Friday, November 30, 2012

little country gentleman - st. louis, mo
8135 maryland avenue
st. louis, mo 63105

housed in the same building as his successful breakfast/brunch venue half and half, little country gentlemen is chef/restauranteur mike randolph's (the good pie) latest and most ambitous venture. open for dinner only, the food at lcg and can be described as a modernist take on midwestern cuisine, and is served via tasting menu only. having enjoyed randolph's cooking during the "fixe" dinners he put on last fall as well as his shortlived but excellent mexican project called medianoche, i was excited to hear he was opening a full time fine dining restaurant that would really showcase his talents.
between meals at half and half, the fixe dinners, and medianoche, carrie and i had visited 8135 maryland avenue five times prior to our visit to lcg. while the space is fine for a breakfast spot, pop up dinner venue, or casual mexican restaurant, i wondered going into the meal if the room would due a proper fine dining meal justice. as we walked in for our 6pm. reservation, i was very pleased to see that some very tasteful changes had been made which really enhanced the overall feel of the restaurant. after being seated, wine director daniels pareliti came to the table with a complimentary pour of bubbly while we looked over the menu. lcg offers three dining options, a three course, a six course, and a grand tasting menu featuring roughly twelve courses. per our usual, carrie and i opted for the longest menu offered, and also sprung for the wine pairings. pictured below is what we were served, however due to an extremely busy month of work and the somewhat unexpected but fortuitous selling of our house, i cannot do my usual dish by dish run down.
watermelon radish, goat cheese sauce, chorizo powder, cilantro.
relish tray with pickled vegetables, pine nut powder, and house made ranch.
mushroom soup with porcini's, roasted grapes, 30 year sherry.
lobster, aerated vanilla potatoes, orange, sesame, thai dragon, tarragon.
monkfish with celery and apricot.
sunchoke soup with scallop, brussels sprouts, oyster mushrooms, and a cranberry reduction.
aperol with fresh squeezed lemon juice.
chicken liver cappellacci with parmesan cheese sauce.
country fried chicken liver with radish and apple cider puree.
pork cheek "mcnoggins" with spicy mustard and bbq sauce.
maple pork belly, french toast, quail egg paired with founder's breakfast stout.
new york strip, beef cheek, beef tongue, maytag bleu cheese, sous vide carrot.
green tea cheesecake.
panna cotta (blood orange?)
bleu cheese and triple creme with raspberry preserves.
take home shortbread cookies.
when it was all said and done, our four hour marathon at lcg was well worth its big city price tag, and i feel the restaurant would certainly have one star michelin potential if it were located in chicago, new york, or san francisco. aside from a bit of ingredient and flavor repetition (radishes and acid), i was very happy with each and every dish, and would be hard pressed to name anything a "dud." i was also quite pleased with daniels as a wine director, and found his wine and beer pairings to be some of the most interesting i have had this year. as someone who travels for good food, i am very excited to have a place as progressive as lcg in st. louis, and although the gtm is what i would consider a "vaction meal" in terms of price, i hope to be able to visit a few times in the next year to see how the ever changing menu evolves.

 Little Country Gentleman on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

the restaurant at meadowood - st. helena, ca
900 meadowood lane
st. helena, ca 94574

i will be perfectly honest, i chose the restaurant at meadowood as one of our three dinners based on its proximity to our hotel and the fact that it holds three michelin stars. if the distance between the bay area's top restaurants wasn't so great or if meadowood was ranked at two stars like the majority of its competitors, i may very well have made other arrangements. however, with those two factors working in the restaurant's favor, i booked a table without much additional thought. in the two months leading up to the meal, i scoured the internet for recent reports, and although most were wildly positive a few made me take pause.
located at the meadowood resort in st. helena, the restaurant at meadowood is helmed by chef christopher kostow, who took over in february of 2008. prior to meadowood, kostow was daniel humm's (now of eleven madison park) sous chef at campton place before moving on to become head chef at chez tj in mountain view. it was there that kostow really made a name for himself, garnering two michelin stars as well as earning a spot on food and wine's list of 2007's top ten dishes. at meadowood, kostow received two stars from michelin his first year and retained that rating until 2011 when the restaurant was elevated to its current three star status.

