood. Union marks a first for Christiansen, a young veteran at 31—it’s his first gig in over a decade outside of the sphere of his mentor Chef Tim Mckee, of La Belle Vie fame.
Meanwhile, guests lined up to get drinks at the bar and to catch a glimpse of barman and author Johnny Michaels pouring his newest cocktails. Always an innovator, his new list features flavors ranging from a pomegranate-spiked martini to a garam masala spiced Rum Old Fashioned. Both of them tasty, both of them pure Johnny Michaels, a man who must be described as prolific, having created drinks for Icehouse, La Belle Vie, and Café Maude, among others.
If you did not make it to the fete, not to worry. Tired though they are after a blistering pre-opening schedule of parties and practice dinners, Chef Christansen assured me that the staff stands ready and prepped for a Monday (today!) opening.
Potential New Era in Twin Cities Dining?
For more than 15 years, Parasole restaurant group has been the benchmark for successful concept restaurants in the Twin Cities. Phil Roberts, at the Parasole helm, has been the resident Zen Master, creating a long string of hot restaurants from The Good Earth to Manny’s. While Parasole concepts still sizzle, there have been some chinks in the armor, most notably the “re-concepting” of Figlio into the ill-fated Il Gatto, which closed last year. In an ironic twist, Union chef Jim Christiansen was part of the team brought in by Parasole to save Il Gatto, in what turned out to be a good, if too-late, effort.
Meanwhile, the Union opening party punctuates an aggressive year for Kaskaid Hospitality, which also owns Crave, Urban Eatery, and Figlio. In a matter of months, they will have opened two major restaurants in downtown Minneapolis, Crave downtown and Union, and purchased Figlio, a former star concept from Parasole. Led by Kam Talebi, another charismatic restaurant figure, the fast-moving group seems to have accelerated into warp speed as the year comes to a close. Will Union become a company flagship, and perhaps, more importantly, will it be remembered as the concept that pushes Talebi into the forefront as the top player in town?
It is worth mentioning that Parsole also made a key acquisition last year in bringing on the Cities’ most revered chef, Tim Mckee. Also worth mentioning, while the Figlio purchase could be considered a coup for Talebi, it came on the heels of an apparent failure for his empire in the closing of his just-opened Soprano’s restaurant.
Either way, it’s all gravy for customers, as Union promises to impress diners in both food and scope. Seriously, a retractable roof!