Wednesday, May 23, 2012

la vallesana - st. louis, mo
2801 cherokee street
st. louis, mo 63118
back in april of 2011, carrie and i ventured down cherokee street excited to try la vallesana for the first time. unbeknownst to us, the restaurant was going through an expansion, and service was temporarily being held in a tiny rundown storefront a block or so away. walking into the cramped and dirty restaurant, we were instantly out of our element, and while the food was quite good we didn't leave with a great first impression of la vallesana. after more than a year had passed with la vallesana off of my radar entirely, carrie and i drove by the newly renovated restaurant on our way to check out diana's bakery (woefully mediocre pastries btw) and decided a redo was in order.
arriving at la vallesana just before noon on a wednesday, we opted to sit outside as the weather was perfect and took the only available table on the covered patio. menus and water were delivered quickly, and with no alcohol on offer we declined additional beverages, bypassing the humorously available monster energy drinks (a guilty pleasure of mine). for food, a variety of tacos, tortas, and burritos are available, and within minutes are orders were placed.
arriving first was a plate of four tacos, two al pastor and two cachete (beef cheek). served in two soft corn tortillas each and seasoned with cilantro, onion, and lime, both offerings were terrific and a great value at two dollars a piece. i will note that the texture of the cheek might not be for everybody, and while i really liked its soft chewiness, carrie differed half of hers to me as she found it somewhat off putting.
for my main course, i selected the chorizo torta. served on a nice crusty roll, the sausage had the perfect mix of heat and flavor, making it a winner. being that the tortas are quite large, splitting one in order to taste more items would be a good ordering strategy.
sticking with the chorizo theme, carrie's came in burrito form. served with chips and guacamole, carrie was quite pleased with her selection.
to finish, we each tried one of the milk based popsicles. my choice was the sweet rice, which was fantastic. unfortunately, the coconut popsicle carrie selected was a miss for the both of us, as there was zero sweetness to it giving it a rather 'blah" flavor.

coming in at roughly thirty dollars including tip, our visit to la vallesana was certainly a positive one. although the neighborhood is a bit dodgy, the food is great and the patio is certainly nice on a mild day. we will be back.
La Vallesana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

home wine kitchen - maplewood, mo
7322 manchester road
maplewood, mo 63143

opened in the summer of 2011 by husband and wife team cassy vires and josh renbarger, home wine kitchen is the newest st. louis restaurant in the seasonal, local, farm-to-table movement. while the belaboring of these buzzwords has grown a little tiresome, i certainly cannot argue with the philosophies behind them, and meals i have had at similar themed restaurants have been mostly successful. 
following a quick and painless car service appointment in creve couer, carrie and i arrived at the maplewood located restaurant around 11:30am on a wednesday to find the restaurant approximately one third full. with instructions to seat ourselves wherever we felt most comfortable. we chose a high top table up front in the window. the small space (50 seats?) has a decidedly rustic feel to it with wood everywhere and the seemingly requisite butcher paper on the tables. with menus and water delivered promptly, our server went over the details of the menu with us, noting that they were currently out of one of the five starters, two of the five entrees, and two of the three desserts. while this didn't leave the best first impression, we took things in stride and placed our order within minutes.
for drinks, home has a nice wine program with all offerings (save for a separate reserve list) being $8 by the glass or $30 for a bottle. with north of thirty choices available in either format, the list is quite interesting, boasting several wines from france and italy. while carrie opted to go the wine route, ordering a glass of riesling, i chose one of the eleven available bottled craft beers. pictured above is the delirium tremens, a strong belgian golden ale from the huyghe brewery. named the best beer in the world at the 2008 world beer championships in chicago, this foamy brew is surprisingly drinkable considering its 8.5% alcohol content, and is great on the palate with notes of fruit and spice.
after reviewing the menu online prior to our arrival, i had planned on starting my meal with the panisse frites, hoping they would conjure up good memories of the chick pea canape i had at eleven madison park in january. but alas, the restaurant had run out, and as such a deviation from my original plan was made. pictured above is the warm vegetable salad, made with arugula, zucchini, red onion, and tossed with browned butter. although i am still interested in trying the frites, this salad was certainly a formidable starter that i enjoyed quite a bit.
carrie's meal began with the daily soup offering, which was sweet onion. introduced to us by our server as nothing like a french onion soup, the onion soup was topped with a parmesan crostini and was particularly creamy.
for my main plate, it had to be the burger. after seeing a photo in one of the local st. louis food publications (sauce? feast?) a few months back, the burger at home wine was instantly added to my 'must try' list. made from missouri grass fed beef, the burger comes topped with bacon, white cheddar, garlic aioli, and a fried egg. cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with a side of awesome house made potato chips, this was the best burger i have ever had in st. louis. a relative bargain at $14, the only criticism i can offer up is that a sturdier bun might have served the burger better, as the light and fluffy one it comes on fell apart a bit too easily.
opting for an entree instead of a sandwich, carrie had the rainbow trout with arugula, browned butter, pecans, and sage for her lunch. although plated with more greens and pecans than probably necessary, the fish was well cooked with crisp skin and a nice flaky interior.
with just one selection currently available for dessert, carrie and i briefly discussed sharing a single order of the shortbread biscuits with jam and goat cheese, but ultimately placed an order for one plate each. topped with a bit of sea salt, the biscuits were served piping hot, and were terrific with the tart goat cheese and sweet fruit jam. in the end, we were glad we each opted for our own order. although i am sure the other two currently unavailable dessert options would have also been good, i have a suspicion that they might not have been as good as the biscuits, possibly rendering the dessert situation a blessing in disguise.

