Chef Teo Paul (left) and manager/sommelier Christopher Sealy keep Union humming.
UNION (72 Ossington, at Humbert, 416-850-0093) Complete dinners for $65 per person (lunches $35), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $25/$15. Open Tuesday to Friday 9:30 am to midnight, Saturday 10:30 am to midnight, lunch from noon, dinner from 6:30 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Has Ossington jumped the shark? Sure, the city's recently stuck the too-trendy strip with a ridiculous moratorium on new restaurants and bars. But haven't these unlikely blocks already reached saturation point?
Earnest vegetarian spot Get Real at 135 has just kicked the bucket, its final death knell the non-stop construction of another city-approved mega-restaurant next door. Across the way at 164, Natalie Barin's delightful Le Bar à Soupe has also called it quits. Seems there's no money to be made selling $7 lunches - $18 martinis after midnight, no problem. And up the street at 227, the hotly anticipated gastro-pub Saint ain't happening.
Closer to Queen, Union opened on Oz last summer to considerable hype. The accompanying puffery included a Toronto Life-sanctioned blog written by first-time restaurateur and chef Teo Paul that read more like how not to open a restaurant - hire your friends, throw money into a building you don't own - than a manual for success.
I'd managed to avoid the joint until two weeks ago, when friends and I decide to check out Union early in the week just after six without reservations, only to be shooed away with the suggestion that we try our luck at Delux next door. After five days of calling, I finally secure a reso, although it takes another three for it to be confirmed. Business must be good.
We arrive to find a mostly empty room, a holding pen dominated by a horseshoe-shaped marble-topped bar at the front leading to a more intimate brick-lined space and a second bar flanking an open kitchen. We're immediately shown to the worst table in the place, number 10, a four-top directly over a blasting furnace vent. We ask to be moved.
Reseated, we start with the inevitable charcuterie board - a few strips of fatty house-corned beef brisket, a mound of fat-streaked pork rillette, slices of coarse country-style terrine ($15) and a round of Erdinger Weissbier ($6.50) served in stretched glass that makes it look like we ordered our ale by the yard. A trio of pink-centred elk sliders ($9 dinner/$8 lunch) arrives medium-rare on Harbord challah toasts, drizzled with a sweet galangal and mirin reduction.
Since both the roast bird (market price) and sticky pork ribs ($19) are not available, I go for the token vegetarian main. Tonight, it's a pesto-topped square of unusually light polenta draped with pungent Portuguese cheese, plated over lengths of poached zucchini "lasagna" in pulpy old-school tomato sauce ($16/$14).
Today's fish is lake trout ($26), a massive slab of perfectly timed fillet unexpectedly dusted with curry powder and paprika, while the plat du jour ($25) is the ubiquitous bone-in Berkshire pork chop that's at least one-third fat. All come with a heap of garlicky rapini, a handful of overly al dente baby veg, and more just-okay frites and weirdly hot potato salad than we can finish.
By the time we're ready to leave, the 34-seat room's in full feeding frenzy, with an eclectic mix of locals and Bay Street suits all apparently hell-bent on enjoying themselves as conspicuously as possible. At lunch, Union's positively serene.
Paul blogs that he doesn't do brunch, but here it is - Saturday, noon - and that's definitely a runny fried egg jauntily plopped on top of his meaty pork 'n' shrimp Pimp burger ($16). Another egg straddles a dish labelled Steak Haché de Cheval ($14) instead of Steak Haché avec Oeufs à Cheval. That's not a pony burger or horse testicles, but eggs on horseback. Both burgers come sided with deliciously buttered bok choy and a pair of crisply crusted rosti. Wrapping up with a Parisian spin on bread pudding ($7), we can't help but wonder why Union is virtually deserted.