Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Home Wine Kitchen FEAST Tasting

I know that I have already blogged about Home Wine Kitchen but I got to go again, for free, thanks to another monthly FEAST tasting hosted by STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann. Since Home Wine Kitchen is always changing its menu, you don’t have to worry about going back more than once. Chef Cassy Vires is known for her unique twist on comfort foods or home cookin’, if you will. In the past, the FEAST tastings are usually just that…a small taste…but this was a five-course meal.

We started with Cranberry Confit on grilled bread but what made this dish was the thin layer of Missouri goat cheese that helped to mellow the tartness of the cranberries. This was paired with a Domaine St. Vincent Sparkling Wine from New Mexico. I believe I had this sparkling wine at the Home Wine Kitchen Traveling Table as well!

Next was my first time trying Beef Tartare and I learned that tartare is really any diced raw meat. The beef tasted so fresh…and even more delicious with the quail egg on top! To help cut through some of the grease, we already moved to the reds: Dauvergne Ranvier, from my favorite region, Rhone Valley, France.

The third course was a risotto mixed with caramelized onions, wild mushrooms, thyme, and brie. I tried not to take too many helpings in order for the vegetarian of the table to load up on this dish, which was paired with Domaine Depueble Beaujolais. I think I will now just make the blanket statement that you can’t go wrong with Beaujolais at any age. Light and fruity…MY kind of red!

While I enjoyed all the courses, I was blown away by the Lamb Chop. Normally I avoid lamb in a restaurant just because I don’t like to fight with getting the meat off of the bone, but this was definitely worth the work! We were only allowed one per person and I caught myself looking around for leftover chops. Of course, a strong, dry red wine (Haraszthy Old Vine Zinfandel out of Lodi, California) was paired with the lamb so I didn’t drink much of it.

Last but not least by any means, the dessert was out of this world…home-made Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (think Nutella) on top of Honeyed Waffle Bites. And yes, I did use my finger to get to the leftover chocolate on the plate. Again, I only sipped the Quinta Do Noval Tawny Port from Portugal since it’s way too strong for me and interfered with the chocolate.

After the FEAST tasting, I made plans to have dinner with friends…yes, I was still a little bit hungry, and yes, I wanted more from the tasting. My dinner consisted of the Beef Tartare and another order of the Lamb Chop. I could only eat one out of two so I had a delicious meal the very next day too!

Resources:

FEAST magazine = http://www.feaststl.com/

Home Wine Kitchen = http://www.homewinekitchen.com/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bailey's Range

For the second year in a row, my friend picked a great restaurant to celebrate her birthday and this year was even more exciting since Bailey’s Range is a new place that I had wanted to try! Dave, the owner, came by and said hello since he knew some of my friends and he also owns Bailey’s Chocolate Bar, Bridge, and Rooster. (Rooster is the only one I haven’t been to yet!)

Since we had a large party and had to wait for a spot to sit, I hung out by the ice cream freezer near the front door and investigated all the flavors. Pistachio seemed to be the most popular but they had my favorite, mint chip and a couple of other chocolate flavors, so I’m not sure when I’d get to try it. But it didn’t matter since I ordered too much food and we had birthday cupcakes to eat for dessert!

I also used the time to walk around since I have never seen any place quite like it. I understand that the space used to be the City Grocer but now it has a very “dairy farmer” feel to it. There is the bar and then a very long table down the middle of a narrow room, so you’ll never know who you’ll get to sit next to! Behind a faux wall of glass windows, you can see different sections of the kitchen where they bake their own fresh buns and do the grilling. Then lights over the table are all milk urns with the bottoms cut out. So cute!

Since I was super excited about having dinner there, I spent time at work (Shhh) pouring over the menu. I had to order a “snack” since it’s one of the few places in St. Louis where I have found cheese curds! They were a light, yellow color and came with bruschetta and spicy mustard. I normally would not put mustard and cheese curds together but it gave the curds a little kick.

A lot of my friends had trouble picking out one of the various burgers that were on the menu. You could get bison, lamb, pork or duck patties! (Yes, there is even a veggie burger as well, don’t worry.) But I had no trouble picking one out…I skipped all the burgers with bacon and immediately went to the one with three types of mushrooms…along with Tellegio, one of my favorite cheeses. This was the Paris burger and of course, one of the most expensive. Hehe The best part of the burger is that even though I loaded it up, it still did not leave me with that greasy, heavy feeling after. The ingredients are so fresh and I think that makes all the difference.

I also noticed a LGBT burger, which I’m pretty sure was done on purpose, but that had bacon on it so I had to skip over it. I did get to taste the PB&J Burger: Pesto, Bison, and tomato Jam. So instead of ketchup, the burger already came with its own thick tomato sauce.

On the side, a few friends shared the fries (it’s not a proper meal unless I can steal someone’s fries), and I ordered a quinoa salad that came in a light dressing.
What’s cool is that there are so many different types of burgers on the menu, it’s easy to want to go back to try a different one.

And this is one place I certainly won’t waste time ordering a salad.

Resources:

Bailey’s Range = http://www.baileysrange.com

Aya Sofia Traveling Table

Earlier this month, I got to attend Aya Sofia for a second time thanks to a STLwinegirl Traveling Table, and even though I already completed a blog post about them, I did get to try all new dishes and yes, it’s very deserving of a second blog post.

While Aya Sofiya does serve a number of Turkish dishes, we focused on the familiar Mediterranean dishes that most people are familiar with. We started off with Borek, or simply, a feta and spinach pie in filo dough. I loved the feta cheese…and the spinach flavor was strong so that paired VERY well with the Giocoto Pino Grigio from Slovenia. This wine is very quaffable and would go best on a warm, summer day. The flavor really stood out on its own but also stood up to the spinach. I was already thrilled after just the first pairing!

The second course included Sarma, grape leaves stuffed with beef, onions, and rice, and was paired with my first Lebanese wine: Musar “Jeune” Blanc. The wine had a strong herb smelled but once again, the flavor was able to melt well with such a rich dish.

The third course was of course, my favorite, since it was the Sebzeli Mussaka, the vegetarian version. Rumor has it that this version is better than the one with beef and it came with a side of pearl couscous. While the first two courses were appetizers, this was a full dinner-size portion and I still managed to “help” a few others. This course was also paired with a Musar “Jeune” wine from Lebanon but this time it was the red or “Rouge”, tasting much like a Cabernet. Although it was a little dry for me, the rich, fruity flavors did pair well with the heavier tomato sauce.

Last but not least, you cannot leave a Mediterranean restaurant without the proper dessert. We each received a small serving of baklava…just the right size since we were all so full. Dessert also came with an “evil eye bead”, which is often given as gifts as it is thought to give protection and bring luck!

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

Aya Sofia = http://ayasofiacuisine.com/

Mei Lee Traveling Table

Last month, I didn’t get a chance to report on the STLwinegirl Traveling Table at Mei Lee. I had been a huge fan of Mei Lee many years ago when I worked with a woman from Thailand and she took us there for lunch one day. She had ordered us the best item on the menu, the last number, which was a sweet noodle dish with shrimp. Every time I went back, I would always order it. So I was sad when Mei Lee moved just because I am a traditionalist so this was a great excuse to try out the new location.

The best thing about the Traveling Table is that since the menu was already selected, it meant that I got to taste some new dishes instead of ordering my usual noodle dish. We started out with Chicken Spring Rolls and of course, a lighter appetizer pairs best with a light, white wine: Domaine Savard Cheverny Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France. The spring rolls were served with a fish sauce and a hoisin sauce so it was interesting to pair them both with the wine. I couldn’t decide…I loved them both!

The second course actually had two dishes…the first was a Papaya Salad with Shrimp & Pork. The shrimp was fantastic and I just ate around the pork of course. And speaking of trying something new, the second dish was my first time trying fried frog legs! They looked like little fried chicken drummies. (Tastes like chicken!) Maybe a little greasy and there is not much meat to a frog leg really. Both were paired with a Albert Mann Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France to help cut through the grease of the lighter meats.

Then to top of the last course, there were THREE dishes to try, all paired with a 2009 Olivier Hillaire Cotes du Rhone from Southern Rhone France. I am a huge Cotes du Rhone fan and it really paired well with the heavier meaty dishes. I skipped over the Five Spice Pork dish, but I did enjoy the Shrimp Fire Pot Soup that came in a Lemongrass-Tamarind Broth. I could not get enough shrimp! The last dish was a Shaking Beef that was also had a great flavor.

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

Mei Lee = http://maileerestaurant.com/

Monday, December 19, 2011

POP UP Traveling Table

I have been to quite a few STLwinegirl Traveling Table events but this one was definitely the most unique since it was done in an “underground dinner” style! Labeled as a “POP UP” Traveling Table, every few days as the event got closer and closer, STLwinegirl would post hints on Facebook and the event website. All we knew was that the dinner would be a preview for a new Asian-Latin-influenced restaurant somewhere downtown and we would be rewarded with a free Cocktail Club membership!

When I was first told the location, I immediately went to Google Maps to see if there were any restaurants in the area and a SanSai appeared to be the closest. I figured it fit the “Asian” theme but wasn’t sure where the Latin part fit in. When I arrived at the address, I did go through the doors of a SanSai but this one was decorated with candlelit tables and black tablecloths!

While waiting for everyone to arrive, STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann, was pouring three types of sake for us to taste while we snacked on edemame.

Once we were seated, it was revealed to us that the SanSai locations in Webster Groves and downtown would transition to an upscale restaurant called Nigori, serving Asian/Latin fusion, but only at night. I’m not quite sure how that will work but I admit I am very curious! Especially after getting a preview taste!

I would love to say the sushi was my favorites since we were served a Toyko Roll as well as Salmon Nigiri, paired with lighter and sparkling wines of course. Yet, the meatier dishes really were outstanding. Duck Confit on a bed of white rice and then three individual tenderloin chunks served with a hoison sauce for dipping. These courses were both well paired with red wines, and the best wine of the night goes to the Chinon. (I hope to find out more information!)

I suppose the best example of fusion came in the second pairing when tuna tartare was delicately placed on tortilla chips.

Last but not least, the dessert course consisted of three donut holes with a sugary coating and came with a decadent glaze sauce for dipping. I tried to cover every inch of the donuts with the glaze and finally in the end, I just had to use my finger to mop it up.

