Saturday, June 25, 2011

brasserie by niche (2) - st. louis, mo
4580 laclede avenue
st. louis, mo 63108

having already visted gerard craft's brasserie for dinner (pre blog) and lunch (no longer offered), carrie and i decided to treat my parents to a late mothers/fathers day brunch to complete our brasserie trifecta. i skipped the interior/exterior pics on this visit, so check out my earlier post here if you are interested in seeing the setup. i had made reservartions a few days prior via telephone, but they were not needed as the dining room was empty upon our arrival at 10:30am. however, there were several tables seated outdoors.

since no brunch menu is provided online, i thought i would include a pic for diners like me who like to go into a meal with a pretty good idea of what to expect.

a nice cocktail list is available, and we were all happy to partake. my choice was the appropriately titled corpse reviver, made with gin, lillet blanc, cointreau, and lemon juice. astringent is the best word to describe this drink, as it was both bitter and sour (in a good way), and was just what i needed to fully awaken after a late wedding reception the previous night. carrie opted for a mimosa, which i didn't bother to try, but was told the it was typical.

the majority of our table started with the grapefruit brulee, which is simply a half grapefruit with a torched top. these were good, but very standard once the crispy burned top was gone.

after much debate, my entree choice was the hazelnut waffle with rhubarb compote and creme fraiche. topped with a bit of maple syrup, the waffle was delicious, with the tart rhubarb adding much to the mix.

carrie opted for the off the menu quiche special, made with shiitake mushrooms, bacon, chicken, spinach, and possibly more. i was not allowed to sample the quiche =( but was told that it was wonderful. other entrees ordered by my family were the croque madame by my mom, brioche french toast by my father, and eggs benedict by my brother chris. everybody enjoyed their food quite a bit, and were very pleased with brasserie as a whole.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

farmhaus (2) - st. louis, mo
3257 ivanhoe avenue
st. louis, mo 63139

earlier this month, carrie and i made our first trip to farmhaus, and had a dinner that far exceeded our expectations. as i mentioned in that post, farmhaus offers a fixed menu "blue plate special" lunch four times a week for just ten dollars. i didn't take any interior/exterior pics on this trip to farmhaus, so check out my previous post if you are interested in seeing what the place looks like.

included in the blue plate lunch deal is a complementary glass of tea as well as a house salad of quick pickled vegetables and eggs topped with a nice mustard seed vinaigrette. served with an airy cracker of some sort, this salad easily trumped the $8 salad we had at pw pizza the previous day.

wednesday at farmhaus is currently fried chicken day, and also includes macaroni and cheese and smashed potatoes. while chef willman's take on these classic comfort food items is by no means a revalation, everything tasted great and was an incredible bargin when considering the quality, portion size, and price. of the three items, the macaroni and cheese was my favorite, as it had that homemade taste akin to what my mom would make me from scratch when i was young.

after we finished our meal, we were surprised to hear that dessert was offered. pictured above is a carmelized brownie with vanila bean ice cream and caramel sauce. this was a ice desset with the chewy brownie being one of the best i have had in awhile.

the other dessert we had was actually a repeat from our earlier dinner at farmhaus. this was the pecan financier with mint ice cream and pecan croutons. for some reason when i ordered it, it did not click in my head that it is something we had eaten previously. i mentioned last time that it was my least favorite of the desserts i had on that evening. today, however, i feel like i enjoyed it more than the first time, with the pecan croutons really standing out.

with the two desserts nearly doubling the modest bill, carrie and i both agreed that they were a necessity, and not to be missed during lunch at farmhaus. however, if someone is looking for an awesome lunch on a buget, the blue plate special sans dessert is probably the best deal running right now in st. louis. i tend to end my post by saying if i plan to return to a restaurant or not, and i can say without question that carrie and i will be dining at farmhaus for both lunch and dinner many more times in the future.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

niche (3) - st. louis, mo
1831 sidney street
st. louis, mo 63104

being stuck in st. louis for carrie's 24th birthday, we felt another trip to niche was the only way to properly celebrate the occasion. this was our fifth trip to niche (third since patlikestoeat) and i am just going to jump right into the food. for interior pics and some back story on niche, see my previous posts here and here.

