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Restaurants & Bars 5

Union in Santa Monica

Megan | Aug 13, 200202:49 PM

My SO and I decided to give this newbie (opened in May?) a try last Sat. night. We are very picky about our Sat night spots, so we read everything we could find on the place. Some of the posts on chowhound were good, some kind of neutral, and a couple not so favorable. The reviews I found were very good, so we went for it.

Boy am I glad we did. I consider this place an absolute gem. First, we spent a while with the wine list, which provided a good selection and the markup did not seem too bad. Our server, Chris, recommended a Chardonnay to us, and brought over another server, Tom, resident wine expert, for additional info on some of our other picks. It came down to two wines, one offered by the glass and one that was not, and Tom offered us a taste of each. This pleased me and made the decision easy - we went with Chris' recommendation.

I must emphasize that aside from the fact that all of the dishes were really exceptional, the service put our evening over the top. Chris was very friendly (Southern charm) and attentive, but what set him apart from lots of waiters in top establishments is that he not only told us what dishes were great, he also told us what ones were just ok. We followed his advice, and all of our dishes were hits.

We started off with some tasty oysters, then moved on to the appetizers. The special heirloom tomato salad, dressed with olive oil and sea salt, was simply perfect. The last time I recall a salad of that caliber was at Nora in D.C. last year (D.C.'s Chez Panisse). The simplicity of the flavors...we were gushing. We also had a salad that sounded like it might be too complicated - figs, prosciutto, almonds, cheese, etc, but it was not. The flavors married nicely, though I think the small amt of prosciutto makes the salad's description a bit inaccurate.

For my main course, I ordered the blue cheese tart, an appetizer that came with some greens. Delicious. The entree we ordered, the cornmeal dusted trout, was out of this world. I was on Cloud 9 at this point.

Unfortunately, there was an absurd delay (40 min?) for dessert, which came with profuse apologies/explanations of a big party upstairs, but not a comp for the dessert (my SO did get his cappucino, which did not come at the same time as the dessert as I prefer, free). There was a highlight though -- our server gave us two tastes of dessert wine to assist us in picking the right one. So while we liked that, the dessert part kept the meal from being totally perfect.

We raved to the manager about our experience and our service, and we did mention the dessert thing. He made no attempt to explain or apologize, which surprised me. Despite the fact that we had a pleasant conversation, I do hope he paid attention to our complaint.

For everything we had (oysters, 3 apps, 1 entree, 1 dessert, 1 $12 glass of dessert wine), I thought the $130 tab was not bad at all, especially b/c our wine was more expensive than I usually get - I think around $40 or 45. As you can probably tell, I think this place is a winner. I sat downstairs, and really enjoyed the ambience. Upstairs is more lively, but there's the alfresco smoking thing, so I stayed indoors. Anyway, I'm looking forward to going back, and I'm excited to have found another great restaurant in this town.

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