Union Provisions has the potential to be one of the most admirable spots in town. There's a lot to like: a desirable address, an alluring bar, and a multitude of enticing bites and dishes. Top that off with the fact that the space at 513 King St. has never looked better, from its sheer white façade to the polished, clean interior. Union Provisions is a sight to behold.
In fact, one can't help but notice the beautiful dining room by gazing through the mammoth windows when passing by. The space is huge, complete with white honeycomb tiles, exposed brick walls, large modern pendant lights, dark wooden tables adorned with mason jar candles, and simple, yet refined place settings. In the back, two long banquets run along a glass wine cellar — a focal point in the welcome and striking space.
And the King Street eatery strives to be a fun and lively place to grab a drink and enjoy a bite of modern American cuisine with both local and ethnic influences. However, the overall experience is plagued by missteps in just about every part of a meal, from the service to the food, drawing the line between good and great.
The dining room is loud. But that's rarely a problem as it's usually nearly empty, even on a recent Friday at 6 p.m. While lingering thoughts of a long week of work might be cured with the bar's spiced cocktail, Fall in a Glass — Mount Gay Rum, allspice dram, lime, and simple syrup — the shrapnel of ice shards that force their way into the drink dilute the experience. Just as it could be just what the doctor ordered if the expectedly bold, hoppy profile of the Westbrook One Claw Rye ($6) wasn't muted by a frozen pint glass.
Despite the technicalities at the bar, Union Provisions can still put out decent food. They serve a quality flatbread with grilled shrimp, bacon, arugula, and manchego ($12) that's sure to hit the spot, and the pan-seared local snapper accompanied by frenched green beans and leeks in a spiced citrus fumet was cooked perfectly ($21).
Unfortunately, consistency is a clear issue with most of the other dishes. Ever since fried chickpeas ($4) became all the rave, it's been a rule of thumb to order them wherever we go, but the first order was so salty they were nearly inedible. Thirsty, it was disappointing to see the amount of effort it took to get a refill of water. That said, an order of the chickpeas on a later visit proved to be much better.
On the other hand, the char-grilled Shishito peppers were screaming to be seasoned, even with the mild chorizo adding a small dose of saltiness ($7). The red snapper crudo would've been a knockout if it weren't for the lack of a key crudo fundamental: acidity.
Throwing in a little Asian flair, Union Provisions offers an array of steamed items like pork steam buns ($8) and overly dry duck confit potstickers that practically beg to be dipped in sweet chili sauce ($9). The shrimp and chive dumplings with soy-ginger sauce, however, were the most memorable of the three ($7).
The entrees are definitely appealing. There are scallops with melted leeks, Maitake mushrooms, and carrot confit ($29) and a seared duck breast with cranberry quinoa and spiced oranges ($27). The gnocchi is the best part of the "chicken and dumplings," which consists of dry, under-seasoned chicken afloat on the little pillows with mushrooms and picholine olives ($22).
The rabbit trio ($28) sounds promising, but the rib tends to be dry, while the loin and leg are juicy but lacking seasoning. The sweet potato puree makes the dish. Luckily, the Wagyu bavette, ($26) cooked a perfect medium rare and sliced into medallions, is serviceable, and the charred Brussels sprouts in red miso are worth talking about.
For such a stunning place in a highly sought after location, one has to question the commitment of the kitchen. Perhaps the departure of the opening chef is partly to blame, but the inconsistencies we're seeing are related to poor execution. Other than the empty glasses of water, the place is run well, but would that hold true if more than one-quarter of the dining room were full?
I see potential in Union Provisions. If half the dishes were executed as well as the one plate of snapper we had, they'd be making a modest dash from good to great. For the price though, one would expect flawless execution, and there are simply plenty of other places around town that can ensure dishes aren't dry, under-seasoned, or over-salted at that price point. Let's hope they put some focus in the kitchen. It would be a shame to see such beautiful space go to waste.