Friday, May 29, 2009

Chihuahua's

Now I don't go to ritzy, trendy places all the time. This is more my speed...an authentic Mexican restaurant. So much better than a chain!

This little gem is hidden at the end of a strip mall behind the Mobil station at the Dorsett and McKelvey intersection. I know my cousin likes Mexican food so it was my chance to go there for only the second time. The first time had been years ago.

I always get a chicken quesadilla wherever I go and it was a little on the small side. Regular tortilla sized. But I was fine with that because it came with a huge pile of rice and beans. Quite filling. And that was the lunch sized portion. Only $7!

So it's worth it to seek out your neighborhood Mom and Pop owned restaurants. They have more reasons to serve quality foods.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May Seafood class at Whole Foods

I went to my first Seafood class at Whole Foods yesterday. This was the second one for the year put on by the Seafood Team Leader, Matt Hoffmeyer. This class' theme was Alaska. Matt and some other Whole Foods folks really did get to go fishing off the coast of Alaska offered by their distributer! You can email him for any of your seafood cooking questions at matt.hoffmeyer@wholefoods.com.

This was more of a cooking class than a tasting class like all the cheese classes that I go to. Unfortunately, this means you have to wait for the item to actually be cooked! ACK! Luckily, the wine is poured while you wait and it becomes a wine pairing as well. Really, most of the food is already prepared and just needs that last part...the heat! hehe I could have done without the 20 minute oven cooking for the last course though...

Anyway, on to the food! We started out with a Chipotle Cod Cake with Lime Mustard. I didn't taste the mustard part too much because the chipotle takes over after I dipped the Cod Cake into it...it starts out as a teaser and then WHAMO...it sneaks up on you! But really, it is a great compliment to the Cod Cake. I couldn't tell it was Cod from any other fish either.

Next was the King Crab legs. Yes, they were giant...longer than my forearm and plenty meaty. Matt was nice enough to slice them for us but I still had to fight with it. Matt provided butter sauce for us to dip it in of course, and they were awesome. But I hate it when I have to struggle to eat my food. I still needed a bib! ACK!

Luckily, the next fish just laid there calmly...fresh salmon! It started out BRIGHT PINK and then was broiled for only about 6-7 minutes. Matt was wishing he could have grilled them for us but that's hard to do in a retail store! hehe The salmon just melted in my mouth...

And the last fish...(4 COURSES!)...was a Roasted Red Pepper and Ridder Stuffed Halibut Fillet. Matt came up with this with Michael's help. Michael is the cheese guy. The halibut was wrapped around the Ridder cheese. That probably could have been a meal all unto itself. So filling....

Normally I don't pay attention to the wines because that's not my area of expertise, but Michael, the specialty/cheese guy, mentioned that the Austrian Gruner Veltliner is really good to serve with asparagus or brussel sprouts. I thought this was noteworthy since those veggies can be a bit strong depending on how they are cooked. And I always try to eat my veggies when I'm at the parent's house! hehe

To top things off...as if 4 glasses of wine wasn't enough...one for each course...Whole Foods let us get a scoop of gelato from their selection...of COURSE I got the Chocolate flavor! Wow...I couldn't tell it wasn't ice cream. (Not that I really minded.)

Matt is always looking for themes and ideas for future seafood classese. We suggested sushi. Next one probably won't be until July though...but I definitely will be going back.

Certainly worth the $35!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wines from SLeeK

I finally found the name of the red wine from my dinner at SLeeK: Stag's Leap Artemis. It was a very smooth red with not much tannin.

My favorite white for the evening was the Qupe Chardonnay.

Tomorrow night 5/26 is Seafood Class at Brentwood Whole Foods at 6:30pm! More to report then. I am curious if I will be having lobster three times within six days!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

IceKitchen at Westport

So tonight's excursion is the real reason I am starting this blog. This was the second meeting of the Food Adventure Club (F.A.C.), which I just named tonight since meeting twice makes it official. hehe

My friends and I had tried a Japanese steakhouse in St. Charles County before because there was interest in trying sushi, which I cannot get enough of. While the newbies didn't like the sushi, I was very proud of them for being willing to try.

