The prices on the menu are my first clue that we’ve found at least a quirky place, if not a quirky chef.
After all, we’ve become accustomed to prices that end in .99 or even .98, but at Union Social, on St. Clair Avenue just west of Yonge, chef Mike Rame occasionally lets convention lapse.
But we’re here to discuss food, not numbers, though the numbers seem remarkably reasonable for the quality, quantity and location.
Even my glass of quite pleasant Chilean Merlot is just $7.75.
We decide to share an appetizer of Big-eye tuna sliders ($10.96). I’m glad, because the three buns are overflowing with ahi tuna and napa slaw with enough wasabi to clear the nasal passages. I heartily recommend this dish to cold sufferers.
There’s a hint of sweetness in the soy with which the tuna has been blessed before just kissing the flame. It’s perfect, and absolutely gorgeous. And with only three, there is an immediate resort to a knife to share the third. It’s too good for politesse.
My guest’s choice of main is the daily special: short ribs slowly braised in a rich broth and served with sweet potato puree and broccolini, and decorated with a generous helping of fried coated green onions ($23.95).
The green onions add just a little extra zing to what might have been a mundane dish. Short ribs have become commonplace on menus, and these make them stand out beyond the more usual sprinkling of herbs or a fried onion. The dish gets our thumbs-up.
My own dish, I confess, was chosen because of a comment I saw on the web about how good it is. It’s certainly a quirky combination: banana coconut crusted chicken breast served on a small lake of mango sauce with scented jasmine rice and broccolini ($15.91).
The menu lists tamarind as an ingredient but I can’t work out if it’s in the sauce or on the chicken. Frankly, the point is moot.
The blend of sweetness, tartness, smooth sauce and crunch from the coconut is irresistible.
I have only one complaint. I wish the chef had skinned the chicken first. I recognize this may not be possible and I hit this only in the last few mouthfuls, so perhaps most of the skin had been so crisped I hadn’t even noticed. But there it was, and I hasten to add my guest enjoyed it nonetheless.
Portions are so substantial we felt we could manage only a shared dessert.
According to the waitress, everything is freshly made in-house.
“The only thing in the freezer is the ice cream,” she tells us.
We opt for chocolate crème brûlée ($4.95). It’s smooth, creamy and very chocolate-y. The crust, though, is a little over-caramelized and is actually bitter to my palate. It comes with two small biscotti, which are perfect for dipping in the cappuccino ($3.50).
This spot is only a few months old. The waitress is still enthusiastic and a fount of information about the restaurant and its menu. The decor has a definitely pubby feel but, judging from the number of young families here, the neighbourhood folks have apparently taken it to their collective hearts. And why not? These are family-friendly prices.
Do check this spot out, especially if you have a cold. Order the sliders!
Union Social Eatery, 21 St. Clair Ave. West. 416-901-3456. www.unionsocial.ca.
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