The evening finished with prizes handed out to those attendees who brought a gift card donation to a local women’s shelter. I won another set of wine glass charms with a fruit theme!

I have included the menu for the night as well.

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/

SanSai Japanese Grill = http://www.sansaijapanesegrill.com/

FEAST magazine review = FEAST Article: New Japanese/Mexican Fusion Spin on SanSai in Works

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bocci Bar

Due to a strong sewer smell at Coastal Bistro, my friends and I ended up at Bocci Bar right next door in Clayton. Since the two are sister restaurants, along with BARcelona, the manager of the Bocci Bar was kind enough to honor our reservation in a busy restaurant despite the fact that we were underdressed. (We were the only ones in jeans.)

Since we were starving with such a late dinner reservation, I immediately ordered an appetizer and the “cheese stuffed rice balls” or Suppli al Telefono, caught my eye. This dish came with three dense “balls” of rice, as thick as risotto, and was quite filling. I probably could have made a meal out of just the appetizers too since there was a Formaggio Board and mussels as well.

The soup and salad selections were limited so I ordered the “winter salad” special, which came with root vegetables and I actually ate beets believe it or not. My friends also ordered a regular salad and they came out in bowls instead of small plates. I was already starting to get full.

After attending a few Whole Foods seafood classes, I knew that I had to order the Italian Fish Stew. No question. The stew was chock full of halibut, mussels, calamari, and shrimp in a tomato saffron broth. One friend ordered the lasagna, which was not in a red sauce and had more of a ricotta and vegetable taste. My other friend was very adventurous and ordered the special of the night: rabbit! I got to try it and while I don’t want to say it tasted greasy or gamey, it definitely was a unique and strange flavor. I had to laugh a little bit since it was served with carrots. Hehe

My friends could not resist the dessert menu while I was easily stuffed. I would have chosen the chocolate gelato or chocolate lava cake if I had any room. Instead, my friends went with the mascarpone cheesecake. Talk about thick and rich! And yes, it was a generous slice.

Resources:

Bocci Bar = http://boccibar.com/

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My first underground dinner

After getting a recommendation from a friend, I finally got the chance to try my first “underground dinner” provided by Entre catering. The location is kept secret until the day of the dinner. You have to put down a deposit and then you pay the rest of the amount, including the cost of your beer or wine flight, at the end.

This dinner was a little different in that they served only a beer flight because it was held at Perennial Artisan Ales brewery, in the old Coca-Cola plant, so I was looking forward to trying new beers in addition to the menu. The evening started off with a quick tour of the brewery…I say quick because it’s still a very small place, but the restaurant area where you can order food and beers has just been completed.

I could tell it was going to be a long evening since they provided two rows of lengthy tables, seating around close to 70 people, with only a handful of wait staff. I was fortunate enough to be seated near one of the brewers and his friends so I got to hear a bit more insight about the brewery.

Course 1: Cauliflower Panzanella, Parsley paired with a Southside Blonde

The first course was just a simple row of roasted cauliflower in a light dressing. I think it would have been awesome as a small salad instead of just by itself, but at least it was paired with one of my favorite beers of the night, the Southside Blonde, a Belgium style ale. Of course the light flavors were a good pairing with each other.

Course 2: Smoked Duck Consommé, Duck Confit, Kimchi paired with Hommel

Wes Johnson from Salt stepped in and saved the day for this course since he provided the duck confit when their shipment didn’t arrive in time. I’m always nervous about duck tasting too gamey, but I really enjoyed it even though it didn’t match up with the Hommel because of its bitter and hoppy flavor.

Course 3: Scallop Escabeche, Radish, Arugula paired with Saison De Lis

I think the scallops were my most favorite dish even though there were only a few on the plate. The scallops just melted in my mouth like butter and were decorated with adorable, little watermelon radishes. It was hard not to steal off of my neighbor’s plate for sure. I thought it was paired well with the Saison De Lis, which had a mild flavor.

Course 4: Quail, Wheat Berries, Black Walnut paired with Black Walnut Dunkelweiss

I’m not quite sure I’ve ever had quail before, but I was most looking forward to the Black Walnut beer because it was specially brewed for this night and was the best beer of the night by far. It had a smooth and mild flavor, but not too rich like so many dark beers can be. The quail, stuffed with sweet berries laid on top of a bed of squash, surprised me…I enjoyed it a lot even though it was difficult to cut the meat off the little wings. Hehehe

Course 5: “Pumpkin Pie” paired with Peace Offering

The dessert course was a surprise of pumpkin ganache on marshmallow fluff for a very savory dessert. Again, this went well with the…if you can believe, squash beer that Perennial made for the first time! A local farmer donated several pounds of squash and the brewery wanted to see what they could make with it. I was really impressed!

Resources:

Entre STL = http://entrestl.com/

Perennial Artisan Ales = http://www.perennialbeer.com/

Blood and Sand

I recently started hearing about this new “exclusive club” membership restaurant, Blood & Sand, and of course that just made me want to check it out. Luckily, they recently hosted a “Monday Cocktail Club” dinner that was open to the public. I immediately had a warm spot for Blood & Sand since I recognized the address as the old Red Moon, which is the first time I was introduced to my favorite wine, Riesling.

That night we had a special menu for the cocktail event so I’m not sure how many of the items are on the regular menu, but it was awesome to at least get a taste. The cocktails were made with spirits distilled from The Local Wine & Spirits Company and most of them were quite strong for me.

There were four courses on the menu, moving from appetizer to dessert. Each course was fantastic but the portions were a little small. The cocktails were actually more generously proportioned than the food so I didn’t have more than a few sips of the drinks.

My favorites were the main courses: smoked chicken consumme with goat cheese tortellini and the bacon wrapped meatloaf. While I took off the bacon, the dense meatloaf was the perfect fall and winter dish. I definitely wanted more, especially since I am on a quest for the ultimate meatloaf.

I think I’ll just list the menu since it really speaks for itself.

Course 1:
Exchange Vodka, Aperol, Punte E Mes Vermouth, Rinse of Pumpkin Vinaigreet, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, toasted pumpkin seeds served with a fall salad of baby greens, beets, apples, radish, pumpkin vinaigrette

Course 2:
Whipper Snapper Whiskey, Isley Scotch, Anis, Bianco Vermouth, Peychauds served with smoked chicken consumme, goatcheese tortellini

Course 3:
Ransom Old Tom Gin, Whipper Snapper, Yellow Chartreuse, Mole Bitters, Lux Bitters served with bacon wrapped meatloaf, Coca Cola glaze, olives, pepperoncini

Course 4:
Smalls Gin, Local Honey, Coffee, Velvet Fallernum lemon zest, Cassis Whip Cream served with doughtnuts, lemon curd

Resources:

Blood & Sand = http://bloodandsandstl.com/

Local Wine & Spirits Company = http://localwineandspirits.com/

Water Street

One of the reasons I have a hard time saying no to new things is because you never know who you’re going to meet. I went ziplining for the first time this year and to be honest, the highlight of the day was visiting a winery afterwards. While talking about wine and good restaurants, I was told to check out Water Street by a cousin of the owners. Since I am already in love with all the new restaurants popping up in downtown Maplewood, I really didn’t need any more arm twisting.

Water Street reminded me of its neighbors, Acero and Home Wine Kitchen, since it is another small, but charming storefront with a unique menu. (So it’s best to go during the week when there is plenty of room.) I always have trouble at these restaurants because I want to try every appetizer and could make a meal out of them! Luckily, I had a handful of friends come with me so I got to try a few appetizers as well as several main courses.

A couple of my friends ordered the warm medjool dates and I was disappointed to see them come wrapped in bacon, but I dissected one to get at the sweet flavor of the dates and the middle was stuffed with goat cheese and basil, with a balsamic reduction. I am sure the sweet and salty flavors would be a big hit with bacon lovers.

I chose the salmon gravlax and got to build my own appetizer by adding cucumber salad to the house cured salmon on top of a crostini. I also got to try one of the bruschetta trio with almond-basil pesto. Both were fantastic.

Between all five of us, we covered almost all the main courses as well. I picked out the steak and guiness pie, which is perfect for fall and winter. Very warm and filling with fall vegetables in a puff pastry. My next favorite was the grilled polenta that was surrounded by mushrooms, red onions, asparagus, spinach, and parmesan. That probably would go best in the spring but the warm polenta is what really hits the spot.

I dared to try the golden trout because it is layered with bacon but you couldn’t tell since I believe it was cooked into the fish. I wasn’t able to taste the bacon and instead, the light fish flavor stood out the most. The only dish I would question is the chicken paprika because it was a little plain and came with brussel sprouts. I am not friends with brussel sprouts, no matter how you cook them.

None of us had any room left at the end, but we still powered through and ordered the brownie butter square. I am ashamed to say we left a couple of bites, so I recommend ordering it first and make it a pre-appetizer so as not to waste any of it! The brownie was super rich, just how I like my chocolate!

Water Street serves a handful of wines by the glass and a few half bottles, but the cocktail list is long and I would suggest trying out a new creation if drinks are your thing.

I have no doubt that the menu will probably change based on what is available as the seasons change but that just gives us more reasons to go back.

Resources:

Water Street = http://www.waterstreetstl.com

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ya-Hala

I’m not sure when it happened but while on my way home a few weeks ago, the Culpepper’s on St. Charles Rock Road turned into a Ya-Hala, a Middle Eastern restaurant. As soon as I got home, I immediately started to plan a dinner date with my fellow “food adventurers”. While we usually aim for ethnic restaurants, a brand new restaurant was a double bonus.

Now I should add the disclaimer that along with new technology, it’s usually better to let the “early adopters” work out all the kinks before investing. So I went ahead knowing full well that the service was not going to be the best, but our meals were actually pretty good.

My friends were the most daring in ordering baba ghanoush as an appetizer for the very first time, which came with only a few soft pita breads. We all looked at each other knowing it wouldn’t be enough but our server was only happy to bring more…after a short delay and asking a few times. We got good at asking for what we needed in advance so there would be less of a wait, but the biggest need was for the outdoor heater! Sitting on the patio was great while the sun was up but too chilly after dark, so the outdoor heater made all the difference. The owner also plans to enclose the patio with a tent, especially since it is used for smoking hookah pipes.

