Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar

Restaurants , Eclectic River North
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(2 user reviews)
1 Love It
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1/2
Photograph: Allison Williams
2/2
Photograph: Allison Williams

I’d heard that the boys behind Union—two friends, a seasoned chef and an unseasoned restaurateur, respectively—were attempting American-Japanese food at Union. But that did little to prepare me for the fish cake. One order consisted of a skewer of three, each one looking like an albino Tootsie Roll. For the first few seconds, they were chewy and benign. But soon, the chew dissipated, and there was a disorienting rush of creamy pepper-jack cheese (Wisconsin pepper jack, the menu asserts). The flavor is something like the Doritos of kushiyaki, and it’s divisive—people will find it either disgusting or delicious. I found myself reaching for a second, not out of craving but out of curiosity.

If every dish at Union were such a ridiculous amalgam, it would be easy to dismiss the place as a disaster. But though there’s little here to really love, there’s plenty to like, beginning with the space—an open, lively, graffitied room that gives off energy even when it’s empty—and the cocktails, which were designed by the Bittercube boys of Madison, Wisconsin. The menu—heavy on snacks and inexpensive bowls of noodles—is appealing as well, though not everything chef/co-owner Worachai Thapthimkuna is cooking hits the mark. As Union’s full name hints, Thapthimkuna dabbles in both raw and cooked food here. But if his spot manning the robata grill, whose flames reportedly reach 600 degrees, is any indication, he’s paying more attention to the hot stuff. That grill makes for a perfect environment for chicken thigh and jumbo shrimp skewers, both of which arrive charred and crispy outside, with plenty of juices locked within. And other cooked dishes (not from the robata), like the competent skate, were largely successful, especially the noodles: The lamb ramen could have used a more punchy broth but was otherwise a lively, balanced dish. And the duck fat yaki soba was instantly addictive, the noodles slick with mustard sauce, topped with shreds of perfect, fatty duck and tossed with crunchy cabbage and piercing ginger.

The raw stuff was generally less successful. Wasabi honey mustard distracted from the meat in the beef tartare. A tuna tartare was doused in enough truffle oil to power a Vespa. And the sushi, like so much other sushi in the world, was just kind of there, neither exemplary nor foul. Is it hard to take Union seriously when it tops sushi rolls with chewy strips of pork belly? Definitely. But the question Union asks is: Who said we have to take food so seriously in the first place?

By David Tamarkin

Venue name: Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar
Contact:
Address: 230 W Erie St
Chicago

Cross street: between Franklin and Wells Sts
Opening hours: Lunch, dinner
Transport: El stop: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Chicago. Bus: 11, 66, 125.
Price: Average main course: $11
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Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|2
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Irina G
tastemaker

I'm undecided about this place - the menu is so extensive I have to wonder if i made slightly off decisions my first time eating here, or if it is actually just kind of overpriced. We ordered the alligator robata, the prosciutto wrapped scallops (which were amazing), the tuna truffle appetizer (worth every penny), the duck soba noodles, and half of one of the black rice rolls with fried oyster. The mains were pretty good but all pretty expensive for what was offered with the exception of the tuna truffle and the duck soba noodle, which was good but a little too salty for my pallet. For dessert, we opted to try the uni ice cream which was SOOO weird, but my sister loved it. I ordered the yuzu cheesecake with a coconut shortbread crust, which was absolutely delicious but the crust was frozen so very difficult to break with my spoon. The space was adorable, and totally hopping, and the happy hour specials advertised on the door seem totally worth a try, so I do think I will be back to give this long lasting trendy spot another chance.

Christine G

Love the ramen! I had some great sushi in black rice per the waitresses recommendation and it was excellent. Very fresh and flavorful. There is a bit of a party vibe which makes it a great after work spot or a Friday night destination and hang out. A little pricey but worth it.