Linda

Union Restaurant opened in the spring of 2015. Located in the Press Hotel, it has a contemporary, edgy atmosphere. Slatted ceilings and nice lighting give it an open feeling. The restaurant is in a large space, and they stagger reservations here so that service runs smoothly.

You will notice the large open kitchen as soon as you enter. Several chefs work seamlessly to produce great dishes. There are no secrets in this kitchen — it’s being produced right in front of the diners. Local, seasonal food is at the forefront here. They recently had changed over to a new spring menu when we visited. I was impressed by the level of creativity in the dishes presented.

I decided to order a salad and a small plate for my meal, and that turned out to be a perfect choice. A large arugula and fennel salad ($11) arrived and covered the dinner plate.

Along with thinly shaved fennel were feta cheese, smoked almonds and compressed honeydew melon. I had never tried compressed fruit, but I am a big fan of the concept now. It intensified the flavor of the melon and was exquisite. The peppery arugula, the salty feta and almonds and the light anise flavor of the fennel were all balanced with the sweetness of that melon. There was nothing boring about that salad.

The house-made wheat bread served with chilled butter was addictive. Let’s just say I did not decline a refill. I had no guilt about that, as I had a small plate coming. I was now really happy with my decision not to order one of the larger entrees.

Chickpea falafel ($11) is one of my favorite foods. The version they came up with as a small plate was by far the tastiest falafel I have ever had. It was perfectly seasoned to impart a lot of flavor. Whipped yogurt with fenugreek added freshness and a nice zip, and the shaved, marinated carrots were to die for.

The salad and small plate was the perfect amount of food for me. I had just had the perfect dinner of wonderful, creative food and was not even tempted by dessert (despite George’s pleadings).

Union can seat tables of two to 10. It appears to be a gathering place for friends and was very busy on a Wednesday night. Chef and Maine native Josh Berry is making a name for himself in the competitive Portland food scene. He has past experience as an executive chef in Stowe, Vermont, and in New Hampshire at The Balsams; and he spent a year working in Switzerland and Italy. We are lucky to have him back in Maine.

George

Creativity is on display here, with a menu that will keep us coming back. From the marinated hamachi to the grilled mountain trout, every item called my name. I started with the ricotta gnudi, a ham hock broth with market vegetables and truffle ($13). It was unique and delicious, a great beginning to the meal. Linda explained that gnudi are like dumplings — no wonder I loved it. It arrived in a beautiful covered bowl. I could taste ham, and she explained it’s a ham broth, “the most elegant ham soup you’re ever going to eat.” Agreed.

Torn between two choices — the local rabbit terrine and the roast salmon — I followed the advice of our server, Monica, and chose the salmon ($30) with spring beet dashi, char sui pork, bok choy, ginger and sticky rice. As I awaited the arrival of the dish, enjoying our bottle of Barbara Italian wine ($43), I savored the experience in this beautiful place and the superb service, including Monica changing our utensils with each dish.

My salmon dish had a lot of Asian flavors, with perfectly cooked fish and pork and a delicious sauce. The bok choy — an Asian green — was good, too. But I have to say the fish was the star of the dish. Even the crispy skin was tasty. I didn’t come close to eating all the rice and bok choy, but I did eat all of that huge portion of salmon.

I enjoy getting to know the staff when we’re on these travel column visits, and I was pleased to learn that Monica moved here from California, and was moving soon to Bath, although she’ll commute to Portland and continue working here. Derek, the food and beverage manager, who is focused on locally produced food, moved here a few months ago from Virginia because his wife is from Kennebunk and they wanted to live near her folks and raise their child here. All good reasons to be in Maine. And boy, do we need young people like them.

But I’m going to have to return alone, so I can try some of those fantastic desserts, like chocolate budino. They even make their own golden beet sorbet.

A two-night stay at the Press Hotel, with dinner here on the second night, put us in travel writers’ heaven. Very special indeed.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.

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