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STL trip report (Pi, Salt, Bixby's, Sasha's)

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As a STL native who left about 10 years ago, my trips home are usually filled with nostalgic meals, old favorites that are less about food and more about memories. This time, I decided to eat at only places I've not tried before. All in all, a great strategy. The overarching theme for me is that STL has great food at unusually reasonable prices. STL's always been a good food town, but it's really impressed me these last few visits.

I had lunch w/ friends at Pi (Loop location). Knowing that Salt would be extravagant later, I tried to go w/ lighter choices. Had the K2 salad (greens, beats, goat cheese, pine nuts w/ house vinaigrette) and shared the small, thin crust Lincoln Park pizza. Perfect lunch. The veggies on the pizza (tomatoes and zucchini) were fresh and aggressively seasoned. The cheese, not too heavy. The crust was crisp and added to the flavor of the pie while playing a supporting role. Wonderful salad. Again, fresh veggies, well balanced, light on the cheese as I requested. I'll try the deep dish pie next visit. I can see why the President likes this place so much!

Dinner at Salt with 5 others, an outstanding meal with a surprisingly low price point. Such a lovely room, and I'd never been inside despite living in the West End. We started w/ the hallowed duck fat fries. As someone who hadn't eaten fried food for a few weeks (detoxing from a long trip to NOLA), these fries were everything I'd hope they would be -- crispy, thin, dark, salty, flavorful. Totally lives up to the hype. After that, I had the roasted mussels. Not the best I've ever had, not the worst. The chorizo was the best part of that dish. Several friends had the pork belly. Damn. Just delectable. My entree, the duck fat fried chicken, won the best meal of the night. This hangs with some of the best fried chicken I've had anywhere, and that's saying something as I recently did a fried chicken tour of New Orleans. Crispy, flavorful, juicy, hot -- everything fried chicken should be. And the sides of mashed potatoes and pickled watermelon ride were equally outstanding. For dessert, we had the cookies and cream (choc cream brulee, white choc sauce w/ a little cookie), the rustic apple tart w/ cinnamon ice cream, and a cheese plate. Fantastic meal, and I'd go again anytime. The price was great as well -- 3 courses, tons to drink for about $300 including tip.

Had brunch the next morning at Bixby's in the History Museum. This was a real treat. Three of us needed to be at Wash U's campus in the afternoon, so we went to the nearest place for brunch. What a lucky choice! The buffet, not something I'd usually choose, was fresh, interesting, manageable, and well-tended. The serving dishes were small and frequently replaced with new platters, ensuring the food was fresh. The first table featured salads, smoked fish and cheese. The salads were especially nice. The middle table featured desserts and pastries, and the best biscuits and gravy I've had outside my grandmother's house. The hot selections included flank steak, breakfast meats, chimmichuri chicken and veggie lasagna. Personally, I preferred the salad and dessert tables, but my friends raved about the hot selections. AND, you get to order off of a menu of hot items made to order, included in the price. My friends loved the eggs benedict, while my waffle was good. I would have been very happy sticking to just the buffet items. Again, the price was very reasonable -- only $22/person. Such a great setting as well. The room overlooks Forest Park, which was stunning w/ changing leafs.

Last meal was a leisurely graze over several hours at Sasha's, a wine bar in DeMun, where several friends rotated in and out. What a lovely neighborhood and place to spend a glorious fall afternoon. We sat outside and had beers with a constant flow of munchie foods. The crab, avocado, asparagus salad was so good that we ordered it twice. (It was so good that i just recreated it for my lunch in Dallas today.) A cheese platter was welcome, and we all enjoyed the prosciutto and parm plate too. Over the course of time, we tried three crepes -- the veggie, the prosciutto and fontina, and the nutella w/ banana. All were excellent.

As I headed to the airport, I picked up a bag of Dad's Oatmeal Cookies, which served as my dinner. It was also the only bite I'd had in STL before this trip. Upon leaving, I didn't regret missing my familiar haunts and really appreciated trying so much new this time. I'm looking forward to my next trip home when I'll continue to try the latest STL has to offer.