Ya-Hala has a large menu and reasonably priced combinations so I was able to get lamb kabobs that came with a side dish of hummus so that I didn’t have to order it as an appetizer. Actually, there was so much food that came with the platter combo that I really didn’t end up eating much of the hummus at all. Plus my friends shared a few items off their plate, and I believe I tried kibbeh, which was very dry. It could have used more of the yogurt sauce either on top or as a side dip.

We also shared a pitcher of Mojitos and the flavor wasn’t quite right. Probably not quite the right drink for Middle Eastern food anyway?

The server apologized several times for the service, even though it seemed slow inside, but it wasn’t too bad since we weren’t in any rush. In fact, we stuck around to try one of the hookah pipes with Tropical Fruit flavor. There had to be up to fifteen or so different flavors too. The best part about the patio is that we quickly bonded with our table neighbors while sharing the heaters or advice on how to use the hookahs. Then the owner came out and talked with us for a while about his plans for the restaurant.

While it’s not anything fancy, it really fits the “casual, cheap, quick bite in the neighborhood” kind of place that isn’t a chain or typical American food.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salt

Since I had completely missed Savor while it was at this location, I could not wait to try Salt, especially after all the wonderful things I had been hearing since it opened. I was lucky enough to get into the free Feast tasting for the month of October and even that was spectacular as a warm up for dinner!

This restaurant definitely made my list of “restaurants that are worth going to for a special occasion” just because of how beautiful it is inside. You can tell it was a former residence and at one time it was a funeral parlor. We were taken upstairs (you gotta check out the swank bathrooms) to a private room that included a stage. I was definitely expecting Catherine Neville or Angela Ortmann (aka STLwinegirl) to perform a magic trick!

No magic was necessary since the tastings and wines were just outstanding and spoke for themselves. Owner and chef Wes Johnson was so wonderful to take the time away from the kitchen to introduce some of the dishes as well as hand them out. He even took the time to talk about the food at a lot of tables as he was going around. Chef Wes didn’t even give me any trouble when Angela pointed out that I was not the biggest fan of piggy.

The first tasting was the best and I would have been fine just having a couple more servings as my dinner. Foie Gras Pate paired with a Von Huhl “Jazz” Riesling. You can’t go wrong with Rieslings from Germany. Chef Wes made the Pate just for our tasting so you can’t order it off the menu but the mussels are recommended in its place. While I love mussels and was planning on ordering it for dinner, I doubt anything could have come close to the Foie Gras. At least I can say I’ve had it now and hopefully no one from PETA will send me a threatening letter.

Next up was a very fruity, yet dry Domaine del la Solitude Rose from the Cotes du Rhone region in France. I point this out because I didn’t realize they even MADE rose from this region, especially since it’s the region I recommend the most when giving gifts to red wine drinkers. My favorite wine is Chateauneuf du Pape…smooth yet bold. Anyway, the rose was paired with another huge favorite of mine: a Chevre from Baetje Farms. Salt has quite a few cheeses on their menu, including this one, but the suggested pairing was the Duck Fat Fried Chicken, since the Duck Fat is what Salt is known for.

The next two pairings were not high on my list due to the piggy factor but I am sure any piggy lover would have enjoyed them. We had a Cider Braised Pork Belly paired with an Oregon Pinot Noir from Boedecker Cellars and then a Pork and Fennel Meatball paired with a Steele Cabernet Franc out of California. Both dishes are on the Salt menu.

When it came time for dinner, my friends were smart and split orders for the Duck Fat Fried Chicken and the Duck Fat fries, which are very thin potato strings. Salt even offers its own homemade ketchup and mayo to go with them! I was all set on ordering the mussels and seared scallops (small plates) or the seared trout (large plate), but then the special of the night won me over. Beer cheddar soup followed by a gnocchi small plate. The soup was so filling that I struggled to finish the gnocchi as well as attempt to help my friends with the duck fat fries. I also got to taste the sorghum lacquered duck, which was fantastic.

It appeared to me that all the main courses were large portions and could easily be shared. I did spy on Angela’s frisee salad and mussels and both of those looked like the perfect size for a full meal as two separate “small plates”.

Definitely a winner.

Resources:

Salt = http://enjoysalt.com

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

FEAST magazine = http://www.feaststl.com

Whole Foods Galleria October Wine Tasting 2011

Now that Angela Ortmann (aka STLwinegirl) has taken over wine classes at Whole Foods, I went to taste “Up and Comers of the Wine World”. I typically don’t attend strictly wine classes as I prefer food pairings, but Whole Foods was generous enough to provide an aged gouda and one of my all-time favorites, Epoisses, as well as chocolate truffles for dessert! Of course all of these treats went best with the red wines since they can stand up to the drier wines.

Another reason why it worked out well for me is because we got to try three white wines out of the five total, although I should quickly note that they were all dry whites, so even the pickier wine tasters enjoyed the wines.

We started with a Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico, which I had just learned about last week at Home Wine Kitchen. I was surprised to learn that wine is now made in all 50 states these days, even Alaska! (Ice wines) I also learned that New Mexico has the longest wine growing history in the states dating back to the 1700s. This wine really surprised me because it was a sparkling wine but did not have that many bubbles like the name implies and was quite dry.

The next two white wines were similar in that they were dry and crisp with a lot of fruit on the nose. We tried a Opala Vinho Verde from Portugal and Indaba Chenin Blanc from South Africa, who has an opposite harvest season since they are in the southern hemisphere. The wine we tasted was harvested in February of this year!

The first red wine was a Apaltagua Carmenere from Chile, which tastes somewhere between a Merlot and a Cabernet. This was smoother than the Pueble del Sol Tannat from Uruguay, but again, the strong cheeses were the only way I could handle such dry red wines.

In addition to teaching classes at the Galleria location, Angela will also be offering classes out west in Town and Country, who will host the next class. Next up is a “bubbles” tasting on November 8th, and then back to the Galleria on November 16th for a food pairing with a “fall comfort food” theme.

Resources:

Epoisses = http://www.cheese-france.com/cheese/epoisses.htm

Whole Foods Galleria = http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/st-louis/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/

Aya Sofia

I had moved Aya Sofia to the top of my birthday dinner wish list because I had heard so much about the restaurant through Jill Aboussie and other friends. Luckily, they happened to be hosting a wine tasting for Sheridan wines and I needed to eat dinner before going to the theater. I feel really bad for not stopping in long before since it is SO close to Ted Drewes on Chippewa that I know that I’ve driven by it hundreds of times!

Of course my favorite was the white wine, La Belle Blonde, and I managed to get a second glass from a friend! It worked out well since I traded her my red wine leftovers because Sheridan offers a L’Orage, (named after the big storm that hit the vineyards), which is 65% Cabernet and 35% Cabernet Franc, in addition to a 100% Cab Franc. My favorite red was the Mystique, since it had the least amount of tannins and is made up of 50% Merlot.

Aya Sofia let us all try the Kibbe with the wines, which looks like a breaded meatball but has a much sweeter flavor, especially once you cover it in the yogurt sauce. My friend also shared her Sakasuka with me and this time it was eggplant mixed with the yogurt sauce and was just delicious.

Even though Aya Sofia offers Turkish dishes as well as Mediterranean cuisine, my love of eggplant always causes me to order the same thing: Musakka. It was a huge plate and came with a side of couscous as well. I probably could have made two meals out of it but I wasn’t able to stop in time!

I was also told there is a vegetarian version of the Musakka that is just as tasty and I admit I would love to go back to work my way through all the eggplant and lamb dishes! Not to mention that I just realized I forgot about dessert….

Resources:

Aya Sofia = http://www.ayasofiacuisine.com

Sheridan Wines = http://www.sheridanvineyard.com

Friday, October 21, 2011

Home Wine Kitchen Traveling Table

Even though I had dined at Home Wine Kitchen for No Menu Monday, I was really looking forward to the Home Wine Kitchen Traveling Table hosted by Angela Ortmann (aka STLwinegirl). I just knew that Chef Cassy Vines would go all out for us…and I didn’t realize just how much!

Much like the mix and match cheese tasting a couple of nights before, we were encouraged to try all the courses with each of the three wines that were served:

Vin Ver’rary Chardonnay
Mendocino, California

Chaumette Rose of Chambourcin
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

Mountain View Pinot Noir
Carneros, California

Needless to say, I was quite surprised that Angela picked out three American wines, not to mention a Missouri wine! It was much like being Goldilocks…the white was a little sweet, the rose was mild, while the red was a little dry. All were smooth initially but once they were paired with the food, the Rose stood out the most and went perfectly with everything. I admit that I barely touched the Pinot Noir and even the white wine was too sweet with some the pairings.

Our appetizers consisted of a variety of assorted confits and housemade ricotta to be spread on large slices of grilled bread. All the vegetables, tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic were soaking in olive oil, while I wanted to eat the ricotta straight out of the jar. As an appetizer and small plates fan, I could have made my entire meal out of the confits and arugla salad, consisting of figs, herbed cheese, pumpkin seeds, and a cider vinaigrette. I even had a second serving, which turned out to be a big mistake because of the amount of the food that came with the main course followed up by dessert!

For a split second, I thought it was Thanksgiving as huge piles of food kept coming out to the table. The roasted chicken was stacked like the Great Pyramid and THE largest bowl of pasta EVER contained a green linguine with radish pesto, parmesan, and pine nuts. If that wasn’t enough, we were served a side of polenta that was so smooth and creamy that it was almost a tapioca pudding!

I think I finally understand the “home cooking comfort food” theme of Home Wine Kitchen, but I found all the courses to be unlike anything I have ever tasted before. These flavors are nothing like you have ever tasted before! This really is a place for a “food adventure”.

As if we had any more room, we still had to finish the night off with a Pistachio Tart with goat cheese on top! It was very hard not to slurp the goat cheese creamy top off every piece! I would have sworn it was cool whip if I didn’t know better. Dessert was graciously paired with a Domaine St. Vincent Sparkling Wine from New Mexico. We definitely had much to celebrate!

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

Home Wine Kitchen = http://www.homewinekitchen.com/

Sunday, October 16, 2011

American Cheese Month 2011

October is American Cheese Month…no…we’re not celebrating those plastic slices but rather cheese that is made in the States, and Angela Ortmann, STLwinegirl, along with the Wine and Cheese Place, helped us celebrate properly.

