Death in the Afternoon – St. Louis, MO – Power Lunch

“So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” – Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

I’m a long time member of Blood and Sand and one of my greatest struggles is the distance between my home, my work, and that restaurant.  That same issue kept me from trying Death in the Afternoon, until I scheduled a PTO day for indulgence.

View of Death in the Afternoon from City Garden

View of Death in the Afternoon from City Garden

Death in the Afternoon is located in one of my favorite treasures of St. Louis, City Garden.  I was ecstatic when the owners of Blood and Sand took took over that location.  They are a lunch and brunch spot that takes full advantage of their view.  Their menu is ever changing but there are items for most palates.  I enjoy the nod given to some of my favorite Asian fare like the steamed buns and ramen.

Death in the Afternoon is located in one of my favorite treasures of St. Louis, City Garden.  I was ecstatic when the owners of Blood and Sand took over that location.  They are a lunch and brunch spot that takes full advantage of their view.  Their menu is ever changing but there are items to satisfy palates.  I appreciate the twist on some of my favorite Asian fair, such as steamed buns and ramen.

First up was the hummus.  With the addition of the roasted vegetables, this was definitely not your plain Jane hummus. Where was this idea of using zucchini on top while my family’s garden was exploding with extra produce???  As far as hummus goes, this version is a very solid offering.

hummus

Next up is one of my guilty pleasures:  Japanese steamed buns.  Remember my gushing over the pork belly buns that I devoured at Booker and Dax in NY?  Although these do not replace those in my heart, they have a lot to offer.  I went with two each of the pork belly and mushroom steamed buns.  They are served with a side of pickles and daikon carrot slaw.  I loved experimenting with the different flavor and texture combinations.  While I would order these again, they are on the pricey side at $5.50 a bun.

steamed buns

My last dish was the Cubano sandwich.  Who doesn’t like a sandwich that has multiple types of pork!?  Personally, I know that I have been craving one since I recently (finally) saw the movie Chef.  I know this isn’t a movie blog, but it’s a great watch if you love food.  Anyway, this sandwich didn’t disappoint.  The bread was crunchy, and you still have the prerequisite yellow mustard and pickles.

cubano

Death in the Afternoon is a great lunch spot with a view.  If you are lucky enough to work in the area, it’s a must.  I can’t wait to try the brunch and their Bloody Mary.  I would love to see what they could do with a banh mi as well.  Hint hint.

DITA 2

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  I think all the power suits and business lunches made me go with a 4 on this.  It has a trendy vibe in a great location.  It’s a little more than your typical lunch but as they say, you get what you pay for.

Element – Was I in My Element?

You have all heard about my “list” of places to try.  Well Element has been on there for a long time.  It was time to cross this one off.

My visit was a Friday so of course, a drink was in order.  At the time, they were redoing the cocktail menu so I can’t say if they have any custom creations.  I stuck with a Cabernet so I could keep things simple and focus on the food.  The server shared that the menu does change based on what’s fresh and they stick with as many local ingredients as possible.  Since I had already reviewed the menu before going, I had a few things that I knew I wanted to try.

For appetizers, I went with the country fried foie gras and the Pork Belly.  I’m sure the pork belly isn’t a surprise to anyone at this point.  In case you didn’t know, foie gras is a must order for me as well.  I love the decadence and texture.  I’m sure that PETA won’t be showing me any love after that confession…

This is my first time having country fried foie gras so I was a little unsure of what to expect.  It was paired with greens and green tomato chow chow.  The dish had a very southern feel and frying the foie gras made me think of fried chicken liver.  It’s a completely different take on this delicacy.

foie gras

My quest to eat pork belly more than any human should continues!  This pork belly was served with prunes, pear, walnuts, and blue cheese.  I love dishes like this.  Each bite gives you the opportunity to mix-and-match different flavors and textures.  My personal favorite was the belly, walnut, and blue cheese.  I loved the pairing of the pear, walnut, and blue cheese. Be careful; the blue cheese is strong, so a little goes a long way.

pork belly 1

The first large plate was the lamb pot roast.  I needed a dish to redeem lamb after my experience at RJ’s.  This was not your mom’s pot roast, unless hers is also tender and rich.

lamb pot roast

The second large plate was the duck breast with scrapple, brussels sprouts and apple butter.  I haven’t had a vegetable surprise me in a while, but I really liked the brussels sprouts.  Wait, did I say I liked brussels sprouts?!?!?  They weren’t over cooked so they stayed crunchy.   The apple butter was a solid accompaniment to the duck breast.  I always love fruit pairings with duck.

