Saturday, February 14, 2009

A romantic evening @ the old train station

I bet you're wondering what that title is all about. No, Mr. ValleyWriter and I did not partake in any young love antics in a subway station. We actually went out to for our pre-Valentine's Day dinner on Thursday at Union Station, which is located in a restored train station in Northampton. We waited too long to make actual V-Day plans, so we couldn't get reservations anywhere. We figured we'd just end up ordering in, but then Mr. ValleyWriter surprised me by calling me up Thursday on my way home from work to ask me out on a date. It was super sweet and meant more to me than going out on the official day when that's what you're supposed to do.

When deciding where to go, I was thinking I wanted a place that felt cozy and intimate. Not one of the typical boisterous NoHo eateries. Eventually we decided on Union Station, a seafood and steakhouse. The 1 time we went there, we got to sit in little booths that looked like small train cars. There were even curtains to close yourself in. It was very romantic, so it seemed like a good choice.

This time, we didn't get seated in the train cars, but we did get seated right next to the roaring fireplace in the elegant dining room. The main dining room is actually a pretty impressive site. It's a 2-story room with 3/4 of the room open all the way to the wood paneled floor, a staircase in the center leading up to a horseshoe-shaped section with tables overlooking the main room, a horseshoe of the train car booth seating on the 1st floor around the stairs, exposed brick walls, real lamp posts scattered around the dining area - and even a train coming through the wall. (I think they may have gone a little OTT with that last bit, but the rest of the effect is really very nice.)

Once we were seated, our waitress took our drink order and came back with warm rolls and butter. We placed our order and went to the salad bar (which is included with every entree) while we waited for our appetizer. The salad bar had a good selection of leafy greens and other salad vegetables, toppings (pine nuts, croutons, etc.) and dressings, as well as some marinated salads and pasta salads. I just made myself a garden salad, but it was very fresh and tasty.

Soon our appetizer arrived. It was brie en croute (brie in puff pastry) topped with a raspberry sauce. Brie en croute is something I make myself, so I was a little critical of this. Instead of using a small round of brie (as I would), they used a wedge from a larger wheel, so the presentation wasn't as pretty as it could have been. I also thought the flavor was just a little bit off. The raspberry sauce didn't quite have enough acidity to help cut the creaminess of the brie. When I make it at home, I use a good helping of apricot preserves nestled in the center of the wheel of brie and Mr. ValleyWriter and I both agree we prefer it that way.

For dinner, Mr. ValleyWriter ordered the filet mignon with Bearnaise sauce and I had the bourbon chicken, which was double chicken breasts smothered in a bourbon sauce with red peppers, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. Mr. ValleyWriter's filet was tender and expertly cooked. My chicken was juicy and tasty - and there was a ton of it. (I took home nearly 3/4 of my plate!) Both of us went with the mixed vegetables (zucchini and pea pods) for our side and neither of us were very impressed. I thought they were a bit overcooked with a bit too much butter. But, I guess the mixed vegetables are never really the star of the show.

For dessert, we shared the Toffee Kahlua Cake. It was a 2-layer chocolate cake with a toffee Kahlua cream layer in the middle and toffee whipped cream on top. The cake was nice and moist and the toffee flavor was great. I didn't get a whole lot of Kahlua flavor in the 2 bites I had, but the toffee more than made up for it.

One of the things I was most impressed with was the timing between our courses. Lately, I've felt like lunches have taken far too long and that we've been rushed at dinner. But Union Station was a pleasant surprise. We had about 20 minutes between our salads and the appetizer, dinner arrived about 15 minutes after we finished up our appetizer and dessert came 10-15 minutes after we finished dinner. It gave us time to relax, enjoy our wine, digest our meals and chat. The server checked in at the appropriate intervals, but didn't hurry us along in any way, which is just what we wanted. The fire in the background kept us nicely warmed and the quiet dining room was a refreshing change.

I really enjoyed our dinner out at Union Station, a little bit more for the ambiance and service than for the food, but those are very important parts of the experience for me, so overall, I'd give Union Station good marks. I'm glad we had our V-Day early and really got to enjoy each other, rather than be hurried along to clear up the table for the couple with the next reservation. Tonight, we're staying home. Whatever your plans - enjoy!

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