I am recovering from a very full and fun weekend that included a visit from Food in Jars blogger Marisa McClellan, who was in town promoting her cookbook, and the August Chicago Food Swap. I will recap the food swap, which was our biggest yet, later this week. But first I want to tell you about about how Marisa and I kicked off her trip to Chicago with a fabulous dinner with four food blogger friends at Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar.
A friend recommended Union Sushi to me as a restaurant that is savvy about social media and would appreciate having a table full of Tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming food bloggers. Indeed, Union Sushi itself is pretty darn good at leveraging Twitter and Facebook. So, not surprisingly when I contacted Mike Schatzman, one of the proprietors, about our group, he was excited to host us. Together we settled on a special menu that showcased the best of Union Sushi’s offerings — accounting for my shellfish allergy, of course.
Union Sushi is, as its name suggests, a sushi restaurant that also offers Asian-style grilled meats. The sushi is the freshest quality and the rolls innovative. The meats, which are grilled over a 600 degree open flame, are amazingly flavorful. As befits a restaurant located in the lively River North area, Union Sushi also offers many specialty cocktails and an extensive list of sakes. And perhaps most surprisingly for an Asian restaurant, desserts here are not an afterthought, so definitely save some room.
Here is the menu that Union Sushi put together for our group:
Roll – grilled scallop, avocado, roasted pepper, jalapeno, cilantro and garlic wrapped in soy paper
Yeah, that was a lot of food. So many of the dishes stood out. Among the starters, everyone went so nuts for the Truffled Tuna that our server brought out a second one. The velvety tuna with the earthiness of the truffle oil was amazing. We also loved the sashimi cup, which won the award for the best presentation of the night. Each person got her own sashimi cup served on a bed of ice. Beautiful! The green beans were also absolutely delicious. We all delighted to see such a humble ingredient bursting with flavor. (Another chef who does wonders with this humble legume is Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat.)
The sushi rolls were all beautiful to look at. I had never seen sushi made with black rice as was our Spicy Tuna Roll. So cool! According to our friends at Union Sushi, black rice is very popular for its firm texture and the fact that it is lower in carbs than white rice. The spicy tuna roll was delicious as was the Tsukiji Market Roll. We all loved the crisp radish wrap, which made the roll so light and refreshing, almost like a Vietnamese spring roll. We were less fond of the roll wrapped in collard green, which had a slightly bitter after-taste, but all of us agreed that it was cool to see sushi rolls wrapped in something other than rice, which can feel heavy.
We had certainly had plenty of food at that point but it would have been irresponsible of us as food bloggers not to try some of the grilled entrees. Of the ones we tried, the chicken thigh was the favorite. We were all amazed (again) at how Chef Chao, the Thai-born chef at Union Sushi, made such an ordinary ingredient extraordinarily flavorful. I also loved the grilled cauliflower, although some of it was a bit too charred for my taste.
Then it was time for dessert. As I mentioned above, dessert is not usually something to look forward to at a Japanese restaurant, but the desserts at Union Sushi are obviously made with as much care and creativity as everything else. The Killer Yuzu Pie was just that. For those of you who are not familiar with yuzu, it is an Asian citrus fruit that looks like a small grapefruit, but has a less bitter flavor. The yuzu pie had a lemony pucker but with complex herbal undertones. It was really something special. The homemade ice creams were also wonderful; we had a trio that included cantaloupe — probably my least favorite food, so I avoided that one — coco-rum and espresso, my personal favorite. The banana bread was yummy too, but not as special as the yuzu pie, which I am still thinking about.
Did I fail to mention the cocktails? There were a lot of cocktails. I started with the Surprise and Delight, a concoction of cucumber vodka, Pimms’, muddled lemongrass, strawberries, simple syrup and seltzer. It surprised me by being much less sweet than I had expected, so I was not exactly delighted. I am unapologetic about my fondness for sweet cocktails. I had better luck with the Yamato Sling: gin, sake, green tea syrup, lemon, cherry bark vanilla bitters and seltzer. Several of our party tried this cocktail and we all loved it. It was very refreshing and complemented the food well.