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The journey to opening chef Christie Tenaud’s first restaurant, in Wilton Manors, probably began the day she met a sommelier with an unmistakably “dreamy” Italian accent.
Eight years later, their union has created Union Kitchen & Bar, a new Peruvian and Italian neighborhood eatery that debuted mid-August at 2309 N. Dixie Highway, one block south of the nightlife crawl on Wilton Drive. The sit-down restaurant, which comes from Tenaud and husband-partner Roberto Colombi, features homemade pasta, an open kitchen-style raw bar and entrees that span chicken agrodolce to Peruvian sea bass.
The inspiration for Union started with a new job on the 27th floor of the Boca Raton Resort & Club, Tenaud says. After working in Arizona and New York most of her career, Tenaud had been hired as executive chef to open the resort’s now-shuttered American restaurant, Blue, and was introduced to Colombi. At first, the Peruvian-born chef didn’t want the job.
“I sat at the bar with Roberto and he was selling me on the point of coming down to Florida, and, well, his Italian accent didn’t hurt,” Tenaud recalls with a laugh. “Three weeks later, we were hanging out, and eight years later we have two kids.”
After seven years of Tenaud and Colombi running Blue, the Boca Raton Resort told the couple last fall it planned to shut down for two years of renovations. So Tenaud and Colombi ended their lease early and hunted for restaurant space.
The 2,785-square-foot Union Kitchen in Wilton Manors, which occupies a squat warehouse covered in murals of blue herons taking flight, draws on their culinary strengths – and their heritage, she says. (The restaurant seats 150 in the dining room, front and rear patios.)
Tenaud’s upbringing and stint working at Primo, a James Beard-winning farm-to-table restaurant in Tucson, Ariz., inspired the menu’s Southwestern and Peruvian-accented dishes, including crispy pork belly tacos and grilled octopus marinated in Peruvian anticucho seasoning. Meanwhile, Colombi’s stint cooking at Italy’s Michelin two-star Ristorante Gualtiero Marchesi inspired Union’s four homemade pasta entrees ($13-$15 for small, $22-$25 for large portion) and chicken agrodolce ($27), plated in a sweet-and-sour adobo of golden raisins, cipollini onions and white wine over creamy polenta.
A massive full-liquor bar along the restaurant’s east wall features wine and local craft beer on tap, along with craft cocktails. But the main attraction is the menu of 100 international wines from California, as well as Germany, Spain and Argentina – all handpicked by sommelier Colombi.
That wine menu, Tenaud says with a laugh, used to be a lot longer.
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“We originally had this eight-page wine list because he was excited to showcase small wineries. I was like, ‘Uh, honey, no, let’s slim this down a bit,’ ” Tenaud says. “But wine is his baby. Mine is the food in the kitchen.”
Union Kitchen, which has an L-shaped, partially open kitchen, has a raw bar display stocked with lobster claws, daily oysters ($3 apiece), Maine lobster rolls ($16) and seafood towers ($85). Nutella-filled ricotta doughnuts ($10), one of Union Kitchen’s four desserts, are also deep-fried by cooks in the dining room.
“I tried to make a menu where everyone can find a little something,” Tenaud says. “If someone wants a steak, we have cauliflower or ribeye, or they can do a seafood tower. We’ve been getting so many fresh pasta orders this week.”
Craft cocktails ($8-$14) include the Blind Pig with vodka, honey, blackberries and mint; a Japanese Smoked Old Fashioned with chocolate bitters; the Mary Pickford, punched with rum, pineapple juice and maraschino liqueur; and Corpse Reviver, infused with gin, passion fruit liqueur and lemon juice and rimmed in absinthe.
Union Kitchen & Bar, at 2309 N. Dixie Highway, in Wilton Manors, is open 4-11 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday and 4-11 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays. Call 754-216-0143 or go to UnionKB.com.