Sunday, April 18, 2010

Union Restaurant and Bar Latino

We discovered a wonderful restaurant in Haverstraw, NY a few weeks ago. When I say "discovered," I mean I read the very positive NY Times review and promptly got on the road to try it. What I love about this place, besides the delicious, inventive food and the charming, lively space, is that the chef, David Martinez, is totally self-taught. Raised in El Salvador and trained as an auto mechanic, Mr. Martinez came to the United States and sought work as a dishwasher at Xavier's in Piermont. Peter X. Kelly, chef and owner of Xavier's, recognized Mr Martinez's potential and trained him through the ranks of the kitchen. Mr Martinez, and his partner, Paulo Feteira, opened Union Restaurant in 2007. It is Mr Feteira who greets you at the door and makes you feel at home.

We have visited Union twice now and each time it has been terrific. The dish in the photo at the top of the post is Arepa Colombiana - a wonderful fusion of flavors beginning with pan seared shrimp topped with a mango salad and pomegranate vinaigrette, arranged neatly over a sweet corn cake. Also lovely was the Black Bean Soup with Chorizo and Pico de Gallo.

I hate to say this, but on both visits I had the same entree. The Pork Chop Milanese (on the specials menu both times) was so delightful the first time that I couldn't resist having it again. Although the second time around, it was not as tender but still full of the rich flavors of the panko-crusted pork chop and the arugula buffalo mozzarella topping.

If you go, do not pass up the Sangria (nothing like the cloying versions at some other venues) or the Mojito - both were top-notch and just the ticket for easing into a Latin-inspired meal.

Dessert is not to be missed here.  Also made by Mr Martinez, both desserts I tried were wonderful. On our first visit, I loved the Rice Pudding Brulee - a delicious twist on two of my favorites.  Another standout was a perfectly fudgy brownie served with vanilla ice cream and a Tahitian creme anglaise.
You know that I am a stickler for service and Mr Martinez and Mr Feteira have done a great job of hiring and training the service staff. Unobtrusive yet attentive - that is the golden ticket for wait staff, and they've punched it at Union Restaurant.  Case in point, midway through our meal, we inquired about two of the sides on the menu: Plantains Maduro and Tostones. The waiter confidently described the dishes and then offered to bring us a tasting of both. They were a wonderful example of well-known Latin dishes served with a delicious yogurt dipping sauce. And a fine example of the service level at Union.

I'm always a little leery (OK, maybe selfish) about promoting a good restaurant find for fear that I won't ever be able to get in again. But seeing as how a "little known or read" newspaper beat me to it, I guess that's a moot point. If you live within driving distance of Haverstraw, make a date to experience the Latin-fusion cuisine and warmth that is Union Restaurant and Bar Latino.
Union Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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