Sunday, July 29, 2012

La Cantina

La Cantina was recently reviewed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Riverfront Times so when I sent the articles to my friends, I figured it would just be added to the bottom of my “restaurant to visit” list for a time in the future. But my friend suggested we go right away and I was nervous that it would be packed, especially since they don’t take reservations.

My friends and I got there right at 6PM on a Saturday night and that worked out perfectly since there were still quite a few open tables both inside and out.

While La Cantina has the usual quesadillas and assorted tacos, I really wanted to try some of their botanas, or small plates. There are quite a few items to choose from so you need to take the time to read all the descriptions. I knew I didn’t want any pork items so that narrowed it down a little bit. Unfortunately, I do not see the items I selected on the menu on the website but I know I ordered a fried portabella mushroom surrounded by cheese along with a dish of six small, crispy chicken taquitos.

My friend ordered a stuffed green pepper…stuffed with a lot of cheesy goodness that is! I also got to try one of his fish tacos that you got to build yourself. The fish itself was very soft and light and I ended up putting the guacamole from my chicken dish and the salsa from the table in the middle of the taco. My fish taco creation was definitely my favorite!

I also started with the white sangria, which had a strong citrusy flavor to it and the red sangria was also overpowering so I quit after one drink, even though I was eyeing my friend’s Mango Frozen Margarita.

I was way too full to have any dessert, so I was impressed with my friends who ordered the Xangas (pronounced changas - cheesecake wrapped in a flour tortilla then fried so that it’s crunchy) that came in a mango sauce. I could only handle one bite due to the rich mango flavor!

Resources:

La Cantina = http://www.lacantinawebster.com/

STLtoday.com Review = http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/dining/restaurants/reviews/la-cantina-aims-for-a-unique-mexican-niche/article_cc114d54-c3d9-11e1-882a-0019bb30f31a.html

RFT review: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutcheck/2012/07/review_preview_la_cantina_webster_groves.php

Mathew's Kitchen

By now you probably know that Del Pietro has been replaced by Mathew’s Kitchen, and while I am sad that a long-time St. Louis restaurant is no longer there, I did want to give the new restaurant its fair shake.

The restaurant is still beautiful on the inside with plenty of room up on the second level, including a separate room for a private party too. I felt like I was in someone’s home walking upstairs and I think that fits well with the “comfort food” theme.

FEAST magazine hosted its July tasting there so we got to try a number of items off the menu. We started with a crab cake, one of my all-time favorite appetizers, and the creaminess of the cakes went well with a crisp, sauvignon blanc. On the menu, they’re called “sliders” even though it’s not a mini-hamburger, and they’re made from roasted corn with cilantro lime aioli.

Mathew’s Kitchen has quite a few piggy options so of course there were two bacon-themed items on the tasting menu for that night as well. Another appetizer menu item, the second course consisted of the bacon jelly on top of a crostini and paired with a pinot noir. Again, this was another well-balanced pairing since the pinot tamed down the sweetness of the jelly and helped to mask some the bacon flavor for me. The bacon jelly can be found under the “sad pig” menu label and comes with bleu cheese crumbles.

The third course was Mathew’s interpretation of meatloaf, wrapped in bacon and a light spread of BBQ sauce. As usual, it was easy to strip the full piece of bacon around the outside, but then you also lost a lot of the BBQ sauce. I overheard Mathew say that he was not much of a fan of meatloaf so he came up with his own creation. With such a meaty course, a red zinfandel with high tannins was able to stand up to this dish and balance out the sweetness of the BBQ sauce.

Last but not least was the dessert course: apple strudel with a Fess Parker Riesling! I believe Fess Parker is one of the wineries I got to visit while out in Santa Barbara a few of years ago and both were equally paired with the same amount of sweetness.

My friends and I stayed for dinner but I have to admit, I really was not hungry at all. There were a lot of meaty items on the menu so I was most interested in the lighter fresh fish of the day, but I was smart and stuck with the appetizers that we shared at the table. Mathew’s specialty is the pig wings, which luckily didn’t have too much piggy taste to it but my favorite was the “cheese and crackers”: baked goat cheese in a tomato basil sauce. I could have eaten it as a meal by itself with a big spoon but I was courteous and spread the gooey sauce on the crostinis it came with.

