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Mar 27, 2007 09:51 PM

Reporting Back on St. Louis

(Not sure if HTML formatting works...apologies if not

I gleaned quite a bit of info from this board for the trip, though only posted a comment or two .)

Spent a nice weekend exploring and eating in St. Louis, some hits, a few misses, and some places to hit next time.

Dinner on Thursday was at [b]Harvest[/b], sort of the old warhorse of the St. Louis local/sustainable/organic strain of restaurant. The longtime chef Andy White recently took over another, older St. Louis institution, Balaban’s. The food was cooked well, but the portions were *huge*. Way too big. I got a special of lamb five ways...smoked rib, pulled lamb shoulder with Israeli cousous and black beans, housemade lamb sausage, dijon-crusted tenderloin, and sliced leg of lamb, each serving big enough to be a small course of its own. They were all really good, but I was too full for the bread pudding.

My wife's hangar steak was also quite good, also huge. For all the seasonal, local bent they claim, the menu didn't really strike me as such. I would have liked to see spring reflected a little better. We had a frito misto appetizer that I thought someone somewhere recommended, but I may have been wrong. It was okay. Had some really good fried red pepper strips mixed in, but again, too much food for an app portion.

I may be selling the place a little short. The cook can really cook…all the meat was just about perfect. But, served with generous portions of spinach (both) and garlic mashed potatoes with the steak, it just didn’t strike me as having the creativity or seasonality I expected.

Came back another night for bread pudding after a disaster at the [b]Schlafly Bottleworks[/b]. Who the hell put [url= menu[/url] together? They talk a good game, source ingredients locally, try to do healthy, interesting bar food, the owners seem like good people, invested in the community, etc., etc.

I really want to like the place, but those are some bizarro offerings. Ahi Tuna Reuben, anyone? I’m not making this up: [i]“seared ahi tuna with honey-wasabi mayo, shredded cabbage and Swiss cheese served open face on Russian black bread; served with pickled ginger and salad on the side”[/i]. I ordered, comically, the bison brisket sandwich: [i]“with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and mango salsa; served on a rye bun with potato salad on the side”[/i]. Sauerkraut [i]and[/i] mango salsa!?

Before the food I ordered the beer sampler, 6 5 oz pours for $6.50. A heck of a deal if all the beers weren’t pretty mediocre.

Anyway…we were sitting in the bar ordering from the bartenders, our mistake…by the time I tracked down my order it was dead cold, the bun had gotten soggy through, it looked terrible anyway. I sent it back, passed on dinner, and went to Harvest for bread pudding.

The bread pudding was a very good version.

Our third dinner was at [b]Trattoria Marcella[/b], just off The Hill, highly recommended on Chowhound and in Southwest’s in-flight magazine. Maybe Italian food in St. Louis really isn’t that good. The meal was squarely okay. Not particularly objectionable, but not memorable either. The ravioli (chestnut, ricotta, parmigiano) in sage butter was fine, though I couldn’t taste the sage. Not nearly so good as the ravioli I had in Creve Coeur nearly a year ago. Shrimp scampi was okay. Both dishes were on the order of fine, but not quite rising to good. Still, it was a friendly, vibrant place, and though I’d probably choose elsewhere, I wouldn’t gripe about returning.

We went to [b]Niche[/b] for dessert, and this looks like a place where some folks are really cooking. I’d really like to go back here for dinner (and nearly did). We split a lemongrass panna cotta in a rhubarb lime soup. Wow. This was terrific, really interesting, complex, spring-garden tasting dessert. I think the soup mixed with a shot of gin would make a terrific drink, which I proposed to the bartender. She humored the suggestion, though didn’t offer to fix me the drink. We did talk about infusions, etc., and other fun stuff she does behind the bar, and she gossiped about some of the St. Louis food scene. Good time, nice place, we’ll very likely be back.

For lunches…one, we planned to visit [b]Atlas[/b] which it turns out is not open for lunch. But they were quite nice when we called, and recommended [b]Moxy[/b] in the Central West End. Turned out to be the most surprisingly good meal of the trip. Very simple, meatless Friday meal….we each got a bowl of tomato soup/bisque and a small grilled cheese sandwich. We split a salad with apple, fennel, and a blueberry vinaigrette and a wild mushroom polenta. The salad was very good, but the polenta was blow-you-away good. And it was on the dinner menu, not the lunch menu, but the chef had no problem fixing us up an order. Really terrific.

In contrast, the most disappointing meal (well, other than Schlafly’s) was at [b]Pho Grand[/b]. I’ve been reading about this place on Chowhound for years. I got a bowl with eye of round and meatballs…ennhhh. I’m [url= a pho expert[/url], not at all, but this really had little depth or beefiness too it…actually rather dominated by five-spice. I was not impressed.

