Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Blessed "Union"

While the South End’s lack of parking spaces may create headaches for visitors, its abundance of fine eating establishments often alleviates the pain. One such establishment, Union Bar and Grille - which recently appeared on Boston Magazine’s list of the city’s top 25 restaurants – allegedly offers fare that rivals some of the hub’s finest. Will Paul’s Palate ultimately agree or shall he pack some extra Excedrin just in case?

Restaurant week has arrived, and Union opens its doors, offering a three-course prix fixe menu for roughly $20. Given that type of value, my wife I express utter shock upon entering the restaurant, which is presently devoid of customers. We turn our attention to Union’s aesthetic interior, which with its black leather upholstery and wooden floors creates a simple yet elegant tone that miraculously works. The front-to-back bar is separated from the intimate dining area, which appears to accommodate approximately seventy patrons.

Our genial, courteous, and knowledgeable server arrives and confidently recommends the grapefruit martini, unquestionably his favorite amongst the cocktail selection. To my chagrin, his suggestion is spot-on, as this concoction is just sweet, sour, and subtle enough to elevate it to sublime status. Nor do the appetizers miss a beat, My wife orders the chilled cantaloupe wrapped in juicy mounds of prosciutto, alongside an arugula salad infused with a sweet citrus vinaigrette. My “Bloody Mary” gazpacho would make ravenous Spaniards proud with its light and ethereal blend of cucumber, red onion and grilled shrimp, and horseradish sourcream.

Entrees are equally delectable. My wife runs out of superlatives for her pan-roasted salmon “BLT,” a playful take on the customary sandwich, which is robust in both size and flavor. The salmon filet is perfectly cooked and is paired with warmed bread, applewood bacon, heir loom tomatoes, and herb mayonnaise. The side of buttery, crispy homemade potato chips doesn’t hurt, either. I, meanwhile, am reluctant to share a taste of my cornmeal dusted “fried clam roll,” creatively served over a crostini-like bread and accompanied by house made pickles, cole slaw, and a zesty chipotle tartar sauce.

For dessert, I once again query our server for his insight. Yet again, he does not flinch when encouraging me to try the ice cream sandwich, which consists of a mouth-watering mix of house made vanilla ice cream lodged between two gooey, warmed, moist double chocolate chip cookies and is splashed with milk chocolate fudge. Needless to say, this decadent dish is a winner and should be considered mandatory tasting for any diligent student enrolled in course Chocolate 101. My wife’s strawberry shortcake is also indulgent, lumping together a moist, yet light homemade brown sugar biscuit with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

Prior to our departure, I ask our wonderful server if Union actually intends on expanding its hours of operation to include lunch. He responds that Union uses Restaurant Week as an experiment to assess if it is worthwhile remaining open for this midday meal. With both his belly stuffed with fine food and his mouth with strong praise, Paul’s Palate can barely muster enough energy to convince Union Bar and Grille that its potential lunchtime endeavor would suit him just fine.