Stone Soup Cottage, Cottleville, MO – Treat Yourself to a One-of-a-Kind Dining Experience

Looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion?  Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville is a way to create a long lasting memory for that upcoming anniversary.  Take note, they are only open Thursday through Saturday plus a few Wednesdays.  They only do one seating a night and you are probably going to have to get a reservation at least 3 months in advance.  Is it worth that kind of wait?  Let’s find out.

The restaurant is set in restored 1850’s farmhouse.  Each night is setup as a chef’s tasting menu that is 6 courses and lasts about 2 1/2 hours.  The menu changes every 3 weeks.  The setting is intimate and capacity is only 24 lucky patrons.  Chef Carl and his wife Nancy are involved in every part of your experience.

Here is a bit about the meal I recently enjoyed.  It featured several recipes from their cookbook as part of the restaurant’s anniversary.  First off, the place setting.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the 5 forks, 3 spoons, and two knives.  Also don’t ignore that house made butter tucked away in the upper left corner.

First Course:  Late season corn bisque with bacon and Gruyere croquette.  They recommended you let the croquette sit for a minute to allow the smokiness of the bacon to infuse into the bisque.  The corn came from a farm just down the road and they left whole kernels for some crunch.

Second Course: Burgundy poached pear with beet micro-greens and blue cheese souffle.  When I first saw the menu, I was a little sad to see this dish.  I’m not a fan of beets or pears.  However, this was surprisingly good.  If you don’t like blue cheese, the souffle probably won’t make your top ten list.  However, it was perfectly fluffy.  At this point, all signs pointed to Stone Soup Cottage living up to all the hype.  They convinced me to eat beets and pears in the same bite while also enjoying it!

Third Course: Sea bass en papilote.  The picture below features chef Carl’s hands as he was cutting open the parchment used to cook the sea bass.  It was light and flaky.  It was another great example of going that extra step as part of the experience.

Next was quick intermission with a palate cleanser.  It was a sorbet with limoncello. It reminded me of a lemon dream sickle.  Creamy, cold, with just the right amount of tartness.

Forth Course: Pommes Anna with shaved black truffles.  Now I know why we were cleaning our palettes!  Pommes Anna is a classic French potato dish that uses lots of butter.  What could make it even more decadent?  Black truffles of course!  It was spectacular.

Fifth Course:  Rabbit ragout with pappardelle pasta, asiago cheese and toasted pistachios.  The house made pasta had just the right amount of bite.  The ragout offered a nice hearty stew-like characteristic to the dish.  The pistachios brought depth of texture with their crunch.

Sixth Course:  White chocolate and huckleberry hot pot.  Awesome way to end the night.  My only issue was not burning my tongue as I was trying to eat this before it cooled.  I loved the combination of berries and white chocolate.

If I had to describe the night in one word, it would be EPIC.  From start-to-finish, course-to-course, there were too many highlights to mention.  There is no doubt that I will return.  Personally I wish I could go every 3 weeks to see what extraordinary items make the next menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 5.  Yes, there is no valet and you are out west of the river.  This place is worth the drive. The parking is a little confusing.  There is something about having the chef look you in the eye and tell you about the dish.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.  Chef Carl is also waiting by the door to verify you enjoyed things one last time as you leave.  Yes..it’s on the expensive side.  The ambiance is very intimate with such limited seating.  It starts off relatively quiet but progressively will liven up as the wine pairing takes effect.

A little secret from your friend at DB2FS, get on the email list.  If you don’t want to wait three months for a reservation and have some flexibility in your schedule, you may get lucky.  They email when they have cancellations.  We used it to get in with 2 weeks notice 🙂  So keep that babysitter on speed dial and be ready!

Stone Soup Cottage on Urbanspoon

New York City Wine and Food Festival – Recap of a Weekend of Excess

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the New York City Wine and Food Festival.  This is an annual event in NYC to help raise money to end hunger.  What could be better than a weekend in NYC that involves an event presented by Food and Wine Magazine and the Food network?  This is a recap that will allow me to brag share my experience at the multiple events I attended.

