Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nico

After many attempts, I finally got a friend to take me to Nico in the Loop for yet another birthday dinner. I still have yet to visit Franco so I thought that Nico would be a lot more accessible, both in location and atmosphere. I have passed the space numerous times while in the Loop and had even heard some live music there one night, but I was most curious about their menu.

Unfortunately, the menu looks a lot more interesting than it tasted and I was a little disappointed. I did appreciate the diversity of the menu, but I probably should have realized something was up when I walked into an almost empty restaurant. With so few tables, there wasn’t much staff available, and we had to wait quite often to get the server’s attention. We were also seated near the window although I feel as though the whole place was drafty.

My friend Amy and I had a hard time picking out an appetizer with such a large selection and we finally agreed on just the Stuffed Eggplant so as to save room for dinner. The eggplant was fried in breading, so it didn’t have much flavor, but we both enjoyed the mozzarella oozing out from the middle.

I think we both probably could have made dinner just from the starters to make it more tapas-style, but we both found a main course we wanted to try. Of course I wanted the most expensive dish, the Bouillabaisse, which includes many types of seafood mixed together, but I settled on the Hake, which I brutally mispronounced. (Sounds like “rake”.)

Unfortunately, the seared whitefish was tough and chewy, which probably means it was overcooked. My saffron rice cake was very bland so I made sure to finish the vegetable terrine, which had many flavors stacked together.

My friend’s lamb burger was tastier than my dinner, although I also would have preferred it to be cooked a little more rare to allow it to be juicier.

I am hoping that Franco will be a closer to my expectations.

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Circle 7 Ranch

For another birthday dinner, I had my foodie friend, Beth, take me to Circle 7 Ranch out in Ballwin, since I had heard so much about the “table taps”. It was a loud and noisy bar so I definitely had to take an adventurous friend! The place wasn’t too busy at 5pm, and we scored one of the last tables with the taps so it worked out well. By the time we left there, a couple of hours later, the place was jammed packed and we almost couldn’t hear each other talk.

We lucked out with the table taps in that we got a beer that we really enjoyed. Every table has one Bud product so that you really only get two interesting beers. Our second beer was Stella Artois and I am not a fan, but the waiter did offer to bring us a proper Stella glass for it. So Beth and I stuck with Goose Island Winter Ale, which was just delicious…when the beer tap worked.

We ran out of beer just after a half beer each and then the tap had some problems so we couldn’t get the beer to come out. Luckily the owner came over and fixed it himself and restarted our “counter”, which was very generous.

Since we were at a bar with sports on TV and beer within reach, you bet I ordered some greasy cheesy goodness. Beth and I split the Fried Pepper Jack (cheese balls!) and Pretzel Sticks (cheese dip!) appetizers to start with, and I just ordered the BBQ Quesadillas (brisket!) for my dinner. So you can eat well (and cheap) just from the “starters” area of the menu.

But Beth went ahead and ordered a B&B burger, which she graciously shared with me as well. The B&B was a blackended patty with blue cheese and red onion. I was really impressed with the number of different burgers with all kinds of interesting styles. I am most curious about the “My Big Fat Greek Burger”...

Needless to say…I did NOT have any room for dessert…

Definitely a “hip” place to hang, but only if you can get in and don’t mind a crowded bar atmosphere. But I was impressed at the depth of their menu as well as their selection of beers from the bar.

Resources:

Circle 7 Ranch = http://www.circle7ranch.com

Tenacious Eats Soul Food

I finally made it out to a Tenacious Eats event at Meyer’s Grove and it definitely lived up to the hype. This event combines two of my favorite things to do…gourmet dining and watching classic movies. My friends kept posting pictures of all the fun they were having on Facebook, so I knew I was missing out and picked a movie that I thought would make for an awesome event: Soul Food.

I haven’t seen the movie “Soul Food” in years, but I knew exactly what type of cooking I was getting into. There was no way I was counting calories that night either!

Meyer’s Grove has a small bar in the front and has an equally small “stage” area in the back where cocktail tables are set up for intimate dining. You have to sign up early because this room will sell out quickly, and you will definitely get to know your neighbors! Definitely a good place to take a date!

The best part about Tenacious Eats is that Chef Liz and her staff do NOT take themselves too seriously even though the five-course meal is certainly worthy of a fancier establishment. And you can see Chef Liz cooking over on the side for everyone to see, although most people are busy engrossed in the movie.

Here was the menu for “Soul Food”:

“More Folks, More Eats, More Souls, More Soul Food”
Pan seared bone-in ham, Coca COla braised collard greens, macaroni and smoked gouda cheese on house-made roasted corn butter biscuits

"Bird's Sunday Dinner"
Seared Cajun crab cakes, flash fried gruyere grits, sweet potato and butternut squash puree and St. Louie Sauce.

"Hell Hath No Wrath"
Cholula sauce and garlic butter hot wings, shaved root vegetable salad, Walsburg Blueberry Balsamic vinaigrette and fresh lime Creme Fraiche

"Sunday at Big Mama's"
Free range chicken and dumplings, black-eyed peas with smoked ham hocks, East STL green beans, pickled mach choux, and sweet corn bread

"Thanks Big Mama"
House-made, "way-old-school" orange buttermilk pie, blackberry and mandarin orange compote

I enjoyed myself so much that I signed up for a second one this upcoming Sunday! The American Wine Society of St. Louis is throwing a Tenacious Eats dinner while watching Sideways…perfect pairing of course! 

