Friday, January 28, 2011

the good pie, st louis mo

3137 olive street, st louis mo

the good pie is a neopolitan style pizza joint located down the street from st. louis university. they have a small focused menu featuring pies cooked in a wood fired oven.

we arrived at the small establlisment around 11:30am on a friday, and found the dining room virtually filled to capacity. as you can see, the decor is quite charming with exposed brick walls and vintage bikes hanging from the ceiling.

having already looked the menu over online prior to our meal, carrie and i already had a good idea of what we wanted to try, and wasted little time placing our order.

the good pie has a nice selection of craft beers on tap, and i selected the founders centennial ipa. this was an appropriately bitter india pale ale with a nice citrus flavor and paired well with my food.

to get things going, we began with a fantastic meat and cheese plate. this could have easily fed four people, and had a nice mix of both strong and mild cheeses, as well as some delicious cured meats. the plate was served with a warm pan of bread, which i believe was just one of their pizza crusts sans toppings.

we also sampled the mixed greens salad, with lemon oil, gorgonzola, and apple. a nice salad all in all, but nothing to rave about. it was a fairly large portion, and was more than enough for two.

our pizza selection was the prosciutto arugula. as you could probably guess, this pie was topped with prosciuto di parma, arugula, and mozzarella cheese. cooked in a wood fired oven, the pie was absolutely delicious. the crust was thin, puffy, chewy, and had a slight charred taste to it, which we both loved. the only small issues were that we had to cut it ourselves, and the toppings feel off very easily. with that being said, the good pie gives pi a run for its money as my favorite pizza place in the city.


to wrap things up, we each ordered a serving of gelato for dessert. the milk chocolate for me, and the coffee for carrie. the gelatos were just ok, and are something i would pass on next time.

against my better judgement (i had to be at work in an hour), i ordered another beer to go with the gelato. the bell's java stout is a beer i have been wanting to try for some time now, and i could not pass up the chance to sample it on tap. this is truly a beer unlike any i have ever had. with huge flavors of both coffee and chocolate, you would never know this was a beer if you didn't know better. although the gelato was lackluster, pairing it with the beer made it so much better.

while most of the food at the good pie was fantastic, and the space was great, the service did not keep up its end of the bargain. our salad was delivered minutes after our cheese plate, leaving very little room on the small table for the two of us to eat comfortably. while this was not ideal, i really wasn't that bothered. however, when the pizza arrived five minutes later, my frustration grew. when two people order a larger meat and cheese plate along with a salad, common sense would have it that you wait a bit longer than normal to make the pizza. we ended up not being able to fully enjoy our starters, as there was no room on the table for all the food, and we did not want the pizza to become cold. i really should have said something, but i held my tongue. also, we had to ask for dessert, as our server was ready to bring the check with no mention of it. next time we dine at the good pie, i will make it clear when i am ordering that we would like to take our time, and would rather have some time in between courses than have them all arrive at once.

service issues aside, the good pie was a big hit for both carrie and i. they have about eight different pizza offerings, and there is no doubt we will be returning multiple times to try them all. 

The Good Pie on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 27, 2011

sidney street cafe, st louis mo
2000 sidney street, st louis mo

whenever someone in my family has a birthday, we all go out to eat at a restaurant of the person of honors choosing. this year, i chose the sidney street cafe located in the benton park neighborhood of st. louis. the sidney street cafe may be a bit off the beaten path, but i had it on good word that the food was worth the detour. the restaurants menu is ever changing, and features what i would consider modern american cuisine.

we parked in the designated lot across the street from the restaurant, and our party of five made our way inside. the sidney street cafe is among the darkest restaurants i have ever dined in, and i had to adjust the brightness level of my pics to make them visible. our server, an older gentleman who has likely been waiting tables in upscale restaurants for quite some time, introduced himself to us. instead of menus handed out individually, the sidney street cafe writes the daily menu on a chalk board, and the servers goes through each item in great detail.

after placing our orders, a basket of beignets was delivered to the table. these had a nice firm bite to them, and were served with a wonderfully sweet butter. i think we went through three baskets of these between the five of us.

next up, were a pair of appetizers. up front we have a lobster turnover, which was a flakey pastry shell filled with lobster and cream cheese. the other morsel in the back is a veal dumpling with a spicy asian sauce. both starters were fantastic, but i would give the edge to the veal dumpling.

i also ordered the confit of sweetbreads, as no one the table besides carrie and i had even tried organ meats before. sitting on a bed of polenta, the gland was cooked very well, but was very mild in flavor. when paired with the spiced pecans, the result was better, but overall this was by no means the strongest sweetbread dish i have tasted.