We got to taste six completely different cheeses from all over the country. Starting out west with my all-time favorite cheese, Midnight Moon comes from Cypress Grove in California, although it’s actually made in Europe. Midnight Moon is an aged goat cheese and is a lot more firm than the typical goat cheese. With a sharp finish, this cheese pairs well with a large spectrum of wines.

My second place favorites are a tie between the smooth and creamy, Von Trapp Oma out of Vermont, and Milton Creamery’s Prairie Breeze, an aged cheddar-like cheese from southeast Iowa. Of course I’d recommend the Oma with a white and the Praire Breeze with a mild red to balance out the flavors accordingly.

The last two cheeses, Dry Jack from New York State and Rogue River Blue out of Oregon, were my least favorites, which is just as well since both really went better with the heavier red wines.

We were encouraged to pair each of the cheeses with all of the wines, but unfortunately we really would have needed a lot more cheese to appropriately taste each of them. Like I said before, Midnight Moon was the best to pair with all of the wines even though I am very biased in saying that.

Last but not least, we got to try two different Baetje goat cheeses, both paired with a sparkling wine. Baetje Farms is located in the Ste. Genevieve and you can find their products at farmer’s markets around the St. Louis area. The Cranberry Orange was a little too tart but the Chocolate Raspberry had just the right amount of sweetness so as not to overpower the bubbles.

Resources:

The Wine and Cheese Place = http://www.wineandcheeseplace.com/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/

Midnight Moon = http://www.cypressgrovechevre.com/cheeses/creamline/midnight-moon.html

Baetje Farms = http://baetjefarms.com/

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beer vs Wine with Goose Island

I was really looking forward to the second round of Wine vs Beer, hosted by STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann, returning back to The Wine and Cheese Place. The beer was hosted by Goose Island, one of my favorite craft breweries out of Chicago. My top two favorites are the “312” and the “Sofie”, which is named after one of the brewer’s daughters.

We started off with the Sofie since it’s one of the lightest beers to match up against the Jean Louis Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine. Both were paired with a super buttery triple crème called Delice de Bourgogne, but the wine was the clear winner due to the cream taming down the bubbles. I love Sofie a lot but I think she has enough flavor that a mild brie would go better so you can still let her taste stand out. The Sofie is actually oaked and aged for 90 days so you really need to let the flavor speak for itself.

The second flight included a Le Cirque Rose (made up of Grenache and Syrah) versus the Goose Island Pepe Nero. The rose was a bright red that I had never seen before and it tasted just as bold as it looked! The wine was high in acid and the flavors were strong, much stronger than I was used to for a rose, and actually overpowered the saltiness of the olives and nuts. I really felt the Pepe Nero and its own nutty flavor paired up better.

In the third flight, I really thought my love of Beaujolais would bias me against the Goose Island Matilda, another beer named after one the brewer’s daughter. The 2008 Dubeuoef Julienas Cru Beaujolais had a great smooth and mild flavor, which makes for a great everyday drinking wine. Definitely quaffable. But the Matilda again came out on top for pairing with the salami with mustard due to the spices in the Matilda.

If you love bold, red wines, you can’t go wrong with an Italian Barbera, sometimes called the Italian Pinot. The Damilano Barbera d’Asti definitely won the fourth round when paired with a St. Louis style pizza with sausage on top. The greasy meat and heavy sauce was able to stand up to the wine whereas the Goose Island Harvest Ale was way too hoppy and I had trouble drinking the beer.

The last flight paired a Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto against the Goose Island Pere Jacques during the dessert course. We tried both milk and dark chocolate…I made sure I tried multiple of each…and the wine came out on top. Unfortunately, at this point in the class I don’t remember too much about the wine, but the Pere Jacques, while a dessert beer, was far too bitter and overpowering.

While I picked winners for each round, everything I tasted, both food and drink was fantastic. Beer vs Wine is definitely one of the top classes to attend.

Resources:

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/

The Wine and Cheese Place = http://www.wineandcheeseplace.com/

Goose Island = http://www.gooseisland.com/

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Katie's Pizzeria

I actually had a hard time finding Katie’s Pizzeria since it’s in the middle of a small strip of stores in Clayton. Yet, I thought the place felt familiar when I drove around the back, looking for a place to park. Sure enough, the back door to Katie’s used to be the door I went in for my one and only boxing class. I must have been in the building two restaurants ago! Heh

I had heard that Katie’s was good but I didn’t know anything about their pizzas, so I was surprised to find out that they have created their own unique and custom flavored pizzas. As another Traveling Table hosted by STLwinegirl, this gave me a great opportunity to try it out!

What got me excited the most is that quite a few of the pizzas come with a goat cheese topping sprinkled on top and I got to try a couple of them. My friend Ellen got us started off right by ordering a Smoked Salmon pizza that came with capers and red onion along with the goat cheese. During the second pizza course, the goat cheese came up again with fig, pancetta, and sage toppings. These stronger flavors paired well with the dry, California Rose from a Pinot Noir grape.

I thought the pairings were dead on in each of the three courses actually. We started off with a Butternut Squash pizza with Gorgonzola cheese, which was paired with an Italian Chardonnay. Of course this was my favorite due to the white wine holding up well to the mild flavors from the pizza.

The last pairing was quite the “meat lovers” pizza since it was covered with Genoa Salami, Fennel Sausage, and Prosciutto. This definitely needed a strong red wine to help cut through the grease, and we got it with an Australian Shiraz. I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised that I gave away certain toppings and half of the contents of my glass.

Unfortunately, for me, piggy seems to be a popular pizza topping so I probably won’t be in a big hurry to return but there are a few pizzas that sound right up my alley. There is a Roasted Eggplant pizza that comes with Italian olives and fresh mozzarella as well as the Wild Mushroom pizza since that comes with Tellegio cheese! I wonder if you can make a custom pizza there? That way I could just pick out all my favorite toppings, avoid the piggy, and still have all those fantastic flavors.

Resources:

Katie's Pizzeria = http://www.katiespizzeria.com

STLwinegirl's Traveling Table Series = http://www.stlwinegirl.com/Traveling_Table.html

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Balaban's Feast Magazine Tasting

Feast magazine held their September tasting at the new Balaban’s located in Chesterfield. I used to love the old restaurant in the Central West End as my family used to celebrate special occasions there. Luckily, they still serve their Beef Wellington, but after the tasting, I was in the mood to try more of their appetizers and tapas. This just means I’ll just have to go back for my favorite dish someday.

The new Balaban’s took over the collection of wines from the old restaurant yet this month’s tasting featured more recent wines. Like previous Feast tastings, the food portions are small and often get drowned out by the large wine servings. My favorite glass was a white wine (of course): a 2009 Cline Viognier from Sonoma County, while the best tasting was the Smoked Trout Pancakes. The trout was paired with a 2009 Mudhouse Pinot Noir from New Zealand, which had a smooth finish. Pinots are definitely my favorite red wine these days.

After the tasting finished, I was very surprised to go inside and see that the new version is actually a retail wine and gourmet food store! All the tables are arranged at one end of the room, along with bar seating against one wall, and is NOT the large, formal restaurant that I had imagined. Still, I was eager to try out the menu.

Since I am always searching for quality seafood in the Midwest, I started with the Chilled Oysters, along with everyone else at my table. The oysters had a sweet flavor of champagne and I was able to trade one for a couple of slices of the Applewood Bacon Flatbread, definitely one of the best items on the menu. It was recently featured in Feast magazine in STLwinegirl's "Quite the Pair" article.

Another weakness of mine is Lobster Ravioli and the delicately handmade, large squares came in a fennel and ricotta sauce. Great flavors but I would have liked a little more sauce to cover all the raviolis.

The last tapas item I tried was the Artisanal Cheese Plate and I was disappointed that I got more toasted bread than cheese. Mostly because I didn't get much cheese at all.

Next time, I’m definitely getting the Beef Wellington!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Tavern

I had been trying to get into The Tavern, located at the corner of Daugherty Ferry and Big Bend, for months because every Friday and Saturday night, the place would be slammed whenever I tried to walk in. My friend and I had to resort to planning ahead and making a reservation. This time, we picked a Sunday night and sure enough…no crowd, no reservation was needed! Maybe all we needed was to wait until summer was over?

To make the reservation, I used OpenTable.com, which works really well for us folks who have phone phobia. The website even asks you if there are any “special notes” you would like to tell the restaurant while making the reservation, and I always be sure to mention if it is a special occasion, this time a birthday.

I got to the restaurant early, since there was no traffic on a Sunday either, that gave me some extra time to try a drink at the bar as well as review the menu some more. I admit that ever since I took those beer tasting classes at Schlafly and with New Belgium, I actually checked the beer list first. They had all my favorites such as Schlafly, New Belgium, Blue Moon, (in bottles, not draught), but I went with the Goose Island Sofie. She’s my favorite gal right now…so light with a hint of fruit.

Since it was just the bartender and I (along with only one other couple in the whole restaurant), I got to ask him to explain some of the dishes and give recommendations since I was still torn as to what to order. I really appreciated him taking the time to review it with me (like having my own personal tutor!), especially since I only expected him to know drinks!

The bartender recommended the Ahi Poke as well as the Zucchini & Onion Tempura for appetizers. I ended up solving my indecision by selecting the “Taste of the Tavern”, which provides a sample of four different appetizers: Ahi Poke, Tempura, Spring Rolls, and the Apricot-Hoisin Ribs. I ended up making this my main course, in addition to a well-sized starter Baby Spinach salad since it came with gruyere cheese. Even the Tender Greens salad had a thick and sweet Creamy Basil Dressing.

This was a smart move since I ended up feeling quite full even though the appetizer sampler served very small portions of each one. The menu lists this sampler for two but really there was only enough “bites” for one person, except for the Ahi Poke. The raw tuna was diced real small and laid over a large bed of rice. This was my favorite and the most filling. I could have done without the tempura because you can get that anywhere but the one “rib” was tasty. The spring roll was fine but it came in a crispy shell and I prefer a soft wrap like at a Thai restaurant.

In addition to the sampler, I ordered the Baked Artichoke Ravioli appetizer, which was quite large and definitely too much with the other sampler plate. Even after asking the bartender, I didn’t understand where the “ravioli” part comes in other than it was served with pita slices to help scoop up the artichoke chunks. It wasn’t creamy like a dip, but more chopped up as if it were a salad. You have to really like artichokes because the flavor was very strong.

