Saturday, October 10, 2009

Union J: Making Up for NYC

My biggest regret during my last NYC extravaganza was missing out on a meal at Jean Georges. My food-nerd heart was saying “yes” but sadly, after a meal at WD-50, several Bouchon Bakery excursions, and a very nice white dinner jacket (among other things), my wallet was saying “uh-uh. No mas.” Damn you, wallet. Damn you.

So, suffice to say, I was pretty dayam excited when I heard about the opening of Union J in LKF, a new modern American resto helmed by Jean Georges disciples, Jason Casey and Eric Johnson. Well, that was back in late April when the news broke – in between being unemployed, becoming employed, and then being completely busied-out by being employed, I found my Union J trip continually pushed back. It was like the big fatty James Joyce book that I’ve been meaning to read but never got around to.

That WAS the story…until Thursday rolled about and I finally had the chance to drop by for lunch. I was ready to dole out massive check points already just for the décor. Casual and fun, with a boisterous, “chic-canteen” vibe – SO New York. Plus, I’m biased – any place with a chalkboard menu automatically scores some serious brownie points.

(Keep it RAWWWWW: tartar and runny yolk)

Onto the menu, Union J keep it simple with six of each appetizers (called “small dish” here because that makes it sound cooler), mains (“large dish”) and desserts (“sweets”). I dived into the crusty and still-warm sourdough bread and scanned the two-course set lunch options. Eventually, I opted to start with the steak tartar with cherry olive tapenade. I loved the presentation – so simple, with the bright bold colors of the tartar and tapenade standing stark out against the clean, white plate. Promising. The tartar was also topped with a raw egg yolk…two raw things in one dish? Definitely bodin’ well for me. The tartar itself was fresh and deliciously seasoned. A bite of beef mixed with a bit of liquid egg yolk was an even more fantastic thing. And because I am a (newly-converted) olive fiend, I downed the tapenade like it was ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Lovely with its hint of cherry tartness. The tartar was served with a slice of melted cheese-covered toast which, although lovely in its own right, I was way too enamored already by the tartar to pay it much attention. Sorry cheesy bread, maybe next time.

(It's not that I don't like you salmon, but your mashed potato friend is HAWT!)

As for the “large dish,” I went with the salmon, which was slightly disappointing after the steak tartar high. The salmon steak was slightly overcooked, being just a tad too dry to be perfect. The mandarin segments on top were bland, but the combination of the two in one dish shows the chefs’ creativity (salmon + mandarin orange = potentially beautiful flavor combo). I didn’t loathe the dish but I wasn’t in love with it. But the mashed potatoes that came on the side? Now THAT, I could love. So herby, so creamy, and oh-so-buttery. Sighhhhhhhhh...

I was way too full to stomach dessert, though I did take a greedy glance at the delicious sounding sweets menu while the friendly wait staff were clearing the table. Ugh, I shall come with an emptier stomach next time round. So there ends my long-awaited Union J visit and, I’m happy to say that I am more than satisfied with the restaurant. The atmosphere and dining concept is something I think the Hong Kong dining scene needs more of and I absolutely adored the food… well, the ones worth adoring at least. And with an oh-so-charming “no hopes, no dreams, just real cooking” slogan, how could I NOT love this place? Glad I finally got to try Union J… and maybe now I can get started on my James Joyce book.

FOOD: 4/5

UNION J ($$$/$$$$)
1/F, California Tower
30-32 D’Aguilar Street

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