our reservation time was 8:45pm, and as such our drive to the restaurant was in total darkness. this was a shame as from what i could tell the grounds of the resort as well as the scenery leading up to it were both quite lovely. after a slight bit of trouble finding the building housing the restaurant, we parked the rental and made our way up a flight of steps, passing a large stone surrounded by several candles. once inside, we were met by a cozy bar area with a roaring fireplace on the right and a smiling host to the left. the dining room at meadowood was definitely my favorite of the trip, being surprisingly small yet very well spaced.
there is no menu at meadowood. a week or so prior to the meal, the restaurant will call and discuss likes/dislikes/allergies with the diner and then craft a menu based on of those preferences. being that there are no allergies or picky eaters in our family, i simply stated that we would be happy giving chef kostow complete control of our meal. this was confirmed at the table by our captain, and after allowing the wine director to select our wines with the stipulation that they must all be from napa valley, things got rolling. it has been over a month since our meal, and i have unfortunately lost a good deal of the details. as such, the food portion of this review is lacking.
presented atop a small pillow, our meal started with a tiny pastry puff filled with whipped feta cheese and topped with basil and marigold.
crudites from the meadowood garden
our final pre-meal bites were carrot tops and another item that i cannot recall. the carrot tops light and springy with a cake like consistency and sweet flavor.
for course number one, we were served a whipped yogurt with black sesame, pickled plum, and shiso. the yogurt itself was rather mild, and basically served as a vehicle for the sweet black sesame and tart pickled plum. like the amuse bouche offerings before it, the yogurt course was very light but also very flavorful.
pumpkin shards with mole sauce and ricotta cheese. this was another light course with very focused flavors.
red abalone, plankton, matsutake, acorn
served with a soft ball of pumpernickel bread, this was a kolrabi stew with rye mustard.
the sturgeon course was first presented table side wrapped in leek leaves and covered in ashes before it was brought to the kitchen to be cut, cooked, and plated. paired with fermented pair and tiny pucks of bone marrow, this was definitely my favorite course of the meal. the sturgeon had a unique saltiness to it while the pear added some sweetness and the marrow some fatty heft.
following the fish course was a bouillon of roasted meats. with bon iver's skinny love playing in the background and instructions to drink straight from the bowl, the bouillon was rich, flavorful, and comforting, making for a pretty perfect moment.
like the sturgeon before it, the guinea hen was also brought to the table whole before being cut apart and served. introduced as the best fried chicken we will ever have, the hen was fantastically tender with the most perfect crackling skin. also on the plate were hon shimeji mushrooms and tiny greens.
our last savory dish was cote de boeuf with whey, tiny snails, onion, and horseradish. it is hard to tell from the picture, but the portion of beef was quite small even for fine dining standards, with what we had at the french laundry and benu on the two nights prior being at least twice the size. with that said, this dish was much more complex as a whole, and while it didn't top tfl's snake river ribeye, it was much more successful than benu's beef offering.
our cheese course featured foglie di noce, a sheep's milk cheese from tuscany that while aging is wrapped in walnut leaves and rubbed with olive oil.
citrus snowball with verbena.
asian pear soda with a warm frankincense sabayon.
our main dessert was a huckleberry sorbet with cinnamon, pecan, and eucalyptus components.
finally, here we have stages of the grape. to the left are candied grape leaves wrapped around white chocolate followed by meringues with grape seed oil, chocolates flavored with cabernet sauvignon, and marshmallows filled with grappa.

due to their geographic location and three star michelin status, many people like to try and compare the restaurant at meadowood with the french laundry. this is a difficult thing for me to do, and even after dining at both restaurants in the span of just three days, i am unable to truly commit to naming a favorite when the overall experience is taken into account. while the food at meadowood was more progressive, thought provoking, and visually stimulating, none of the courses quite reached the same level of pure deliciousness when compared with the french laundry's best dishes. as for the wait staff, i enjoyed the genuinely friendly and down to earth personalities of the staff at meadowood over the more professional but clearly rehearsed service we received in yountville. with all of that considered, i will simply say that both restaurants are both excellent in their own ways, and are certainly "worth a special journey."