Thursday, October 11th

My wife and I arrived earlier in the day and settled in to our hotel.  That night we had tickets to S. Pellegrino’s Meatball Madness hosted by Giada De Laurentiis.  This was one of the “smaller” events that had about 500 guests.  The space was divided into a downstairs lounge and 3 areas upstairs with 50+ different exhibits and tasting tables.

It was a great way to start our experience at the NYCWFF.  Who doesn’t like an event that allows them to make PG-13 references to balls all night? 😛  My only regret for this event was not being able to sample them all.  There was just more food than one stomach can take.  I would soon learn most of the events were like this.   There were traditional meatballs, veal meatballs, lamb meatballs, etc; the list went on and on.  The best part of the night was getting to meet the host of the event.  She took time to talk to several people individually and was just all around a great person to be around.  Go ahead and be jealous guys 🙂

Giada and Sam

Friday, October 12th

Our Friday stared by recovering from Thursday’s Meatball Madness and the after party craziness by taking in some non-NYCWFF food.  Some highlights from those places can already been seen on this blog (Doughnut Plant and Katz Deli).  Friday night we had tickets to two events: Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray and Rock & Roll with Morimoto and Friends.

The Burger Bash – This was the event of the weekend for us.  We just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it made for an unforgettable experience.  First off, there was 30+ burgers to sample.  As I have stated before, burgers are my thing.  Secondly, the event was sponsored by Blue Moon.  They had buckets of beer on every table and kegs flowing.  Thirdly, the Food Network and Travel Channel celebrities were at the event in full force.

This event also featured a panel of judges selecting their favorite burger as well as a people’s choice vote.  Once again my stomach was not large enough to sample all 30+ burgers.  They were mainly giving out 1/4 to 1/2 sized burgers so it was too easy to fill up.  A few of my favorites:

  • Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace – I finally was able to try the crunchified burger.  A solid burger with potato chips on it.  I now get what the hype is about.
  • Le Rivage – The French onion soup burger was great and the dark chocolate dipped potato chip was a great decadent side.
  • Neely’s BBQ parlor – Their WTF burger was served with bacon and pulled pork.  The pork lover in me was in heaven.  This was my vote for people’s choice.  It was a great burger.  The part that put it over the top was interacting with them a few times that night.  They were just awesome to be around.  Also remember their cousin does do some great BBQ here in the St. Louis area.
Thanks to sharing a table with a very nice couple from Chicago, we were able to make it into the judging area (thanks again John and Eileen!). This made the experience even more special.  Check out some candid pics:

Top: Anne Burrell, Andrew Zimmern, and Sam
Bottom Left: Sam and Adam Richman
Bottom Right: Sam and Alex Guarnaschelli

Rock N’ Roll Karaoke with Morimoto and Friends – After getting our fill of burgers and beer, we then headed off to the Harvard Club for the next event.  This event featured sushi, drinks, and karaoke.  The sushi is some of the best I have ever tried.  It was as if you were sitting at the sushi bar interacting with some of the best sushi chef’s around.

After about an hour of eating and drinking, the Karaoke kicked into gear.  Morimoto himself started the event off.  Before you knew it, Andrew Zimmern and Chris Consentino were on stage belting out Don’t Stop Believin’ .  Robert Irvine was singing Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  So many comments….but he’s a big man so I will stay quiet!  Morimoto came back and sang Dancin’ Queen.  It was like watching all your favorite Food Network and Travel channel personalities just having a good time.

A few other non-food highlights.  Guy Fieri showed up to hang out with his buddy Morimoto.

Chris Consentino, who recently won season 4 of Top Chef Masters, was also on hand.  He was one of the funnier people I met that weekend.  It was a great way to close out Friday into early Saturday morning.

Saturday, October 13th – Day 3 and our last day of our trip of excess.  This time we were squeezing three events into one day.  They were the Oyster Bash, the High Tech Happy Hour, and Brooklyn’s Backyard.

Oyster Bash – This was my 2nd favorite event of the trip.  It took place in a beer garden under a highway.  Pearl vodka and Captain Lawrence brewing company were providing some “hair of the dog” drinks.  