taking everything into consideration, i would rate our lunch at home wine kitchen very highly amongst others we have had in st. louis, with only prime 1000 (where a $25 foie gras appetizer was ordered) sticking out as being better. aside from the stock outs, everything went very well, as the space was attractive, the service was both friendly and prompt, and all of the food was excellent. with that being said, the lunch scene in st. louis isn't exactly booming with amazing choices, and the real test for home wine kitchen for me will be to return for a dinner service to see how it stacks up to some of the cities top tables. regardless of how that turns out, i will certainly be back to home for lunch again specifically to eat that awesome burger.
Home Wine Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

andolini's pizzeria - tulsa, ok
1552 east 15th street
tulsa, ok 74120

when the band thrice, a favorite of mine since high school, announced they were going on hiatus and a farewell tour was in the works, i knew that carrie and i would be in attendance no matter the cost/hassle/ect. when the tour dates were published and st. louis was excluded, chicago and kansas city became the most logical locations to catch a show. unfortunately in life, work comes first, and neither of those two dates fell in line with our schedules. disheartened but not willing to give up, the two of us determined that tulsa was the only date that worked time-wise as well as geographically. being that i am not one to typically settle for a nondescript meal meant for sustenance only, i scoured yelp and urbanspoon for a good place for a casual dinner before the show. after not finding much that peaked my interest, i eventually stumbled upon andolini's pizzeria, and upon perusal of the menu, one pizza offering in particular sealed the deal.
after completing the nearly eight hour drive to tulsa, carrie and i arrived at andolini's just after 5pm. the restaurant is located on a "cute" stretch with boutique stores and craftsman style homes lining the streets. from what i gathered in my short time in tulsa, this area was most likely "the place to be" in the otherwise desolate city. walking into the restaurant, we were seated promptly, and moments later greeted by our friendly server who made a few recommendations after asking if we were first timers. knowing going into the meal what we wanted, ordering was quick and painless.
andolini's has a pretty stellar beer selection, with roughly twenty craft beers on tap as well as at least fifty more choices in bottles. carrie and i both began with the chimay white ale, a terrific belgian tripel with a relatively sweet and fruity flavor profile. this was carrie's first taste of chimay white, and she even ordered a second later in the meal after declaring it one of the best beers she has ever had.
for food, we began with an order of garlic knots. served slathered in butter and generously dusted with parmesan cheese, these were excellent. piping hot and featuring an almost pastry like quality, the knots went quickly. 
moving along to the pie that brought us to andolini's in the first place, here we have the 'demarco of brooklyn', a tribute to the pizza created by dom demarco at his famed di fara pizzeria in brooklyn. this pizza features san marzano tomatoes, house made mozzarella, fresh picked basil, pecorino romano, and is finished table side with extra virgin olive oil. when i placed the order for the demarco, our server noted that it was the best pizza on the menu, and that she didn't mention it to us initially due to its large size. this was a fact that i overlooked, and when the pie arrived at out table in the only size it is offered, 20 inches, i knew i had my work cut out for me. digging in quickly, it only to one bite to confirm that andolini's was the best choice for our pre-concert meal. the large foldable slices were huge on flavor, with the fresh cheese and heavy basil notes really making this a pizza to remember.
as noted above, carrie opted for another chimay white to go with her pizza while i moved on to something a bit heavier. pictured above is the ommegang abbey ale, brewed in new york but in true belgian fashion. with fruity notes along with hints of caramel and toffee, this beer has grown to be one of my favorites.