with our appetizers finished and the plates cleared away, the next course for the majority of the table was the seasonal pear salad. this was arugula, dried pear, gorgonzola, in a walnut vinaigrette. the salad was good, but i would have prefered a dressing that was slightly sweeter.

my main entree for the evening was the nightly special. this was a new york strip steak topped with mushrooms and torchon de foie gras with a madera wine sauce. while the dish was quite good overall, it is not something i would order on a return visit. it was the foie that sold me on the entree, and as rich and delicous as it was, there just wasn't enough of it. the strip steak was cooked to a nice medium rare, but on its own was a bit lacking in flavor.

carrie ordered the bearnaise filet served with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. she enjoyed the entire dish, and noted that the potatoes were especially good. other dishes ordered were the lamb three ways by my father, and the new zealand snapper by my mother. my brother also had the bearnaise filet. everybody seemed quite pleased with their food, and felt my choice of restaurant for the evening was a good one.

being that it was my birthday, i was presented with a complimentary portion of pecan turtle brownie. at this time, our waiter also went over a list of famous people i share a birthday with. wolfgang amadeus mozart was by far the most notable.

while the free brownie was good, it simply would not suffice. i passed it around the table to let everyone have a taste, and then when each ordered our own dessert. my choice pictured above was the brown sugar cheesecake. this was the richest cheesecake i can remember having, and i was unable to consume the entire piece, even with help from the family. other desserts ordered were the carrot cake, and some sort of chocolate dish with housemade peppermint cotton candy.

after settling the bill, we made our way to the car discussing the meal we had just experienced. my parents and brother were thrilled with the sidney street cafe, and would has no hesitations in returning. while nothing i had absolutely blew me away, there wasn't a single bite that was displeasing in the least. i will say, that with maybe the exception of the veal dumplings, i would probably order an entirely new set of dishes on a return visit. my only real complaint would be the extremely low lighting in the dining room. because each dish at sidney street is so complex, i would have liked to have been able to see my food a bit better to know exactly what i was eating. i will admit, however, that the dim candlelit setting would provide a great ambiance for a romantic dinner for two. overall, our expierence at the sidney street cafe was great, and i am positive we will be back.

Sidney Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

araka, clayton mo
131 carondelet plaza, clayton mo

although my real 26th birthday celebratrion is to be a trip to chicago in february for a restaurant tour including a trip to alinea, i couldn't help but take the day off on my actual birthday to try some new spots.  for lunch, i chose araka, which is located in a very nice part of clayton missouri. araka bills itself as a southern european restaurant, with dishes taking inspiration from french, spanish, italian, and greek cooking.

we had a difficult time find a place to park, and arrived a few minutes late for our 1pm reservation after an uncomfortably long and cold walk on this frigid january day. we were welcomed by a very pleasant hostess, who led us to a four top in the middle of the dining room. araka is a very sleek looking restaurant, and definitely ranks amongst st. louis's best from a visual standpoint. i would imagine the place is quite striking at night with the lights dimmed.

to kick things off right, carrie and i each started with a cocktail. we both went for the honey pear, made with eagle rare 10 bourbon, fresh pear, vanilla, honey syrup, belle brillet, and bitters. the honey pear was a great choice, with the pear and honey providing a sweet flavor that worked well to offset the strength of the bourbon.

due to the lack of choices for starters, we began our meal with the calamari. served with arrabiata sauce and a creamy citrus vinaigrette, the calamari was no better than what i remember being offered at places such as red lobster and the like. coupled with the fact that both dipping sauces were lacking any significant flavor, the calamari was definitely an underwhelming introduction to araka's cuisine. i will say, however, that there have only been one or two instances where i have been thrilled with a preparation of calamari, and am not a great fan of calamari as a whole.

next up, we each had a small cup of the smoky tomato soup. included in the soup was gorgonzola cheese and bacon. although the flavors were relatively simple, the soup fared much better than the calamari, and carrie and i both cleaned our entire bowls quickly. had bread been offered, i would have used it to sop up any remaining soup i was unable to get with my spoon!

for my main meal, i selected the italian burger. topped with provolone cheese, arugula, pancetta, and served on a wonderful ciabatta bun, the burger was cooked perfectly to my specified medium rare. the burger was terrific, with the thick ciabatta bun adding a nice bit of ommph to the bite. the only issue was the burger came out topped with some sort of mayo that was not noted on the menu. not being one to make an issue, i used a fry to scrape the majority of the sauce off, and all was well. speaking of the fries, i cannot put my finger on it, but there was something that made them incredibly tasty despite there seemingly simple preparation.

the lobster b.l.t. was carrie's choice for lunch. like my burger, her sandwich was also served on a ciabatta, and was topped with arugula and aoili. while i did not opt to sample the sandwich, carrie said that it was quite good, and had a decent portion of lobster inside.