The IceKitchen was reviewed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a couple weeks ago and of course I always share those articles with the F.A.C. members. This is important to me because being single, it is hard to find people to go out to dinner with. I am not quite able to go out to fine dining by myself, which is a big reason I volunteered to go with STLWineGirl to SLeek in my last post.

Normally it's not wise to hit a newly hyped up restaurant right away. It's usually better to wait for the hype to die down. But I made a reservation so we'd be ready. Turns out it wasn't necessary for a Sunday night! Or maybe because everyone is BBQing over Memorial Day weekend? We were one of two tables in the whole place for most of our stay. They put us in the back...where it was dark. Maybe we weren't pretty enough? I dunno.

Right off the bat, I could tell that this would be a great happy hour place if you like martinis or "foo foo" drinks. Their drink menu was just as long a their food menu with crazy names for their mixed drinks. I had a "Dreamsicle" which had Ameretto in it so I was happy. I really wanted to try the "Son of a Peach", which was very fun to say. All drinks were $8 and up so you really gotta like flavored drinks. Not the place for beers although they had quite a few typical bottles so everyone would be happy drinking there.

The decor is really what stands out when you pass by, walk around, and in the bathrooms. It's worth it just to go inside once to check it out. We were hoping they really had some drink that could be set on fire like in their logo. The ambiance is really for hip folks since they played techno nonstop mixed with some current hip hop and a DJ stand behind us. At least during happy hour, drinks are half price.

We went ahead and tried the "fusion" tapas. I have been asked what does "fusion" mean? I dunno exactly but my definition is "combination of flavors to make something new you've never had before". While the descriptions of the items sounded calm, the actual plates had quite different sauces and garnishes. We kept having to look back at the menu to see exactly what it was that we ordered. And yes...they all had some strange flavorings to it. Definitely different.

I started out with the House Salad...perfectly sized and the rice wine vinagrette had a great, light flavor to it.

My friends ordered a soup flight which is a smart way to try more than one soup. The Roasted Corn Chowder stood out from the rest. Tortilla Soup...you really need to like Mexican for that one. Elephant Garlic Soup came in 2nd. Slight hint of garlic so not overpowering at all.

I ordered the Beef Kabob as my "light tapas" and it was excellent...served on a bed of rice. I could have used a few more than the four small pieces. Of course that was the most expensive "light tapas" at $9.75. Light tapas seemed to be smaller sized too.

My friends ordered the "Trio of Wonton Tacos". I only tried one and was overpowered by the crispy shell and avocado so I couldn't taste the "meat" of it.

Since there were four of us, I got to try quite a few of the "Signature Tapas". The Acorn Squash Gnocchi came out first and was the most disappointing. I think of the Gnocchi at Maggiano's but this was in a heavy mushroom sauce. We could not taste ANY of the other flavors except for the mushroom. We were hoping for more Acorn or Squash flavor. Only a few bites of lobster mixed in couldn't save it either.

Fortunately, everything else was much better. The Chilean Sea Bass was probably my second most favorite due to the mirin shisho broth...which again was a sweet, rice wine flavor. My friends didn't like the sicky, pasty rice (like the kind used for sushi), but when you had the fish and rice dipped into the sauce - heavenly.

My favorite that I ordered was the Petite Surf and Turf. I knew this would be the best from my SLeek experience and it was the most expensive at $18.25. The filet was big enough so I could cut it in four and have a good tasting. The lobster meat was buried in the ...well I'm still not sure what it was. I probably would have liked bigger chunks of lobster.

