The new Union restaurant at the new Press Hotel on Exchange St. is just one of the endless restaurants I had on my list to try. This past weekend I got that opportunity. We had early reservations because we’re old and tired and got there just in time. I was immediately struck by the layout and decor. It’s not that any one particular facet of the room stood out, I was simply impressed by the entire place as a whole. The great bar looked into the kitchen and struck me as a location I’d enjoy spending time at in the future. The seating areas to the right felt very welcoming.
We were immediately seated and provided food and drink menus. I was happy to ignore the food for a minute while I gazed at the list of libations in an attempt to pluck one from the clutches of the Press Hotel’s sticky finger grasp. It didn’t take long before a drink called Because, Vodka caught my eye. With Tito’s, Pisco, St. Elder, pineapple, I was thinking that might be a cure for what ailed me. Wifey Wiferson went with the Dow Punch – Plantation Vodka, Aperol, pineapple, bitters, OJ, house grenadine. That sounded good to me too, but I stuck with my drink…well…because.
After the drink orders were placed, I convinced the missus to share the Artisanal Cheese Plate – chef’s selection of three seasonal cheeses, local honey, black mission fig jam, toasted walnuts, sliced bread. She agreed and we put in that order before deciding on our entrees. The drinks came out at that time and mine looked like a lemonade while my wife’s had the aura of a Carribean cocktail. I tried mine right away, awaiting a cool fruit flavor. Much to my surprise, but not so much to my chagrin, my drink was stronger than a PED-ingesting ox. I surmised that it was designed by an expert alchemist after a really bad day at work. My wife’s potion was a little more subdued as I expected.
Upon the arrival of our cheese plate, we placed our entree orders and got ready to cheese it up. There was one hard cheddar, a softer cheese, and a blue. I’m not a fan of blue cheese, but I did try it to be a sport and then I worked on the rest of it. I took several combinations of the cheese, honey, jam, and walnuts, along with some apricots that were included and placed them on the bread so that no two bites were ever exactly the same. Aside from the blue, I was quite pleased with it all and so was my wife who in the past has experienced unfortunate periods of cheeselessness. She even had more than one taste of the blue stuff. My one minor critique of the plate was that it would be improved if the bread were toasted, but as an imperfect person living in an imperfect world, I understood that might be something that would be worked out in the future.
With the cheese down the hatch, we received some seasoned focaccia bread with herbed olive oil. It was quite a tasty carbohydrate and before long, the food we were anxiously awaiting came to the table. I had ordered the Roasted Casco Bay Cod – littleneck clams, soy brown butter, bok-choy, and Chinese fermented sausage. It was ordered with a bit of trepidation as cod is not my favorite white fish, but I liked the description of the meal and it did look good on the plate. My wife got the Grilled Salmon – lemongrass ginger tea, farmer’s market vegetables, cilantro.
Our meals were ready to go so we went and dug into them. The cod was quite good with a bit of a crispy layer on top which I appreciated. Dragging it through the brown butter made it even better. The bok choy was very good and the littleneck clams did indeed have little necks, and they were delicious little necks. But the kicker to it all was the Chinese sausage. Tasting like candy, the sweet coins of pork were a stone cold stunner of an addition to the meal. They gave an already well-done cod the pizzazz of dueling piano players dressed as Liberace.
My wife and I enjoyed our meals and finished them without difficulty. We soon requested a dessert menu because that’s the way the wind was blowing that evening. On the menu were cookies and candies, chocolate, custard, ice cream, and cheese, but, for no particular reason, after the cod, I had officially taken a stance against the letter “C” as a food-title starter. It posed a bit of difficulty for me until I looked at the top of the page where it featured the “Snickers” – chocolate cake, peanuts, nougat, ganache, salted caramel, ice cream. The snickers it was. I passed on another drink so I would be able to walk out of the restaurant on my own accord.
Dessert was on it’s way to our table and I was salivating like Pavlov’s dog. A layered delight of nougat, choco cake, caramel, and peanuts sat to one side while some ice cream sat on the other side surrounded by some crumbs of what might have been more chocolate cake. Impaling them both was a wall of peanut-adorned crunchy. We spooned our first bites. It was quite sweet for me. While I tend to not like ice cream with my dessert unless the ice cream is the center of the dessert, the cold stuff helped on this one. It tempered what I thought was too much sweet and made it highly palatable as did the crunchy. As we did most of the night, we finished the entire dessert and made our way toward the finish line.
After tax and tip, we spent 137 bucks. Compared to what we’ve been eating – see my past couple posts – this was a bargain, but it wasn’t cheap. Union serves up a real good meal and a stiff cocktail for probably a little more than other similar restaurants in Portland, but I sort of expected that from a hotel restaurant. The good news is that Union definitely keeps up with Portland’s very high standards of quality, dining atmosphere, and service. They use many local ingredients, have their own original take on the standard fare, and offer a really pleasing settings in which to get your hands on some food. You’ll go there. Yeah you will.
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