I recently attended the first dinner of St. Louis Magazine’s new series, “Table Talk”. For the first location, they chose the Tavern Kitchen and Bar. It just so happens that this was also their pick for 2011 restaurant of the year. As soon as I heard about the event, I jumped on buying tickets. They had limited tickets for the chef’s counter and I was not going to miss out.
So what is the “Table Talk” series? It combines a 4 course tasting menu with cooking demonstrations. The chef was mic’d and walked everyone through the keys to each dish. If you were lucky enough to have 1 of the 10 seats at the chef’s counter, you had a great view of the action like this
For those that didn’t, they had monitors in the dining area that were fed from a couple of cameras. Before each course they had representatives discussing the wine and beer pairings.
“Table Talk” started with a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres. How many times have you tried a chef’s tasting menu or underground dinner and had to choose between the wine or beer pairing? This is not one of those times. Each course came with the wine AND beer pairing. Score!
First Course: Maine lobster ravioli, tomato confit, basil pesto. The lobster shells were used to make a bisque-like stock for the tomatoes. The ravioli were tossed in the pesto. They were then topped with Parmesan. I loved that they used tomato confit and not a more commonly used lighter sauce.
Second Course: Potato crusted grouper, basil-bell pepper vinaigrette. The grouper was pan seared with salt and pepper. It was cooked 70% through on one side before flipping. The three things that made this dish for me were: the crispy hash browns, the bell pepper vinaigrette, and lots of butter. The hash browns were as crisp as a potato chip. The bell pepper vinaigrette had a surprising hint of sweetness from the honey. This was a “lick-the-plate-clean” dish.
Third Course: Ricotta gnudi with oxtail ragu. Imagine the texture of great dumplings, that was this gnudi. The ragu was rich from the oxtail. I was surprised at how easy it would be to make the gnudi at home. I will be giving this dish a shot in the near future.
Dessert: Half baked chocolate chip cookie. What is better than a soft cookie right out of the oven? Well this one is so good because it has “twice the butter” as Chef Justin tells the crowd. It was topped with ice cream and peanut butter mousse. Typically I don’t like fruit flavored beer. Especially one as over the top as the Wild Red. However, this was a great pairing. Go ahead and make fun of me. Pull my man card if you want, it was off the charts. Several people at the chef’s counter were eating two desserts. It was that good.
Sitting at the chef’s counter, I really enjoyed watching the kitchen staff working together. It was impressive to watch the attention to detail for each plate. They were all very open to advice from the chef. As expected, there were issues and hurdles to overcome throughout the night. They clearly were working as a team to tackle them one at a time. Watching them work was almost as impressive as the meal…ALMOST
What a night! Thanks to St. Louis Magazine for putting on such a great event. I am looking forward to seeing what they do for an encore. Go ahead and sign me up for the next one! The Tavern and Chef Justin did an awesome job. I appreciated his willingness to share his tips for the dishes. I have been to the Tavern on normal nights and had equally remarkable experiences. It’s a must-do place if you a have not tried it.
Dive 2 Five Scale – 4. One of the nicer places to eat outside the 255/270 loop. It has a nice modern inside. I was able to enjoy both the cozy bar as well as the chef’s counter. I have been seated in the normal dining area before. There isn’t a bad seat in the place. It’s a great fine dining place and not too pretentious.