My friend Anna and I finally, finally tried Union Sushi + BBQ this weekend, and I cannot say enough good things about the experience. I'll try my best, though, you know... since you asked.
There is absolutely nothing like this in Chicago, and for a city that prides itself on lots of restaurants... sometimes it feels more like there's a lot of the same restaurants, you know? (See: Steakhouses) Not Union. The ambiance is insane. Huge graphic murals on the walls, metal mesh netting fixtures hanging from the ceiling and the absolute perfect volume of good music. I'd heard great things, and I was definitely not let down when I walked in the door.
[caption id="attachment_1154" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Graffiti Wall at Union Sushi + BBQ"][/caption]
From the second they answered the phone to try to accommodate my annoying same-day reservation, there was zero attitude. All of the cool factor, the clout they have right now - none of that came through in their service. Friendly without being phony, cheerful without being annoying, so attentive without being pushy. It was a packed house and the sushi rolls were flying down the line but each one was executed with ridiculous precision, came out looking gorgeous and somehow the chefs and waitstaff did this while chatting with all of the customers, smiling and recommending drinks. Its like everyone that worked there LOVED there job. Novel concept! Even if the food was awful, I'd go back just to hang out and have drinks.
[caption id="attachment_1155" align="alignnone" width="383" caption="Skinny Geishas and Edamame"][/caption]
Speaking of the drinks! They posted the calorie counts of a few of them on the menu, which... how nice, right? I generally forgo the interesting cocktails because while I like to try fun drinks, I feel like if I'm going to have an awesome dinner, I can at least take it easy on the sugary drinks. We tried the Skinny Geisha per the recommendation of our waitress and were not disappointed; Citrus vodka, Hum liquor, Fresca and Yuzu at only 98 calories! The edamame came out as soon as we were seated, perfectly warm and with a light sprinkle of garlic. Now... yes, I could eat garlic on a PB&J sandwich so I may be the teeniest bit biased but I swear it was such a surprisingly great twist on the classic.
[caption id="attachment_1156" align="alignnone" width="383" caption="Mushroom Salad"][/caption]
I started with the mushroom salad: shiitake, oyster mushroom, baby arugula, tomato, onion, pickled onion, garlic-soy vinaigrette. Simple enough, but the crispy fried mushrooms were perfection with the spicy arugula... and the vinaigrette was just ridiculously good. If sushi restaurants had bread baskets, I would have soaked up every drop of that dressing. Instead, I just pushed it around sadly with my chopsticks after every bit of the salad was gone.
[caption id="attachment_1157" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Sushi Rolls and Entrees"][/caption]
Huge stroke of brilliance: half rolls as an option for all of their sushi. THANK YOU, Union. Sushi is filling and since we knew we wanted to try food from the grill too, it was the perfect way to have our cake and eat it too. We went with the Hokkaido and the Chesapeake Bay, both on the recommendations of our new bestie, the waitress. While we loved both, I'm pretty sure I had a dream about my Chesapeake Bay roll last night. Fried oyster, black rice, red tobiko, green onion, avocado, garlic aoli+ wrapped in collard green. I never again want sushi with white rice or without being wrapped in collard greens.
I chose the Berkshire pork shoulder with mushrooms for my entree and it was fantastic, too. The smoky flavor from their 600 degree robata grill and the sweet coconut peanut sauce... I was genuinely depressed when it was over. I cried a little. Our entrees were off the Restaurant Week menu but they typically do the meats in skewers instead of the larger, more traditional entree-sized portions, which I think would actually be even better because duh - more food! More options, anyway. :)
Since I was a proud member of the Clean Platers Club for all of the above, I needed dessert like I needed a hole in my head. But hey, it came with the Restaurant Week deal and I'm not one to turn down a deal! We went simple with the ice cream flight - vanilla, red bean and green tea. I've had a long love affair with red bean ice cream so this was another huge win and fairy tale ending to a very happy dining experience.
Whew. So that's it. We had later plans so we couldn't stay to continue the fun upstairs in the cocktail lounge, but that is for sure an upcoming girls night. We left full, happily buzzed on Skinny Geishas and with huge smiles after such a great experience. At this point, I realize I sound like I was either paid by or am sleeping with someone that works there, but I swear - its just that good and I don't want to selfishly keep this discovery to myself! Go, bring friends, bring a date, do whatever you need to do, but just get there soon.