The Playful Plateful

By Kate Pluth '12, Copy Editor

Union on Yale fills a niche that no other Claremont restaurant does. It tries to embody the latest and greatest of urban, trendy dining, where other local haunts stick to more traditional cuisines or American standards.

Unfortunately, though, I have to emphasize the word “tries.”

Union on Yale opened on Dec. 12 and is the newest addition to the many parent-worthy restaurants that Claremont boasts. John Solana, proprietor of the Back Abbey (the beloved gastropub also in the Village), shares ownership of the business with his friend and bible-study partner, Mark Perone.

Union on Yale’s philosophy is to gather “in union with others.” The menu includes a range of medium- sized plates intended for sharing and tasting a little bit of everything. A bocce ball court is nestled in the outdoor patio, which also encourages camaraderie. This is actually a great aspect of the spot; just ask a host, sign a liability waiver, and you can play bocce ball to your heart’s content. Fo’ free.

Upon entering the place last weekend with some friends, I felt a little overwhelmed by the decor. Seats from an airport terminal, cubist paintings, ‘70s light fixtures, circular boat window, ‘50s vacation- style bar... No ounce of cohesion.

Reading the menu, however, delighted. Someone obviously put thought and care into crafting each dish. The execution of the dishes was never 100 percent spot-on, though. The baby beet salad was wonderfully composed, but I wish they’d used the classic goat cheese pairing as opposed to burrata. I applaud the saucier for the decadent “citrus gastrique” that smothered my crispy pork belly and vegetable hash; that stuff tasted like nuanced drips of heaven. But the braised pork belly itself was so crispy that I had some difficulty cutting and chewing it.

There is one saving grace for Union: the wood-fired pizza. We ordered and devoured their pizza bianca—topped with fresh mozzarella, fontina and black truffle cheese—and every time another pizza passed our table, we drooled like Pavlovian dogs. The crusts are crispy, thin-but-not-too- thin, and achieve the perfect amount of char from the wood fire stove. Their toppings are tasteful and fresh, ranging from the timeless margherita to pine nuts, arugula and speck.

For the 21-and-over crowd, I have good news and bad news. The good news: the rosemary lemon drop is wonderful, they use Ketel One and other high quality spirits for their well drinks and they don’t water down the drinks. Like our waiter said, “Keep it good, keep it pure.” The bad news: for an establishment that is trying to join the current revival of cocktail culture, they need a better mixologist. Their fresh apple cocktail is one step above an appletini, and the balance was off on a number of their other cocktails. At least they have a decent beer list, featuring a number of Belgian brews à la Union’s older sibling, the Back Abbey.

Bottom line: Plan on spending at least one balmy evening this spring eating a slice of pizza on their patio while and enjoying some healthy bocce competition.

Beyond that, you’re better off waiting until this new restaurant works out its kinks.

The Breakdown: Overall: 3.5 stars Price range for food: approx $20 per person for a full meal Price range for drinks: $7-10 each Highlights: Wood-fired pizza, bocce ball Address: 232 Yale Ave. (909) 833-5104