Saint Louis -- Two dinners and a Lunch
Hi, I'll be in Saint Louis for a couple nights and am looking for two dinners and one lunch.
I wear two hats, in that I can enjoy fancy-dancy fine dining as well as more ethnic-oriented cuisine.
I am health conscious, and do not eat meat but love veggies and fish.
I have enjoyed Tony's in the past, but do admit it seems VERY dated in almost a comical sense. I'm a pretty adventurous eater so am looking for other options, although if Tony's is THE best I don't have a problem doing dinner there again.
Other options on my radar screen are Crossing (can they do no meat?), Elaia, Niche, and Eleven Eleven Mississippi.
Price is not an issue, but I find that most prices in STL are reasonable anyway.
re: hill food
Yup. Tree House on South Grand is vegetarian. Pura Vegan is in the West End on Belt Ave. Frida's Deli is also vegan on North and South. And there's a new vegetarian place called Small Batch that's west of downtown at 3001 Locust.
Any of the fine-dining spots in StL can do vegetarian except the steak-ish places like Al's, and most modern chefs are happy to rise to the challenge. Niche is fascinating, as usual. You will be fine at the other places, as well.
And Olive Boulevard in University City has a whole slew of various Asian spots that will work well for you.
Where are you staying?
The Crossing is in Clayton, and is excellent. They have a very reasonable 4-course option with choices for each course, so that should work for you. (You can also certainly order a la carte.) Somewhat formal and dressy, quiet -- a real class act.
The chef-owner of Niche opened an offshoot called Pastaria, also in Clayton, which is casual and would definitely fit your diet. I believe they are open for lunch.
Oceano Bistro, also in Clayton, obviously is seafood oriented and is good.
Niche has been lauded as perhaps the best and most adventurous restaurant in St. Louis since its opening a few years ago. Primarily tasting menu, I'm sure they can fit your needs, especially with some advance notice. Their relatively new relocation is also in Clayton.
If you are staying downtown, Central West End, or out west, let us know and I'm sure we can give you closer recs. On the other hand, Clayton is centrally located.
I had lunch a couple of weeks ago at Eleven Eleven, and I thought they did a nice job. It was just soup and salad, but it was well balanced. I'm not sure I'd call it fine dining, exactly, more along the lines of well executed, simpler food in a lovely space.
We also had dinner at Brasserie, which was very good, and charming, with interesting cocktails. They're a bit meat-centric, but there were several fish options and at least one vegetarian choice. (It seems to be a sister restaurant of Niche?)
Great vegan/veggie recommendations!
They inspired me to check out PuraVegan for a surprisingly delicious lunch (and some take out for later!).
Report #1 PuraVegan:
Really outstanding, real-deal Vegan. The problem with most veggie restaurants/cafes is that they go heavy on the oils and the fried foods. PuraVegan eschews oils in favor of nuts, lemon juices, tahini, etc.
I went big for lunch, and did the following:
1) Green Machine Smoothie -- Outstanding. All fresh ingredients, and this is a smoothie not a juice, so you get all the nutritious fiber, etc. VERY filling in a good way. I watched them make it and they use very fresh greens, bananas, and other fruits
2) Cabbage Raw Tacos -- I loved these. The base of the meat was a slightly spicy chickpea concoction with a nut-based sauce on top, a refreshing salsa, and some very fresh, crisp cabbage. Highly recommend
3) Kale Salad -- This was a good portion and served with a light, lemon-based dressing, grape tomatoes, and sesame seeds. I found this not as flavorful as I would have liked. Boring
I grabbed a couple items to go:
1) Black bean and Quinoa Soup -- one of the few cooked items on the menu. Pretty good, but not as tasty as I would have liked. Locals seem to love this, though
2) Chocolate Almond Mylk Smoothie -- this was my dessert and it was out of this world. Very interesting flavor profile with a banana and raw cacoa base, almond milk for creaminess, and some cinnamon to make it more sophisticated
The crowd was very cool with a mix of suave businesspersons, students, and hipsters. Everyone was smiling and enjoying an eclectic range of dishes. I spied a Belgium waffle, the Carrot Cake Smoothie, the Detox Smoothie, a Pad Thai, a Mock Tuna Sandwich, and another Almond Mylk Smoothie adherent. This restaurant must be kicking in the summer when you can sit outside
Report #2 Niche:
This was my first time in Clayton, which is a super nice area. I liked it a lot. Niche was very, very good and immensely creative. Fine, inventive dining without stuffiness. Service was pleasant, and space is nice and bright and clean.
There were a few misfires with some of the dishes, and I felt that the chefs had a little heavy hand on the assortment of flavors and textures. One dish in particular was extremely heavy even though I asked to avoid that.
I went with a pescetarian chef's tasting menu:
1) Amuse bouche -- Oak tea with olive oil, hearty flavors, strong way to begin the meal
2) Bonito roe with egg custard and shiitake mushroom, and a cream cheese fritter -- wow, the was a perfect savory course, in that it had a complex of wonderful flavors, but was not overwhelming at all portion wise. The plating was fun (served in the egg half shell, a la coq). A light touch of lemon gave the egg custard an interesting tartness/sweetness. This turned out to be my favorite course!
