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Jan 25, 2011 08:59 AM

St. Louis - just one dinner

My girlfriend and I will be in St. Louis for just one night (Saturday, February 5th), and we’re looking for your recommendations on where to have dinner.

We like interesting food and are willing to try new items and preparations, but well-executed quality is more important than being on the edge. Budget is not a constraint. Neither of us eats meat, so excellent seafood and vegetarian/pasta alternatives are important. A good wine list by the glass or bottle (or half bottle!) would be nice, but is secondary to the food. Neither of us cares about dessert. I think we’ll need to be seated around 6pm to get to our subsequent evening appointment near the Crestwood Court Mall by 7:45pm (at Watson Rd and Old Sappington Rd).

I’ve read through current and previous posts on this board, have taken a look at the restaurant websites, and have a short list of what seems to be the usual suspects that get endorsed by the Chowhound community:

Niche, Monarch, Farmhaus, Sydney Street Café, and Harvest

The question is: how to choose just one? (or am I missing some other place?)

So, what are the real differentiators among them? And, which will cause us to say: “that was a damn fine, enjoyable, and (maybe) interesting meal.”

Thank you.

Niche Restaurant
1831 Sidney Street, St. Louis, MO 63104

Monarch Restaurant
7401 Manchester Rd, Saint Louis, MO 63143

Harvest Restaurant
1059 South Big Bend Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63117

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  1. Niche is your best bet for what you have stated. It is amazing and extremnely interesting. I would get reservations ASAP as it fills up most nights. If you are into interesting drinks and snacks head to Taste next door before hand. Farmhouse might be a good choice too seeing as they are very good with fish and seafood. It will be a little cheaper and a little less imaginative aswell. If your looking for a statement goto Niche.

    13 Replies
    1. re: CDollarsign

      Thanks very much for your recommendation.

      1. re: njfreqflyer

        I am kind of suprised more people aren't jumping on this. Farmhaus is way more relaxed than Niche. Niche is hands down the best restaurant I personally have ate in St. Louis.

        3257 Ivanhoe Ave, St Louis, MO 63139

        1. re: CDollarsign

          All right, I'll jump in. Sidney Street is not on the level of Niche or, from what I'm told, Farmhaus. Niche is one superb restaurant. Noisy, perhaps, but creative and undeniably delicious. That would be my choice.

          Sidney Street Cafe
          2000 Sidney St, Saint Louis, MO 63104

          3257 Ivanhoe Ave, St Louis, MO 63139

          1. re: alan

            I wouldnt put Farmhaus on the level of Niche or Sidney Street. I've been twice and havent been totally impressed like I was at Niche. Just from what the OP was looking for seemed like a good rec. Lots of fish and different kinds of salad/veggie items. Its good, but not stellar...

            Sidney Street Cafe
            2000 Sidney St, Saint Louis, MO 63104

            3257 Ivanhoe Ave, St Louis, MO 63139

      2. re: CDollarsign

        I made a rez at Niche for Saturday night. Hopefully I can get there with the blizzard chaos coming.

        1. re: njfreqflyer

          You should be fine by this weekend. Have a great time and give us a full report.

          1. re: njfreqflyer

            You'll be fine...enjoy, it's a great place to eat. Try to stroll around the neighborhood a bit before or after, a great St. Louis city neighborhood of beautiful red-brick brownstone-style homes.

            1. re: ddfry3

              before so it's still light out

              but this is true, stroll North up Euclid (away from the Barnes Hospital complex) and down some of the side private streets like Lenox Place and back down Taylor before dinner. gorgeous mini-mansions (mini compared to some streets nearby across Kingshighway) circa 1900 or so when craft still meant something.

              1. re: hill food

                If they're going to Niche (not Brasserie), then they'll be in Soulard and won't be able to take the stroll you're recommending.

                1. re: alan

                  Benton Park, actually. I used to live in a old catholic school converted to lofts on Sidney. Benton Park is by far one of St. Louis most beautiful neighborhoods. It is also alot of fun. Its a shame you dont have more time. To spend in the area before you have to go to boring suberbia...

                  1. re: alan

                    Indeed, I was recommending the Benton Park stroll...a real up and coming neighborhood. Most people know about the Central West End, fewer the Benton park area, which has an intimate feel and streetscape and beautiful homes and density for a stretch.

                    1. re: ddfry3

                      I don't know why I though t it was the other, well Benton Park and Soulard are amazingly intact 19th c. neighborhoods (how they managed to survive is beyond me) if the season was different I'd a suggested a drink on the terrace at Venice first.

                2. re: ddfry3

                  Last eve njfreqflyer and I went to Niche. I really wanted to like it ... The sound was a bit bouncy though for me, it didn't deter from the metro atmosphere. So that there was more to try, we split the cauliflower soup, the crispy octopus, the pasta and uni and finally the vermillion snapper. The soup was excellent; made unique by a drizzle of hot pepper sauce and bits of roasted cauliflower. As I don't eat meat, we ordered the octopus and white beans without the chorizo. The octopus was crispy and tasty though the beans seemed a little under cooked, maybe it is just my preference to have beans on the softer side? I was totally excited when we spotted uni on the pre fixe menu and; Niche was accommodating, again offering it to us ala carte. It was prepared with homemade pasta and crab meat. The pasta was great though the richness of the ingredients (namely butter) overshadowed the delicate crab and uni. The fish was done nicely, quit moist and tasty. It was served with polenta and a sorrel pesto; the polenta was salty and the pesto just detracted from the fish. Finally, initially, i felt very rushed... As one course was being cleared from the table, the next was being delivered. To slow down the pace, I ate one strand of pasta at a time though the party next to us specifically asked that their pace be slowed. I was not wowed by Niche though I would give them another chance, maybe they were just recovering from the blizzard of 2011 like the rest of us! .... Njfreqflyer feel free to add on ....

