The posh Cooper Lounge on the mezzanine level of Union Station already captures the vintage style of an era when luxury train travel meant buckets of champagne on ice and a waitstaff clad in the finest livery pushing carts loaded with ostentatious foods meant to show off the impeccable taste of the passengers and the management. Chef/restaurateur Lon Symensma, whose smash-hit ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro will be joined this month by a more casual noodle house called Cho77, put out a new menu of evening dishes at the Cooper last week featuring the showmanship and flair popular in the heyday of the railways.
Almost every dish on the brief menu features an a la minute flourish to wow guests and create fresh flavors. Wagyu steak takes a trip through an antique grinder for the tartare dish that comes with a truffled egg yolk that Symensma explains is cooked to 148 degrees to achieve a thick and rich texture.
A terrine of foie gras receives a sprinkling of sugar before being torched in an eye-catching display that gives the liver a caramelized crust. Sided with sweet onion jam, compressed spiced pear slices and crusty bread from the Grateful Bread Bakery, the dish is pricey (at $25 for the plate) but guaranteed to be the center of attention.
Other showy dishes include Caesar salad with dressing mixed to order and topped with a warm Parmigiano-Reggiano fondue, flambeed bananas Foster with liquid-nitrogen ice cream, and a cheese cart loaded with offerings from Alex Seidel's Mercantile Dining & Provision. as well as European cheeses and raw honeycomb. Of course, the Cooper's stellar bar offerings are available too, with a short menu of seasonal, creative cocktails as well as all of the classics.
There's not much room for food prep, but a small station tucked behind room dividers gives space for plating and preparation, and the carts in the bar itself allow guests to enjoy the show. Symensma is working on building out a kitchen in the basement of the building (where there are already conference rooms, offices and a private bar available for rental), but that could be several months away. In the meantime, that high-power torch should do the job.