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