By just looking at the menu, I really thought it was a “steak place” since they have four steaks listed in addition to their regular entrees. What I didn’t realize until I got there is that The Tavern has a large selection of fish, especially with several fresh catch specials. This is really ideal for couples and people with varying tastes. Again, it made it much harder to decide what to order and why I ended up just trying appetizers.

My friend and I had the same issue with the sides as well. Both the bartender and the server suggested their Asparagus “Ham & Eggs”, which did not sound good at all, but they both claimed it was their most popular dish. Instead, my friend selected the Loaded Tater Tot Casserole. Loaded with CHEESE that is! I would have loved to have made THAT my main entrée! I also was eyeing the chipotle cheddar mac n’ cheese, but I wasn’t quite brave enough.

When the server first came over to take our orders, she immediately asked if we were celebrating a birthday and I was really pleased that they did read my note. This also led to a complimentary hot fudge sundae dessert….sooooo good….and luckily, large enough for two people! The Mom in me almost wanted to scold my friend for finishing dessert before all of her dinner but it was her birthday after all! Not to mention my leftover stash ended up being twice as large….

Great staff, great service, interesting food, beautiful decor…this is definitely the kind of place I enjoy writing about and sharing with others. I can’t wait to go back…if I can get in!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Block Webster Groves

Thanks to my friends moving to Webster Groves, I finally had a good excuse to be close to The Block to try it out. At the very front of the restaurant, next to the bar, is a small butcher’s case right when you walk in so I guess you could get your dinner “to go” pre-cooked! I already knew that I was going to get the Missouri grass-fed beef just by reviewing the menu. When I go to a “meat” restaurant, that’s what I get. Although, I do admit that the salmon special sounded and looked fantastic.

I did start out with the Green Salad which came with roasted cauliflower in it that was so tasty, and it was a decent sized starter salad too. As an appetizer to try, I chose the Mushroom Fricassee since it came with “local goat cheese”, but there wasn’t very much cheese melted on top of the mushrooms. Instead, it came with too much “juice” and the garlic toast got soggy quickly. I ended up putting the mushrooms on my salad when I ran out of toast, but probably should have saved them for my main course to go on top!

Since the menu item just refers to “beef”, I quickly figured out that the selection is what they have for that day. So the cut of the day was rib eye and it was a large 10 ounces, at least for me. The meat came in the Block’s own steak sauce but it tasted more like a thick, berry sauce instead. It was a little bland and could have used either more sweetness or more vinegar flavor. Or the mushrooms and its sauce, like I mentioned earlier.

I also indulged and ate all of the “garlic herb fries” that came with my steak. I wish I had paid more attention and ordered some vegetables in its place but the fries that got soaked in the steak sauce were the best for sure!

We were all too full to order dessert so no reviews there but between all of us, we had a nice selection of beers on draught to taste. I got to have half of a Moose Drool and finished off a friend’s Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz since she didn’t like it. It still had that odd after taste but because it is so light, it was still easy for me to drink. The martini I tried was very strong though and if I’m having beef, I think I would stick with a beer.

The bar area is pretty small so I felt bad for the two tables that were near the bar...not really much of a buffer. I understand you should give folks a place to sit while they wait for a table but it was very crowded in such a small area where you have people coming in and walking towards the restrooms. With such a big space and high ceilings, it quickly got noisy in the entire restaurant regardless and we couldn't really talk across the table. But as a highlight, we did run into the one and only STLwinegirl, Angela Ortmann, so I knew we were at a "place to be". hehe

Resources:

The Block = http://theblockrestaurant.com/

Moose Drool = http://www.bigskybrew.com/Our_Beers/Moose_Drool

Urban Chestnut = http://urbanchestnut.com

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pueblo Solis

I was excited about Pueblo Solis because I had read such a great review about it from a foodie friend and had the inside scoop. I was a little nervous because I have been so loyal to Flacco’s, but I never want to miss out on a chance to try a new restaurant. I was very proud of my St. Charles friends who hiked all the way into the city, way down Hampton to try it with me.

I was just going to order the fish taco dinner since it was recommended in my friend’s blog but I was worried when I didn’t see it on the menu – only chicken or beef tacos were listed. So I asked the waitress and she said that it was not a problem! I was relieved but am not sure why it isn’t on the menu. Is it a super secret probation entrée?

Anyway, I got four small soft tacos along with rice and beans and at first I thought it’d be too much but the tacos were small and disappeared very quickly. We even started with the traditional chips and salsa – three kinds – spicy tomato, mild green, and a black bean!

The fish tacos here are all shredded tilapia while at Flacco’s you have more variety of fish and flavors, but I thought the tilapia and sauce gave the fish tacos a sweet flavor that was very.

Luckily, my friends are super nice and let me try a gordita (chicken inside and lots of cheese on the outside) as well as their homemade guacamole. WOW! Everyone gave the guac an A+ all around the table and I would highly recommend ordering it as an appetizer. You could probably make a meal of just that!!

My friend Dawn did not like the chicken Flauta in her combo entree but she gave the rice an A+, while I thought it was typical Mexican rice.

My buddy Curt also gave the margarita a thumbs up…he said he couldn’t taste the alcohol at all! hehe

I'm not sure when I'll make the trek back to the city but it was worth the trip at least once. Very reasonably priced as well.

Pueblo Solis = http://www.pueblosolisstl.com/

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New Belgium PIPA tasting and PW Pizza

Since I am on the Vin de Set mailing list, I automatically got invited to a New Belgium beer tasting at PW Pizza, which is owned by the same people and is on the main floor of the same building. The whole reason for the event was thanks to a St. Louisian named Pamela who won the “Clips of Faith” contest hosted by New Belgium. She was able to name the three New Belgium beers that made up a concoction that was served that night. She got the percentages down exact and then was selected in the national contest for an all-expenses paid trip to the New Belgium brewery in Ft. Collins, CO. In the end, they named an IPA after her, which we got to try that evening.

I thought it was going to be an all-IPA tasting and initially I initially wasn’t interested in going, but a friend who is a huge beer fan talked me into it. I am so glad she did! (Although I would have preferred a proper cheese paired with each of course!)

First we got to try the Hoptober Golden Ale, which is made up of four different types of hops: cascade (fruity flavor), centennial (grassy flavor), glacier, and sterling. This was the lightest of the bunch so think of a wheat beer with extra hoppy flavor.

Next up was the Ranger IPA, which just about everyone in the room had before. It’s often called an American IPA because again, this beer uses all American hops (3 types), but the name actually comes from the “Beer Rangers” that go out into the field and host beer tastings, spreading the word (and beer) of New Belgium. That would probably have to be the ultimate job, no?

Our “Beer Ranger” explained that the Ranger IPA has 6 ½% alcohol and 70 IBU’s or International Bitter Units. And it was definitely bitter!

Pamela’s IPA came next and Pam herself got to present her story of how she won the contest. Her secret? Drinking a lot of New Belgium beer! Hehehehe Her IPA was a lot more to my liking, a “girl’s IPA” as she called it. With 6.3% alcohol, it only had 60 IBU’s and was a lot smoother to drink.

While that was my favorite of the hoppy beers, my favorite of the whole night was the heaviest, believe it or not. I really thought for sure I would need a knife and fork to get through the last tasting, the Super Cru. Boy what a great flavor and not too bitter at all. Unfortunately, the class was very rowdy at this point and we had all had plenty of beer so I don’t know what goes into a Super Cru other than Fat Tire as its base. I thought it was funny that it only comes in tall bottles as well and rang in at 10% alcohol. One bottle and you’re good to go!

And then at the very end...we got to keep the New Belgium glass!!

As soon as the event ending, I hurried outside to put my name on the PW Pizza waiting list because everyone kept telling me how good the honey wheat crust was for their pizzas. Not like anyone has to twist my arm to try pizza! PW Pizza also has a great selection of beers and I went with a Leffe Blond. The light beer went well with our black olive and mushroom pizza (best pizza eva!), of course with the honey wheat crust. The pizza was so light and NOT greasy…the veggies tasted fresh and were drowning in the mozzarella cheese. So wonderful! I was also happy to be sharing a 12 inch (very reasonably priced) because I probably would have eaten the entire pizza myself.

I am actually hoping to go back there again sometime because I did not look too closely at the rest of the menu and I am curious about more of what they have there.
Be sure to note that the 2012 Centennial Beer Festival Beer Dinner will be on January 27th!!

Resources:

Vin de Set = http://www.vindeset.com/

PW Pizza = http://pwpizza.com/

New Belgium = http://www.newbelgium.com

Leffe Blond = http://www.leffe.com/en/beer/leffe-blond

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Traveling Table: Cielo

Just when I thought I would never get to go back to Cielo, Angela Ortmann (aka STLwinegirl) picked the restaurant for her first ever Traveling Table event. With the much-loved Provisions closed, Angela has taken food and wine pairings to a whole new level. I think this is a great concept and I feel that this can help take away some of the scariness of going to high-end restaurants where the average Jane wants to make sure that she is getting her money’s worth in the tight economy.

I have already written about how beautiful Cielo is at the top of the Four Seasons Hotel, attached to the Lumiere Casino complex. You can find a link to my previous Cielo blog below. So I’m just going to dive into the food and wine pairing itself.

Angela limited the seating at these events so that it’s more like attending a dinner party amongst friends. Even I made a few new friends as a large group joined us for their first STLwinegirl experience and I really hope it won’t be the last one for April, Sue, Janice, Susan, Julie, and Jami. Unfortunately, a large convention was taking place and half the dining room was filled with the attendees so the restaurant was a lot noisier than normal, and it made it difficult for Angela to teach as much as she usually does.

Angela did get the executive chef to come out and explain all of the courses as well as the pastry chef introduced his course. Before each course began, the sommelier showed the wine to Angela and gave her a taste. We learned that this is to make sure that you are really getting the wine that you ordered and the small tasting is to make sure that the wine is not corked in any way. (If the wine has a screw top, you’re probably safe!)

The meal started off with a bang since the first pairing was my favorite and stood out the most. We were served a very crisp Pinot Grigio, which is just so refreshing in this heat. The acidity of the wine really helped to cut through the richness of the risotto that had such a full flavor of tomato and mozzarella. Most of us were starting to get full and left some in their bowl, but I kept going because it was so good.

