Knockout Noodles: Duck Fat Yaki Soba at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar

Knockout Noodles

Reviews of noodle dishes.


[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

One of the things I like most about Union Sushi + BBQ Bar is that the kitchen is willing to take chances. Whether they're skewering alligator and beef tongue for the robata grill or breeding unlikely flavor combinations for the sushi menu, the chefs seem bent on pushing the limits of their cuisine. And Union's noodle menu harbors some of the Asian-street-food-inspired restaurant's brashest dishes.

Showing what was for me an impressive degree of restraint, I recently chose to forgo the ramen options at Union to try out the duck fat yaki soba ($11). That said, once the bowl came—and I got a faceful of the meaty, gingery aroma rising off the pile of thick egg noodles—restraint went out the window.


Giving the bowl a thorough stir, I got a good look at the full complement of ingredients: spicy sliced chiles, wispy shreds of bonito, crunchy squares of cabbage spine, and strands of sweet bell peppers, charred at their edges. With each stir, I unearthed more and more sizable chunks of duck meat. No complaints there. The seaweed, mustard, and tonkatsu sauce surfaced from the bowl's deep recesses, coating the noodles with a glistening sheen.

The spaghetti-like egg noodles had real presence—density, body, and bite, without succumbing to clunkiness. The hot and sweet peppers added brightness, vegetal acidity, and lingering spice, while the flaky bonito and tonkatsu sauce kicked in some savory fermented flavors. Yeah, this bowl would do a bang-up a job sopping up a few too many sakes, what with all the meat, richness, starch, fat, and addictive big flavors. But that's selling Union's yaki soba short; the kitchen's playful ambition has created something truly special with this dish.

Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar

230 West Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map)