There were oyster farmers as well as many restaurants showcasing dishes using fresh oysters.  Many were on the half shell with little or nothing done so you can enjoy their briny flavor.  Finally I was at an event where I could sample every item provided.  The most interesting of them all was the oyster pot pie.

Enjoying a fresh raw oyster

High Tech Happy Hour – This was the surprise event of the weekend.  I expected an exhibition of making drinks using new techniques and sampling the different creations.  It was, but I got way more than I bargained for.  Dave Arnold & Wylie Dufresne were the two hosts of the event.  However, Dave did most of the talking.  I was entranced listening to someone discuss their craft who was so excited about it.   He was like a cross of Rainman and a mad scientist.  I mean that with all the respect and awe in the world.  Having this as only a one hour event was too short, I could have listened to him talk all day long.  Maybe having a degree in engineering and a love of science made this the perfect event for yours truly.  I would love to see him teach a bar tending class for chemists.  I would go ANYWHERE to attend it.

Some of the topics from this event included:  clarifying using a centrifuge, rapid liquor infusion using a whipped cream maker, use of liquid nitrogen to chill glass as well as just looking cool, and how to properly saber a champagne bottle.  Probably the most unique drink….bullslhot.  You can read more about the technique as well as some of the recipes here.

On your mark, get set…

Let’s not forget about Wylie’s creations he made for pairing.  The crab patty was off the charts.  It was interesting to hear them both discuss wine / drink pairings with foods.  Although they both have opinions of what you should and should not pair, it’s great to hear someone flat-out tell you to experiment.  Every person’s tastes are different, go with what you like.

Perfectly chilled glass

Brooklyn’s Backyard – Whew, 3rd event on our last day.  By this time I am feeling the effects of over indulgence.  Of course that didn’t stop me from continuing on.

This event took place in the bottom of an old bank.  It was transformed into trendy and extremely upbeat space.  Adam Richman got the crowd excited during his quick talk on why Brooklyn is so special.

Great job picking the location and getting it ready

Once again there was more food available than any one person could sample.  It covered the spectrum from duck confit to pizza.  I think my favorite that I sampled was the rice pudding with caramel and apples.  I even found a place that was serving samples of St. Louis style ribs.  They were good, but c’mon…..

This was an awe-inspiring weekend.  Every detail was planned out and executed to make it something I will never forget.  Hats off to Food and Wine as well as the Food Network for the money they have raised as well as putting together these special events.  Is it too early to book for 2013?

Not every event had one, but I had quite a collection

 

Katz Deli – NYC, New York – The Birthplace of My Love of Pastrami

When taking a trip to New York City, you must try one of their amazing deli’s.  For me, I go to the one of the staples since 1888, Katz.

When I go, only get one thing; their famous pastrami sandwich.  Going to Katz is an experience from start to finish.  When you arrive you can choose to be served at a table or get a ticket and head to the counter.  I always opt for the ticket.  You then stand in line at the cutters waiting to give them your order.  Once you do order (the pastrami, you know you will) you are given a few slices to sample while your sandwich is constructed.  I use the word “constructed” because this is a big sandwich.

The sandwich is simple, yet unbelievable.  It’s only pastrami, rye bread, and yellow mustard.  When you have such juicy meat and plenty of it, why mess with it?  WARNING:  You will get messy eating this sandwich.  The pastrami will leak out through the bread and down your hands.  You will hardly notice as your focus will be to continue stuffing your face.

This is food porn.

Katz Deli was the first place I truly enjoyed a pastrami sandwich.  I had tried other local varieties throughout the country but it was never a “go-to” item for me.  Since my first trip to Katz, I have been hooked.  Take some time when you visit to see all the pictures of celebrities on the wall that have been there experiencing the same great sandwich.

Dive to Five Scale – 2.  Let’s be honest, anything served cafeteria style is a little divey.  Nothing wrong with that.  You may have to be a vulture to pounce on a table as soon as it comes available.  You may even have to share.   You have security at the door.  It’s an old building that just keeps cranking out quality sandwiches they have for decades.

Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

 

Doughnut Plant, New York, NY – My Favorite Doughnuts, EVER :)

When traveling to a place like NYC, I rarely go to the same place twice.  There are so many choices, why waste a meal eating something you have had before?  There is only one good reason; it’s #?*!ing AWESOME!  Doughnut Plant is one of those places.