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  1. what? a museum with decent, even interesting food? weird. may have to go or at least file that away for future reference.

    I like Sasha's. try the oyster chowder across the street at the Oyster Bar sometime, a cup is really a tureen and contains the real deal (although ungodly rich, they must use heavy cream). but that is a nice stretch of DeMun.

    8 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      Yes, they've changed who runs the restaurant, another catering company, and it's quite nice. Particularly pleasant this time of year, or in the spring when the redbud blooms, or for a romantic lunch as it's snowing. (Floor to ceiling windows facing the park.)

      1. re: lemons

        so it's on the South face? the crew at FPF are really doing things right, I was talking to one of the directors about a year ago and was SO impressed. god I remember in the 80's when the park was a beautiful ruin and we got away with all sorts of mischief. hooligans with a sense of style we were. not just any old parking lot for US thank you - crumbly Spanish Colonial Revival pavilion with a view and and a Beaux-Ars staircase, or we are taking our beat-box cranked with punk rock and carry-out Pho elsewhere. dang it.

        cool that some of the places inside are becoming, well maybe not destinations, but not last-resorts.

        1. re: hill food

          Forest Park is probably the one place in the metro that everyone has a happy memory of. No wonder FPF has done well w/ donations.

          Yup, the south side of the building. Will be interesting to see how the expansion of the Art Museum looks; the mockup I've seen is...not congruent. But the other big question is, how will its new resto be?

          1. re: lemons

            I forget who the design architect is, but for some reason I equate him with retail/restaurant type spaces.

            1. re: hill food

              David Chipperfield. Lots of glass and white walls....

              1. re: lemons

                right, Chipperfield, slick and safe (at least Charles Moore wasn't available for this go 'round) any idea where the cafe will be? I hope they don't shove it in the basement.

          2. re: hill food

            Darn it, hill food...were you IN the car with me during most of the (early) 80s? You just keep doing this! We favored the steps down to Art Lake, though, with the view up the hill to the museum. You must have been the late 80s though...I don't think we knew about Pho then..I only discovered Pho Grand in the early 90s, and until then I was woefully unaware of its very existence.

            1. re: tonifi

              '81-'90. yeah in STL it's more like 2 degrees of separation not 6 isn't it? if ya ever want to trade messages elsewhere the name in my profile is the one I (mostly) use on FB.

              the only times we were over that way was at "The Head" some weird tribute to an obscure chemist down at the East foot of Art Hill (too many cops by the museum).

      2. A thread revival for a mini-review of Salt, which I finally made it to...

        I only ate in the bar, so my only experience of the dining room was looking in. Both the bar (dark) and the dining room (light) are a nice sight, and I wouldn't hesitate to say it'd be a wonderful date place: think anniversary or adult's dinner party, etc.

        I ordered a glass of pinot grigio and pork cheeks (braised, served with celery, peach and arugula) at the bartender's suggestion. The pinot was nice, but somewhat lost with the very flavorful pork; it was a balanced wine with bready tones that stood up, but it still lost. Not great matching on this one, and I should've trusted my instincts and ordered a chardonnay or red wine.

        The pork was dry and chewy. That happened to work well with celery and rather coarse arugula; the peaches were indetectable. In the end, the term I arrived at for the dish was "grindy" and my jaw was tired by the end and it wasn't a large dish. I haven't eaten a lot of pork cheeks, so perhaps that's what one usually gets, but it all seemed somewhat tough to me.

        Salt is nice looking, and I can tell it takes great pride in its food, despite my mixed results. I'll give it another go at some point, but I was not wowed. I think Riverfront Times had it listed as the "Best New Restaurant" in 2011, with Bogart's being a runner-up. It isn't better than Bogart's.

        1 Reply
        1. re: brownhound

          They changed chefs since RFT wrote that.