Tonight was a "soft-opening" friends and family night at the brand-new Union Bar & Grill in Scottsdale, located just west of the Scottsdale Mall @ 3815 N. Brown Ave., Scottsdale. Because it's not quite open to the public (although I am technically "public", being neither friends nor family), I will comment on the restaurant as though everything my girlfriend and I experienced tonight will be the norm upon it's opening.
At first glance, there is no doubt that the same minds behind Rancho Pinot were involved here. The decor has certainly been toned down, but the western art along the eastern wall, the exposed-beam and tin roof and the choice of upholstery certainly adds the familiar yet subdued Western-flair. The wait staff is dressed in the combo of collared white shirts and blue jeans - simple yet professional. To the immediate left when walking in, there is a bar with many wine bottles covering the wall. Further on, there is the semi-open kitchen surrounded by treated copper/tin accents, a nice touch. There is built-in cabinet space along the wall near the back, which houses most of the glassware. The whole right side of the restaurant has been raised a step, with bench-seating along both sides and two rows of tables with chairs in between. If I had to guess, I'd say the restaurant might seat 60-70 at capacity. Since I have no idea what used to be in this location, I can't comment on how much has changed, but it's comfortable yet restrained without being Scottsdale pretentious.
I won't say much about the service, except that I wouldn't want it to change very much. One of my favorite things about RP is how much you don't notice your server - they are helpful when you need them to be, take care of the little things (folding the napkins while we stepped outside for a moment was a nice touch) and answer questions about the food without being too verbose. As this is a soft-opening, this is all subject to change, but our server Ruben was on top of things and very good; I have no complaints about the service.
I didn't take a look at the bottle list, so I can't comment on that. If it's anything like RP's, that's a good thing, and judging by the glass list tells me that it is. There are 21 wines by the glass, 1 sparkling, 9 white and 11 red. There are priced by either 5oz or 8oz pours, which is great. Prices range from $5 to $26 for by-the-glass; as an indicator, I enjoyed a 8oz glass of Fransiscan cab @ $15, while my girlfriend had no complaints about her Cuervo margarita @ $8.75. The glassware, which I often complain about, is first-rate, and let's hope they keep it that way.
There are about 15-20 things on the menu, I didn't count, but it is entirely "seasonal" small plates which are meant to be shared. We ordered 5 plates, in no particular order:
-Fries w/sea salt and parsley - $4.00
-Arancini w/rustic tomato sauce, house-pulled mozzarella - $7.50
-Quesadilla w/squash blossom, avocado and (jack?) cheese - $6.50
-Seabass w/house-cured bacon, grilled corn, basil and tomato - $12.50
-Flat-iron steak potato/green bean salad and caper/mustard dressing - $12.50
The produce is sourced from McClendon Select daily, so quality is a given. The standout of the bunch (my SO would disagree with me, as she's not a huge fish person) was by far the sea bass - perfectly cooked, and the combination of ingredients was spot-on and seasoned perfectly; I could have eaten another order of this. In close second came the flat-iron steak, which was an expertly-cooked piece of meat set off by a really tasty salad (fingerling potatoes, haricot vert) and accompanying vinaigrette. The arancini was kind of a bore, and was basically breaded and deep-fried balls of risotto stuffed with mozzarella in a tomato sauce; not mind-blowing, but still tasty. The quesadilla needs to be re-thought, and since it's seasonal it will soon be gone. I love squash blossoms, but they have no business being in a quesadilla where they are barely distinguishable. There's nothing wrong with the dish, but it wasn't really interesting. And the fries, well, they reminded me of In-and-Out Burger fries; not that there's anything wrong with that, but they seemed a little out-of-place. With things like olives and toasted foccacia on the menu for "noshing", I'd scrap the fries.
There were three desserts listed, I believe, a brownie something-or-other, blackberry-ginger ice cream sandwiches and a seasonal cobbler ($7.00), which tonight happened to be nectarine/blueberry and came with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Chrysta is still doing desserts at RP and Union, so like many other places where dessert is an after-thought, it's not here. The cobbler was very good with super-fresh fruit and delicious ice cream; I wish I would have taken some to-go.
So....did I like it? Absolutely. Do I think it'll be around in five years? Well, I'm not so sure. I like the idea of small plates, tapas, whatever. Ultimately, that's what this is, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is, though, is that I'm not sure there is enough on the menu to keep people coming back again-and-again (at RP, Nonni's chicken, the asparagus/prosciutto app, the desserts). They couldn't exactly define "seasonal small-plates" to me, and I think that their success might live-or-die by their established definition. If I knew that in two weeks they were going to have a nearly all-new menu, there's no doubt I'd be back. But if the chefs start to get lethargic and keep some of those less successful dishes on the menu, I might baulk at returning so quickly. It's definitely worth a visit though, and I wish it much success.
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