The birthday girl chose this as our destination, in which to celebrate her. She has a track record for impeccable taste when it comes to choosing restaurants, so I was excited. Even more so when I found out the cuisine was Southeast Asian fusion. If you have read any of my pervious relevant posts, you know that I love Malaysian food, as it is the cuisine I grew up enjoying. So I knew this would be a delicious night. Seeing as they don’t take reservations, I set upon the task of coming in early to put our name on the wait list and get us a table. It’s been a while since my last trip to Chinatown. So after listening to my iPhone’s map app direct me onto a one way street, I finally found my way to “The Union”, parking a block away to do so. This definitely wasn’t what I expected from a restaurant in Chinatown. The food was definitely Asian, but the crowd, ambience, and decor was Gastown chic. This must be another restaurant in the rejuvenation project. You walk into dimly lit darkness, full dining tables, and loud murmurs of multiple conversation fighting against the bluesy voice of the jazz music playing over head. As the night wore on the music gained momentum. By the end of the evening it was upbeat old school classics. This place was buzzing. Seating was four rows of family style tables, with the ability to accommodate over 20 bodies on each. These heavy duty picnic tables were sturdy with cushioned benches to match. It was tight, but no one seemed to mind. There was a little more shoulder to shoulder and arm rubbing with our neighbouring parties than I would like. And private conversations were hard to have when surrounded so closely. But yet again this phased no one. Each group kept within their bubble. The dim lighting came from over sized, retro style, teal lamp shades. They hung low and were paired with the flickering tea lights on the tables. The tea lights in holder were used to create a separation between parties. My complaint over seating is the lack of space for your belonging. No room to have your jacket or bag take up space on the bench, and the only hooks were located on the other wall, across the room from where we were seated. To get to it meant squishing past people and rubbing them the wrong way, literally. There was also hardly any leg room for you and the person facing you, if you both decide to prop your feet up. I played unintentional footsie several times that night. And for my more beefed up guest he found getting in and getting out difficult with the lack of room to stretch out his longer legs. I started by night at the bar and enjoyed the show behind it. Two bar tenders worked feverishly to create south East Asian inspired cocktails. They had as many fresh fruits and ingredients as they did bottles. Everything was sliced and peeled as needed and shaken until blended. You could tell the popularity of certain drinks as multiple glasses were made at a time. Being familiar with Malaysian food and having it as part of my background, I immediately was drawn to the all doubled cocktails made with pandan leaves and pandan syrup. “Phuket coconut spritzer”. Toasted coconut rum, navy run, fresh pineapple, pandan syrup, pandan leaves, and soda water. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t taste the pandan, as that is why I ordered it. It was sweet with sugar and sharp with the rum. Between sips I got some of the shredded pineapple flesh between my lips. “Boracay Hangin”. Vodka, cucumber juice, pandan syrup, calamansi juice, and atomized kaffir lime rum, topped with toasted coconut. The brew was thick. It looked like a kale or spinach fruit smoothie made in a processor. And tasted of herbs and cucumber. A savoury cocktail that almost felt healthy to drink. A from scratch made piña colada, served in a young coconut. This was off the menu and the bartender seemed very proud of his creation. Especially as all the customers who saw this drink come to the pass had to know what it was. Non alcoholic, “Nai Khanom Tom”. Thai basil shrub, tangerine, cucumber, peppermint, and soda. It looked like a mojito and was as refreshing. It had a nice zing to it. Another interesting beverage was their “bangas”, which means “jar” in Filipino. It is a concept drink meant to highlight the simplicity of the fresh flavours, ones that they pride themselves on using. The cocktail is literally made with a jar and a stick. There were five different varieties, each with more unique and rarer ingredients, not often seen in North American cuisine, let alone in cocktails. Ingredients like cardamom, gomme, calamansi, angostura bitters, galangal, and rambutan. Had I not driven I would have loved to sampled more of such drinks. Eventually I was moved to our table and was left waiting for my party to arrive. I felt bad as I was seated right in front of, and facing the door; so was forced to watch other guests who