after a a solid ten minutes of waiting after finishing our sandwiches, our server returned to clear our plates, and we asked to see the dessert menu. araka had six offerings for dessert on this day, and all of them sounded good. after some debate, i settled on the toasted almond semifreddo. this was a semi frozen mouse topped with two amaretti cookies and served with candy coated blueberries. all three componenets, of the dessert were delicous, with the semifreddo being one of the best i have encountered from the standpoint of both taste and texture.

carrie opted for the vanilla panna cotta with huckleberry, pistachio, and chocolate biscotti. i only had a small taste of the panna cotta, and deemed it enjoyable. i was offered some of the biscotti, but by that time i had already cleared my palate for the final phase of my meal...

being that it was my birthday, i decided to indulge in a luxury i would not normally be able to justify, a dram of the highland park 25year single malt scotch. this is the oldest liquor i have ever had the privilege of tasting, and it was a bit humbling to think that this dram of whisky started its life just a year after mine began. the highland park 25 is definitely the most nuanced scotch i have tasted, with layer after layer of flavor, and a finish that lasts forever. i hope that someday i am able to justify having a bottle like this in my collection at home.

after settling the bill and hitting the bathrooms (which are a must see for the incredible sinks) we made our long trek back to our car and headed back to illinois. all told, our experience at araka was a positive one, with the only real misstep from a food standpoint being the calamari. while it ws not a issue for us, i will mention that the service was lacking in a few areas. the pacing of the meal was very slow. there were long breaks inbetween courses. also our dirty plates were left to sit for some time before being cleared, and my water reached empty a few times. on a positive side, it came up through conversation that it was my birthday, and one of our desserts was on the house. overall though, we plan to try araka again in the future for dinner to try their entrees.

Araka on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 24, 2011

peel wood fired pizza, edwardsville il
921 south arbor vitae, edwardsville il

always on the hunt for the perfect pizza, carrie and i stopped into this newly opened edwardsville establishment for an early dinner. peel takes its name from the long handled tool bakers use to insert food into a hot oven, and is known for its pizzas cooked in a wood burning oven.

we arrived at peel around 3pm on a tuesday, and save for two other tables, had the place to ourselves. we were seated at a small two top with a nice wooded view. i would imagine the view is even better in nicer weather when there are some leaves on the trees. our server greeted us right away, and presented us with menus and the drink list. peel has a great selection of beer on tap, featuring both american micros and imports. after much debate, i narrowed down my options, and finally made a decision. 

my beer choice was the chimay tripel trappist ale. brewed in a belgian monastery, the tripel is one of four beers produced by chimay. served in chimay's iconic chalice, the triple trappist is a very drinkable beer. limiting myself to just one was difficult.

to get things started, we began with an order of the fire wings. prepared with crushed red pepper, parmesan, grey salt, basil, and roasted garlic olive oil, the wings were good, but not great. i felt that the spice of the red pepper dominated the palate, and would have liked a bit more flavor besides the heat.

along with the wings, we ordered the onion rosemary foccacia with parmesan cream for dipping. the bread was served warm, and was very good. i would not hesitate to order it again, but with a different dipping sauce, as the parmesan cream was just ok.

at peel. the main event is obviously the wood fired pizza. with roughly twenty unique options, narrowing down the list to just two pies (which was still way too much food for the two of us) was a tall task.

pictured on the left, our first selection was the prosciutto. this pie was topped with prosciutto, fingerling potatoes, roasted garlic, fontina, parmesan, roasted garlic olive oil, and fresh rosemary. this pizza was the favorite in both of our eyes, with the potatoes adding an interesting layer from both a flavor and texture standpoint.

on the right, our other choice was the wild mushroom pizza. cremini, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, fontina, fresh thyme, white truffle oil, and parmesan cream were the components for this pizza. although this was still a decent pizza, one of the ingredients (which i am unable to pinpoint) was a bit too strong for my taste. both pizzas were made on the same crust, which had a great chewy bite to it. unfortunately, the pizzas were both just a bit greasier than i would have expected and preferred, and i had to hit the bathroom to wash my hands immediately after eating. next time, i will go the knife and fork route.

with our leftovers boxed and ready to go, we were left to ponder dessert. peel was offering a seasonal fruit pizza or a nutella pizza. we opted for the nutella, which was cooked on the same crust as the pizzas, and topped with the famous hazelnut chocolate spread and marshmallows. the dessert, as you might guess, was reminiscent of a s'more, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

overall, our experience at peel was predominantly positive. our service was friendly and attentive, and there wasn't anything we flat out disliked. with that being said, there were a few things i wish we had done a bit different. i look forward to making a return visit to peel in a few months, hopefully with a group, and getting to try several different pies.

Peel Wood Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon