Only a few months have passed since the main-level dining room at Kaskaid-owned Union changed from a sustainable seafood-driven restaurant-within-a-restaurant called Union Fish Market to Workshop at Union, a new micro, mini, and small plate concept helmed by the alternately lauded and loathed chef Stewart Woodman.
Suffice it to say, Woodman, who previously owned Heidi's and Birdhouse, both in Uptown, has had a lot of public scrutiny to overcome before returning to the local food scene. But it seemed like a wise move to slide slowly in under the umbrella of someone else's ownership and focus on doing what he does best: cook. We put aside the history and headlines for a night to try a smattering of the small plates he's pushing out of the kitchen at Workshop.
See also: Woodman's pop-up: Workshop at Union[jump]
Over half of the menu here could be characterized as appetizers of varying sizes, and even the entrees are neither huge nor terribly hearty. There were some true stunners in the group, one of which was a light, garlickly dish of agnolotti stuffed with artichokes in a brothy version of barigoule -- a traditional French tomato-based sauce that plays off the brightness of the vegetable and hangs on to its fibers. The ingenious design of this dish was in serving each pillow of pasta on an individual artichoke petal. As you pull the edible part of the artichoke out with your teeth, the inside of the pasta explodes and mixes with the sauce, making it a total delight to eat.
We expected the duck confit with "magical fruit" to offer some sort of flavor-tripping experience, but instead it was a playful interpretation of a down South barbecue dinner. Take a little crispy edge of the corn cake fritter, pile on the rich, slow-cooked meat, stab a baked bean (ah, the magical fruit), and swirl your fork in a bit of the anise-scented molasses sauce for a balanced, homey but wholly refined bite.
The shrimp spring roll, a literal single bite for $4, though delicate and well-seasoned, lacked any of the real crunchy, fresh, herb-forward attributes we usually expect from a spring roll. Instead the filling was more like a creamy seafood salad, and, when combined with the peanut dressing on the plate, made for an overly saucy dish.
Some of the cocktails seemed to have morphed since the Johnny Michaels-crafted cocktail menu debuted at Union's opening. Favorites like the rosy, glittery Persian Pussycat remain, but they've added some of their own, more fruity-leaning creations.
Precision technique (check out the chicken-fried chicken egg), thoughtful refinement, and a love of color make their way onto almost every plate here. And while it might be easy to rack up a big bill trying a bunch of these small plates, it's ultimately worth spending some time (Thursday through Saturday nights only!) tinkering around Workshop.
The Workshop at Union 731 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis 612-455-6690
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