The only downside is that it did take a while for five courses to be served during the movie and the entire evening went almost 4 hours after a lengthy intermission. I didn’t mind the time too much since most of the time you’re busy eating and distracted by the movie, but it got to be a little too late for me on a school night.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Brazie's

The other weekend night during my birthday week was my company holiday party, held way after the holidays in order to ensure the best attendance. This year’s party was held at Brazie’s, which was not too far from the previous night’s Italian dinner.

They had a separate party room for us with doors so that we would not disturb the rest of the dining area, but it quickly got very warm in the room. We had a set menu just for our party and it was easy to pick the scallops as the top dish. I did think about the pepper steak, but luckily I found a willing coworker to trade me a bite for a scallop. The steak had a lot of kick to it…a good flavor, but you had to be prepared for it…so I think I made the best choice, especially after discussing details with other tables later on.

Dessert was also an easy selection...chocolate mousse. Yes it was that good!

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Trattoria Marcella

The week of my birthday also happened to be monthly dinner club and we went for Italian this month (my suggestion).  The reason Italian was my suggestion was so I could have an excuse to go back to Stellina Pasta Café, which I was able to persuade most of the vote to pick Stellina, but unfortunately, they have a small restaurant and they were not able to handle such a large party with only a few days notice.

The runner up wasn’t too shabby though. I believe I have been to Trattoria Marcella a couple of times already but I never tire of Italian. I had narrowed down my selection to a couple of pastas when I heard the specials so I ended up with the pecan-encusted salmon over a bed of pasta in cream sauce. While it was probably not the most healthiest dinner, I really enjoyed the salmon.

The most popular selection was the lobster risotto, also one of the specials for the night, and I was lucky enough to get leftovers from quite a few friends! The risotto was so thick and creamy, it was very filling.

One of St. Louis’ classic Italian family-style restaurants. You cannot go wrong.

Resources:

Trattoria Marcella = http://trattoriamarcella.com/

Basso



Basso was another new restaurant pick for my birthday since so many of my friends had gone there and checked it out already. I was excited to see the Cheshire Hotel turn around recently and they have had to employ valet parking even during the week due to all the new interest.

You immediately go down into the basement and the brightest areas are the kitchen area and the bar. There are a few TVs over the bar but they’re not loud or distracting, but with the high ceilings, there is plenty of crowd noise. Definitely a bar atmosphere but certainly a little nicer.

I was blown away by the beer and wine selection. The waiter was kind enough to talk us through a lot of it. I was thrilled to see one of my favorites, La Chouffe (Belgian), and my friend had several stouts to choose from! Hehe

The dinner menu was quite lengthy as well, way better than a typical bar, and we decided to try something from each section except for the pizza. We started with the Lobster Arancini since I love seafood and it was like a lobster risotto ball, although you really couldn’t taste the seafood bits that much.

I also split the Potato Gnocchi, which was very mild, and a little different texture than I’ve had elsewhere. I think I would try something from the grill instead next time. We did enjoy the Roasted Cauliflower even though it was a small serving. Those you could order for yourself and don’t need to split.

The waiter was kind enough to bring us gelato as my birthday dessert and it was everyone’s favorite, salty caramel. Of course it needed a generous squeeze of chocolate sauce on top to make it just right.

Even though it was noisy, I really enjoyed the lively atmosphere and lengthy drink menu.

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Niche

Mid-January is the start of my birthday “season” and I have been fortunate to attend quite a few new restaurants for my birthday celebrations. My pick for this year’s birthday dinner with my family was Niche at its new location in Clayton. I had been to Brasserie a couple of years ago and to Pasteria for lunch a couple of times now, in addition to a brief visit to Taste, so I wanted to finish out the Craft restaurants. Needless to say, it was worth the wait and lived up to the hype.

You have a choice of the prix fixe menu or the Chef’s Tasting Menu for a lot more. There is a little bit of overlap but I figured the five courses would be plenty and had a few more items that I recognized and really preferred.

First Course:
White Sweet Potato Soup – sage marshmallow, puffed wheat, smoke paprika, cress
(This was wonderfully filling. Perfect on a cold night.)

Second Course:
Wild Golden Tilefish – citrus, celery root, napa cabbage, onion


Third Course:
(My stepmom and I split one of each and they were kind of enough to plate them separately for us!)
Filet of Beef – fermented potatoes, turnips, muscatel, beet, lavender (Perfectly cooked – so juicy!)
Glazed Cauliflower – radishes, chive hollandaise, lemon


Fourth Course:
Pumpkin Custard – crème fraiche ice cream, pumpkin crumble


Everything was amazing and delicious as well as appropriately sized. Amazing service to go right along with the meal and it was fun to be able to watch the kitchen action while we waited.

At the end of the meal, my waiter got the staff to sign my menu too. So awesome!

Also, a few days after my birthday visit, Niche was reviewed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 

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