we went into the meal with the expectations of doing the five course tasting with wine pairings like we did on our last visit. however, several of the courses on the tasting were repeats of our last experience, so we decided to build our own tasting by ordering al a carte.
we got our celebration going the right way with a pair of cocktails. my selection, titled the brown derby, was made with bourbon, honey, and grapefruit. although slightly bitter from the grapefruit, the sweetness of the honey took over and made this a very pleasant drink. carrie's drink, the wishing well, featured belvedere pink grapefruit, st. germain, and lemon juice. i only had a small sip of this one, and although i remember liking it, cannot recall the drinks dynamics.

as usual, niche's house made foccacia bread was served warm and delicious sans any sort of butter or spread.

the spring vegetable salad with cucumber, radish, carrot, mint ricotta, cress, chive, and pumpernickel was the first course placed before me. this is the first salad i have had at niche, and if it is any indication of what is typical, i will be ordering one every time. although seemingly simple, the combination of flavors present was outstanding, with the creamy mint ricotta cheese really taking the dish to the next level. it was hard for me to pass my plate off to carrie after consuming my half.

carrie's first taste was the tuna crudo with baby artichoke, basil, yuzu, and black rice. being well seasoned and of excellent quality, the raw tuna was a wonderfully light and delicate dish helped get our meal going on the right track.

next up for me was the pappardelle with smoked pork shank, mascarpone, apples, and olive oil. this was a similar dish to the one i had at niche back in february, with pork shank replacing the beef short rib. i am a huge fan of pappardelle pasta, and thus had no problem with the slight bit of redundancy. the savory pork shank and sweet apples contrasted off of each other perfectly atop the soft layers of pasta, making this one of my favorite offerings of the night.

served along with the pappardelle was a dish consisting of day boat scallops, morels, snap peas, rhubarb, and brown butter hazelnut. the perfectly seared scallops were sweet and delicious as expected, but the earthy and almost beefy flavored morel mushrooms were the true stars of this dish for me.

for our main courses, carrie and i each decided on the pork duo, featuring smoked pork loin, pork belly, brussels sprouts, maple-sherry, popcorn polenta pound cake, peanut bacon brittle, and hickory ice cream. this was my first encounter with ice cream as part of a savory course, and i worked surprisingly well. although i didn't mix it with the pork, the ice cream was awesome with the incredible polenta popcorn pound cake. the pork belly was crispy on top and perfectly fatty and flavourful throughout. overall, an unbelievable course with an incredible amount of contrast in textures, temperatures, and tastes.  we paired a nice lighter bodied pinot noir with this course.

moving forward to dessert, the first of our three selections was the lemongrass semifreddo with hibiscus sauce sorbet, and mint and hibiscus pearls. this was my favorite of the three desserts, as i really enjoyed the slightly tart and refreshing semi frozen mousse.

next up was chocolate3, featuring dark chocolate ice cream and pound cake, milk chocolate ganache, and white chocolate custard. rich would be about the only word that comes to mind when describing this dessert. as good as it was, i hate to admit that we left a little of this behind as neither of us could eat anymore.

the final dessert of the night was the strawberry short cake, made with tarragon cream, and strawberry soup. i honestly do not remember a lot about this dessert, but it was most definitely enjoyable.

initially i was a bit disappointed when we were first seated and i noticed that our plan to enjoy the tasting menu with wine pairings would have to be scrapped due to a few repeat courses as well as a disinterest in beef. however, ordering al a carte actually allowed us to try more options that the tasting provided, and the overall cost came in just a hair less, even with a cocktail and three glasses of wine each. in my last entry on niche, i stated that i feel like niche would have a real shot at a michelin star if it was located in chicago. comparing what we ate at niche on this night to the meal we had at the one starred bonsoiree in april, i feel like niche wins hands down. if you are in st. louis and still have not been to niche, seriously, make it a priority. you will not be dissapointed.

pw pizza - st. louis, mo
2017 chouteau
st. louis, mo 63103

when i heard that paul and wendy hamilton, owners of vin de set and the excellent eleven eleven mississippi were opening a pizza place in st. louis, i knew a stop there would be in my future. taking its name from the first letters of the names of the husband and wife team, pw pizza is situated in the same building as vin de set and moulin events, and serves up a variety of unique pizzas as well as sandwiches, calzones, salads, and appetizers.

