The elegant digs of the Union Restaurant at the recently opened Press Hotel in the former Portland Press Herald building on Congress Street are a welcome addition to the city’s dining world with its restrained style and flair.
Nearly all of Portland’s restaurants – those that prepare some of the best food in the city – are run by men and women who happen to be nice people who don’t rely on the strobe lights of Instagram stardom or the flash of look-at-me-now arrogance. And that’s why I was so impressed with the new restaurant, Union, at the sweetly posh Press Hotel. Here, at last, is a true urbane dining haven where extremely well-prepared food is served in a discreetly stylish setting. In fact, the dining room exhibits a sophistication that doesn’t rely on the curlicues of trendiness that’s become more kitsch than fashionable.
The restaurant opened only a few days ago, so the menu is still in soft-open mode with just a few dishes from each category – starters, entrees and desserts. Chef Josh Berry seems to have the right touch in sending out fare that is superbly done.
I had a great European-style breakfast yesterday that was a fine sampling of house-made croissant and blueberry muffin, local cheddar from Cabot dairy and house-cured prosciutto served with the best little dollop of fennel mustard along with fresh berries.
At dinner, the burrata with the sweetest fresh peas was a first course that had the elegance of simple flavors in perfect harmony. The burrata was from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery and the peas were actually local. I couldn’t believe that the kitchen was able to find these local sweeties so early in the season, but they were procured at the Wednesday farmer’s market at Monument Square.
As a main course I had the coulotte steak, one of my favorite steaks from the new order of cuts that butchers now favor. It displays a deliciously rich wallop of beef flavor so typical of the tenderest parts cut from the sirloin cap. My dinner mate had the Casco Bay Cod with clams that was a classic preparation.
We didn’t have dessert, but we did enjoy two glasses of wine from the smartly devised list: a Pinot Gris from Oregon and an utterly luscious Malbec from Argentina.
The room itself is a stunner. Finally we have a restaurant with the comforts of banquette seating covered with the buttery smoothness of rust colored suede. Tables are set well apart, too, rather than the cram of communal seating that is so popular elsewhere.
For a new restaurant it’s already attracting a core of diners that you don’t see enough of in Portland. And you’re not sitting on a stool with your back to the room. Instead, each section of the dining room – from the lounge to the banquettes to tables for two along the big windows that face the street- offers great comfort.
The dining bar at Union affords seating that fronts the open kitchen. And that evening it was packed with diners who were well dressed, men even wearing well-cut jackets.
I think Union will prove to be one of the most compelling restaurants to come our way. If Portland is tipping the scales of being oh-so-cool, this restaurant harks back to the modernity of timeless elegance.
390 Congress St., Portland | 207-808-8700 | www.thepresshotel.com/union |