[REVIEW] Union Toronto Restaurant Review
Open:Brunch, Lunch, Dinner
It was a fun and busy weekend, kicked off by an awesome night with friends at the ROM's Friday Night Live event. As tradition holds, on Saturday I spent the greater part of the day meandering about the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
We saw the bunny show (with some frighteningly large rabbits)...
... the cows getting milked (which did not look comfortable)....
....Curtis Stone (drool), and much more.
I sampled as many tasty treats as I could without looking desperate, trucked into a massive plate of pierogies and cabbage rolls, and then finished off the day with a chocolate covered stick full of marshmallows (eek, guilty pleasure). I also may or may not have secretly bought praline fudge and not told anyone so that I didn't have to share. May or may not...
Nevertheless, it was a solid day, leading into a nice low key dinner out. I have wanted to check out Union on Ossington Ave for a while now, but have been putting it off until the colder months when I felt I would be able to really appreciate the comfort food focused menu (though, I'm sure they have lovely offerings in the summer months, too). The philosophy at Union is really farm fresh and local, listing all of their current providers on a board outside the open kitchen. I am a huge fan of "Canadian" cuisine, and don't see it as a "fad" in Toronto at all. How can it be a fad when it embodies the essence of sustainability?
When we arrived at Union for our 8:30 reservation, we were offered the choice of a regular table or the chef's table high tops. As described previously in many of my posts, sitting at the chef's table or bar is usually our preference anyways (unless we have something pressing to discuss.. but we had been together all day anyways), so we jumped on that offer right away.
Service was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. The cocktail menu listed all the classics and some creative concoctions, which is always appreciated. He went with his stand-by, Old Fashioned (Bourbon, Orange Simple Syrup and House Bitters), while I tried the Margery (Tequila, Peach, Lime, Rhubarb Bitters, Grand Marnier, Salt Rim). While I normally cringe at even the smell of his Old Fashioned, this one had enough citrus flavour to mask the normally unyielding bourbon. Either I liked it, or I'm just becoming desensitized to straight liquor. Whichever, the drink was a winner. I wasn't as big a fan of my cocktail, which I thought lacked any of the aforementioned fruit flavour. I actually hardly even tasted any lime amidst all that salt and the bitters.
Let's move onto food, though. In conversation with the chef, we made a few selections and decided to share.
Steak Tartar (Sample)
His first recommendation was the steak tartar. I explained I wasn't incredibly enthusiastic about tartar normally but like all great chefs, this one seemed to be on a mission to convert me, and offered us a (generous) sample to try. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), it was lovely. Deliciously fresh, perfectly seasoned with a pleasant texture to complement buttery grilled bread. I would feel confident ordering this one myself next time.
Candy Cane Beets & Salt Baked Celeriac with red fife, sweet mustard and dill sauce
A generous salad of root vegetables that were beautifully cooked and seasoned. While they were cooked without colour or caramelization, the vegetables offered a subtle sweetness and supple texture that was nicely balanced by the crunchy bitter radicchio. The sauce was creamy but not heavy, with a mild heat and a good level of fresh herbacious flavour. A beautiful autumn starter.
Elk Sliders, with mirin galangal glaze and pickle on challah
A stark contrast from the aforementioned appetizer, this was rich, playful, and sinfully addictive. The sliders were tender, moist and pink, sitting atop a buttery piece of rich egg bread ready to sop up all of its juices. The sweet and sticky glaze was almost like maple syrup, with a more complex savoury note. We basically had to refrain ourselves from swiping our fingers across the plate to capture it all. Topped off with a little dollop of spiced mayo and a couple crunchy pickle chips- this was the winner of the night.
Rabbit Dijonaise with puy lentils, sauerkraut and broccolini
Watching all those little bunnies barrel through the obstacle course all day at the fair obviously didn't stop me from ordering this dish, especially after the chef recommended it to us. The rabbit itself was generously portioned and seasoned nicely, but a little bit dry in some of the thinner pieces. Having said that, the sauce was luscious, with a pleasant level of richness and pungent mustard flavour and the sauerkraut was addictive. While I'm not usually a huge fan of puy lentils, these one's were cooked nicely and definitely complemented the sauce well.
Sticky Ribs charcoal smoked and braised back ribs in home made BBQ sauce
Amazing. I had heard about these ribs and was looking forward to giving them a try, and they were incredibly good. They were meltingly tender, without a single trace of grizzle or gelatinized fat, and the sauce was thick and fruity, with a nice balance of sweet and tart flavours.
Side of frites (to accompany the ribs)
An unexpected (the menu didn't list that the frites accompanied the ribs) and generous portion. They were super crispy and golden brown, but lacked a nice pinch of sea salt. Probably for the better that they were low on seasoning, though, or else I might have really overindulged.
Sticky Ginger Cake with Caramel Ice Cream
I had a hard time trying to decide which dessert I wanted, because almost all of the offerings were some of my favourite foods (caramel cheesecake, banana bread pudding, pecan pie). Alas, with the server's recommendation, I opted for the sticky ginger cake (a more spicy version of my beloved Sticky Toffee Pudding). The cake originally was to come with vanilla ice cream, but I requested the caramel off the menu (despite the chef's best attempts to give it to me on the side). The cake was incredibly moist, with a delicate level of heat. While it may have seemed like a lot of sweet, caramelized sugary flavours going on (this was the chef's concern with me adding the caramel ice cream), it was actually surprisingly satisfying. This ice cream was more of the burnt caramel variety, with a mildly bitter flavour to temper the more cloying caramel sauce on top. A solid dessert, and a nice rendition of my favourite British dessert.
So for the 3 cocktails, 2 appetizers, 2 mains and a dessert, the bill came to about $160 including tax and tip- pretty reasonable for the substantial portions and quality. We both enjoyed our night and meal, and would definitely be back (especially to work my way through all of those tempting dessert offerings).