3) Bread course -- wonderful puffed cheesy bread (gluten-free!) with fennel, pickled cauliflower, and pickled celery, of course, with some sea-salted butter. I almost devoured this in whole go, but the server politely mentioned it's to accompany the entire meal
4) Parsnip soup with puffed barley and sorbet -- the puffed barley and sorbet made this delicious parsnip soup fine dining. The puffed barley added an interesting texture, crunch!, and the sorbet a smoothness as well as temperature differentiation
To be honest, the meal fell off a bit here...
5) Mushroom lasagna with goat cheese and egg yolk -- way too rich for my tastes, as the goat cheese and egg yolk were congealed with an olive oil. I didn't feel too good eating through this so passed most of it up. I think they usually do it with goat, which would be better for the omnivore crowd
6) Escolar with rice crisps and grapefruit -- interesting, light dish. The escolar had a good, almost chewy texture to it and the grapefruit and rice crisps really popped with some zest and crunch respectively. At this point in the meal, I'm wondering if they're overkilling the whole multiple-textures schtick
7) Acorn squash with pumpkin puree and buckwheat -- loved this dish. Immensely popular, I can tell. The squash was perfectly cooked, cubed, the pumpkin puree was infused with a touch of cayenne pepper which brought some heat to the tongue. The buckwheat gave this dish a little more gravitas. Enjoyable
8) Palette cleanser -- this was a lemon sorbet with celery. Odd get up here, in that the sorbet was served in one of those plastic sleeves reminiscent of one's childhood, but it was couched in a bowl of lemons and celery to accent its origins. I thought this was more weird than cool
9) Red snapper with farro -- interesting the skin was served on the side. I thought the fish was overcooked, which was disappointing, as this was supposed to be the apex of the savory courses. Farro added an interesting compliment to the dish
10) Dessert course I -- mint sorbet with beet-infused poundcake and creme fraiche, this was a fancy dessert but one that worked very, very well. The poundcake might sound weird with beet, but it was absolutely delicious. The sorbet topped everything off nicely. There was meringue as well, which was probably overkill
11) Dessert course II -- cream cheese between two wonton crackers (a la fortune cookie) and citrus fruits. Interesting dessert, the crackers were sweet and the citrus was refreshing
Update #3 Tony's.
I decided to do something traditional, as I was getting tired of the avante-garde tasting menu thing.
Tony's has revamped some of its decor so now instead of 1991 it looks like 2002.
The wait staff is very pleasant and obsequious without being stuffy. I like how they're old school in that fashion. There are some aged waiters who run the show, but some of the younger guys (young here being 30s) are cool. There were a few slip ups, such as bringing my decaf coffee cold, then rebrewing, but bringing the second cup sans sweetener.
Anyway, here's what I did:
1) Tomato bisque soup -- outstanding. This was a special that night and really hit the spot. There was a touch of spiciness to it that I appreciated and you could tell they're serious about tomatoes!
2) Spinach and avocado salad -- another outstanding course. I know what you're thinking, a salad? I was talking to Tony Jr. and he said his dad built his business on salads. This salad was one of the best I've ever had, no joke. Perfect baby spinach leaves (as pure as snowflakes), extremely fresh cut avocado, delicious vinegar dressing and freshly cracked pepper. YUM
3) Halibut with capers and a side of steamed vegetables -- misfire. I am a health guy and the waiter really pushed this, but the halibut was grilled in a lot of olive oil and was strangely breaded with a touch of melted cheese. I scrapped off the "breading" and the fish was nicely prepared otherwise, flaky but juicy and the steamed vegetables had a good bite to them (i.e., not overly soggy)
4) Dessert course -- I had the berries and a decaf coffee, and despite the mishap I articulated earlier I enjoyed this portion of the meal
They also keep you plied with Italian breads and offer a few sweets with your bill, which is a fancy touch I'm more used to from French vs. Italian establishments.
The crowd's average age is about 100, but there were a few tables of younger diners whom Tony's staff needs to serve better. For instance, I noticed one of the waiters ask the one table of young gentleman if they had a timeframe in mind, i.e., if they had to rush a little with the meal due to going out for a game or something. They replied no and I thought that the question was in poor taste.
Don't understand why you feel it was in poor taste. I think it's respectful of the diners' time and the house's ability to pace things. But then I admit I've done a lot of pre-theater dining, and while I wouldn't do it at Tony's because I prefer a leisurely pace there, it's better than constantly watching one's watch or, worse, finding the disappeared waiter with one's check. You may also have been there on a night when there was something afoot downtown with curtain/ice/whatever time.
Also agree it was an appropriate and even above-and-beyond inquiry. It is far from baseball season, but Tony's is almost caddy corner to the ballpark. There are a lot of shows in St. Louis, and if a younger group had something scheduled, it is a benefit to both the kitchen and the patrons to ascertain whether the group wanted a leisurely or time-constrained experience. Another possibility is that on a prior visit, the reservation-maker had dined before a ballgame or event.
My experience with Tony's goes back five decades -- my folks remember when Tony's was a checker-clothed spaghetti restaurant. Vince and all of those he employed have always emphasized fine and personal service. You can't please all of the preferences all of the time.