Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Come for the patio, stay for the food

Is this a great space, or what?
Crispy Barramundi
Journeyman's lunch
Bourbon Chocolate Cake
Sometimes a place just grabs you and pulls you in. I was minding my own business, when I happened to smell something enticing, and this after I'd finished a filling lunch. Then I saw the space: an open, modern patio with a linear concrete fountain, bocce court, fire pits and tables arranged around the perimeter. At the rear of the patio, a modern structure with floor to ceiling windows showcased the kitchen, its staff busy prepping dinner. The main restaurant building stood to the left, housing the wood-burning oven from whence emerged that enticing fragrance of woodsmoke.

Today, when the question of lunch came up, an image of this place appeared. Never refuse a vision, especially when it might lead to an interesting meal. I didn't even know the place's name. There was no sign on the building, anywhere - a true Restaurant X.

I was expecting something Italian, after seeing that Bocce court. So, when the menu arrived, it came with a side of cognitive dissonance. Duck confit? Crispy barramundi, chicken with polenta... wood-fired pizza... Yeah, it's Italian, but a bit French, with a good helping of contemporary American in there, too. And I now knew the place's name: Union on Yale. Hmm. I almost liked Restaurant X better.

With choices like that, choosing something would be difficult. Confit, flatiron steak, wood-fired grilled scallops... I chose the barramundi. My companions chose the journeyman and a turkey avocado bacon sandwich.

The barramundi was as described: a perfectly seasoned fillet, topped with crispy skin, lying on a bed of greens surrounded by bean-turnip purée. Simple, elegant and tasty.

I had no idea what a ploughman's was. I thought it was a kind of sandwich, but instead it was a mix of clams and mussels in a tomato sauce. I thought the sauce tasted more French than Italian, maybe built on a base of mirepoix and stock, without the Italian basil-oregano flavor profile. I managed to steal a spoonful for a taste, but I have expert testimony for the freshness of the seafood. At the end of the meal, nothing remained but the shells; no piece of toast, no sauce.

On the sandwich side, the turkey-avocado arrived amid a mass of golden brown potatoes. They looked like half-length julienne fries, until I tried one. Instead of solid slices of potato, they were somehow formed from a purée, light and airy but less substantial than strips carved intact from a mother spud. The sandwich lived up to the turkey moniker, but the avocado was more a thin green line spread onto the bread than the expected generous slice that would stand up and proclaim its identity as co-flavor. The sandwich worked, due in large part to the support of crispy bacon slices and the full flavor of the turkey breast, brined and roasted on the premises.

They only had one dessert. Chocolate bourbon cake. "How chocolate is it," I asked. "Very," the waitress replied. It was. Flourless, with a deep chocolate flavor and a bit of sour-sweet crunch thanks to a liberal sprinkling of translucent pomegranate seeds. All that work on plating, a beautiful, edible piece of art wiped out in a rush of spoons.

Wine - any wine - is currently $10 per glass. They're working on getting their cellar up and running, move on to sell bottles, but for now they're working it out. The current wine list may or may not work; some wines are still around, but others aren't, but they did have substitutes for what we wanted. They're still learning about flavor profiles, so hopefully by the time their wine cellar is stocked they'll have someone who knows them well.

If you're more the cocktail type, they do have a full bar. During our lunch, it seemed that margaritas were the thing to get.

You can eat, hang out or perhaps even play a game of bocce at Union On Yale at 232 Yale Ave in Claremont. Just look for the place with a great outdoor space, at least until they get their signs installed.

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