Anyway, my friends ordered the Chicken Lollipops, which were delicious but so small it was hard to enjoy the taste of it for too long, and the Duck Breast. The duck was cut into small bite-size slices and was completed glazed in an Asian plum-flavored sauce. Covered in the sauce, the duck was excellent...no greasy or gamey taste at all. But the sauce was very sweet...a little strong.

I really was curious about the Ahi Tuna and the Grilled Wild Salmon.

And of course we had to order dessert! And of course I ordered the chocolate one...Chocolate Crepes. They were bigger than dollar-sized pancakes but a good size since I was so full. They were real thin and soggy. But once I pushed them into the chocolate sauce, all was good. There was a strong berry flavor to them so that the chocolate is not overpowering. I prefer my chocolate desserts to be overpowering though.

Cookie Dough Wontons were small and bite size. I could only taste cripsy outside for the most part. The Funnel Cake Sticks were definitely the sweet taste that you think of although it was more crispy than soft. It was so large, that the four of us couldn't finish it at all.

We were sad we didn't have enough room for the French Apple Tart though!

So overall...the food is very different...different textures and flavors. If you love new tastes and food adventures, this is something new to try. But unfortunately it was a bit too pricy for my friends and I to try more often.

The next meeting of the Food Adventure Club is hoping to land at Mongolian Beef. While nothing new, not your typical Chinese.

SLeeK Lobster Extravaganza

I had the most amazing fine dining experience ever and it's hard when you don't have anyone to share it with. So I figured this way I could share it with a world full of strangers! hehe

I recently started chatting with STLWineGirl on Twitter and Facebook, who spent five years in SF in the food/wine industry, and is also a sommlier. So I have the ultimate respect for her knowledge. Every time she posts about a wine, I always try to reply back with a cheese suggestion. But she knows cheese pretty well and could probably school me in that too.

Anyway, she tweeted that she was looking for someone to go with her to a special dinner that SLeek was having for their anniversary. SLeeK is a fine restaurant in the Lumiere Casino that is located on Laclede's Landing, on the Mississippi River, downtown St. Louis. It is definitely the classiest casino in town...plus it is the newest casino. I had been to the Burger Bar, where they serve Kobe beef hamburgers, which I believe SLeek was created by the same chef. Chef Keller.

I volunteered to go with her to SLeeK, not thinking she'd take a total stranger seriously but she was really needing someone to go with her.

Now this is something I know I would normally never get the chance to do. Ever. This kind of restaurant for this kind of special night to spend this much money drinking that much wine. Wow. It was nice for one night to live like royalty. What's really funny is that when you're in the industry, it's quite normal. I tried to look like I did it all the time. hehehe

Rusty, the general manager, looked like a rock star. The hostesses looked like his groupies. But he was all business. And he knows his business. Rarely is the GM out front either! Impressive. Rusty also shared his beliefs on service. It just seemed like common sense but really...how many restaurants struggle with it! Rusty said he enjoyed City Diner due to the quality service of his favorite waiter. That really stuck with me.

This definitely was my first time for a 6-course meal. Each one building on the other. I was lucky to have STLWineGirl with me to pick out the wines but it actually turned out to be quite difficult because certain things were full bottle only, half bottle only, and by the glass. We were trying to get half bottles and pair our glasses with the food but it was difficult to time it all. The white wines weren't chilled enough so that threw the timing off. Probably would have been easier with just three glasses of wine, especially since we fell behind.

The first three courses were the decorative portions as I like to call them. We started out with the Canapes...the one that stuck out for me was the Lobster Corn Dog. I dipped that in some spicy mustard and it was a little party in my mouth. hehe I definitely would have liked more than just the bite. I was trying to find something else to dip into the mustard too! There was a strange Lobster bisque that came in a test tube...kudos for the unique delivery but was relieved that the waitress explained that you could sip it or chug it. Since it was hot at first, I just sipped. Delightful. Definitely could have used more as well.