And (I admit this is perhaps an unfair stereotype) but it really has the look of a place that would be voted best in city by the Riverfront Times readers umpteen years in a row. Very nicely appointed, comfortable place, distinctive building compared to all the strip malls in the area. Very polished, Asian instruments decorating the walls in museum boxes. Looked very nice…quite a bit nicer than I expected.

At 1:30 on a Saturday, they were doing a brisk business, maybe 10 tables seated, all seeming to enjoy themselves. And they were all at least as white as me (and that’s pretty white). Now I’m not saying you can’t have a great pho place full of white folks, but the vibe altogether was not what I expect from these sort of supposed ethnic eatery gems. You could, of course, say the same thing about Spoon Thai, which I love, so take it for what it’s worth, which may very well be very little. But I suspect you can do better on what seems like an incredibly rich stretch of south Grand.

I did visit [b]Jay’s International[/b] market across the street, and it was a fun place to visit. Really a nice spread, as Geo notes, and the only place I can recall seeing balut eggs for sale.

We did seek out [i]sfogliatelle[/i] on The Hill one morning, but [b]Missouri Baking Co.[/b] doesn’t actually make them, and couldn’t recommend anyone who did. We picked up some pretty decent Italian cookies and a rather poor pastry and went to [b]Shaw’s[/b] for a cup of coffee. Shaw’s is a local one-off coffee joint on The Hill in an old bank building. They obviously take great pride in their space, and they made a fine cup.

Another breakfast was at [b]Nadoz Café[/b] (pronounced NAH-doze as in the last two syllables of Coronado’s, the hotel which it adjoins). Really a pretty good cheap breakfast. Strawberry and cream cheese stuffed French toast and a three-egg ham and cheese (whole wheat) crepe were each under $4. Cute space, friendly, nice place. Food was okay, but cheap! Supposed the lunch is better than breakfast, and I found out later that they’re known for pastries, which we didn’t sample.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Soulard Market, a really vibrant and entertaining old-school market that really reminds you that St. Louis is just up the river from New Orleans. Part KC City Market, part Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market, but not too big and mostly it’s own thing…this was a really enjoyable way to kill an hour or so on a Saturday morning.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, in one last attempt at some quality on The Hill, we looked for an open deli on Sunday before driving out. No such luck, as the place pretty well shuts down on Sunday. We ended up at [b]Pizzeria della Piazza[/b] (“Piazza” is the owners’ last name). Turns out, of all things, that it’s a Chicago-style pizza place, with stuffed, pan, and what looked like Chicago thin. We didn’t want to wait for a pizza, and in a fit of nostalgia, I ordered an Italian beef. Bad move.

1059 South Big Bend
St. Louis, MO 63117

Schlafly Bottleworks
7260 Southwest Ave. (at Manchester
)Maplewood, MO 63143

Trattoria Marcella
3600 Watson
St. Louis, MO 63109

1831 Sidney St
St Louis, MO 63104

5513 Pershing Ave
St Louis, MO 63112
(314) 367-6800

4584 Laclede Ave
St Louis, MO 63108

Pho Grand
3195 S Grand Blvd
St Louis, MO 63118

Jay’s International
3172 S. Grand

Missouri Baking Co.
2027 Edwards St
St Louis, MO 63110

Shaw’s Coffee
5147 Shaw Ave
St Louis, MO 63110
(314) 771-6920

Nadoz Euro.Bakery+Café
3701 Lindell Blvd.
One Block West of Grand
Midtown St. Louis

Soulard Market
730 Carroll Street
St. Louis, MO, 63104
314 622 4180

Pizzeria della Piazza
5100 Daggett Ave
Saint Louis, MO 63110

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  1. Aaron, thanks for the detailed report. Nice to hear the opinions of an unbiased outsider. And good to hear that you liked some of my favorites: Nadoz and Moxy.

    1. Great post. I'm thrilled to get an outsider's viewpoint on the city who obviously knows good food. For me, you're on the money with your viewpoints.

      Harvest while good has to large of portions.

      Schlafly Bottleworks excites when you see all the wonderful organic product they're buying, but then falls flat on it's face proving you can destroy great ingredients if you don't know what to do with them.

      Trattoria Marcella is amazingly overrated proving that Italian in St. Louis is really not as good as everyone tries to make it out to be.

      ...and with Pho Grand you get that true touch of St. Louis thinking things are good either a) way past there prime or b) just because someone told them they think it should be good.

      1. I wish I had seen your former post because then I would have suggested not to go to the hill. The few times I've been there (I forget which restaurants exactly) I have found the food unimaginative and overbearing. Maybe it was just poor choices on my part, but the ones I went to (although highly recommended by Sauce) had a very traditional heavy Italian American meal that people went to because the Hill is the Hill and not because the food is better there.

