By Maria Vilac, Contributor
“This is an American restaurant with a little twist”, says The Union’s chef, Eric Gillish. However, it is sometimes difficult to find that “twist” he referred to in the menu. It is a mix of different cuisines. There is primarily Mediterranean food, like seafood and pasta; and most of them are based on ingredients like basil, pesto or balsamic vinegar. It is hard to figure out exactly what type of food this restaurant offers. This is not specifically American food. It is a wild European, Mediterranean, American combination. The place adapts perfectly to a Unites States environment, but the food does not. However, some items do have an American touch. Many are deep fried, involve bacon, or are served with mashed potatoes. You can find hamburgers and sandwiches, prepared with a gourmet flair. Even if Kalamazoo is a student’s city, The Union is full of middle-aged people. Customers enjoy their Saturday drinking from the enormous variety of domestic and imported wines the restaurant offers. A bottle of wine ranges from $19 to $40.
You could also find some families chatting while Western Michigan University College of Fine Arts renowned musicians entertain the guests with live jazz music. Music is the principle ingredient in this restaurant. Even when Gillish is in the kitchen, he cooks with the rhythm of music.
The best way to begin a dinner is with a Fried Boursin Cheese. One of the waitresses always highly recommends it to all of her customers because it is her “favorite”. The fresh goat cheese covered with crunchy fried pastry looks unappetizingly like a deep-fried potato, but once it is in the mouth, opinions usually change. Slices of hot baguette and glorious small tomatoes seasoned with basil and olive oil surround the cheese. The combination of the cheese with the tomatoes and the bread is simply delectable. It is easy to feel how the palate expanded with the mixing of the sweet tomatoes and the milky cheese. This appetizer is so good it could pass for one offered in a restaurant on Rome’s Via Veneto. The appetizer prices are between $3.99 and $9.25. The most expensive is a sampler platter of several options.
The Grilled and Chilled Shrimp Cocktail is six large herb and garlic grilled shrimps, served with hot sauce and corn tortillas. The shrimps are fresh, huge and have a lot of flavor. However, the combination of the shrimp with the hot tomato sauce simply does not match, and the sauce is bland. They are discordant. It is like putting together red pants and a boring yellow blouse.
The Union is close to celebrating its tenth birthday; it opened in 2002. Eric Gillish says that in commemoration of this celebration, he is planning to change the restaurant’s menu. However, most feel that he not change the incredible and extravagant Seafood Papardelle, prepared with handmade wide noodles tossed with shrimp, lobster meat, pan-seared scallops and pesto cream sauce topped with a lump of crab and a few drops of balsamic. The mix of the cream and the balsamic dissolves easily in anyone’s mouth. They serve generous pieces of lobster and again, huge fat shrimps. For seafood lovers this is the perfect dish because it has a variety of everything. The Papardelle is $19.50, the most expensive dish on the menu.
Eric Gillish explains that compared with normal American food, he does not use a lot fat in his food. He tries to make it as healthy as possible and relies on olive oil or light butter. “This is one of the biggest problems with American food,” affirmed Gillish. He also says he cannot choose his favorite menu dish. It depends on his humor and the day. According to him, our appetites and tastes change every day.
While this is true, most of us cannot deny desserts, especially at The Union. This restaurant does not have a lot of dessert options, but what is offered is worth it. Prices are from $3.75 to $4.50. The Pecan Toffee Chocolate Torte and the Apple Blueberry Crisp are the most popular. The first one is a cake which has three layers of different types of chocolate and pecans. The layers of dark chocolate, butter toffee and the chocolate mousse look thick and rich in chocolate. Even though the second one also has different layers, in this case it has oatmeal, nuts, apples in caramel, and blueberries. It is served warm with vanilla ice cream.
Overall, The Union is a good casual place to enjoy an evening out with friends, have a drink, listen to good music and eat something fancier.
Nevertheless, before deciding to go there, it would be better to have a large budget because it might be more expensive compared with other restaurants in downtown Kalamazoo.