Home Wine Kitchen - no menu Monday Review
I recently had the opportunity to dine with Home in Maplewood on a Monday, when they have no menu and dinner is chef's choice.
If you haven't been to Home, I find it to be a cozy and rustic room with a long bar down one end and banquets down the other. The color palette is earth tones and the walls are clad in raw lumber. For being a Monday, the place was pretty much full of diners, which was a good sign. In fact, they had to squeeze people in at the bar.
Reservations and check-in were both pretty smooth, including a call from the restaurant in advance. I settled in and ordered a glass of rose, given the unseasonable warmth. The wine itself was light, perhaps too light, but it was my choice for Spring.
"No Menu" at Home is slightly tailored -- you can tell the waitstaff what you can't or won't eat and that is relayed to the kitchen. I have few illusions that you're getting a true tasting menu, as I saw others eating what I ate, but I trust that the kitchen would've accommodated any requests that I made. Cost is $30 and $12 for a matching wine flight. Given that "Wine Kitchen" is two thirds of the name, I got the wine flight, thinking that I might find a kindred soul who'd do well in matching wines with food.
The first course was a simple arugula and walnut salad served with two chevre-date croquettes, which came with a Cotes du Rhone. The salad itself was simple but effective: the argula was tough, probably reflecting the early season, and walnuts nice. The croquettes, however, were overpowering. Nothing wrong with strong flavors, but one bite and I couldn't taste the salad or even the wine. They were sweeter than dessert, in fact, and I could still taste the croquettes about 3 or 4 bites into my main course. I like all parts of this dish (the salad, the croquettes and the wine), but they simply failed together to create a unified whole. Grade: C+
The second course was a really large plate of rainbow trout and, IIRC, green beans. No skimping here, as the chef really laid out a lot of meat and vegetables, especially for a set menu. The fish was simply prepared, but there was not much ambitious about it either. It was paired with a Pays d'Oc French Chardonnay. Although not as outmatched as the previous course, this wine also had a difficult time being noticed over the fish; after about five bites, the wine tasted like water, frankly, and it was kind of a loss. The ingredients and preparation were good, but the dish overall lacked much ambition, perhaps expected on a Monday, and the wine pairing did not succeed. Grade: B-
Dessert was a pannacotta served with honey and berries, paired with a Sauterne. Although I'm not a pannacotta fan, this dish finally was well paired: the honey on the dessert and the honey tones in the Sauterne worked very nicely together. It was the combination that I had been searching for all night. Pannacotta is a pretty simple dish to pull off, but it worked with the wine and was well done. Grade: B+
As said, the room is comfortable and the staff seemed to work pretty hard to make sure everything went well. I noticed that somewhere in the middle, I went from being helped by a young man to a young woman. The latter seemed to know her stuff and was talkative about the food and experience. Grade: B+
Overall, I did not agree with the pounding this place sometimes takes on these boards. It's a fine addition to St. Louis, and better than some beloved warhorses. It's more "neighborhood gem" rather than "fine dining" -- think "dinner with friends" rather than "10 year anniversary." It uses nice ingredients and tries to put together a fine meal with an occasional interesting twist or two. I would happily go back to No Menu Monday (or another night), and think it's brunch is one of the two best I've had in town, along with Cafe Osage.
We haven't been yet and it is on the list. Was it supposed to be a tasting menu? I thought the website said a three course dinner on Mondays. Taste combinations are so subjective. Everybody tastes things so differently and each persons taste can be affected by so many things. Even sommeliers don't always agree on what is a good combination. At best you can come up with a combination that most people like. It's a tough gig.
It's not precisely a tasting menu, but a set three-course menu that changes based on chef's choices and dining preferences.
I don't concur with your conclusions about wine pairing. It's not easy, but it's solved by a good sommelier. Tastes may vary, but boards like this are also testament to the fact that there can be objectivity as well.
Thank you, brownhound, for this posting. I have been eager to try their no-menu Monday...I don't often get the chance to go out to dinner, sadly, so my experience of Home has been mostly at brunch. I DID have the good fortune to celebrate my birthday there last month with a BIG surprise party (thank you, dh, you did good), and if I'm ever on death row, I'm going to want the pork chops, sausage stuffing, and brussells sprouts that we had as part of our menu that night as my last meal. (Cornish game hens w/couscous, pork chops with tomato preserves, halibut baked in grape leaves w/roasted tomatoes...brussels sprouts, roasted carrrots, roasted asparagus, sausage bread stuffing, twice-baked potatoes, and mac n cheese...OH, and vanilla bread pudding & chocolate/chili powder tarts for dessert...) I think you nailed it with your last statement though...I don't think of Home Wine Kitchen as 'fine dining', it's a little too down-to-earth for that, and anyone who goes in expecting a fine dining establishment may not get what they are looking for. Home offers something more like a fine-home-cooking experience, in fact, one of the things I like about it is that I usually get some ideas for my own cooking from the things I enjoy there...for example, I like polenta, I make polenta a lot. One Sunday at Home we had a brunch that included a polenta made with honey, figs, and walnuts...a real 'duh, why didn't I think of that' moment. Sweet polenta is on the menu at our house now, too...and while it isn't quite as good as the polenta we were served at brunch, it's still good.