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What to Eat at Urban Union, Opening Tonight

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Photo: Urban Daddy

Historically, Taylor Street has been an Italian-driven restaurant row, but with the addition of some newer restaurants (Three Aces, anyone?), the vibe is changing and becoming more well-rounded. That includes Urban Union, which opens its doors officially tonight. The restaurant has been a dream of chef/partner Michael Shrader's for more than 20 years, but a great career, which included more than 10 years with the N9NE Restaurant Group, kept him from doing it. But not any more.

The 65-seat spot is anything but pretentious. It doesn't take reservations (except at the chef's table; more on that). You can sit at a table or the bar, which includes a raw bar (more on that, too) or kick it at a coveted seat in front of the open kitchen. With warm reclaimed woods, rustic pictures of fish, white tile in the kitchen, chalkboards with daily specials, floor-to-ceiling windows on the facade that will open in summer, exposed brick and vents, butcher block and more, Urban Union is meant to be a casual, local spot, but with its menu and wine program will likely become a destination quickly.

Shrader, along with partner Jason Chan and wine director Jimmy Farrell, has created an easily accessible menu broken out into six categories: Raw Bar, Seafood, Pasta & Dumplings, Meats & Such, Vegetables & Friends and Sweet Endings, which are prepared by pastry chef Mitsu Nozaki (Boka, Tribute).

Expect a bevy of seafood offerings from raw items like oysters, littleneck clams, Bar Harbor mussels, lobster, king crab and jumbo shrimp. And from the kitchen, Shrader is putting out really affordable dishes like Florida red grouper with Manila clam cioppino; dungeness crab; potato gratin and crispy fried fresh squid; grilled marinated skirt steak with French shallot; and grilled lamb riblettes with garlic and oregano.

But one of the things Shrader is most excited about is his wood-burning oven, where he'll do everything from head-on prawns, mussels, roasted Pacific sand dabs, roasted porchetta, roasted squab, roasted baby turnips, baked organic apples, in-house-made ciabatta and more. "I'm doing it for the smokiness," he said. "I love the flavor that comes out of the oven."

Shrader is also geeked about his 12-seat chef's table, which requires a minimum of six people to reserve, but when you're there, you belong to Shrader. "When you sit there you're mine," he said. "You don't get a menu or wine list. I'll custom tailor your meal. The amount of courses will change each night. Some people may want to do three others may want to do 20. We can do that." The average cost per person at the chef's table would be about $60, but that includes wine pairings with each course.

Fortunately the restaurant has a massive wine program comprising about 170 labels ranging in price from $20 up to $160 with most falling in the $30 to $40 range. The bar holds a custom-made stainless steel six-tap wine station featuring mostly California wines, but one Garnacha from Spain. And there will be 30 glass pours between $5 and $18, including a red from Burgundy.

Urban Union opens tonight at 4:30 and will serve dinner until 10 p.m. on weeknights and until midnight Friday and Saturday. Brunch will be served between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and weekday lunch will begin in the spring.

Urban Union Menus

Urban Union

1421 W Taylor Street, Chicago, IL 60607 312 929 4302 Visit Website

Urban Union

1421 W. Taylor St., Chicago, IL