The next dish was a duck breast and quite a few of us on our end of the table were a little nervous and had never tasted duck before. Luckily, April set a good example and encouraged the others to be as adventurous as her. I always think of duck as having a heavy and greasy flavor, but this course was cooked very well with a lot of flavor. The skin of the duck made the meat hard to cut and chew, but the inside was very tender. I still prefer the taste of chicken, but it was quite good. I get the feeling that everyone enjoyed the fried potato “nest” and corn flan the most.

The cool part about being seated around one table is that we were able to discuss and debate much easier during the meal. I felt the Barbera tasted stronger like a Cabernet while Ellen and Angela told me that it’s much closer to a Pinot Noir. Some people even call Barbera the “Italian Pinot”. To me, the tannins were high, but was an appropriate match with the duck course, although it was a little too strong for me.

Even though we were at an Italian restaurant, I still hoped for a chocolate dessert. Instead, we had a Ricotta and Amaretti Cheesecake. Italian cheesecake is much different in flavor and texture, more of a regular cake style. I kept wanting to drown the whole thing in chocolate sauce, even though there were a good amount of chocolate chips throughout the cake. A sweet Prosecco was served with the dessert, helping to cut through the tartness of the cake, but even that was too sweet and overpowered the cheesecake.

Regardless, the whole evening was a huge success since I was quite full of food and wine, and more importantly, made quite a few new foodie friends. I can’t wait to meet all my future friends at the next event!

The next Traveling Table will be at Milagro Modern Mexican but is already sold out. After that, we will be visiting Franco on September 14th. You can get more information at STLwinegirl’s website below for more information.

Be sure to check out April Westerhold's blog for PICTURES from the event!
http://westerhold.blogspot.com/2011/08/traveling-table-cielo.html

The full menu:
Risotto with Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Mozzarella
Benvolio Pinot Grigio, Friuli-Venezia Guilia Italy

Duck breast with Missouri Blueberry & Grappa Sauce
Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy

Ricotta & Amaretti Cheesecake with Limoncello Sauce
Zardetto Prosecco, Veneto, Italy

Resources:
Cielo = http://www.fourseasons.com/stlouis/dining/cielo/

STLwinegirl = http://www.stlwinegirl.com

My previous Blog post about Cielo = http://michelleamarcus.blogspot.com/2011/05/cielo-at-four-season-hotel.html

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mei Lee Wine Pairing

I know it was a good wine pairing class since I actually drank all my wine! I finally made it to a Mei Lee (http://maileerestaurant.com) wine pairing at The Wine Merchant (http://www.winemerchantltd.com). I haven’t been there in a while since they stopped having cheese classes and I made sure to point that out to them.

Anyway, when I think Mei Lee, a Vietnamese restaurant (that I unfortunately haven’t been to since they’ve moved), I automatically think spicy, which usually signals sweeter white wines or some strong reds. Luckily, I was quite pleased to find out there were a variety of dishes beyond the traditional noodles and curries that immediately came to mind. The class leader also noted that Mei Lee has an extensive wine list thanks to a close relationship with the Wine Merchant.

We started off with a Lotus Root Salad, which was a light, simple dish with vegetables and shrimp, so of course this went well with a white wine. But the salad was slightly tangy and was paired with a dry Pinot Grigio from Italy. I was surprised because although the wine had a fruity smell, it tasted much drier.

Next up was a Chicken Curry dish that I was initially nervous about but ended up having a real mild coconut flavor. This paired well with a creamy Chardonnay, that actually came from Washington state. Robert Parker gave the 2008 Cote Bonneville Chardonnay 94 points, and the class leader went on to explain how unique climates such as higher elevations make for excellent places to grow grapes. Locations such as Chile and New Zealand as well asclimates that have sunny days and cool nights, in addition to a long growing season like in Washington, really make for excellent wine producing areas.

Switching back to appetizers, we were served a Crispy Sweet Potato Cake which was fried shoestring potatoes with a giant shrimp trapped in the middle. Our leader explained that fried, oily foods need more of an acidic wine to be paired with them so he served a dry Rose that was excellent. Quite a few of the attendees were surprised that Rose was not the usual sweet flavor.

Another appetizer, a traditional spring roll that contained pork was paired with a full bodied Pinot Noir from the Santa Barbara region of California. I expected a greasy flavor from the pork to require a red wine, but it turned out neither one was overpowering and the Pinot was actually quite smooth. This was definitely the best wine of the night.

For the first time, I tried a dish called Bahn Bao, which looked like a hamburger. A doughy biscuit filled with a flat sausage patty and a hard-boiled egg on top. Together, it was a sweet, heavy dish, served with an equally heavy (full bodied) Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While this is not my typical favorite style of wine, I often purchase this as gifts for those who enjoy dark reds.

The last dish consisted of a Rare Beef that was very spicy, even though I drowned it in the fish oil. This was paired with a sweet Muscat from Alsace, France, but it wasn’t enough to keep my nose from running and downing several glasses of water!

I certainly hope the Wine Merchant does more food and wine pairings in the future and the coolest one the class leader talked about was a pizza and wine pairing! I hope I can make it!

Here are the pairings:

Lotus Root Salad
2010 Scarpetta Pinot Grigio
Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy

Chicken Curry
2008 Cote Bonneville Chardonnay
Yakima Valley, Washington

Crispy Sweet Potato Cake
2010 Chateau de Manissy Rose
Tavel, France

Pork Roll
2009 Belle Glos Pinot Noir
Santa Maria Valley, California

Bahn Bao
2008 La Ferme du Mont Chateauneuf-du-Pape
Southern Rhone Valley, France

Rare Beef
2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Muscat
Alsace, France

Home Wine Kitchen

After reading about Chef Cassy’s “No Menu Monday”, I just HAD to try Home Wine Kitchen (http://www.homewinekitchen.com). Luckily, my best friend Tony saw my Facebook post about it and was a willing victim to go with me - for his birthday dinner no less!

Even though we had a reservation for two, the restaurant was already quite full except for the tall 2-tops in the front window on stools. At first I thought this was a cute little area, but then I realized how warm it got sitting right in the sun and after 30 minutes, it was hard to sit on a stool. Literally. I know that the point of Home Wine Kitchen is to make it seem homey and comfortable, but the prices and atmosphere really don’t quite match.

Anyway, we were troopers and were very excited about the whole concept of being surprised with three courses…quite the food adventure! It turned out to be a heavy appetizer, a large main course, and then dessert. I think I ended up eating off of Tony’s plate quite a bit as well because I enjoyed his courses the most.

At the very beginning you are asked if you have any allergies and then if there are any foods you dislike. I immediately mentioned pork (big surprise) while Tony voted down green vegetables. I then explain that Tony loves pork and I loved green vegetables so that we could still both get meals that we enjoyed without being deprived, but this may have been a mistake. We also agreed to the wine flight with each course, which I also highly suggest.

Our wines were poured first and I was given a Pinot Grigio, so I immediately guessed a fish of some kind. The server told me no but I ended up being close since I got a plate full of mussels. I almost squealed in delight! Tony was served a fairly heavy red wine and I was wondering what first course would require such a strong wine. Sure enough, he was served a beef pate on toasted bread. Unfortunately, neither one of us had enough bread to go around. I wanted to soak up the buttery sauce that my mussels came in and Tony didn’t have enough for spreading the pate. I refused to let the pate go to waste because it was so tasty, so I broke down and used my fork. (Is it OK to ask for more bread?)

For the second course, more red wines came out so again, I was thinking beef, although one was lighter than the other. I got the lighter wine, but I also was handed the lighter dish, a pork steak, while Tony got the Strip Steak with asparagus. I was really hoping that this was just a server error and we immediately switched plates (and wines). We both ended up much happier and our dishes were excellent. Although, if I had known I was getting steak, I would have asked for it to be cooked more on the rare side. The sauces on both were outstanding.

With such heavy meals and red wines, I was really in the mood for chocolate…which went to Tony. I got a bite of the Chocolate Pate and it was incredible. Oh. My. Goodness. It was hard not to steal the rest. I attempted to eat what I could of my fruity Italian ice that came with a Sherry. Unfortunately, the ice cream was so frozen, I could only eat half of it and I tried to pour the Sherry on top to give it more flavor, but it really didn’t work. Tony got a Port to go with the Chocolate Pate…an excellent pairing.

I’m not sure if the restaurant is in the beginning stages still...growing pains maybe…and I’m sure I’d like to try it again sometime. Possibly eat off the menu instead. But I’m not sure I’m in a big hurry to go back just yet.

Schlafly Beer and Cheese Pairing 2011

For my second year in a row, I attended the Schlafly Beer and Cheese Pairing at the Tap Room (http://www.schlafly.com/breweries/taproom) during Craft Beer Week. Three of the beers were from Schlafly while the other three came from Urban Chestnut, (http://urbanchestnut.com) located right around the corner on Washington Avenue.

This class was done a little bit differently since the beers and cheeses were introduced first so that we could taste on our own, as well as mix and match a little bit. While I enjoy the freedom to mix up the pairings, I definitely require more cheese for that to happen!! Luckily, we all planned on getting dinner after the class.

While I just assumed we would start with the lightest beer and move on to the darker ones, I was surprised right out of the gate with a Schlafly Kolsch that had a very bitter flavor. This totally overpowered the Seahive Cheddar (Utah) that had no sharpness to it (as I prefer my cheddars to be)!

Luckily, the next pairing saved me since I really enjoyed the Urban Chestnut Zwickel that was light and refreshing. It had a mild flavor and paired equally to the Cambzola Blue (Germany). I think this is the first time ever that a blue did not have that “stinky cheese” flavor. It definitely opened my eyes to the range of blues!

The popular choice at my table was the Urban Chestnut Schnickelfritz, which had a strong fruity finish. It was a little overpowering for me, (and I normally like fruity beers) but was probably the best suited to be paired with the Pantaleo (Italy) cheese that was so dry, I felt like I had to scrape it off the roof of my mouth like peanut butter! ACK!

Going back to a Schlafly beer, I thought the Biere de Garde had a lot of flavor and paired well with the Marieke Foenegreek Gouda (Wisconsin). Both had a strong finish and this was definitely my favorite pairing of the night.

