Last night was the first time we've ever taken our daughter along for a decadent adult restaurant meal. At friend's homes or ours, she is always welcome, but usually for dinners of this ilk, we get a babysitter. Last night was the end of an era, actually a seven year stint of my favorite Seattle restaurant.
Union, A Restaurant, had been in play since chef owner Ethan Stowell opened this denizen of fine dining in 2003. Last night, Union served its final dinner. It was located on 1st Ave. and Union St., a block away from the Pike Place Market and even closer to SAM (Seattle Art Museum). In the very early stages of operation, I convinced Ethan to allow BYOB one night a week and from then on, he did so on Monday nights sans corkage. BYOB night started off slowly but within a few months the place was jamming on Monday night.
Sadly, with the largest building in Seattle, WAMU's headquarters (just a block away) all but a graveyard nowadays and the slowing of the downtown corridor over the past two years, business for Union had really started to fade. It became time to shut it down. Very sad to see this exceptional restaurant with some of the best trained staff I've ever come across (saying a lot as I lived the restaurant business for decades) and inspired food, go by the way side.
As soon as I heard the news on Wednesday, I called to make a reservation for the last night (May 29th). I decided it was time to include Taylor too, as she is seven and a half and can now be trusted to behave for a few hours in a restaurant of this caliber. My wife and I were melancholy knowing the restaurant was closing, like having a good friend move to another state. As we both loved it there, we knew this was going to be a bitter-sweet celebration.
I had a hard time deciding which bottle of wine to bring along and wanted to take a "bin end" … the last bottle from a bunch of "something special" ... but not sure which exact bottle it would wind up being. Having had previous experience closing restaurants over the years, I knew what to expect. Fortunately, Ethan is going to be opening a new restaurant in Ballard, called: Staple & Fancy Mercantile with 40-50 seats. At 37, Stowell is a 3-time nominee of the James Beard Award, and already has three other very successful restaurants in operation: Tavolata, Anchovies & Olives, and How to Cook a Wolf; all of which have very talented chefs in place.
So the good news is that his staff will all wind up keeping their jobs in one of his other restaurants. That made the vibe last night, celebratory and not like going to a foodie funeral. My daughter was so excited to get all dressed up for the occasion and was just a little disappointed when I told her she'd have to leave her headphones and iPod at home. Kids nowadays!
As soon as we arrived, I ordered a bottle of their Prosecco, one of my favorites from the Veneto area, the n/v Pico Prosecco Brut, a succulent version with zippy acidity. We ordered several appetizers to pass around between us: beef tartare paired with slightly salty handmade pumpernickel crackers, an incredibly delicious and delicate version of Burrata and last but not least, a Dungeness crab salad that may have been the best pairing of the three along with our Prosecco.
We chose dinner entrees that would pair well with the bottle of 1998 Beaux Freres Pinot Noir from Oregon, that I had finally selected before leaving home. We shared the three dishes, a perfectly cooked rare Ahi with a mélange of beans, Alaskan Halibut simply grilled and placed atop a bed of lentils and possibly the finest of all, a double-cut gargantuan pork chop accompanied by polenta and artichoke hearts. Each of the three was stellar in its own right but the pork which was the selection of my daughter, was the clear winner in a tough lineup.
It was my last bottle of any 1998 Oregonian PN, which remains my favorite all-time vintage of PN in OR. At twelve years of age, this Pinot was just coming out of its youthful phase. Expressive and expansive, the sophisticated aromas of strawberry-rhubarb, herbs and earth dazzled us through the rest of the evening. What was a brilliant vintage early on but was so big that the tannins in this wine (when younger) were simply overpowering, the structure is now much calmer and focused. The palate was sublime and the silken texture about as good as any domestic Pinot Noir ever gets. Dorene and I were both "oohing and ahhing" and smiling after most sips. What more could you ask of a 12 year old OR PN? The funny thing is that this particular bottling has the stuffing to last another 5-7 years from this point.
We shared some sips with a few of the long term staff members too. After our glasses had been drained, I had the distinct impression that this really was the perfect wine to have brought for our last night at Union.
Union will be missed, but Ethan's restaurant stable continues to expand and gain in popularity. I can't wait to see what Staple & Fancy Mercantile turns out to be like. As he will be handling the Chef position in this new eatery, it is assured of gaining a loyal following early on. He and his wife Angela seem to have the midas touch when it comes to planning and executing eateries around the Seattle neighborhoods. And thus endeth our last night at Union.