Thursday, September 29, 2011

bogart's smokehouse - st. louis, mo
1627 south 9th street
st. louis, mo 63104

it has been several months since our visit to bogart's so this review is pics only. from what i remember, the food was tasty enough and there was no long line like at pappy's.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

five bistro - st. louis, mo
5100 daggett avenue
st. louis, mo 63110

DISCLAIMER: i am well aware that the world does not really need another review of five's burger. there is not much new to read here as my opinion on the burger is the popular's awesome. i am planning to revisit five soon for one of their tastings as i am sure there is much more to this place than just their hugely hyped burger.

located on the hill, five bistro is one of the few non italian restaurants in the neighborhood. five describes their menu as new american, and defines it as "an eclectic mix of ethnic cuisines that celebrate the people of this country and the food of the region." offerings change daily, and while the menu is small, everything is fresh and locally sourced when possible. however, whether the restaurant likes it or not (?), they are probably most well known for their burger. available only at lunch or after ten o'clock thursday through saturday, the burger has been named best in st. louis by st. louis magazine, and was also listed on eater's heat map of the countries top 15 hottest burgers.

arriving on the hill around 11:30am on a dreary thursday morning sans reservations, we were seated without issue in the front dining room. a nice wine list as well as several microbrews and an interesting cocktail list was available, but we both declined as we were not in the mood for alcohol. browsing the concise menu, we each considered the pasta offering for about a millisecond, remembered why we were there, and went back to deciding how to top our burgers.

prior to the main event, we each elected to begin our meal with the claverach farms arugula salad made with pickled claverach farms golden beets, boiled farm egg, hickory smoked benne's farm bacon, and baetje farm 'coeur de la creme'. this was a wonderful salad with the tangy cheese and pickled beets working nicely with the bitter arugula. i cannot stress enough how much i loved these beets.

after a longer than expected wait, the moment had finally come. presented beautifully on a house made bun beneath a forest of greens, our specified medium rare burgers arrived in front of us. for toppings, i selected the prarie breeze white cheddar along with the bacon tomato balsamic jam while carrie added gruyere cheese and caramelized onion. after getting our burgers situated, we both eagerly dug in and were thrilled at first bite. the burger was cooked to a perfectly juicy medium rare, and was full of flavor. the white cheddar was sharp and delicious, and the tomato bacon jam added another element of savor along with a welcomed bit of acidity. often times pickles can be a bit of an after thought, but not at five. these are also made in house, and are absolutely wonderful.

to go with our burgers, we ordered a basket of pommes frittes that turned out to be more than we could finish. we were also brought a trio of house made condiments, which included a pretty decent ketchup, garlic aoili, and a fantastically spicy stone ground mustard.

after polishing off our burgers, we couldn't leave without a little something sweet. there were three choices, but carrie and i each went for the caramel apple bread pudding with vanilla gellato. five's take on one of my favorite desserts is done in what i call "crouton style", as the bread is served in small chunks resembling a salad topping as opposed to being one cohesive piece. while tasty enough, the bread pudding was not as warm as it should have been, with the apples being a bit crisper than ideal. this was definitely the low point of an otherwise fantastic lunch.

overall, our lunch at five bistro was very successful. while i certainly have not yet sampled all the notable burgers in st. louis, i can say that five's offering trumps burger bar, araka, and brasserie by niche as far as great burgers i have had in st. louis this year, and only falls behind the epic led zeppelin burger i had at kuma's corner in chicago as best burger i have had in the last calendar year. as i stated above in the disclaimer, five is now offering a five course tasting menu with wine pairings on friday and saturday nights, and carrie and i are very much looking forward to partaking in that in the near future.

Five Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

truffles - st. louis, mo

9202 clayton road
st. louis, mo 63124

although truffles has been a mainstay in the clayton/ladue dining scene for the past ten years or so, it was only recently that it seriously entered my restaurant radar. i had browsed the menu a few times in the past (which if i recall correctly relied heavily on steaks), and nothing offered seemed any different from what one could have elsewhere. within the last year, however, truffles has switched its concept to modern italian fare, and enlisted chef john griffiths to achieve that goal. griffiths' philosophy is to source as many local ingredients as possible, and to keep things fresh and seasonal. all of these factors coupled with multiple tweets from gerard craft prasing the excellence currently happening at truffles bumped the establishment up to first on our must try list.

arrving about twenty minutes early for our 8pm reservation, we made our way through a parking lot full of german cars and checked in with the friendly hostess who seated us immediately. although maybe a bit dated, truffles large dining room is attractive and comfortable. i had read a few reviews on yelp commenting that the lighting was too bright, which made me chuckle. while i definitely place a lot of value in romantic quality time with my wife, when dining, food is the priority, and i like to actually be able to see what i am eating. we were greeted promptly by our server for the evening, and upon selecting house water, were given some time with both the menu and wine list. having perused the online menu prior to our arrival, ordering was done in no time.

for wine, we opted to begin with a nice bubbly gruner veltliner. this was our first encounter with a sparkling veltliner, and it was lovely with sweet and acidic notes of apple, peach, and citrus. for the heartier courses, i had a nice california zinfandel with flavors of jam and spice, while carrie selected a light bodied pinot noir.

served before our starters was a fresh from the oven and piping hot bread offering. accompanied by a nice pesto spread, the bread boasted a perfectly crispy crust and wonderfully soft interior, and was gone very quickly. we were offered more later on, but declined as we knew we had a lot more eating to do.

moving along to the starters, pictured above was the dramatic presentation of roasted bone marrow with pistachios and capers. served on large wooden plank, the unctuous marrow was characteristically fatty and was great on its own or spread on the bread provided.

our second starter came with high praises from our server, and did not disappoint. here we have beets with
petite greens, spiced pistachios, goats milk dressing, caciocavallo. beets are not something i order often for some reason, and after this dish, i may have to reassess my choices in the future.

after the starters, we opted for a pair of pastas. this was the course i was most excited for, as one of my favorite things is a well executed fresh pasta dish. above is the spaghetti carbonara with guanciale, pepper, egg yolk, and pecorino romano. cracking open the egg yolk and digging in with high hopes, i was not let down it the least. the jowl bacon was salty and savory, the pasta was perfectly toothsome, and the cheese and egg yolk added a welcomed final layer to the dish.

our second pasta selection was the maccheroni verde with lamb ragu, pesto trapanese, and pecorino romano. this dish fared just as well as the carbonara, with a savory lamb ragu and a slightly sweeter than standard pesto sauce. carrie deemed this one her favorite of the duo, but i would have to call the pasta course a draw, with both offerings being phenomenal.

after the successful starters and pastas, of main entrees had a lot to live up to. i opted for the beef shortrib plated with ragu genovese, golden tomatoes, and chanterelles. with all the entrees choices sounding excellent, my selections came after much deliberation. served with the bone still connected, the short rib was very tender and flavorful, and was delicious on its own or eaten in combination with the sweet golden tomatoes and rustic chanterrelle mushrooms.

entrees come with the choice of one side, and i went with the gnocchi romano with smoked ricotta. expecting the standard preparation of gnocchi which is firm and made with potato, i was initially a bit confused when this arrived in front of me (i read romano in the description and thought cheese as opposed to roman style). after one bite, however, any uncertainty i had was gone. the gnocchi was fantastic with a great creamy texture and ricotta cheese flavor.

being in the mood for seafood, carrie's entree was the day boat scallops with a blueberry mostarda. well cooked and full of flavor, the scallops were delicious, and the sweet blueberries really elevated this offering from good to great.

for her side, carrie had the polenta with pancetta, honey, and chives. being very full after finishing my entree and some of carrie's, i did not taste this dish, but carrie said it was "good."

after finishing our mains and chatting with our server for a bit, a pair of desserts was sent out on the house to show appreciation for my photo taking and future review. often times i am a bit let down by dessert, but that was not the case on this night. pictured above is the buttermilk panna cotta with compressed melon, mint, and pistachios. while the melon was a little bit lacking in flavor, the smooth panna cotta was fantastic, and seemed to have a slight orange flavor to it.

along with the panna cotta, we were served a fantastic dark chocolate tort with espresso crumbles and gianduja gelato. featuring a crisp chocolate crust with a creamy interior, the tart was further enhanced by the espresso crumbles, which did much in terms of both taste and texture. the geltato was just icing on the cake with a sweet and slightly nutty chocolate flavor.

after our meal, our server asked me if i could offer any constructive criticism, and at the time, i was unable to come up with anything negative to say. reflecting back at our meal a day later, i am still struggling to find something to take issue with. from a service standpoint, truffles delivered, with everyone from the hostess to the food runners to the manager being extremely welcoming and friendly. our water was always full and our server was knowledgable and had a good grasp on the menu. as for the food, we obviously really enjoyed everything, and the prices for both food and wine were more than fair. this meal without a doubt ranks in our top five in the st. louis area, and truffles has definitely earned a spot in our restaurant rotation.

Truffles St. Louis on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011

camus cognac dinner @ taste - st. louis, mo
4584 laclede
st. louis, mo 63108

after having a nice meal at taste shorty after it relocated to the central west end several months ago, carrie and i have been looking forward to going back. when carrie got an email announcing a special tasting menu at taste paired with cocktails, i knew it would be the perfect excuse to return. upon viewing the email myself and seeing that the event was actually sponsored by a cognac company, i initially had some reservations as i have very little knowledge of the spirit. thinking that it may be a good learning experience for the both of us, we went ahead and reserved a table for two.

arrving about ten minutes early, we were given the choice to sit at any available two top, and opted to sit on the end in the window. this really helped the quality of my pics until the sun set. after all the guests had arrived, we were greeted by manny burnichon, a representative for camus cognac. speaking with a french accent, manny addressed the diners in between courses about camus as a brand and also gave us some information about cognac as a spirit. this may have been somewhat redundant for some of those in attendance, but it was nice for carrie and i as our knowledge of cognac is very limited.

getting things started was a nice sparkling cocktail called the intercontinental. made with camus vs, st. germain, aperol, lemon, champagne, and rhubarb bitterswith, this drink was a beautiful orange color and had some serious citrus notes going on.

pairing nicely with the sparkling cocktail was an amuse of trout, house cured trout roe, and parsnip puree. the fish was perfectly crisp on the outside and moist within, and was lovely with the sweet puree and salty roe.

cocktail number two, entitled carthusian kiss,  featured camus vs, yellow chartreuse, lemon, chamomile honey syrup, egg white, and bitters. the drink had a great frothy quality to it from the egg whites, and possessed floral notes as well a bit of sweetness and acidic tang.

served with the carthusian kiss was a scallop offering in a local pear puree with some crisp bacon. both the wonderfully cooked scallop and the pear puree were sweet in flavor, and the salty bacon was a terrific contrast in terms of both taste and texture.

the strongest drink of the night was the third offering, called pining for europe. this boozy drink was prepared with camus vsop, bonal, dolin dry vermouth, stone pine liqueur, and calvados. i liked this one quite a bit as a whole, but had a hard time really picking out the different flavors present.

course three was a risotto with local shitake mushrooms and brussel sprout leaves. this was another successful course with the cheesy risotto being creamy and delicious on its own, but when eaten with the earthy shitakes was elevated to a new level.

our final cocktail of the night, and carrie's favorite, was named more saint than sinner. here we have camus vsop, rum, lime, don's mix, and grapefruit hops bitters. this was another excellent drink with cinnamon and spices up front and grapefruit on the finish.

our final savory course came in the form of the largest piece of pork belly i have ever been served. coming in at around 4.5 ounces, the wonderfully fat cube of pork was rich and delicious, and was served with some nice sweet onions and a fantastic peach puree. this was definitely my favorite course of the evening.

finally, to pair with the desserts, we were brought a taste of both camus xo and camus borderies xo served neat. this was my first time drinking cognac on its own, and while i found the borderies to be a bit smoother, i had a hard time picking out the nuances in one versus the other.

our dessert course was a chocolate mousse served with missouri black walnuts and shortbread cookies. the smooth mousse was tasty but unremarkable on its own, but this worked well as the flavor did not overshadow the cognac.

all things considered, i am very glad we decided to attend the dinner. we really enjoyed all the cocktails, and the food was prepared very well and tasted great. the service was also extremely friendly and the pacing of the meal was just right. given the cost of the meal was just $65 per person, it was also a fantastic bargain as a single cocktail at taste on a normal night is $10. not only was this event fulfilling as a meal, but it also expanded my horizons in teaching me something about a spirit i was unfamiliar with. i know carrie and i will return to taste time and time again, and if they ever host another dinner like this we will most definitely be in attendance!