Union Fish Market Dining Review

Union Fish Market Dining Review

Sexing up seafood, to uneven effect.

Seafood, particularly fish, is difficult to build a restaurant around, even in times when air freight can move fresh supply from purveyor to table in a day. Which explains why there’s not been an explosion of seafood restaurants in an era when seafood availability has exploded.

Yes, seafood is expensive, and challenging to price profitably, but I think the issue is that seafood is less hospitable to chefs’ efforts to put their creative stamp on it. The current explosion of restaurants built around chef-y takes on meat and fat is indicative of this. There’s a lot you can do to beef, lamb and pork that enhances rather than detracts. Fish? Not so much.

Such is the dilemma at Union Fish Market, the reconcepting of Union’s ground level. It’s an attractive, contemporary space, derivative in a comfortable way (though rather dimly lit). Service is knowledgeable and attentive, if occasionally intrusive.

When it works, Union hits on all cylinders, as with a baby kale caesar with soft-boiled egg and garlic brioche croutons, beef carpaccio with an aggressive white bean giardiniera, or crisply sautéed skate with brown butter, roasted hazelnuts and a peppery edge. Also noteworthy are sides of soft pan-seared brussels sprouts and crisp potato puffs the size of peanut M&Ms. An interesting, if boozy, baked Alaska, made for a nice finish. Note that most of these dishes are not seafood.

When Union fails, it’s usually the result of overpowering its staple ingredient: It plates bland shrimp corn dogs with a dry mustard polenta, excellent manila clams are overpowered by a greasy chorizo broth (enough with the chorizo and shellfish trend), lump crab cakes are ruined by way too much fresh tarragon, and farmed salmon with yuzu is larded with an inexplicable slice of lardo.

Simplicity does not always work, either. Charred whole Dungeness crab promised a south Asian sambal nowhere in evidence; a root vegetable gratin was dry; and a simply grilled “Skuna Bay” salmon filet contained a miniscule portion of bland farmed fish on a plate lacking even garnish.

There is much about Union Fish’s menu that is innovative: whole Dungeness crab, steamer clams, skate and monkfish are little in evidence even on local fish house menus. But for Union to really make its mark in a downtown containing all of the town’s fish restaurants, it will have to refine its recipes and up its game.

What Works

Attentive service, comfortable design, unique food options.

What Doesn't

Recipes that overpower seafood, little attention to detail.

Union Fish Market, 731 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-455-6690, unionfishmpls.com

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