Union: Amazing dining from the top of the town

Hennepin's newest multilevel hotspot has outstanding cocktails, thoughtful food, and a lively vibe

Union: Amazing dining from the top of the town
Alma Guzman

See more photos from Union in Minneapolis

When the first round of drinks arrived to our intimate table in the main-floor dining room of Union — the latest restaurant from Kaskaid Hospitality group, the Bloomington-based company behind Crave, Urban Eatery, and the new Figlio — they had that unmistakable Johnny Michaels flair about them. A gin pomegranate martini that would be tired and cliched in anyone else's hands was flavored and garnished with rose petals, shimmering with gold flecks, and went down tart and with a hint of vanilla. Though that cocktail, called the PersianPussyCat, seemed to be the drink of choice for virtually every woman in my immediate view, the one I much preferred was the ingenious and potent take on my favorite classic cocktail, an Old Fashioned. Michaels makes this one with rum infused with the Indian spice blend garam masala and a bit of muddled blood orange. On the nose, it was like an aggressive scotch, but as the chunk of hand-carved ice melted, the drink mellowed and transformed into an intoxicatingly spicy concoction.

All this snooty booze talk can be reduced to the following statement: The drinks at Union are outstanding. That's what we as a populace have come to expect from Michaels. To me, it's more interesting in terms of the volumes it speaks about Union's wise decision to bring him on. Based on that collaboration, and on Union's appointing of Jim Christiansen, a former protegee of Tim McKee, as executive chef, you can glean a lot of information about the type of customer Union wants to draw. It also reveals some of Union's strategy in differentiating itself from Crave, which is just a stone's throw away from Union's revolving front door. At a place like this — hyped-up and a bit flashy, in the middle of the downtown theater district, very near Target Corporate and other major office buildings — it's paramount that the bar program be strong, and though there are some predictable beers on tap and a globally diverse wine list (lots of sweeter whites, though, if you're into that sort of thing), this restaurant is very much a place for cocktails.

Dining at Union's gorgeous all-season patio is a bit more casual than in the main room
Alma Guzman
Dining at Union's gorgeous all-season patio is a bit more casual than in the main room

Location Info

Map

Union Restaurant

731 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Appetizers $5-$18; entrees $19-$29

Part of Union's concept in its towering, three-tiered restaurant is to adapt its menus a bit to the different crowds on each floor. Starting from the underground level, Marquee is Union's attempt to follow the newish trend of having an attached, but separately functioning, bar in your restaurant (see also: the Bachelor Farmer and Marvel Bar and the newly opened Burough and Parlour). Bottle service and more creative cocktails are available in this dark and slick lower level, which is decidedly clubby and emanates exclusivity. It doesn't open until 10 p.m., and you can access it either from the elevator on the main level or the unmarked alley entrance, if you're cool enough to know where that is. The rest of the building operates almost as two separate restaurants, Union and the Rooftop.

The differences in the menus are small but not insignificant. You can't, for example, get a burger in the more formal (and on each visit, considerably calmer and quieter) main-level dining room, but you can upstairs in the rooftop restaurant, which is intended to be slightly more casual (though your bill won't necessarily reflect that) and is undoubtedly the most attention-grabbing level, with its amazing retractable glass roof. Union has yet to unveil the mechanism in action, but as soon as we get a 60-degree day you can expect that top to come off and for people to flock to the indoor-outdoor space like sheep to shearing.

See more photos from Union in Minneapolis

Aside from the strong (in all senses) drinks, the most lasting impression of my experience at Union was of the share plates, available on both the main and rooftop levels. The oft-changing selections of meat, seafood, cheese, and crudite are designed to enjoy like a family-style antipasti platter, but beware that the price listed for these trays is per person, something to think about before you realize you've spent $72 on appetizers for four. To be fair, that price is for the seafood share plate, which sounded pretty spectacular: East and West Coast oysters, crab legs, chilled prawns, and seared scallops. We opted to see Union try its hand at charcuterie and were pleasantly surprised. It might not quite compare to, say, Butcher and the Boar's, but the pistachio and pork terrine, chicken liver mousse parfait with pickled quince and maple syrup (also available on its own and one of the most praised items on our table), and a wondrous substance called lardo (basically whipped pork fat infused with rosemary and bacon, spread on bread) were all particularly good.

In addition to the share plates, Union offers a handful of smaller appetizers that don't seem to adhere to any one culinary theme. I was excited to see smelt in this section of the menu, which were prepared whole (minus the head) and gently fried with a light arugula salad, avocado, and bagna cauda-like vinaigrette, giving the impression of a deconstructed sushi roll. Unfortunately some of the smelt were too big to not have been deboned, but it was still refreshing to see this underused fish relatively bare instead of covered in a thick breading. Union also has an almost disproportionate number of salads on the menu, particularly on the rooftop. Most are not what I would call entree size, but as a starter the kale-leaf, Caesar-inspired salad was perfect to share with sweet, almost candied brioche bread crumbs and perfectly soft-boiled egg.

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