Thursday, January 31, 2013

niche (5) - clayton, mo
7734 forsyth boulevard
clayton, mo 63105

pictured below is the chef's tasting menu...i am going to stick with pics only for this post as too much time has passed since this meal to write a proper review. i will note that the new space is quite nice, and the food was excellent as expected. i was somewhat disappointed in the service, finding it peculiar that wines and dishes were dropped at the table with very little description. these are some complex plates, and just being told the main ingredient simply isn't sufficient. i am excited for this new iteration of niche, but after the outstanding meal i had at little country gentlemen and the buzz i am hearing about what is going on at elaia, chef craft is going to have to keep pushing if he wants niche to remain the top restaurant in st. louis.

egg - maple custard, roasted mushrooms, bonito caviar
dia's cheese bread
white sweet potato soup - sage marshmallow, puffed wheat, smoked paprika, cress
escolar crudo - missouri caviar, preserved lemon, creme fraiche, dill
foie gras - sunchoke barigoule, wild rice, fennel
wild gulf shrimp
parsnip and lime freezee pop
filet of beef - fermented potatoes, turnips, mocatel, beet, lavender
celery granita - yoghurt panna cotta, local ginger, pop rocks
pumpkin custard - creme fraiche ice cream, pumpkin crumble

Friday, January 18, 2013

au cheval - chicago, il
800 west randolph street
chicago, il 60607

st. feuillien speciale and brasserie dupont avec les bons voeux.
foie gras terrine with strawberry jam served with toasted brioche...pure decadence
matzah ball soup...i didn't taste this but carrie loved it.
the burger at au cheval just might be america's most heavily hyped burger of 2012, and i knew going into the meal that i had to try it. served on a toasted bun from z baking company in morton grove, the "single" burger consists of two preformed four ounce patties (a "double" has three), sharp cheddar cheese, dijonnaise, and pickles. for those wanting more, you can go "au cheval" by adding on a fried egg and some seriously thick cut bacon. the burger worth the hype? in my even close, with burgers at kuma's sepia, and even hot chocolate ranking ahead of it in my book. this is not to say that it was not a tasty burger, i just didn't like it nearly as much as i hoped to given its buzz. the fries were merely fine, and i wish we had ordered something else on the side.  

i do not believe desserts are served at au cheval, and if so an offer was never extended our way. while the paragraph about the burger above may make this post seem like a negative one, it should not be taken as such. the feel of the restaurant and the attitude of the staff were both on point, and the food as a whole was quite good. under any other context, my thoughts on the burger would also read much more positively...i just didn't think it quite lived up to its reputation. now that lunch is served on a daily basis, au cheval is definitely a place i would like to repeat as several of the other available dishes sounded fantastic.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

sixteen - chicago, il
401 north wabash avenue
 chicago, il 60611

in its first iteration under opening day chef frank brunacci, sixteen at the trump tower was never really on my radar. although the restaurant was able to garner a michelin star in chicago's first red guide, there were always more alluring options in the windy city for both lunches and dinners. after brunacci's departure in 2011, the restaurant lost its star and i assumed it would either close or re-concept into something more basic serving as mere sustenance to guests of the trump.

was i ever wrong...

instead of downgrading, a six month search for a new chef was held before michigan native thomas lents was wrestled away from his position as chef de cuisine at joel robuchon at the mansion in las vegas. after completely revamping the menu, lents and newly hired restaurant director will douillet (alinea, next) reopened sixteen in january of 2012 as a more upscale dining experience set to rival chicago's best. in the following year, the restaurant would regain its lost michelin star, and receive a glowing four star review from jeff ruby of chicago magazine along with much critical aclaim from other publications and online bloggers. this put sixteen into my stream of consciousness, and made the restaurant a no brainer for our second dinner of the trip behind curtis duffy's grace.
arriving promptly via taxi for our 7:30pm reservation, the friendly staff at the trump made sure we found our way to the proper elevator which transported us to the building's sixteenth floor. as the elevator doors swung open and we entered the restaurant, it became apparent why the trump was not willing to let sixteen become an ordinary restaurant. the space is amazing, with a glass wine corridor leading into the dining room, featuring an incredible swarovski chandelier and the best view i have ever had from a dinner table (blows everest away).

sixteen offers three prix fixe menu options, a four course, an eight course, and a sixteen course. guess which menu we chose! for wine, we skipped the pairings and made the request for three glasses each to be served throughout the meal at appropriate times. within moments, champagne arrived at the table, and a barrage canapes started flowing from the kitchen.
roasted chestnuts
apple cider
meat pastry
1 - blood orange - elderflower soda, citrus gelee, pomegranate
2 - season's citrus - artichoke, tarragon, spanner crab
sixteen's bread program is easily one of chicago's best, with roughly six choices available. although the mini baguette and sea salt ciabatta were both excellent, it was the bacon and stone ground mustard bread that stood high above the others. for spreads, we were served both goat and cow butter along with an olive oil emulsion.
3 - smoked sturgeon - fennel, oyster, caviar
 4 - diver scallop - apple gelee, ossetra caviar, sea grass
5 - amadai - crispy scales, daikon, leek and sake
6 - langoustine - uni, licorice root, nori, cauliflower snow
7 - endive - foie gras curls, venison bresaola, huckleberry
8 - truffled roots - beluga lentils, pine cep emulsion
9 - borscht - spiced foie gras, caraway, creme fraiche
10 - raclette - coal roasted potatoes, onion brulee, perigord truffles
11 - rohan duck - rye bread, red cabbage, black trumpet mushrooms
12 - rib of wagyu beef - marrow, bearnaise, yorkshire pudding
13 - citrus fire - pink lemon, coconut, campari
14 - mont blanc - hazelnut, chestnut, milk cloud
15 - chocolate - cookie sponge, ice milk
16 - hot chocolate - ganache, vanilla soda
mignardises - each offering represtend a classic candy. i chose "dots", "butterfinger", and "cracker jack"
as a parting gift, we were given a "pop-tart", as chef lents hails from the home of the famous pastry, battle creek, michigan.

as i sit here over a month after our meal at sixteen, i am afraid that "good" is the word that best describes our experience, as the food was rarely "great" and at times merely "ok". in any menu of this length, there are obviously going to be some peaks and valleys, but at this price point and with a chef of lent's pedigree, i was expecting higher highs and fewer average courses. there was never a time where i longed for just one more bite of something. i found the dessert portion of the meal the least exciting, and thought that the liquid nitrogen show at the end was a bit stale. service as a whole was pretty solid, with everyone we encountered being very pleasant and unpretentious. the server that spent the most time at our table seemed a bit nervous and inexperienced, but no major gaffes were made. at meal's end, we were not given a copy of the menu (nor did i think to ask for one), but an email to the restaurant days later yielded a pdf file along with an offer to send one via mail.

when speaking of restaurants located in st. louis or chicago (where return visits are realistically plausible), the biggest endorsement i can give to a restaurant is stating  my willingness to go back in lieu of trying someplace new. as far as fine dining is concerned, chicago's group of restaurants i have revisited or plan to include alinea, l2o, elizabeth, and grace. sixteen unfortunately does not quite make the cut, landing at the top of my "glad i tried it" column above tru, everest, and moto. with that said, i realize that chef lents is probably just finding his stride at sixteen, and i urge anyone reading this who is interested in dining there to do so...just so long as you have already visited the restaurants mentioned above.
Sixteen on Urbanspoon