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.