Union makes strong debut

After several attempts to get into the Union restaurant for lunch or dinner without a significant wait, I was finally able to get in a couple of meals after 9 p.m. on a Monday and Tuesday.  There has been quite a buzz since they opened their doors in a completely renovated building that formerly housed the Encinitas institution When in Rome.  The space has been completely overhauled, yet it feels like it’s been there a while which is a good thing. 
It’s a warm, modern industrial design with features including reclaimed wood and steel and unfinished concrete and brick.  There is a dining room, which I would suggest if you want to be able to have a conversation without shouting, and a large bar area filled with high tops and communal tables. The windows open out on to Coast Highway 101, which gives it a nice airy feeling and a view of Hansen’s Surf Shop across the street.  I’ve eaten in both areas and found the bar area to be of a more crowded, high volume atmosphere.  It’s perfect for a group to have some fun and food though. 
There’s also an alcove of sorts that was filled with dart players on the night we were there, and outside there’s a patio with herb garden, which will open soon. 
The menu can best be described as an eclectic mix of American comfort cuisine that taps different regions for influence and inspiration. It’s a nice combination that I’m sure will evolve with the seasons.  They source locally when possible; though that’s become so commonplace it’s not really a differentiator anymore. 
Chef Jason Gethin is a Culinary Institute of Louisiana grad that has cut his chops at some of San Diego’s finest dining establishments including Roppongi and the Prado at Balboa Park.
On my first visit we sat in the dining room and had an attentive server who seemed to have a decent grip of what was on the menu. The appetizer selection is appealing across the board but we settled on the mustard glazed boar ribs with coleslaw.  I love game and ribs and the combination was enticing. Unfortunately, they did not live up to my game and ribs combo fantasy as they came out very dry and lacking flavor.  As cool as the concept is, it did not deliver. 
While game tends to be leaner in general, my expectations of ribs of any kind lean towards moist and fall off the bone tender. On our second visit we started with the shrimp and grits dish with andouille sausage, roasted tomato and cheese grits.  This was a very good dish all around with perfectly cooked shrimp and sausage on a creamy bed of grits. Nice work on this one. Appetizers range from $6 to $14.
Flatbreads are popping up everywhere these days and Union has a nice selection.  We tried the prosciutto with farm egg, burrata and rocket. Ours came out in under a couple of minutes which seemed quick to us, and the egg was cooked well done with a nearly solid yolk. I would have preferred some runniness to my yolk, but all in all it was a decent flatbread that was substantial enough for two at $14.
Our entrees were both outstanding. We split the pappardelle with smoked pork ragu and crispy parsley and it was enough to feed us both well, especially after an appetizer and flatbread.  This dish had a nice smoky, almost sweet taste in the mouth and finished with a spicy kick that I really enjoyed. 
The salmon on white beans and garlic spinach in a smoked broth was also top notch. The salmon was very moist, and flavorful, and the bed of beans, spinach and broth worked perfectly together. 
They were out of the chicken fried duck confit, which was a disappointment as it sounded like a unique take on two of my favorite things. 
All of the entrees are priced below $26. We did the grilled asparagus as a side and it was served slightly charred in a cast iron pan, and was really good. All the sides looked appealing and were under $6. I could see mixing a bunch of them up when dining at the bar.
The whole desert menu looked enticing. But the roasted peaches with bourbon pecan ice cream and a crumb topping made us both very happy.
They have a full bar stocked with local beers and some very interesting looking craft cocktails. A social hour, as they call it, runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Union is a cool new addition to the burgeoning Encinitas dining and nightlife scene. The location can’t be beat and overall, the dining experience was one I’ll be back for. Visit localunion101.com for more information.

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