03 Oct Go for the pastas (and everything else) at Union Restaurant in Pasadena
Ever since Chef Bruce Kalman opened Union in Old Town Pasadena in 2014, it had been at the top of my list of restaurants to visit. I had tried his fresh, home made, delicate pasta dishes at various food and wine events around town but just could not seem to get myself across town to Pasadena. But finally I did and it was everything I anticipated and more.
Union is a 50-seat restaurant and bar located in a stripped-down storefront on Union Street. Brick walls, large windows looking out at the street and minimalist decor create an intimate and casual atmosphere similar to restaurants in San Francisco, Brooklyn and beyond.
A local trattoria, Union’s casual energy is filled to its capacity on any given weeknight. The staff is knowledgeable and engaging and the food……oh, those delicious house made pastas! At Union, Kalman marries Northen Italian and California cuisine and it is impossible to leave unsatisfied.
We sat down and Sommelier George Pitsironis served us a drink to start. When he gets small shipments of Bordiga Vermouth Bianco, a vermouth based on Piedmontese white wines including some Moscato, and infused with more than thirty different botanicals, he shares it with his guests. It was a treat to be able to start with this bright, refreshing vermouth on the rocks which had a lovely balance of sweetness and bitterness.
The menu at Union is printed daily as the dishes are seasonal with ingredients from local farmers markets or made in-house. There are also 6-7 different pastas on the menu and they may change from day to day but you cannot go wrong with any of them!
A standard at Union is the SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA with San Marzano tomato, garlic, Fresno chile and Grana Padano. This is a simple dish done right. The long house-made noodles are covered in just the right amount of sauce and the chile adds a little unexpected kick in this comfort dish.
The CASONCELLI, a kind of stuffed pasta typical from Lombardy that looks like ravioli, is stuffed with Fruition Farms sheep milk feta and whey and topped with carrot top pesto. Each bite just melts in the mouth.
The SQUID INK LUMACHE is served perfectly al dente with Maine lobster, fennel, Meyer lemon and truffle butter. The sweetness of the lemon with the richness of the butter are the winning combination in this dish.
The BUCATINI CACIO E PEPE is another classic pasta dish raised to another level at Union. The thick bucatini is covered in shaved Pecorino-Romano and black pepper and then topped with a perfectly cooked 63°C egg. Once you touch the egg and it runs, you mix it with the pasta and cheese and yum!
The TAGLIATELLE are long thick noodles served with pork ragu, Grana Padano and gremolata and what I loved about this dish was that it was not only comforting but also had a sweetness to it on the finish.
The GARGANELLI is a tubular pasta that captures the sauce of pork fennel sausage, dandelion greens and Pecorino Romano. I found this dish to also have some nice spice to it.
Even with all the pastas to enjoy, a meal at Union should start with the BREAD & GIARDINIERE with house made cultured butter and Hepp’s sea salt. I can never say no to house made butter and the pickled veges are addictive.
The PORK MEATBALLS are extraordinary. Topped with San Marzano tomato, caper berries, lardo and chile, these meatballs are tender and absolutely amazing.
The HOPE RANCH MUSSELS are served with guanciale, ditalini, preserved lemon, garlic and tomato. Once the beautiful large-sized mussels are eaten, grab a spoon to enjoy the savory broth, with its little pieces of pasta and guanciale. It is like two dishes in one!
I am obsessed with mushrooms and the WILD MUSHROOMS with Grist & Toll polenta, Pedro Ximenez sherry vinegar and truffle butter is a must! Big meaty pieces of mushroom are covered in a rich but light, tart but creamy and sweet sauce. Yum! Yum!
The BLACK COD comes from Santa Barbara and is served with charred corn and fennel, maitake mushrooms in a tomato fennel fumet. The elegant and delicate broth is lovely and I tried to slurp up every last drop.
I loved the big beans in the SUCCOTASH made with Scarlet Runner Beans, charred corn and corn ash.
A meal at Union is enhanced with wine and sommelier George Pitsironis has created a succinct but diverse list of both domestic and imported wines and beer.
Throughout our entire meal, George selected a number of Italian wines to enjoy with each course.
And to finish off the meal, we had to have dessert. We enjoyed the OLIVE OIL CAKE with citrus gastrique and salted honeycomb gelato, Vanilla with Chocolate Chip GELATO and Tangerine & Citrus SORBET and the GIANDUJA CHOCOLATE BUDINO with cocoa nib, truffle salt and Ligurian olive oil.
It may have taken met a couple years to get to Union in the first place but I will be back very soon!
37 E. Union St.