I got the chance to check out Union Restaurant and Bar Latino last night, the new venture from Freelance alums David Martinez and Paulo Feteira. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be wrong in saying this is HaverstrawÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first destination restaurant. The food is that good.
David told me for our upcoming fall restaurant preview (buy the paper on Friday to see it in The Line) that with his cooking he was hoping to surprise people by serving Latino twists on American dishes Ã¢â‚¬â€ and upscale twists on Latin dishes. So if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re used to your mussels soup with pommes frites, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be interested to know he serves his with crispy yucca. If you think your tortilla soup should be brothy with tons of crisped tortilla strips Ã¢â‚¬â€ youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be surprised to find heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pureed the tortilla right into the broth. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an interesting concept, and one he pulls off very well. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get started, huh?
The Batida de Coco Francesa. Made with cognac and coconut colada. My husband was surprised to learn heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ordered the Ã¢â‚¬Å“girlÃ¢â‚¬? drink, but he happily sipped away. It was delicious… not to sweet. And cognac had a nice kick.
The caipirinha. Cachaca, sugar and fresh lime. This drink was very well balanced. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not as sweet as rum, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not for babies, for sure. Cachaca is an aquired taste. One that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m happy to say I have acquired.
We decided to share the Sopa de Tortilla ($4.50), and they split it for us in the kitchen.
David makes it by roasting tortillas and then cooking them with tomato and onions and chicken broth. Then he purees the whole thing. He told me itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because he feels like tomato soup often tastes like tomatoes, and he thinks it should taste like tortillas. He uses a garnish of shrimp, crispy tortillas, avocado and cilantro oil. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great.
Then we got the Arepa Columbiana:
Sweet corn cake (like a pancake), shrimp and salad with mango and pomegranate vinaigrette. The bitterness of the arugula was a good foil to the sweetness of the shrimp. A winner also.
And the Ceviche Hondureno.
I gotta admit, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen this style of presentation at Peter KellyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s restaurants. (He owns the Freelance Cafe in Piermont.) But that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bad dish. In fact, very tasty indeed. The coconut milk was silky, as was the tuna, and the flecks of cilantro stepped in to separate.
Then David sent out a shared portion of the Sopa de Mejillones Cremosa. (Creamy mussels soup):
The flavors in this were deep yet fresh. And I like the green onions and the cherry tomatoes for both color and interest. The best was the crispy yucca, which added an unexpected texture. It was like a very crispy puff pastry Ã¢â‚¬â€ but with an earthy flavor.
We were quite full by now, and most of these entrees went home. But, we were here to sample, so….
the Chuleta de Puerco.
I think this is what David is talking about when he says he wants to surprise people. This dish could be found on any Latin menu Ã¢â‚¬â€ pounded, breaded pork chop with lettuce and tomato on top. But normally the lettuce will be iceberg and the pork will be dry. This was flavorful and bright.
The vaca frita Cubana.
This dish had great flavor, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one where the presentation didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t blow me away. But thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably because when I see a plate dressed like this, I usually think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to taste very good. That was not the case here. The beans were earthy and rich and the skirt steak was tender and juicy. I could have used a little less sauce, but otherwise, very good.
We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want dessert, either, but they surprised us. The tiramisu was good, though IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m wary of the caffeine in that dessert, so I rarely order it and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have much to compare it to.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s light, airy and sweet with a hint of bitterness from the espresso.
The bread pudding Ã¢â‚¬â€
Ã¢â‚¬â€ was very interesting indeed. There werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t chuncks of bread. Paulo told us DavidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wife Maria makes it. She must puree it. Obviously thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s some dairy in there, but also dulce de leche, so caramelized, too. Out of sight.
There are a few issues. The restaurant isn’t that comfortable: lights are a little bright; glassware and table settings are sort of amateur. And the restaurant still looks exactly the same as it did when it was Gallitos. (There are even roosters all around still.)
But these are all things the owners can fix once they get their groove. And I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t remember a time when a restaurant has impressed me so much on its third day being open. There were hardly any serving snafus and all the food was fantastic. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m worried about trumpeting these guys too much Ã¢â‚¬â€ lest you go and the place is packed and they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t handle the crowds. That very well could happen. But you go on a slow night, as I did, and put yourself in their capable hands, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be very happy indeed.
Union Restaurant and Bar Latino, 24 New Main St., Haverstraw. 845-429-4354.