arriving a few minutes past noon, we were greeted and led to the only unoccupied table in the busy dining room. pw has a decent wine list as well as about ten craft beers on tap and many more in bottles. the space is nice overall, and has that industrial  loft feel going on with the exposed ducts and brick walls. i thought that the mirrors above the pizza prep stations were a nice touch, and i only wish i had gotten a picture of a pie being made.

my beer choice was the st. louis brewed six row whale (wheat+pale=whale). a hybrid of sorts, this was a very balanced and easy drinking beer overall with neither the malt or hop flavors pushing their way to the forefront.

our first bites at pw came in the form of "pop's meatballs". these were good, but there was nothing about them that set them apart form meatballs i have had in the past. the marinara sauce was pleasant and had a nice little kick of spice to it. i would probably opt for the dry rubbed wings should i return to pw.

we also split the wilted spinach salad, which was made with spinach, mushroom, egg, red onion, and a warm bacon dressing. like the meatballs, this offering was good, but nowhere near great.

with there being several awesome sounding pies available, carrie and i were excited to hear that pw was able to accommodate a half and half order. this made things slightly easier, and we ended up with half "the wolf" and half "pulled piggy". the wolf was tomato sauce, house made fennel sausage, pepperoni, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onion, green pepper, roasted garlic, and mozzarella. the pulled piggy features house bbq sauce, pulled pork, caramelized onions, slaw, and gruyere cheese. both halves were excellent, with the piggy being my preference and the wolf carrie's. as good as the toppings were, it was the crust that really brought it all together for me, being puffy, chewy, and just plain delicious overall.

 full from the pie, carrie and i decided to split a desset. coming highly recommended by our server, our choice was the peanut butter satin pie. this was basically a smooth and creamy peanut butter mouse with a bit of chocolate ganache on a thin graham cracker style pie crust. splitting the dessert proved to be a wise decision, as the portion was very large and extremely rich. this is one of those desserts that i could order again and again.

after settling the bill and perusing the attached wine and beer shop, carrie and i headed for home. although we may have been a bit let down by the starters, pw delivered where it really counted...the pizza. with several other unique options to explore, i think it is safe to say that pw has joined the good piepipeel, and cicero's in our st. louis area pizza repertoire.

PW Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

farmhaus, st. louis mo
3267 ivanhoe avenue
st. louis, mo 63139

after an entire month of not dining out due to a busy work schedule and watching the boston bruins play in the stanley cup playoffs, carrie and i made our long overdue first visit to farmhaus. located in lindenwood park, farmhaus is run by chef/owner kevin willmann, who prides himself in using as many fresh and local ingredients as possible. willman previously ran the kitchens at lucas park grill, mosiac, and erato before opening farmhaus in 2010. recently, he became the second ever (gerard craft of niche is the other) chef from st. louis to be named to food and wine's yearly top ten best new chefs list. farmhaus is open for dinner wednesday-saturday, and offers a fixed menu "blue plate special" lunch monday-thursday for a mere ten dollars.

with the bruins playing game one of the stanley cup finals at 7:30, we made our reservation for 5:30, and arrived right on time. we were seated at a two top against the far wall. the dining room was virtually empty upon our arrival, but by 6:30 it was at complete capacity. moments after being seated, we were quickly greeted by our server who was very friendly and explained the menu and restaurant concept to us in great detail. farmhaus essentially functions as a tapas style restaurant, with a menu made up of small plates that come out as they are ready with the idea of sharing in mind. anyone who has read my blog before knows that i like to try as many things as possible during a meal, so this approach worked wonderfully for me.

farmhaus has a nice wine list with several offering by the glass or bottle as well as a long list of craft beers and house made specialty cocktails. my cocktail choice (pictured left) was the red rooster made with buffalo trace bourbon, house infused sage vermouth, and house apple syrup. this was one of the better cocktails i have had in recent memory. i really enjoyed the sweet and spicy contrast that was going on, and even noted a hint of cinnamon present. carrie's cocktail, titled snaked juice, was house infused orange gin, house infused lemon gin, and late harvest semillon. while interesting, this drink didn't strike a positive chord with me as it was a bit more bitter than i normally prefer.

our first plate to arrive was a cheese plate featuring a goat's milk cherbourg from baetje farms along with an alpine from the marcoot jersey creamery. both cheeses were excellent, with neither being too mild nor too strong. my favorite was the alpine, which i found reminiscent of swiss cheese. also on the plate was a terric sweet and spicy apple-bacon chutney, a dab of honey, radishes, and a port wine gastrique.