It was a Friday around 11 am.  The night before I may have had too good of a time. 😀  What’s a better way to recover than with a doughnut?  Since it was more like brunch, I went for the peanut butter and blackberry jam filled square doughnut.  Here it is with some free advertising:

Imagine the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you have ever eaten. Now sprinkle in the magic of a doughnut and viola…doughnut nirvana.  There are crunchy peanuts as part of the glaze.  The blackberry jam isn’t too sweet and has just the amount of tartness.  They don’t skimp on the filling either.   It all comes together to make the perfect doughnut.

Doughnut plant in NYC is my favorite doughnut place in the country.  PERIOD.  I would be happy to entertain objections.  If there is a doughnut shop better than this, I would love to try it.  If you find yourself in NYC, this is a no-brainer.  Do yourself a favor and visit Doughnut Plant.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  It’s a trendy doughnut shop.  The Chelsea location has the doughnuts and the people who serve them in cage-like structure.  I’m not sure if it is to keep them in or keep me out.  I love the doughnut bench along the wall.  It has a huge screen that shows their typical flavors.  It’s a great lively atmosphere to enjoy their unique doughnuts.

Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon

Dave and Tony’s, Creve Coeur, MO – Gourmet Burgers? Sign Me Up

I guess after Porkapalooza I am now on a burger bender.  My burger kick continued with a recent trip to Dave and Tony’s Premium Burgers.   This unassuming burger joint is located in a strip mall as part of a Schnuck’s shopping center off of Olive in Creve Coeur.

They have a list of burgers with different topping combinations that they have selected.  I prefer to use the option-laden “Build Your Own” menu.  Look at this beauty:

This is an: extra large premium steakburger, Dave’s original bun, provel cheese, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, fried egg, and honey mustard.

The quality of the meat is as good as you can find at a premium burger place.  Good amount of fat to keep it moist and give flavor.  I have been to Dave and Tony’s more times that I should admit.  Early on, I had a few issues getting a properly cooked medium rare.  Lately they have nailed it each time.  This was another good example.

My only regret was the topping combination I chose.  The sweet onions and honey mustard were good, but it was a little too sweet with both on the same burger.  I think next time I will either swap out the provel for smoked Gouda or the honey mustard for chipotle ketchup or steak sauce.

Dave and Tony’s continues to offer up some of the best burgers in town.  Their menu provides an unlimited amount burger combinations for you to choose from.  If you are a burger enthusiast like me, Dave and Tony’s is a must.  Stay tuned this week for some posts from my trip to the New York City Wine and Food Festival!

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  It’s a family friendly burger place in a strip mall.  They have a modern decor and a handful of TV’s always tuned on sports.  They have beer and limited wine to choose from as well.  You can make this a grab and go or stop and take your time to enjoy one of their burgers.

Dave & Tony's Premium Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Cousin Hugo’s, Maplewood, MO – A Local Bar Burger

Every neighborhood has one.  It’s that local watering hole that practically has assigned seating for the regulars. Cousin Hugo’s in Maplewood is that kind of place.  I had picked this place out based on their rating on Urbanspoon when I was doing a search to satisfy a burger craving.

We arrived just after opening on a Saturday.  The bar was empty as the waitresses and bartender were still getting set up.  We chose one of the over-sized booths in the bar area.     Looking around you notice beer signs and college football on the TV.  Many of the walls are the older style wood paneling   Some of the regulars walk in shortly after and are teased for “being late”.  It welcomes you in as your typical local bar.

They have laminated menus on all the tables.  One of the best ways to judge a bar’s food (and to satisfy my quota) is to try their burger.  The standard burger at Cousin Hugo’s is 5 oz.  I am known to eat a little more than the average person so I ordered the double.

