Someone recently asked for information about Union Pacific, and this reminded me that I made my first trip there a few weeks ago and started writing a little review, which I never posted. So I finished the review, and Im posting it here. Because of the delay, my descriptions of individual dishes, especially the main courses, are short on details. Sorry about that.
The dining area at Union Pacific is quite nice. The entry area employs a nice little pond and a small bridge into the dining room to evoke tranquility and foreshadow the Asian influences on the cuisine. The dining room itself is spacious, with a nice high ceiling featuring arched beams. Theres a mezzanine level upstairs, which seems to preserve a feeling of spaciousness while permitting maximum throughput during peak hours. Muted earth tones are employed throughout, with a self-consciously downtown approach, congruent with the upbeat, a capella club music droning in the background. The décor isnt especially beautiful, but its soothing and pleasant. Tables are adequately spaced. The noise level was just right, both while the restaurant was empty and as it began to fill up. I havent seen it packed full of people late on a weekend, but the space would probably work well for a date, dinner with parents, business meal, etc. at most times. Service was prompt, attentive, friendly, and well-informed.
The amuse was a little piece of mackerel. I always find it interesting when mackerel, a strong-tasting, oily, frankly quite fishy fish is used as an amuse. I feel like it risks overpowering the subsequent meal. This particular preparation found the powerful taste of the mackerel accompanied by even more powerful spices and something that tasted like mustard. The combination seemed a bit out of balance, although I suppose balance would be difficult to achieve with tastes this strong. I enjoyed it, but it wasnt exceptional, and I do think it was an odd choice for an amuse.
My friend had the signature Taylor Bay scallops with uni, tomato water, and mustard oil. I didnt try this, as I have a personal rule against eating raw shellfish in a restaurant that I dont know very well. But he seemed to enjoy the dish.
My appetizer was bluefin tuna with fresh wasabi and yuzu. This was quite enjoyable. The tuna was raw, but this differed greatly from most tuna tartare dishes Ive had, in which the sublime texture and subtle taste of a good piece of tuna are paired with subtle seasonings and textural contrasts in an attempt at delicate balance (by the way, if youre a tuna tartare fan, my favorite lately has been at Town). In this case, the tuna itself wasnt remarkable, and wasnt featured prominently in the dish. Instead, the powerful accompaniments and seasonings took center stage. Again, I didnt get a great sense of balance, but the wasabi, yuzu, and whatever else was in there were quite good unusual, a little exotic, but quite approachable.
An unexpected intermezzo of warm pumpkin soup was welcome. It was extremely simple, lightly seasoned, but tasty.
The main courses I tried were halibut with young ginger and pork cracklin, and black cod with lily bulb and pickled mango. I enjoyed both of them. Although I cant remember a lot of details, I do remember that, although both of these were cooked, they were similar to the tuna tartare appetizer in that all three featured good but unremarkable pieces of fish, heavily sauced with interesting, exotic flavors that werent necessarily perfectly balanced, and may have overpowered the fish a bit, but still tasted good to me. I actually prefer a somewhat overpowered fish dish to an underpowered one. Too often I order fish dishes that end up being excessively delicate.
We only ordered one dessert, the slow-roasted apple and caramel napoleon, but the gracious staff also brought the chocolate-hazelnut crunch cake with milk chocolate carroway ice cream, and the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake. All of these were very disappointing. I mean, dessert is dessert, and unless its actually foul (as was the case with several of the desserts I tried at March), its usually nice to eat. UP's desserts were edible, but a Twix bar from the convenience store down the street would have been just as good.
During my next visit, Ill be sure to order cheese instead of dessert, and maybe head somewhere else for the final course. I didnt try the cheese at UP, but the menu made it seem that they take cheese fairly seriously, and it seems very likely that the cheese would be better than any of the desserts.