with the cheese plate about halfway finished, our next plate was brought to the table. simply titled "nachos", this offering combined two items that i typically do not care for, sweet potatoes and ketchup. however, i had read several recommendations for this dish, and carrie was excited to try it. this dish is house made sweet potato chips topped with blue cheese, cherry wood smoke bacon lardoons, and fire roasted red pepper "catsup". with expectations tempered, i took my first bite and was met with a very pleasant surprise. the chips were of excellent texture, being somehow both crisp and chewy, and were excellent combined with the other ingredients. even the ketchup (which, granted, wasn't your average ketchup), which is something i normally avoid at all costs, was excellent. this dish reaffirmed my notion that in the hands of a great chef, any ingredient has the potential to be great.

with a decent portion of each of the first two dishes still remaining, our roasted mushroom salad arrived. along with the mushrooms were some greens, creamy goat cheese, toasted pecans, and a warm bacon vin. this was a nice salad with the woodsy mushrooms playing well with the slightly bitter greens and tart goat cheese.

it was at this point that we were ready for something else on the drink front, and each felt like a glass of wine. with two completely different plates coming next, i had a hard time honing in on a pairing. thinking i was playing it safe, i ordered us each a glass of the hybrid pinot noir from california. while very good, the wine had a bit more spice and smoke than i am used to from a pinot noir, and only really worked with one of the two dishes. this was not a big deal, and we ended up enjoying most of the wine during the break before dessert.

appropriately named "breakfast", this plate was incredible on all accounts. up front we have a stack of delicious corn flour blinis. essentially pancakes, these were topped with maple butter and were sweet in flavor, slightly crisp on the outside and fluffy within. simply tremendous. in the middle was a wonderfully sweet and savory maple link. my only complaint with the sausage is that there was only one! finally, we have a fresh prairie grass farm egg topping a decadent cube of high and low berkshire pork belly. appropriately fatty and unctuous, chef willmann's pork belly easily trumped the offerings i received at two separate michelin starred restaurant in chicago last month.

our final savory course of the meal came in the form of dill and butter poached escolar with grilled pacific blue prawns, and grilled asparagus. the escolar was high in flavor and was a good match with the pinot noir. the prawns and asparagus were also both very good.

upon savoring the last few drops of our wine, we were presented with a nice surprise. it turns out a coworker of carrie's is friends with somebody in the house, and were were brought a complimentary chocolate vodka cocktail. being equally chocolate and boozy, this drink was excellent with our desserts.

after our server explained the five dessert offerings to us twice, we opted for three selections. while i understand that it is hard to provide a printed dessert menu at a restaurant with an ever changing menu, i really would have preferred to be able to have a physical menu in front of me to consider.

first up was a berry panna cotta served with angel food cake and basil ice cream. the panna cotta was denser than i am used to, and full of fruit flavor. the angel food cake was well executed, and the basil ice cream added an interesting degree of savor to the mix. i certainly would not have complained had there been a touch more ice cream!

next up was a pecan financier with mint ice cream and pecan croutons. while good in every facet, this was probably my least favorite of the three desserts. to be clear, that is a product of the other to be exceptional and not a fault of this particular dessert.

our final dessert, which i somehow forgot to photograph (EDIT: big thanks to the delish dish for allowing me to use her photo), was a peanut butter cup of sorts. basically, it was a round chocolate shell filled with light peanut butter mousse with a thick peanut butter bottom. i am a lover of just about any dessert with peanut butter, and this was right up my alley.

overall, i am absolutely thrilled to have farmhaus in st. louis. not since my first meal at niche have i left a restaurant in st. louis with such enthusiasm. from a food standpoint, everything was excellent from start to finish, with exceptional flavors and quality ingredients. while the space may be a little boring, it works with the casual yet sophisticated feel of the restaurant. if i can offer one complaint, it would be that the pacing of the first three dishes was too fast. at one point, we had three dishes in front of us and felt a bit overwhelmed. while i realize that farmhaus is a busy place, i feel that more than two dishes at a time for a two top is too many. with that noted, i can say without reservation that farmhaus is easily in the top five meals i have had in the sub $150 price range, and i can see many more visits in our future.
Farmhaus on Urbanspoon