Resources:

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

Mathew’s Kitchen = http://mathewskitchenstl.com/

Layla

Since Layla is down the street from Wednesday’s “Cocktail Club” at Sancturia, my friend and I got to try out this new Lebanese restaurant. We had a very hard time narrowing down our selection since we both had our favorites that we wanted to try, so we followed the waiter’s advice and ordered the Layla Mezza for Two. Really…I think it easily could have fed three or four!

I got to taste my favorites: baba ganoush and falafel, while my friend had her favorites: hummus and tabbouleh. The Mezza also came with mutable, batata harra, and labneh. It was hard to remember which was which when it all came out on a large platter, but we both ended up sticking with our favorites when dipping the pita bread. Since falafel can be dry by itself, I recommend placing it inside a pita along with the different flavors to mix and match the taste. The Labneh, a thick Arabic yogurt dip, helped to sweeten it up for sure.

My friend and I also shared the Chicken Shish Kabab, which comes with basmati rice and fresh vegetables, and I’m not quite sure where we found room for it. I really didn’t want to leave it behind in favor of the Mezza platter, but then I also enjoyed dipping the chicken in some of the sauces as well.

I definitely recommend bringing a friend to help try multiple dishes. We were so full, there was no room left to try their baklava, one of my all-time favorite desserts that’s not chocolate! I definitely hope to go back.

Fantastic attentive service as well.

Resources:

Layla = http://www.laylalebaneserestaurant.com/

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4 Hands Brewery

My beer-lovin’ friends used 4 Hands Brewery as a pre-Cardinal game meetup and although I thought it was a little far from the stadium, I respect their passion for local breweries. It turned out to be a good spot to go to because while it was busy, it wasn’t too crowded and we easily were able to get a table. Unfortunately, there was only one bartender so everyone did have to be a little patient getting a chance to order.

Since I wasn’t familiar with their beers at all, I selected the tasting sampler, which consisted of ten different sampler glasses, requiring two trays! Although this was a pricy option, I found that it was the best way to just try all their beers at once, especially for my first time. It helps if you’re with a group so that everyone can sample as well because there was plenty to go around.

Unfortunately, I prefer my beers sweet and light like my wines so I only had a couple favorites: The Single Speed Session, better known as American blonde ale, as well as the Reprise Centennial Red, which is an American red ale style. The IPAs and oatmeal stout were all too bitter for me but would please most microbrew beer lovers.

When I went to turn in my trays, the bartender was kind enough to ask me for my favorite and gave me a full pint free of charge! Maybe it helped that I tipped him well?

The highlight for me, though, was the 5th Wheel menu, created by Dave Bailey. There was no way I would be able to try all those beers in the heat without a little food in my stomach. I picked out a turkey sandwich, which had plenty of meat and came on a thick roll with a sweet sauce. My friend’s French dip was also a hearty size but they were just the right amount of food. The charcuterie plate looked like a good starter for two to share since it included a container of chicken liver (a little too rich), cheese, and summer sausage.

My pickle (a must with any sandwich) and sweet cole slaw on the side were perfect as well. My turkey was a little salty but the rich foods paired well with the strong flavors of the beers.

Oh, and we were able to get a golf cart shuttle ride to and from the game as well for tips!

Resources:

4 Hands Brewery: http://4handsbrewery.com/

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I Fratellini

Ever since I learned about burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, I was on a quest to try it. Fortunately, a good foodie friend mentioned her favorite restaurant that she attends weekly. Then everything else fell into place when another friend had a good reason to celebrate over dinner.

I had been to I Fratellini previously, but it was several years ago and it’s one of those places where everything on the menu sounds fantastic so you’ll want to go many times. They offer all my favorite types of pasta: Mushroom Ravioli, Tagliatelle, Lobster Risotto, and Linguine with Clams, so I knew it was going to be a challenge to just pick one again.

Before I could even attempt to pick out one entrée, I couldn’t help but linger over the antipasto dishes. I couldn’t decide between the two salads so I decided my friend and I would just share a plate of gnudi, an Italian dumpling stuffed with cheese, along with the burrata. The burrata was perfect for two people and my half of the cheese was thickly spread to perfectly fit over two large crostinis.

