St. Louis recommendations
Two close friends will be in STL from Thursday until Sunday in mid-July, staying downtown, but mobile. We love good food, especially if served in a fun environment (i.e., not stuffy, pretentious or overly precious). Some of the places we're thinking about are as follows, and I'd love to hear CURRENT thoughts on them, since in reading the postings on here, some of them seem to be up or down over time:
Vin de Set
We only have 3 dinners, but to the extent that any of these are open for lunch, that might work too. Also, are there any recommended breakfast places? Thanks, in advance!!
If I had to choose 3 off that list to fit your criteria, I'd go with Eleven Eleven, Vin de Set, (they are owned by the same people) and Sidney St. Vin de Set has great outdoor dining so you could always stop by there for a drink if you can't fit it in. Also in that Lafayette Square neighborhood is 33 Wine Bar and Bailey's Chocolate Bar, good places for drinks and snacks. To me, 1111 has good food and a relaxed atmosphere. Some people feel it has slipped since they opened VDS, but I haven't seen that personally.
Sidney St. has been a favorite for years, it's probably not the most trendy place in town, but people here love it.
Personally, I find Niche to be a bit off-putting, kind of trendier than thou, but I know it is very popular. Red Moon also seemed to be more style than substance. I haven't been to Chez Leon for a long time nor to Balaban's since its new owners took over. I haven't tried Atlas, although it gets raves around town. King Louie's is not my favorite.
I would agree with shannoninstlouis about 1111 and Vin de Set. Try to get one night on the rooftop at Vin de Set. All of the places you list are what I would consider "upscale": I think you will get a great meal from all of them. Knowing that you are from out of town, I would try to steer you to places I think will provide a nice atmosphere before or after your meal. I like Balabans in the Central West End, because I think the neighborhood is beautiful. I also like anything along Washington Avenue, because I think the urban renewal happening there is great, but I''m not a big fan of Red Moon - I would suggest Mosaic, or maybe An American Place. I also like a bunch of other Wash Ave places: Wasabi, Kitchen K, Lucas Park Grill - more modest places.
I would also suggest the outdoor patios at McGurks or Norton's in Soulard. I love Soulard - very cool neighborhood. These places are informal, Cheeseburger and a beer type of places, but sometimes those are great places for friends to hang out. St. Louis in July - hot and steamy but both of those outdoor patios are great places even in hot weather.
Other posters will have opinions about these places for sure.
Hope you enjoy your trip!
Vin de Set has a wonderful outdoor rooftop patio. I'm not a fan of their food, but the experience outways that. However, we've been having some pretty hot humid weather, so I wouldn't go if you can't tolerate that. Atlas is very good. Locals love Sidney St., but I haven't been in a long time. Niche is very intimate, so if your looking for more of a lively atmosphere, I'd choose Balabans. There is also a new dessert option in the Central West End you could go to after Balabans, Bissinger's Chocolate Experience. Haven't been yet, but sounds like it's worth a try. For breakfast or Sunday Brunch try Nadoz in Midtown.
So-so food at Vin de Set, and though I haven't been, I'd assume the same about 1111 since it's owned by the same people and has the same chef. Chez Leon has nice atmosphere, solid bistro standards, and the set menu is a good value. Because it's been around longer than any of the other places on your list except Balabans, it shouldn't be swamped as the others on a fri. or sat. (St. louisans tend to hit new, in-vogue restaurants hard initially). Which brings me to Niche. I had one of the best meals there several weeks ago, but that was on a sunday. Fri and sat. would be too busy for my tastes. Atlas-updated french/california style food. Though you didn't mention it, I've heard very good things about Franco, and it would be hard to go wrong with Terrene as Bill Cardwell is the Chef and is very consistent. They use a lot of local and/or organic products.
Dave Owens, formerly of Cardwell's Frontenac, is the chef at Terrene...for now. He and his wife are now leaving Terrene. For what though, I'm not sure.
Bill Cardwell still runs his Frontenac Cardwell's location though he has no affiliation with the Clayton location as he lost it to his wife when they divorced.
I think Chez Leon is horrendously overated. I finally ate there a couple months ago and have no idea why people like it so much. I wasn't expecting the world, as it's just a French Bistro, but at that they failed miserably because when you're making food that simple, it should at least be well seasoned, and it was not.
I've had far better, for far less.
Has Dave Owens now left Terrene?
We were there for dinner last night for the first time. While we weren't bowled over by most of the food- our friends thought the stir-fried tofu and seitan selections were just o.k.(the tofu was served as a large, single piece atop the couscous, so there was a lot of bland tofu that the rub didn't reach, and the seitan pieces were on noodles, which my friend did not expect), and the salmon on my salmon stew was a bit dry and lacked flavor--except for the last piece, which had a little too much flavor, and seemed past its prime, the veggie flatbread was delicious. The veggie sausage on the flatbread was the best I have ever had--in fact, it made us a little nervous because we don't eat pork, and it seemed too good to be veggie.
Just curious about who was in the kitchen last night.
BTW, our waitress was delightful, as was the hostess. Excellent service.
I was at Terrene a few nights ago (8/25/07) and Dave Owens had his extended family, a big group, out on the patio for dinner. Obviously the separation was quite amicable. He and his wife simply wanted time to spend with their two young children. Hard for people to believe but that's the whole story. He is still very good friends with the ownership and hangs out there a lot. Food is still great.
OK, I'm starting to narrow it down to a few pairs, thanks to the expert advice of you STL chowhounds, so any further advice would be fully appreciated:
Niche or Sidney St. (is Niche too intimate for a non-romantic dinner?)
Eleven Eleven or Vin de Set (for atmosphere, from the sounds of it, more than for food)
Atlas or Balabans or Franco (would one of these override one of the other 4 places?)
1) Other way around. Sidney is romantic; Niche can be loud.
2) Eleven Eleven for food, Vin de Set for atmosphere, although Eleven Eleven has good atmosphere as well.
3) I'd choose Atlas and Franco over Balaban's. Atlas if you want a simpler French cafe atmosphere, Franco if you dig coolly rehabbed turn-of-the-20th Century warehouse spaces.
You MUST go to Niche. And I don't use all capitals lightly. The food is top notch and, in my opinion, a steal given the high quality. The chef is also super friendly, and the service has been excellent each time I have gone. Sidney St. is of course good (I've been going there since I was a little girl), but it is definitely much heavier than Niche (buttery rolls, buttery sauces, etc.).
Chez Leon is another favorite of mine, but it depends on how important of a factor a "hip" atmosphere is to you. It is traditional french fare with a price fixe menu. Escargot to die for...fresh and delicious fish...GREAT steak frites...the sides really never change (always a veggie and potatoes of some sort).
Balabans went under new ownership recently, and I have yet to try their new menu. I hear it is a bit on the heavier side.
King Louies is good but LOUD. And usually crowded.
Honestly, I would go to Niche, Sidney St. and (insert other choice here). Also, have you looked at Savour at all? Also quite yummy and a really neat atmosphere.