Double cheeseburger. Also known as the “open wide”

They serve their burgers medium well.  I typically order them medium rare but went with the flow.  The burger comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and caramelized onions.  I can see why they call it the “open wide”.  It was a large burger.  It was still juicy for being well done.  All the toppings were fresh.  I opted for the onion rings on the side.  They were the thicker style beer battered type.  Overall it was a filling meal with no complaints.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 2.  Very friendly bar with lots of locals.  Old style captains chairs, beer signs, and wood paneling make it a blast from the past.  Although they were kid friendly early on a Saturday morning, I’m curious if it would be much later.  Great local bar full of character that every neighborhood would be lucky to call their own.

Cousin Hugo's on Urbanspoon

Sweet Divine, St. Louis, MO – Oh Sweet Cupcake of Mine!

In case you are unaware, there is a Cupcake War taking place across our country.  A strategic battle was recently won by St. Louis’ own, the Sweet Divine.  At a recent food truck event, I finally sampled one of their cupcakes.  Ok, maybe I lied…I bought more than one 😀

This post is specifically about the salted caramel.  Look at this beauty (BEWARE:  you may have the urge to lick the screen):

Brown sugar cupcake topped with salted caramel buttercream, caramel drizzle, and sea salt

Let’s dissect it.  The brown sugar cake was moist and made a solid foundation.  The icing…are you freaking kidding me?  It was so decadent!  Just the way a dessert should be.  I’m pretty sure it contained the calories of 10 normal cupcakes crammed into one.  It was smooth but had some crunch for texture.  Last but not least, it had caramel sauce drizzled over the top.  Who doesn’t like caramel?  It added just the right amount of sweetness.  This cupcake top-to-bottom is one of my new favorites.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  Food trucks for me are a 2.  You have to look for places to sit, it’s on the move, etc.  However, this should not deter you one bit.  If you don’t want to chase down the truck itself, go check out their storefront at 4521 S Kingshighway.  Personally, I enjoy trying them a food truck event at a place like Creve Coeur Lake.  Then I can make an evening out of sampling food and enjoying the outdoors.

The Sweet Divine (Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

Grand Tasting at the Taste of St. Louis

What an exciting weekend!  Everyone around St. Louis has buzzed about the Taste of St. Louis.  As a resident foodies, I was one of them.  This was my first time attending the event.

My wife and I had tickets to the 4pm Grand Tasting at the Peabody Opera House.  We chose to arrive just in time for the Grand Tasting.  There were two levels each with about 10 chefs / restaurants to sample on each level.  The lower level had a nice band playing.  The upper level had a stage setup for demonstrations.

I was amazed how different each of the setups were.  Some of them took time to describe in detail their dish and used that opportunity to interact with every guest.  Others were focused on cranking through the lines as quickly as possible.  Some put extra effort in the presentation of their dish while others didn’t.

Jack Mac’s spiced avocado hummus

A few things that stuck out from the Grand Tasting:

  • Duff’s wild boar ravioli.  I can’t believe how much they stuffed inside that ravioli.  However, it wasn’t overpowering.
  • Bistro 1130.  They had a few items to sample.  They were proud of their dishes and I enjoyed discussing the dishes with them.  I loved the tomato / crab bisque.
  • Hendrick’s BBQ.  I have wanted to try this since it opened in the past month.  They had mini pulled pork sliders with slaw on them.  The St. Louis sauce had some kick.  They have moved up on my must try list.
  • Russo’s catering.  They had the longest line on the lower level.  After surviving their line, I’m not sure why.  The person greeting everyone was slightly rude.  They had three samples.  The scallop was nearly rare.  Although you can’t technically under-cook a scallop, I usually like to know more about the source when eating one that rare.

After getting our fill of food from the Grand Tasting, we did a lap through the rest of the Taste of St. Louis.  What a crowd!  Getting by the beer tents with their lines was next to impossible.  It was good to see such a great turnout but it was a little much on a full stomach.  For those that didn’t check out the Grand Tasting, I saw most (if not all) of the same restaurants were represented outside.

I’m glad I was able to experience my first Taste of St. Louis.  I plan on being an annual participant.  I suggest the Grand Tasting for those that would like a smaller version and to have more interaction with the restaurant’s personnel.

Two weekends in a row with food events in St. Louis.  One weekend off from regional events and then the grand daddy of my trips this year……Food Network’s New York City Wine and Food Festival!!!!!