The gnudi was probably meant for one person, but was quite delicious as it was served with a thick marinara sauce with lots of thick tomato chunks.

Both my friend and I struggled to pick out an entrée although I had decided to go with seafood since that seemed to be what they are known for. I picked out the Pistachio Encrusted Trout with citrus butter over Sauteed Spinach so I could try something different besides salmon. The butter and pistachio flavors were just wonderful with the trout combining a sweetness with a nutty flavor. No hint of fishiness at all. The fish came right off the skin as well, perfectly cooked.

I would have claimed it was the best entrée there until I tried my friend’s Beef Tenderloin and it just about melted in my mouth, not to mention the scalloped potatoes in their creamy goodness.

Just when it couldn’t get any better, I went ahead and ordered the Chocolate Torta for dessert and we were served a huge piece! This was chocolate done right…chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting and chocolate sauce on the plate. Perfect.

The service was just incredible, but since the restaurant is very small, it got very noisy and very warm quickly. The kitchen is actually open in the corner of the restaurant so it might be best to wait until the height of summer passes. With it being so warm in the restaurant, I picked out a refreshing and crisp Pinot Grigio to kick off our meal.

Resources:

I Fratellini = http://www.saucemagazine.com/ifratellini/

Beer Dinner at Stadium Sports Bar in Lumiere Place

One of my very first blog posts was about my experience at SLeeK, formerly a high-end steak restaurant inside the Lumiere Place casino. Unfortunately, this restaurant was replaced by a sports bar called Stadium with TVs all over the place. I’m sure a sports bar will do a lot better in St. Louis.

Since sports bars are nothing all that new here, I never really have a reason to go into Stadium until I saw the Beer Dinner advertised by FEAST magazine. I definitely thought it was a good way to try a few items off their menu as well as give me a chance to try out their extensive beer menu. I had no idea they have so many different beers on tap!

Not only was this five-course Beer Dinner well priced at $30, but the dinner was served buffet style! That meant after we tried everything once, we could go back as many times as we wanted for more food and beer. The benefit of this is that you can mix your own food and beer pairings, along with the all-you-can-eat-and-drink part of course.

The first course was a winner right out of the gate: Petit Strip Steaks in a Caramelized Onion Demi Glace paired with Six Row Double IPA. Both the sauce and Double IPA had strong flavors so it was a powerful pairing together. The steak was very tender and I ended up going back for quite a few more servings, but I actually enjoyed a sweeter beer to help balance out the flavors more.

Since my friend and I both avoid pork, we skipped over the Oven Roasted Pork Loin, but still took a taste of the Boulevard Tank 7. I know a lot of my friends like the medium bodied beer, but it is still too hoppy for me.

The chicken course was a Bacon Wrapped Chicken Glazed with Orange Reduction and again, my friend and I were disappointed that bacon was infiltrating the chicken. Peeling off the bacon also meant losing the orange glaze, leaving a bland and tough chicken behind. This was paired well with the Bell’s Amber Ale, but I’m sure the citrus flavor of the beer went better with the orange glaze.

My second favorite course was the Grilled Atlantic Salmon filet in White Wine Cream, which was paired with one of my all-time favorite beers, Goose Island Matilda. (I often have a hard time deciding between her and her sister, Sofie.) This light and fruity beer was a good pick with fish so that neither one overwhelms the other and is great for summertime. Every time I went back for seconds, I put a piece of steak on my plate, followed by more salmon and a refresh of Matilda.

The dessert course wasn’t chocolate so I only took a few bites of the Cheesecake that came with berries on the side. I find cheesecake to be too rich without some kind of sauce to balance it out, and the New Holland’s Dragons Milk, a thick caramel stout, just weighed down the course even more.

My friend and I looked at the menu as well and unfortunately, there weren't too many vegetables to speak of other than a few salads. Most of the menu consisted of typical fried bar food but our waitress was kind enough to recommend several sandwiches for something different to try for a future visit.

Stadium sports bar might be a good spot to catch a game while you eat, or maybe a good break from the casino, but probably not a destination restaurant like it had been with SLeeK.

Resources:

Stadium Sports Bar = https://www.lumiereplace.com/dining/stadium-sportsbar-and-grill/

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