came minutes after me loitering, waiting for the next available table. Eventually a few of them had to stand outside in the cold, for lack of room. And here I was nursing my drink with three empty seats. The hostess warned me that they don’t like holding tables for too long, and said if my guests didn’t arrive soon I would loose the seats I came so early to get. Luckily the 15 minute time frame came and went and I was still able to remain, until the others arrived. The menu was a two side page. Drinks on the back, food on the front. The dishes were separated in to shareable “snacks”, “Banh Mi” (Vietnamese subs), “salads”, “bun vermicelli bowls”, “bowls”, “extra” add ons, and “desserts”. My birthday guest, having been here before took the liberty of ordering a few starters that she has tried and likes. The food was fusion Asian. I saw influences from Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, and Korea. We were given the option to eat with either disposable chopsticks or spoons, having both set on the table along with the bowls and side plates for sharing. “Crispy fried tofu”. Tofu, spinach, and shiitake sauté, served in a Thai red curry. The sauce was spicy and full of flavour. It didn’t look like much, but I really enjoyed the taste. “Mussels”. Sambal lime coconut broth, with Thai basil. Comes with a side of naan bread, which was perfect for sopping up the delicious curry sauce with. This too was very flavourful with the variety of spices used. These were the biggest and juiciest mussels I have seen to date. Their size quantified their amount. Each was equivalent to two mussels else where. This dish was best eaten hot. And I don’t suggesting drinking the sauce like a soup, it’s citrus and vinegar was too sharp alone, for my palette. Luckily we were able to get more complimentary naan bread to dip into, to not waste all the excess sauce. “Nam prik pla”. Chilled spicy fish lettuce wraps, with noodle crisps and cucumber pickle. This was a little hard to eat, as the ingredients were laid over two separate leafs of lettuce. I didn’t bother to eat all the excess lettuce, after condensing things down to one leaf. This was definitely a two handed task, and even then the noddles still fell out of the wrap. The chilled temperature really suited this dish. The citrus gave the flavour profile a kick. The crispy noodles gave each bite a great crunch. And when done it left a spicy after taste from the chilli pickled cucumber. “Green papaya salad”. Mint, cilantro, spiced peanuts, and chilli lime dressing, with crispy shrimp. Best described a crunch with a tang. If you didn’t know what this was, you wouldn’t think that this was shredded raw papaya. The looked like noodles and had the consistency of noodles. The fish was the best party, not oily or over fried. They would have be great dish just by themselves. “Banh mi”. Vietnamese sub with spicy sriracha aioli, jalapeños, daikon, and carrot pickle, cucumber, and cilantro. We each got one of the four varieties. Sweet and sour fried fish. Fried tofu. Lemongrass chicken. Crispy pork belly. And we all added a fried egg for $1. The bread was crispy and chewy, you could tell it was fresh from the first bite. The fried egg was crispy on its edges and soft and runny in its yolk. It made a great addition, one I did not think of ever having in my Vietnamese subs. I was able to try a bite of each sub, and I think my last choice of fish was the most flavourful one. Our server was attentive. She checked in often and filled our waters frequently, without asking. When she addressed us she spoke by squatting, bringing her closer to our lowered level. She was willing to accommodate and even offered to help us take photos. After she snapped two, she suggested we take a look, and that she could take more if we so wanted. And most importantly there was no situation with the cake. With this group, we have had some bad experiences trying to bring in our own birthday cake to a restaurant. They either won’t allow it, or don’t help us with it. Here, our server set the candles up, offered to sing, and brought us the appropriate sized plates and cutlery to cut and eat the cake with. Would I come back? – Yes. I love Southeast Asian cuisine. The food was delicious, and there are so many more dishes and drinks I wanted to try; had I the time or the stomach. I got so excited just reading the names and the list of ingredients under it. And even more excited when I saw presentation of the dishes and smelled them as they were walked to their respective tables. Would I recommend it? – Yes. It had the atmosphere of a pub, but with great tasting food and fun upbeat music. You get the downtown vibe, without having to navigate the groups and the traffic there. And there is plenty of parking around, and if you look, free spots as well. Don’t deny your craving for unique cocktails and satisfying dishes.