The Urban Chestnut Kinsale had a full bodied coffee flavor and was paired with a Walnut Gourmandise (France). These paired well in the sense that I didn’t like either one of these. The nutty flavor of the cheese was too much for me and I’m not a coffee drinker.

At least the best cheese overall came last with an Old Chatham Camembert (New York), which was pungent and gamey, but so smooth and creamy like a triple crème. A strong Schafly American IPA was paired with it, which makes sense, but I’m just not a fan of them.

The funniest part of the whole class was at the very end when we all shouted our favorite beers and cheeses. Usually one or two stand out in a class but the votes were ALL over the place! I guess it’s a good thing there are so many beers in St. Louis and plenty of cheese to go around as well.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Top Ten Wine and Cheese Pairings 2011

Whole Foods Galleria just announced their top ten wines, which are on sale at the store, and so our fearless leaders, Michael and Dave (the wine and cheese experts) picked out six pairings for this month’s theme.

This class worked out really well because there was a lot of variety and the pairings really stood out more so than any wine or the cheese by themselves.

We started with the lightest cheese, of course, Bucherondin, which was a creamy French goat cheese that totally coated the roof of my mouth like peanut butter.
Luckily, Dave handed out an orange blossom honey to go on top of the cheese and it was paired with a Savignon Blanc to help cut through the cream. The sweet, fruity flavors of the honey as well as a wine with higher acidity really helps.

The Manchego, Spain’s most popular cheese, was aged six months and Dave claimed that it had a “buttery” taste, but I think it was still plenty dry. This too was passed with a quince jelly to add some sweetness. This was paired with a Spanish wine (wines and cheese from similar areas go well together), but I was surprised that it was a Chardonnay. So no heavy oak or buttery taste since it’s from Europe as compared to California's version.

The next two were cheddars, which I just love due to their sharp flavor! First up was a Seaside Cheddar that was not near as sharp as the second one, a Grafton Reserve Cheddar. Dave passed around a cherry-flavored preserve but the cherry’s fruitiness was a bit too strong. Now I know cheddar is sharp but I want the full effect of that, not the fruit flavor. I preferred both cheddars by themselves, especially with their wines. The Seaside Cheddar was paired with a Pinot Grigio from Argentina and the Grafton Reserve Cheddar (aged two years and quite sharp) was paired with a very smooth Malbec. It had to be one of my favorite pairings of the night.

Next up was another excellent cheese, and one that Dave has picked out at least once or twice before because it is so tasty. P’tit Basque is a light and creamy sheep’s milk cheese, and it was paired with a very dry red wine from Italy in an effort to cut the creaminess but I let the cheese stand on its own this time.

The last pairing was a traditional Blue d’Auvergne that I only took a little bite from, of course.

The best part about class? Plenty of leftover cheese.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Will Write for Wine

I was excited when I signed up for @STLwinegirl’s (aka Angela Ortmann) latest class, Will Write for Wine, since I already have been blogging about all my classes with Angie the last couple of years now. So now us bloggers would be the focus!

It was a very different crowd than I was used to, but it was great to see so many enthusiastic people in attendance. It’s always nice to put a “Twitter username” to a face! Hehe I collected quite a few business cards and have been checking out everyone’s sites, which I will post at the bottom. Quite a few attendees are into cooking while others just like to blog about their experiences, like me and my “food adventures”.

This class turned out to be a Wine 101 class though, and I had heard a lot of the information many times. But I think this is important because when you hear the same information several times it really tends to stick, which in turn makes it’s easier for you to be able to share with others. Soon, YOU'LL become the wine expert in your group of friends and wine experts are a popular thing to be these days. Hehe

Angie did not put too much emphasis on the brand of wine or the country, except for explaining terroir, which is how the geography of where the grapes are grown affects the taste of the wine. Examples are climate and soil, along with many other variables such as earthquakes. We also learned about how wine is made, smelling and tasting wine, and proper storage.

I took a lot of notes, and I would go into more detail, but as the other bloggers started to post, I thought all of theirs were so well done that I decided to just add links to their blogs so you can get a fresh perspective.

I did want to make sure I publicly apologized for not bringing any cheese after introducing myself as a huge “cheese fan” and I kept getting requests as to which cheese to pair with each wine. (Just call me @STLcheesegirl.) Hehe

I also finally got Angie to let me help her for one of her classes. Since I had heard the information before, I didn’t mind making water runs as there was no staff this time. (Just call me @STLwatergirl.) Plus we were in a brand new location, Nebula Coworking, that provided a huge space for the class! http://nebulastl.com/

My postings should pick up soon since next week will include Whole Foods cheese class as well as a Groupon trip to Flacco’s Cocina again!

http://www.everylittlethingblog.com/2011/07/will-write-for-wine-food-blogger-event.html

http://cityinajar.com/2011/07/14/will-write-for-wine/

http://bridgetmcguiresfillingstation.blogspot.com/2011/07/will-write-for-wine.html

http://hannahviolin.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/will-write-for-wine/

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Alaskan Seafood Class Part 3

Last week was the third installment of an Alaskan-themed seafood class and yet again, it did not disappoint. If there are a duplication of courses, I really don't remember nor do I mind one bit!

We started out with a cioppino, or a spicy fish stew which includes several kinds of fish. It traditionally was a stew made up from the catch of the day, originating in Italy. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cioppino

Since the stew had quite a kick from the red pepper, Michael served it with the Greek wine we had in cheese class last month called Elios, which has a crisp finish. Although I really could have used a glass of milk!

I was relieved to have gotten the fire out of the way so I could really enjoy the rest of the courses, especially since crab cakes were next. Chef Matt makes some of the best crab cakes because they are always so big and meaty, which often causes me much disappointment when I order them in a restaurant! It could be a meal all by itself! On the side was a delicious Remoulade sauce that added some sweetness to the crab so the wine needed to be mild. Michael picked out a Chardonney that wasn't oaky for a good balance.

The next course consisted of two, bite-sized pieces of halibut that were wrapped in bacon. Luckily, the poor fish was not tainted by the placement of the bacon and they came off easily. The halibut had a buttery flavor and required a drier, red wine to pair up with it to cut through the creaminess.

Last, and the best course, was a sockeye salmon that was also the best salmon I have ever had. The salmon had just arrived at Whole Foods a day or two before and just melted in my mouth. Outstanding! Since the salmon was so light and full of flavor (much like the creaminess of the halibut), another dry red, a Pinot Noir, paired well.

The next seafood class will take place in the fall and Chef Matt is wanting to go with a heavier theme such a trout or bisques.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Whole Foods Italian Cheese Class

The Italian-themed cheese class at Whole Foods (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com) started off right with its first cheese, and my first love, Parmigiano-Reggiano. To me, it should have been the big finish since it has such a strong flavor when eaten whole and goes best with a dry, red wine.

The order of the cheeses was actually a little bit out of order if you ask me. The next cheese was very similar, San Pietro, but still milder so it was paired with a Pinot instead.

After that, we tried two kinds of Gorganzola…I had no idea there was more than one! The Dolce version was a little more sweeter and creamier than the Naturale. Gorganzola is the traditional blue cheese of Italy, named after the town with the same name. These strong cheeses were paired with Chianti, which was equally strong enough to stand up to these blues.

We went from one extreme to the next as we tasted my second favorite of the night, Taleggio. It’s soft and creamy, like a brie, so it was paired with an acidic, sharp Greek wine called Elios to help cut the buttery flavor.

The last cheese was a fancy truffled semi-soft cheese called Sottocenere, which was paired with a dry sparkling wine. The pairing was quite rich altogether!

Special thanks to Ellen, who not only brought a starter wine for the entire class as usual, but she also provided an olive tray as well as biscotti for dessert!

I also learned that the next seafood class is Tuesday, June 7th!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cielo at the Four Seasons Hotel

Mother’s Day turned out to be quite the treat for all of us as we got to try the restaurant Cielo, (http://www.fourseasons.com/stlouis/menu_2828) located inside the Four Seasons hotel, which is attached to the Lumiere complex downtown. I am a big fan of the casino and love the Burger Bar, but unfortunately, SLeeK, another upscale restaurant created by Hubert Keller, has been replaced by Stadium, a large sports bar and grill.

Cielo was even nicer than SLeeK though, due to the amazing view you get if you are able to eat outside. We all walked out onto the patio area (overlooking the pool too!) and were all blown away. Let’s just say I scored some major brownie points. Hehe Fortunately, our dinners were also able to stand up to the great scenery.

Since Cielo is quite pricy, I decided to go with just one appetizer to try – the Cielo Bruschetta – mostly because it came with a hunk of goat cheese on each of the three slices. So smooth and creamy!

I also chose well with my salad since I picked the Tuna Carpaccio instead of traditional greens. The tuna came out flat, like a sheet of lox, but it was served with a crab dip on top that I spread around so it could cover every bite. It would have made a perfect light lunch all by itself. The tuna was so fresh!

For entrees, Cielo lists a good variety of dishes without being overwhelming, and has something for everyone. I would have loved to try the Veal and Truffle Ravioli or the Gnocchi from the pasta section, or the Roasted Lobster in the fish section. They even serve five different homemade pizzas! But if I am in a nice restaurant, I always go for the Filet Mignon. The waitress left me a steak knife but I was easily able to use my butter knife. My filet was perfect.

My filet also came with scalloped potatoes (with gorgonzola cheese on top!!) and mixed vegetables but I was actually plenty full with just the filet.

My Stepmom went with the fish special, a grouper, which turned out to be an excellent choice since the fish was very meaty and filling, served with a light tomato basil sauce.

My Dad went with the Seared Ahi Tuna…looked almost like sushi…but I was not able to steal a bite off of his plate.

While I am not sure that I’ll ever make it back to Cielo, I definitely would recommend this for any special occasion.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Triumph Grill

I really hadn't heard anything about the Triumph Grill (http://www.triumphgrill.com) but as soon as I was led to the table, I immediately recognized it as the “motorcycle museum”, which is right next door to the Moto Museum as well.

Triumph is worth trying out just for the décor alone...a very creative use of motorcycle parts and very modern design. At one end of the restaurant is the museum that can also be used for banquets, and at the other end is a Ducati store.

I really was sent to Triumph because my friends wanted me to know about another good restaurant near the Fox (because I always going to Vito's). I hadn't heard anything about the food prior to going in so I was open to anything. It was actually hard to choose an entree since there is something for everyone. I was lucky in that I went with a large group and got to try several dishes and everything I tasted was very good.

