If there were a thermometer to measure exactly how much heat and anticipation a new restaurant is creating, it would have melted.
Last Thursday night, Boston was a ghost town. Shops were deserted, tumbleweeds were practically blowing down Newbury Street, and the only restaurants and pubs with patrons were establishments with television sets. Specifically, television sets tuned to game seven of the American League Championship Series.
The one exception was the newly opened Union Bar and Grille in the South End. With nary a television in sight, the bar was full and tables were bustling with locals more eager to try the fare at Seth Woods's latest restaurant than to see if the Red Sox could make it to the World Series. As it turns out, the folks at the Union were the ones who made the right decision. While the Red Sox dropped the ball, Woods appears to have hit one out of the park, at least the night we stopped by.
Woods, who opened Union with partners Jeffrey Gates and Matthew Burns, has carved out a name for himself in the Boston restaurant scene with unpretentious bistros such as Aquitaine. OK, the Armani Cafe is fairly pretentious, but that has more to do with the clientele than the food. With Union, Woods appears to be aiming his menu at a class of folks who don't feel compelled to talk about the unfortunate proliferation of fennel-flavored soups. It's a menu that features burgers and grilled Reubens alongside grilled poussin and beef tenderloin. There's something for everyone.
The decor mirrors this ethos with its wide, padded seats and comfortably large tables. We thought the huge wrought-iron chandeliers screamed "Medieval Manor!" while one of our friends thought they were more evocative of York Steak House. This atmosphere was backed by an unexpectedly hip soundtrack of chill-out tunes (hello, Lemon Jelly). Even so, Union is still a place you could easily bring your parents for dinner.
We were impressed by the food, we were impressed by the decor, but it was puppy love at first sight for our server, the charming Julia. This enchantress nearly brought the Sauciers to fisticuffs ("She's Megan Mullally!" "No, she's Paige Davis!"). Not only did she keep us entertained and intrigued with sassy morsels about some of the more eccentric employees at the eatery, she also wisely recommended the restaurant's signature pomegranate martini. It wasn't the only treat we found at the bar. We've been on a mission to rescue the 7 & 7 from obscurity, and the barkeep at Union mixed one of the finest we've tasted.
As we ruminated over Julia's superior server qualities and grew tipsy from all that alcohol, an appetizer of fried calamari arrived, perfect deep-fried rings that were incredibly fresh. The smoked Menemsha bluefish appetizer was artfully thin, an ideal balance to the celery, walnut, and apple salad on the side. However, the star of the appetizer menu was clearly the sweet corn risotto, which was flavored with andouille sausage, green onions, and roasted peppers. The warm, flavorful dish went down wonderfully on this nippy fall night.
Because entrees bordered on all-out comfort food, we decided to throw caution to the wind and order the Union beef and andouille sausage burger with Vermont cheddar. Although we were unable to taste the sausage, we weren't complaining, especially since the fries were amazing. Our friend who is an expert on York Steak House and French fries even compared them to Brasserie Jo's phenomenal spuds.
A faux vegetarian friend who ordered the wild halibut gave her meal high marks. The only complaint to be found was that beef tenderloin, which was ordered medium, arrived looking mighty rare. In fact, if it wasn't for the outcome of a certain baseball game, we'd call the night a complete success.