Unfortunately, our courses came out of order and we jumped to the Lobster Cappuccino. I thought it was more Lobster bisque with a slightly heavier flavor. It was quite filling so I definitely wish it had come later. My friend STLWineGirl accurately guessed that the side dish was a Corn Madeleine...it was perfectly shaped like one. So cute! I dipped mine into the Lobster Cappuccino, which I slowly sipped like a cup of soup.

The most beautiful decorative plate was the Symphony of Lobster. I couldn't taste much lobster in the four adorable items on the plate, but they were more for the eye. My favorite was the baby lobster ravioli. the pasta was so thin and shear, like a jellyfish. Almost like a mini-dessert were two watermelon dice...with the Creme Fraiche filling in. Almost too cute to eat anything on this course but of course I did.

Then the courses started to get more serious...next was the "Thermidor". It was half a lobster cut long ways (so clever!) with the toppings on one half and the meat down the other half. I thought how wonderful it was to get to the lobster meat as opposed to having to crack open one of those suckers by hand (which I did for the first time a couple of months ago). I certainly could get used to this fine treatment. I went a little crazy and tried hard to scoop out all the lobster meat still stuck to the shell since the meat inside was so good. STLWineGirl explained that they make good use out of every part of the lobster!

Of course the best part was the Surf & Turf. The Lobster Tail with a Petit Filet. I would have been thrilled with just this portion since it was the largest and meatest. And the lobster mashed potatoes...heavenly. I definitely wanted to lick the plate on this one.

And then there was dessert. There was no lobster in the dessert but I was fine with that because all four items were CHOCOLATE! While I was in love with all the desserts, I definitely had the BEST chocolate mousse EVER. So light and fluffy, yet full of sweet chocolate flavor. Happy mouth time for sure.

I wish I could talk about the wines but that is STLWineGirl's area of expertise. I hope to link to her review sometime. She even took pictures of all her meals so I am hoping there is even further evidence of my amazing dinner.

The real cherry on top was getting to meet Chef Keller himself. Such a gentle and kindhearted man. Very generous with his time. I cannot wait for him to come back!

Araka

After having my third unique fine dining experience this month, I decided I finally had something to blog about. Even though St. Louis is far from the hub of fine dining...it still is fun to try new places to eat.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she went to Araka for lunch so when I went to their web site, I saw ads posted for Mother's Day. My family and I are always looking for places to go on Sunday nights for Mother's and Father's Day as well as birthday dinners. So we were sold.

It turns out that Araka (in Clayton near the Ritz-Carlton!) has a special 3-course meal on Sundays so we did not get to review their complete menu, but it is posted on their web site. http://araka.com/

The restaurant is just beautiful...the bar area and high, open ceilings are just amazing.

My parents and I all started with the Bibb Lettuce salad. The goat cheese and avacado really stood out but I always feel weird when I need to use my knife for my salad.

For the main course, my parents were not that daring and both went with the Amish chicken. The meal was not that adventurous and reminded me of homemade, comfort food when you're home for the holidays. Two pieces of chicken with whipped potatoes in a dark gravy. I would have been ready for a nap in front of a football game with that meal. The chicken was very tender and I admit I used some bread to mop up the gravy and potatoes altogether when I was allowed a taste.

Normally I'd get chicken but there was no breast available and the Almond Crusted Salmon actually sounded more interesting. The almond coating was light and flaky and not overpowering. The salmon was laid on top of a spicy hummus...that really gave it a unique kick to liven up the salmon. I had them hold any extra peppers though because I think it would have been overkill.

I had really been wanting to try the Lobster Ravioli or the Braised Missouri Lamb so hopefully I'll go back someday.

Their wine list is extensive, in my mind, so I was appreciative. I still only ordered a Reisling. Not too dry and not too sweet.

The best course was dessert, which was included in the Sunday 3-course meal. Of course the best one was the chocolate mousse over a wafer cookie (we each picked that!). To die for. Totally worth saving room for!

Which reminds me...very reasonable portions.

Overall...not overly ambitious but the food was excellent and everyone was happy.