22 December 2013

Hooked by Union Fish Market, Mpls.

Last summer, I posted a rave review of Union Rooftop in Minneapolis. (Click here to read it.) The rooftop restaurant continues to be a popular spot for all the reasons I cited in my review. But since Union opened, it’s street level restaurant couldn’t seem to find a following. I guess if you couldn’t get a table on the rooftop, people tended to just go someplace else.

Then in September, the restaurant shifted gears. Instead of a nondescript restaurant, it’s now a fish restaurant, and it certainly appears as though the new format is a hit. We went there for a winter solstice dinner with friends. I didn’t have any trouble getting a reservation for the time we preferred (7 p.m.), but when we arrived, the tables were full. During the evening, things thinned out a bit around 8. But by the time we left around 9, most of the tables were full again. I took that as a good sign. Also, the restaurant is getting favorable reviews on Yelp (a 1-star rating was actually for the rooftop) and a recommendation by Rick Nelson, the Star Tribune’s food writer.DSC00641

The dining experience for the four of us was great. We all agreed that Union Fish rates among the best of Twin Cities fish and seafood restaurants. It compares favorably to Oceanaire in terms of quality, preparation, and presentation and is less expensive. I think it’s better than McCormick & Schmick (which has disappointed me too often at dinner, still like it for lunch). It might be more expensive than Stella’s (which is another favorite of mine) but I like the ambiance of Union Fish much more than the Uptown vibe of Stella’s. I guess if I were to pick another Twin Cities fish restaurant that’s most comparable to Union Fish, it would be Blue Point in Wayzata.

The menu at Union Fish is not as expansive as Oceanaire. But it does offer a nice variety. There’s a tempting assortment of chef’s specialties alongside a list of traditional fish house classics (for example fish and chips and crab cake). There’s a ‘simply grilled’ section that offers a moderately sized piece of fish, simply grilled, served with a choice of sauce and a side order of vegetable or potato. Besides a raw bar selection, the menu also offers several shellfish entrĂ©es and a few non-fish items.

Our friends and we got a nice sample of the menu’s variety. One diner ordered fish and chips. It was a very generous portion of lightly battered cod served with very large potato wedges. I felt the potato wedges were too large to be called ‘chips,’ but my friend liked them. His wife ordered scallops from the chef specialties. She was served five nice-sized scallops, cooked just done but still moist and tender. The plate was decorated with dollops of pureed beets and toasted pistachios. She said they were the best scallops she’d ever eaten. She also ordered a Caesar salad. It was not a classic Caesar, but rather was made with baby kale, a soft-boiled egg, brioche croutons, and parmesan cheese. (No anchovy was offered or served.)

Usually my wife and I make a point of not ordering the same thing. But this time, we did. From the simply grilled section of the menu we ordered sea bass. It was fantastic. The fish was very fresh. It was grilled through for doneness, but remained very moist and flakey. For my sauce, I chose a sesame vinaigrette which gave the fish a bright tanginess. (I actually liked the fish so much, I ate about a third of it just plain without any sauce.) My wife chose the butter sauce. She said it made the fish taste like lobster. For our side dishes, we both chose Brussels sprouts. These were pan seared, crisp in the middle but slightly caramelized on the outside. With the sprouts were pieces of walnuts and chewy pieces of bacon.

One Yelp reviewer also wrote about the simply grilled sea bass and complained that the piece was too small for the price. But I disagree. I thought the size of the serving was ample. In fact, my wife couldn’t finish hers and brought home the leftovers. (I should note that our friend who ordered the fish and chips also brought home about a third of his dinner.)

We didn’t order cocktails, though there were some interesting craft cocktails on the menu. My wife and I each ordered a glass of a French sauvignon blanc. The friend who ordered fish and chips had a beer. I thought the wine list was very approachable with a nice variety ranging from affordable to expensive. I really wanted to try a Vouvray on the menu but it wasn’t available by the glass.

So Union Fish Market goes on our list of restaurants that we’ll recommend as well as return to in the future.

Closing note: In my review of Union Rooftop, I raved about the veal chop that I ordered that night. Well Union Fish Market has the same veal chop on its short list of non-fish entrées.

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