        A few better places to look are in Clayton and a few holes in the wall closer to downtown (like Niche). In the south Grand area I see that you went to Pho-Grand and expected a stellar meal. The main reason that I have gone there is because the food is pretty cheap compared to other Asian places, and the food, although not outstanding, is still pretty good. A much better place in the south grand area is Pestalozzi Place (corner of Pestalozzi and Virginia 2 blocks east of S. Grand). They pride themselves on presenting recognizable ingredients in a fresh combination. I had gone to Niche only after going to Pestalozzi and thought that Niche was the more elegant of the two--a fact that was represented in the price and trendy atmosphere--but still return as frequently as is reasonable to Pestalozzi. Pestalozzi Place is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and decorates its red brick walls with purchasable pieces of art. The owner frequently wanders around the about 25 person dining area and takes orders. They have a long wine list which I have yet to explore, but a fairly short menu that changes with the season.

        3 Replies
        1. re: KSauce

          Personally, I was surprised to see a restaurant like Pestalozzi Place in my old neighborhood. That area has been in general decline for the past twenty years.

          While the food at PP is very credible, do realize that it is a significantly more expensive meal than you generally find slong the South Grand corridor. To be honest with you, I have been relatively surprised that the place has remained open for two years as the location is out of theway and the place is not in a localtion where you would expect to find a restaurant.

          1. re: KSauce

            Thanks. I had heard pretty much as you say about The Hill, but my wife felt wrong not giving it a shot, so we were pretty well locked in.

            Thanks for the tip on Pestalozzi.

            Pho Grand...I certainly didn't expect fancy, but you can get a stellar bowl of pho bucks, and Pho Grand didn't deliver that in my opinion. Even taken on its own terms, I found it disappointing.

            1. re: Aaron Deacon

              I went to Pho Grand once after all the accolades I've heard and thought it was terrible. Pho Gross would be a better name.

          2. Aaron,
            I need to thank you for the delicious birthday dinner that I enjoyed last night! We went to Moxy, and had a delightful and delicious time. I had been thinking about Terrene or Atlas, but your review sold me on Moxy.
            I had always, and erroneously, viewed Moxy as a place for the young and trendoid, neither of which describes us. My DH and teenaged son and I were pleasantly surprised by the friendly service, starting with Kenny who answered the phone and said he would note "vegetarian" on the reservation. We ate outside (it was noisy inside, and I have NEVER been able to eat outside on my BD before!) and enjoyed the fresh air and roasted garlic clove-laden cup of olive oil & bread basket. The thick tomato bisque had a nice kick to it, the little toasted cheese sandwhich tasted just like my mom's, the mushroom ragout & polenta was so rich in flavor and texture, and my caesar salad was good (I had the calamari croutons omitted). The chef prepared a veggie terrine for my DH, very fresh and tasty, and my son loved the "macaroni with 4 cheeses", sized up to an entree portion, a ring of rigatoni with goat cheese, etc. on a plate of rich tomato sauce. Dessert, which we ordered but was served with a birthday candle and a "Happy BD, no charge" by our terrific server, was delicious. Warm blueberry gooey butter cake, with cooked raspberry & blueberry sauce, and a scoop of mango sorbet in a crispy/chewy cookie cup over a caramel sauce puddle. Yum.
            Thanks again for your review!

            2 Replies
            1. re: p.j.

              Thanks for the report, glad it worked out so well!

              You know after sitting down, I told my wife the self-consciously "trendoid," as you say" vibe..."contemporary bistro", cool blues, lots of squares, LCD-screens flashing "artisitic" images at the bar, techno muzak...made me want to go across the street and get a slice of pizza.

              I was very happy we stayed.

              1. re: Aaron Deacon

                I am sorry you weren't able to have a deli meal on the Hill. It's really the only way to eat there, in my experience. We've had delicious meat, cheese, fruit, olive, bread, and wine meals that way but every restaurant meal we've had on the hill has been disappointing.
                Relatives just moved to that area so we have reason to return. Glad to have your review to carry along.

            2. Aaron - Fantastic report. We're heading there ourselves for a mini-vaction in late Spring or early Summer. We're bringing the kids with us - they are incredibly well behaved in restaurants (I know, all mothers say that - but they really are) and have fairly refined taste for their age (woe to the wallet). Would you consider the atmosphere at Moxy and/or Harvest anti-kid? (Notice that I didn't say kid-friendly - they do just fine with out crayons and chicken tenders.)

              2 Replies
              1. re: Mushroom

                We ate at Harvest last week and there were people dining with a well-behaved 9-year-old. The kid was greeted by the owner, and seemed perfectly happy. However, Moxy has windows and lots going on in the neighborhood; Harvest sits by itself and has no windows.

                1. re: Mushroom

                  I wouldn't say either was anti-kid. I would have been perfectly comfortable with our boys, 3 and 5, for our late afternoon lunch at Moxy. Don't know what the dinner vibe is like.

                  I probably wouldn't bring them to dinner at Harvest. Just seemed more grown-up and I'm not sure I would enjoy it with the kids as much. Didn't notice anything specifically "anti-kid" though.