37 E Union St
Pasadena, CA 91103
Dining date: 2/15/15
I often think of Pasadena as a city of chain restaurants (albeit the good chain restaurants), and that relatively conservative palates make it hard for unique chef-driven concepts to thrive here. That may not be true, but there haven’t been many that have tried in the city. Union is one of the more interesting openings in some time, where chef Bruce Kalman (Urbano Pizza, The Churchill) is cooking up seasonal farm-to-table Californian-Italian fare. I’ve never been to The Churchill, though I’d been to Urbano many times and still kind of miss it.
Since the restaurant opened last March, I’ve heard plenty of good things about it including being named LA Mag’s second best restaurant opening of 2014. That, combined with my experiences at Urbano, made Union high on my list of restaurants to try. But, I just never quite got the final impetus to go until I was invited in this past weekend.
Loved this chalk art showing how serious they are about their ingredients.
PORK MEATBALLS san marzano tomato, calabrian chile, lardo
Meatballs were very tender, almost luscious in texture, with a pleasant pork flavor and sweet tomato sauce.
HOPE RANCH MUSSELS guanciale, fregola di sardo, preserved meyer lemon
Mussels were bathed in a flavorful guanciale-accented broth with pea tendrils. Fregola (similar to Israeli couscous) added some more substance, though they weren’t the easiest things to pick out of the broth. Toasted bread, slathered with tomato, was an ideal vehicle to pick up the residual broth.
SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA san marzano tomato, garlic, fresno chile
Union’s spaghetti is made in-house, formed from pushing dough through wires that resemble a guitar (chitarra = guitar). The result was a really nice texture from the pasta, which stood up to a bold but sweet tomato sauce with a fair amount of spice from Fresno chilies.
SQUID INK GARGANELLI lobster, fennel, meyer lemon, truffle butter
Loved the texture of the garganelli, chewy almost squishy, with sweet chunks of lobster balanced by a subtle truffle flavor and bright lemon flavor.
POTATO LEEK TORTELLI parmigiano-reggiano, walnut pesto
A creamy potato-leek mixture filled these dumplings, topped with an earthy walnut pesto and plenty of cheese. Another good pasta dish with an addicting chew to it.
PORCHETTA weiser farms potatoes, salsa verde
Kalman’s porchetta is a beauty with tender, herb-scented meat and an almost teeth-shattering crackling on the outside. Braised pork and potatoes formed a flavorful base for the dish, brightened up by the salsa verde.
SANTA BARBARA SPOT PRAWNS arugula, blood orange, fennel, sicilian pistachio
These were a treat. The shrimp were sweet and succulent, balanced by a sauce of its pickled roe and fresh greens. Simply prepared.
SANTA BARBRA BLACK COD magenta kale, hedgehog mushroom fregola, sauce picatta
The black cod was cooked perfectly with a crisp skin and flavorful, moist flesh. The kale and fregola provided some earthy tones to go along with the fish.
GIANDUJA CHOCOLATE BUDINO cocoa nib, truffle salt, ligurian olive oil
Completely stuffed at this point, we shared one dessert. Chocolate flavor was front and center with a subtle truffle flavor. Textural contrasts came in the form of soft cookie and cocao nibs.
Union delivered on its promise – ingredients were simply prepared, showcasing the quality of products we have in the vicinity. Pastas were excellent too; each one had a great texture and comforting complementary flavors. It did not disappoint and I hope to stop in again soon.
Note: This was a hosted meal.