with five of the eight pieces of pizza consumed between carrie and i, the remaining slices were boxed up and we made the five minute drive to cain's ballroom, arriving just as the doors opened. all things considered, our meal at andolini's was a hit as i am still thinking about that pizza as i type this, and i really need to make getting to di fara's to try the real thing a priority next time carrie and i are in new york. additionally, i will note that following the show (which was incredible), the remaining three pieces of pizza made for a fantastic snack, saving us from the otherwise inevitable fate of resorting to disgusting drive through fast food.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

five bistro (2) - st. louis, mo
5100 daggett avenue
st. louis, mo 63110

back in september of 2011, carrie and i made our first visit to five bistro during lunch service to sample their highly regarded burger. while the restaurant's claim to fame lived up to the hype of best burger in st. louis*, it was also quite clear from the other items we sampled along with what is offered on the dinner menu that there is a lot more to five than just a tasty burger. chef anthony devoti's menu changes daily based on what is fresh and available locally, a feet made possible by the restaurant's close relationship with many local farms, ranches, and creameries.
arriving on "the hill" roughly half and hour early for our 6pm. reservation, carrie and i were met with an empty dining room, and as such had no issues being seated. we were told the nighly menus were being printed, and were given a wine and cocktail list to peruse in the meantime. after a few minutes, we put in an order for cocktails, and were finally presented with food menus (with the wrong date printed on them...). dinner at five is available al a carte, but the best value is easily the four course tasting with wine pairings for $60. with a relatively small menu of just three or four choices per course, ordering was a breeze, and in no time carrie and i agreed on our meals with no duplicate courses.
kickback cocktail - bulleit rye whiskey, alvear solera 1927 sherry, rothman and winter apricot brandy,
sweet vermouth, lemon juice, aztec chocolate bitters, and blood orange bitters

mayor plum - nolet’s gin, averell plum gin liqueur, aperol, apricot brandy, and lemon & sparkeling rosé
the amuse for the night was piedmontese beef with pickled daikon, white asparagus, and truffle oil.
following the beef was house made bread with olive oil and cracked pepper. served warm, the bread was fairly basic but quite tasty.
for my first course, i went with the risotto al ragu. this was arborio rice, fitchner farm piedmontese beef ragu, newt and heather's parsely, butter, and parmigiano-reggiano. served with a pour of barera, this was a decent opening volley, but wasn't overly exciting, leaving me wondering if the salmon tartar would have been more my speed.
for carrie it was the steamed mussels in a sauce of white wine, herbs de provence, and butter served with aioli covered toast. while the bread went virtually untouched, carrie was quite fond of the mussels, and i can also say that the two i was allowed were definitely good. when prompted later that night to name her favorite course of the meal, it was this offering that carrie deemed to be the best.
moving on to course number two, my dish was the belleville white asparagus salad plated with house cured prosciutto, a poached chicken egg, and a cheese from shepards crook dairy called 'alucard'. for me, this was the strongest course of the meal, with the sweetness of the white asparagus being lovely with both the salty prosciutto and the tangy cheese. the egg was also a welcome addition to the fray, with its runny yolk elevating the flavors even further. a riesling was paired with this course.
although listed on the menu as a puree of rissi farm potato and cream with claverach farm micro arugula and house made creme fraiche, our server came out a few minutes before this dish was served to note the soup was made with turnips instead of potatoes. deeming this ok and actually favorable, the dish arrived moments later and was definitely good. served with a chardonnay, the soup was rich and had a marked sweetness to it from the turnips.
moving forward to the main entrees, i selected the benne's farm pork loin with prarie breeze white cheddar polenta, claverach farm pea shoots, and a red wine reduction. while the pork was tender and had decent flavor overall, i actually found the white cheddar polenta to be the star of the dish as i really liked the grainy texture and strong cheese flavor.
carrie's choice was the fitchner farm piedmontese beef two ways (braised short rib and chuck roast) with yukon gold potato puree, ramps, turnips, and asparagus. being that carrie was abnormally hungry, i was only allowed a bite, thus not really having the chance to form my own opinion.
for dessert, two composed plates along with a sorbet offering were available. pictured above is my choice, the chocolate angel food cake with mint gelato and macerated strawberries. good but by no means great.
for carrie it was the strawberry filled doughnut with balsamic gelato. this was easily the most successful of the two desserts, as i was excited for a flavor combination that took a risk and actually made me think a little bit.

summing up my thoughts as a whole on our dinner at five is somewhat difficult for me, as i am afraid i have become somewhat jaded in regards to dining. over the past two years, i have had some incredible meals, with the first four months of 2012 being absolutely amazing. while i certainly didn't go into dinner at five expecting a meal rivaling the best of chicago and new york, i left wondering if the money i spent would have been better saved towards a future food vacation. at its price point, five definitely has a good thing going, and i would have no problem recommending the restaurant to people who do not dine out as their number one hobby. overall, nothing was bad (in fact everything was good), but to put it plainly i simply see no reason to repeat the experience. 

*note on the burger, i would love to return to five again for another as it is truly awesome. however, now that lunch service is no longer offered and the burger is only available after 10pm on thursday, friday, and saturday nights, i doubt such a thing will occur as the last thing i want at that hour is a huge burger and fries.