Union Shop

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December 18, 2012 // UPDATED 2:08 pm - December 31, 2012
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Dining columnist Carla Waldemar checks out the new Union restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.

So here’s what I can’t figure out: two dining rooms, two menus at Union, the new dining destination operated by the Kaskaid crew, who honed their center-city chops at Crave. But here’s the deal. The cheap eats are on the roof, where every scenester yearns a able under the fab glass dome that brings a touch of Vegas to the prim Midwest The fancier, pricier food is offered in street-level digs that look like an economy hotel’s coffee shop,  virtually deserted the night we stopped in. I don’t get the logic, I just report the facts.

Some of the menu items overlap, it’s true, like the instantly famous donut holes, and actually cost less up with the Beautiful People under the stars than in the vacant streetside limbo. What part of the business plan am I missing?

Those greaseless little mouthfuls of sin spurn sugar in favor of savory hints of bacon, cheese and shallots. Dare you to stop at one! They make a fine accompaniment to the classy cocktails curated by Johnny Michaels, the town’s potentate of potables. With our highballs, we also nibbled the velvety chicken liver mousse, glammed up with a gloss of maple gelee, that goes down all too easy and makes you long for another round.

But enough: We tore ourselves from the rooftop back to Planet Earth to sample the more extensive, and complex, fare at the anti-romantic rows of downstairs tables. From the appetizer list ($7-14) we pounced on a salad of baby kale — a smart, little update of your classic Caesar greens — lubricated with a “softboiled” egg well on the way to hard-cooked, further garnished with garlicky brioche crumbles and a scattering of nutty Pecorino.

We also shared a plate of uber-Minnesota smelt, dandied up for the big city with endive, an understated hint of orange, and avocado, then partnered with a modestly snappy salsa verde. Well, this isn’t the North Shore, where the combo certainly wouldn’t fly, and it didn’t work here, either (especially since the bitty critters proved too fishy — as well as overfried — to behave as the chef must have intended.

Upstairs you can get a burger ($14). Downstairs you can try the suckling pig ($25, among entrees ranging from $19 to $29). Presented in rich, confit style, it’s juicy as all get-out—a good thing — further moistened by apple juice (duh) and plated with leeks and pureed potato — perfectly okay but short on novel thinking.

We also ordered the skate, which did, indeed, surprise us — well, “dismay” may be the proper word. We’d expected the fillet to arrive on the bone in full frontal nudity, but the fish has been flaked into bits to top a plate of pasta — robust ribbons of fazzoletti — tossed also with manila clams, artichokes and the welcome spike of preserved lemon, all of which sounded better on paper than it proved don the plate.

The downstairs menu also includes duck, veal breast and rainbow trout; other entrees, such as chicken, scallops, ribeye, and pumpkin ravioli (ultra-rich, by the way, and utterly addictive) appear on both menus but usually at different price points. My advice: Take the elevator.

 

731 Hennepin Ave.

455-6690

unionmpls.com