            2. I think Lorisueb captured the key points of the evening, and I’m in agreement on all of them.

              The cream of cauliflower soup was velvety, flavorful, and really inviting. A couple of oven roasted florettes, a few toasted croutons, and the drops of hot chili oil all contributed to the best dish of the meal.

              The undercooking of the small white beans that were served with the octopus surprised me and upset the balance of the dish. The octopus was done very nicely, however, and here too, the little zip from some hot chili oil was a nice touch.

              The uni alla chitarra (shouldn’t that have been “ricci di mare alla chitarra?”) was our most anticipated dish, and lorisueb is right: the butter completely overwhelmed the sea urchin and crab.

              While the snapper was fine, the polenta brandade of salted halibut and the pesto served with it needed to be avoided if you wanted to be able to taste and enjoy the fish.

              We’re not really dessert people, so we passed on that. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: we really enjoyed our wine, which Niche helped us select. We had a half bottle of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards Pinot Blanc Los Carneros (California) 2009 - delicious.

              The way-too-fast pacing surprised me, but maybe it’s a mid-west thing (or conversely, maybe my way-too-slow pacing is an east coast thing). That party next to us was having a wine pairing with their dinner, and we watched as their next course and glasses of wine were being delivered while they were still working on the previous glass of wine, which to me is not a matter of where-you-come-from; it’s just badly timed and rushed service. I hope it wasn't because we had an early rez (5:45 pm) and they were concerned about turning the table.

              In my opinion, each course was very good in concept, just weak in execution and getting the right balance on the plate. To be determined by more frequent diners at Niche is whether ours was an exception or not, and I'd be interested to know your thoughts specifically on the over-butter, over-salt, and fast-pacing issues we had.

              So, I think my take-away is a sense of lost opportunity more than seeing it as a "damn fine" meal.

              2 Replies
              1. re: njfreqflyer

                Thats a bummer. I feel like I steered you wrong. I haven't found a place in St. Louis better than Niche. I dined in December and it was just as stellar as it had been the first time I went. Hopefully it was just an off night becuse it is one of the better restaurants I have been to...

                1. re: CDollarsign

                  I was also visiting St. Louis recently from NJ and took in one nice meal at Niche. My review follows, which I posted in another St. Louis foodie forum.

                  As a prelude, my standard for a meal is "how would this place fare in New York City." That may be a tough metric, but it tells me whether I'm judging a restaurant on a curve -- i.e., "yeah, it's good for a mediocre city" which I believe isn't fair to posters or the restaurant.

                  By that standard, Niche was a fine place to eat: I enjoyed my meal and shall return. I would say that it would fit into Manhattan or Brooklyn, but would not stand out. And, in fact, may not make it very long if it was in a high rent area. In other words, to be a great restaurant it would need to up its game. Not hugely, but a step or two.

                  "Hello, I am a noob to your site, but wanted to post my Niche experience since I have been lurking for a couple of weeks.

                  "My family is considering relocating to St. Louis (from East Coast) and I spent the weekend checking out your fair town. One desire was to see what the better restaurants are like, not necessarily because we'd eat there often, but because it's a barometer of food in the town. I made a reservation for one on a Sunday evening.

                  "The experience of confirming, arriving and entering was quite nice. All done with the same person who assured me I could have a table or sit at the bar and even opened the door for me when she saw me coming. I sat at the bar, as it was empty and I knew I'd be able to talk to the barkeep, which I did. She was a nice lady -- allowed me to eat, but also chatted when need be.

                  "Niche's 3 courses for $40 is a value, and I picked a corned beef tongue winter vegetable salad, a nice rich fish dish, and a blood orange meringue. The chef supplemented with an appetizer course of lobster on toast.

                  "Overall, I found the salad and lobster supplement kind of weak. In both the preparation was superb, but the ingredients kind of tepid: the winter vegetables weren't sweet or tart, just flavorless; they offered no counter-point to the rich tongue. Similarly, the lobster itself had positively no flavor; in fact, the toast and the cream sauce had all the flavor. Both were disappointments in that respect. I would've expected better ingredients.

                  "The fish was fantastic, all the way around -- great ingredients and preparation. It's typically snapper with a polenta, walnuts and green herb salsa, but they used something other than snapper (I forget). The one cavil there, however, was that no single glass of wine could be found that went with it. Between the barkeep and me, we picked a Gruner Veltliner and an unoaked Chardonnay (both standard wine by the glass at Niche). Both were too weak and didn't compement the fish at all -- they needed something rich and buttery or at least big and fruity. At the host's recommendation, we opened a bottle of Viognier -- also kind of weak in comparison to the fish. Alas. That was, in my mind, a real weakness. For standard dishes and wines by the glass, they should've been peerlessly paired, and they were not.

                  "Dessert was adequate (I'm not a big sweets eater). I enjoyed it quite a lot, but did not remember it much beyond that, despite loving meringues. The espresso, however, was lacking -- watery, not very hot and no crema.

                  "Overall, the setting was great -- nice room, very tasteful selection of alternative rock, staff interested in serving and food, etc. If I move to St. Louis, I shall return.

                  "P.S. - also took in Rooster, The Good Pie and a few others based on the site's recommendation. Many thanks."