I started with the Clos du Bois Riesling, which is a dryer version, but I would have liked to have seen a beer list since there were so many burgers on the menu.

There was a unique list of appetizers, which was nice to see, but there wasn't a crab cake for me to try. I ended up skipping the appetizers since most sounded a little greasy and I ended getting the soup platter instead.

I got excited when I heard the soup of the day was a broccoli cheddar, but even happier that I could try the crab bisque and the mushroom and leak bisque as well! The soup platter gives you 3 out of the 4 choices, the fourth being a chili.

It was better to order the platter since there was one scoop of each and it wasn't too overwhelming, but I did start to feel a little full afterwards.

My friends ordered the San Marino Wedge salad, which came with an amazing homemade green goddess dressing. My friends also split the wedge since it was so large and you could have split any of the other salads or pastas for sure.

I decided on the Apple Cider Steamed Sea Bass because I knew I couldn’t go wrong although I was surprised that it was one of the more expensive meals. While I didn’t taste any apple cider, the dried cherries gave the fish a sweet flavor.

I also got to taste the Valentino’s Wild Mushroom Pasta (thick noodles, strong mushroom flavor!) as well as the Crispy Barbecue Chicken Ranch Salad. The BBQ flavor had a spicy finish that caught me off guard but still was very good flavor. I'm not sure I could eat a whole meal with the BBQ and the pulled pork was also mixed in this BBQ sauce so be careful.

The best taste I got was from one of the burgers...I would highly recommend one of the three burgers to choose from, although one of the burgers cost $10,000 since it comes with a free motorcycle. Hehe And beware of the homemade chips that were as hard as flat rocks.

Of course I can't go out with my friends without trying dessert and all four looked delicious. We got the “Blondie”, which is vanilla ice cream on top of a chocolate cookie brownie, as well as my pick (the best one), a chocolate cake with chocolate icing. Super rich!

My friends and I went at 6pm on a Saturday night and it really didn't get too crowded until another hour or so later, so it just might be the perfect secret to getting a good pre-show meal in the area.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bici Cafe

As good as the last restaurant was, Bici Café in University City was a total disappointment. My friends had gone there several times and they drive pretty far just to go to the restaurant. Now, I KNOW I have been to the restaurant a couple of times before, located on the corner of Pershing and Jackson, but I cannot remember what it used to be.

I knew we might be in trouble when my friend asked about some of his favorites that were not on the menu. Turns out their favorite items were not currently being served and were only on a “summer menu”. Regardless, we found plenty to order as it is our tradition to try as many small plates as possible.

We all tried the Spanikopita and the Lobster Ravioli(?), while ordering a Tuna Nicoise and the Ultimate Grilled Cheese. I thought they were all excellent choices and was really looking forward to my meal so I just ignored the waitress’ rush in taking our order.

Looking back, I’m not quite sure why she was in such a hurry since we had a long wait for our food. There was such a long wait that our small plates (as well as my salad) came out at the same time as our meals.

The biggest disappointment came when we finally got to eat…the Spanikopita had too strong of a spinach taste the ravioli had a strong fishy taste. My tuna nicoise was just mediocre. All the items in the salad came artfully separated on a long dish, which at this point, I just wanted them mixed already.

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese was very good…but probably nothing that I would make a special trip for. I could taste the basil, tomato, and extra gouda cheese very well which was a nice treat. I did enjoy the sweet potato fries that came with the sandwich, but my friends complained there were very few fries on the plate.

At least Bici’s got one thing right: dessert! I think it MIGHT be worth stopping by once for their Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding and just skip all the other courses. Hopefully, if you only ordered dessert, you might actually get to eat it within a reasonable wait time.

As a family friend once said, “Take a picture!” and I immediately gave up my future coupon to my friends.

Sidney Street Cafe

Sidney Street Café definitely lived up to all the hype after hearing about it from my family all these years. My Dad was kind enough to use his birthday dinner at a restaurant I had never been before and I figured it must be good if both of my parents really enjoyed going back many times over!

I was really impressed with the length of the menu…it means that surely everyone can find something. Even though I had studied the menu ahead of time, the wait staff takes the time to explain every item on the menu verbally. This was important because I was just about ready to select the lamb trio when it turned out they were served with a side of brussel sprouts. That helped make my decision much easier: Filet Bearnaise, which also came stuffed with lobster!

My Dad ended up ordering the lamb trio but it was gone far too quickly for me to try a bite, but I had better luck getting a taste of the Walu, which is a Hawaiian white fish. So much flavor! And it came with a fantastic homemade pasta.

I wasn’t able to finish my meal, even though they are reasonably portioned, due to the amount of appetizers and beignets that I ate first. Hehe Luckily, there was a sampler plate so I could try more than one appetizer and they were each maybe 1-2 bites, so I didn’t have to share. I probably wouldn’t recommend any appetizers in general because the portions are so tiny but everything was excellent.

I tried the Veal Dumpling (my favorite), the Lobster Turnover (a close 2nd), the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake (hey…it’s tradition), and the Shrimp wrapped in bacon that I immediately unwrapped.

The wait staff was even kind enough to place some fresh beignets in my “to go” box so I had quite the meal the next day!

Dessert? That was easy too: Dark Chocolate Turtle Brownie. Oh yes. It really did cause some ooohs and aaahs out loud.

Just a complete win all around and I would go back there without any hesitation. Definitely worth a special occasion or celebration.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Goat Cheese Class 2011

I was really happy with the “Goat’s Milk” cheese class because that meant one of my cheese-particular friends could join me for a change. The biggest surprise for me, over the past few years, is that goat cheese comes in so many forms…from the typical chevre that we may think of to my personal favorite, a hard, dry cheese, Midnight Moon.

The other interesting fact about goat cheese that I learned this month is that it is the only type of cheese you can freeze, although it should be wrapped tightly, and allow almost two days for a slow defrost.

Instead of a chevre, the two softer goat cheeses came in the form of a runny, gooey Bonne Bouche and a goat brie from Canada. While the Bonne Bouche had quite a pungent flavor, the brie was much milder and could easily replace its milk version and you’d never know.

All three of the firmer cheese stood out and while I think the Midnight Moon had the most flavor, I was definitely biased. I learned that Midnight Moon is actually imported from Holland by Cypress Grove while Chabrin is imported from the Pyrenees. The Chabrin was definitely a close second and quite similar to the Midnight Moon. I also think Midnight Moon could have been held off towards the end to be paired with a red wine.

The cheese that was served with a dry, red zinfandel was the LeChevrot, from the Loire Valley. A strong, “goaty” and nutty flavor altogether.

I’m not sure when the next cheese class will be but hopefully seafood class and cheese class will alternate with each other so we don’t have to go too long without either one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Provisions Irish Spring 2011

This month’s Provisions food and wine pairing theme was “Irish Spring” although there was a little bit of Mardi Gras Cajun sprinkled in as well so there was a nice variety of meals.

We started with a chilled spring pea soup and it had a very strong pea or vegetable flavor, much like asparagus. To combat the overpowering flavor, it was paired with a Sparkling Gruner Veltliner. There weren’t many bubbles to it like a traditional sparkler, but the acidity helped to cut through the creamy flavor. I also noticed that Chef Scott snuck in some bacon bits on the very top of it, so I had to wash it all down with a lot of wine.

After struggling with the first course, the second course was worse. Either the bottle was corked or something wrong with my glass, but I actually had a “barnyard” tasting Sauvignon Blanc. Normally Blancs taste cool, crisp, and minerally to me. So this flavor came out of nowhere and I don’t think it was the correct taste. Luckily, the pasta was quite good on its own.

Fortunately, the third pairing saved me and I have to give Angela Ortmann (aka STLwinegirl) the proper credit for using a special request that I had made. (http://www.stlwinegirl.com) Chef Scott is known for his love of Cajun food and he made a dirty rice with crawfish. It wasn’t spicy at all so it was perfect for me! This was paired with a 2009 Efeste “Evergreen” Riesling out of Washington State. I had read about it in the Wednesday Food section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and it got very high marks from Wine Spectator, as well as finishing in Jon Bonne’s Top 100 wines of 2009. You can find more reviews here: http://www.wine.com/V6/Efeste-Evergreen-Riesling-2009/wine/107959/detail.aspx

Since the food was not spicy, the drier Riesling was a very balanced pairing. If there had been any spice, then a sweeter Riesling would have definitely been required. But it was perfect. While I love sweet wines, drier Rieslings are actually easier to drink because they are so smooth without the typical tart finish that can be overwhelming at times.

In addition to the wine, Angela paired a beer with this course and it was the exact same LaChouffe Golden Blonde Ale I had JUST picked out on Saturday night at Cicero’s! (http://www.ciceros-stl.com) Coicedence or no? I’ll let you decide. Either way, this pairing was a complete success.

The next pairing was actually just as strong even though I was biased by my favorites. We had the typical Corned Beef and Cabbage, but it came with a delicious creamy sauce that was not overpowering. This really paired well with the 2009 Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais since it is so full of fruity flavor. Another beer, the Schlafly Irish Ale, had just as much flavor as the wine and both drinks could stand up to the sauce. Again, a well-balanced pairing.

Last but not least, the dessert course was Bananas Foster paired with a chocolate stout. This definitely made sense to me as a pairing but I would have liked to have traded in the stout for a bottle of chocolate sauce to smother the bananas in. I was surprised that the stout was smooth and not as bitter like I expected, but I still prefer a lighter beer.

The next Provisions food and wine pairing will take place on Tuesday, April 5th and the theme still has yet to be determined. You can post suggestions on STLwinegirl’s wall at http://www.facebook.com/STLwinegirl or tweet her on Twitter @STLwinegirl.

Here is the pairing list:
Chilled Spring Pea Soup
Punkt Genau Sparkling Gruner Veltliner
Austria

Spring Vegetable Pesto Primavera
2008 StarLane Sauvignon Blanc
Central Coast, California

Dirty Rice with Crawfish
2009 Efeste “Evergreen” Riesling
Washington State
LaChouffe Golden Blonde Ale
Belgium

Corned Beef and Cabbage
2009 Georges Deboeuf Beaujolais
France
Schlafly Irish Ale
Missouri

Bananas Foster
Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence
New York