duckAfter all that food I was going to stop, but thank God I didn’t.  Dessert was the payday and I felt like I hit the jackpot.  The peanut butter cake and caramel was fantastic.  If you don’t like things that stick to your teeth, you may not like this dish.  Personally I was happy to be able to save that flavor for later. This made the struggle to drive down I-64 through the traffic and construction completely worth it.  I would go back just to eat this and hope it stays on the menu.
payday

Element has an adventurous menu that changes frequently so each visit will be unique.  It’s clear they like to have fun and like to experiment.  The highlight of my meal was the dessert.  Hopefully the Payday is frequently part of the regular menu.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  This place is hard to find in the dark if it’s your first time.  Look for the rock climbing gym.  It’s very contemporary inside and has a lively atmosphere.  They have small and large plates to fit all appetites and dining preferences.

Element on Urbanspoon

The Libertine, Clayton, MO – The Return of Chef Josh Galliano

The Libertine in Clayton is a collaboration between husband and wife team Nick and Audra Leudde with James Beard semi-finalist Chef Josh Galliano.  Chef Josh Galliano caught my attention after I moved to St. Louis and started to explore the culinary scene.  I stumbled across his Twitter account and quickly became one of his followers.  Not only did his Tweets about food grab my attention, but his mentions of music seemed to be as if he had access to my iTunes library.  But I digress…

sign

The Libertine opened back in mid-May and I have visited twice.  I already have some favorite dishes.  This post will focus on my most recent visit.

Their menu is divided into vegetables, meat, and seafood.  At the top of each category are smaller items that could be ordered as an appetizer.  The lower part has items that are more the size of entrees.

The cocktail, beer, and wine selection provides plenty of choices.  I have been on a bourbon kick lately and would like to introduce you to Monseigneur Bocephus.  Bocephus and I quickly became friends.

Bochephus

Let’s jump right into the meal with my favorite appetizer, the crispy pig tails.

crispy pig tails

By now you shouldn’t be surprised that I ordered a pork dish.  The pig tails have just the right amount of crunch and are served over polenta.

During my most recent visit I ventured out of my typical carnivore ways and ordered something from the “vegetable” section: the scorched twisted peppers.

twisted peppers

Ok, maybe there is some bacon in the dish 🙂  The first thing you notice is the smokey smell when they arrive.  It had a very earthy flavor.  Enjoyable even for a meat eater like me.

Both times my entree has been the three little birds.  The entree has been slightly different each time, but both were excellent.  From the first visit during their first week of business:

three little birds orginal

 

From early July:

three little birds

The basis of the dish is the same.  It’s a trio of roasted game hen, quail, and chicken.  Some of the vegetables change but it’s always a masterful accompaniment.

For dessert, I left it up to the waiter for a recommendation.  His choice was the “Little Boy Blue Cheese Plate”.

blue cheese

I’ll admit that I wasn’t overly excited at the thought of cheese as a dessert.  I’m a self-proclaimed chocoholic.  This dish was surprising, the jam and cheese were a great combination.

The Libertine has vaulted itself on my “must-do” list.  I’m pretty sure Chef Josh could find a way to serve me cardboard and I would like it.  You can sense the excitement from talking with the staff.  I look forward to working my way through the rest of his menu soon.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  Libertine is a new gem in Clayton.  The service pace is leisurely.  I wouldn’t consider it “a dinner and movie” place but more of focal point for your evening.  You want to go there when you have time to enjoy the unique menu.  The atmosphere is lively but you can enjoy a conversation over dinner.  There is a complementary valet available.

Based on Chef Josh’s musical tastes, will I hear any Propaghandi in the restaurant anytime soon?  What about listening to Ska’s the Limit on Saturday night?

The Libertine on Urbanspoon

Abigail’s, Rocheport, MO – My Little Secret…

I hate to do it, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  I’m going to share one of my favorite places to stop along that boring stretch of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City.  Abigail’s in Rocheport is truly a hidden gem.

Rocheport is 2 miles off of I-70 just west of Columbia.  It’s population is just over 200.  Abigail’s is located in the center of the town next to an antique store.  You have to pay attention or you could drive right past it.

This place is filled with mismatched tables and chairs.  One of the tables even has a couch for seating.  The decorations are very eclectic. When you walk in, you will see the open kitchen on the left and one person manning the entire operation.  Once you have found a seat they will bring a dry erase board on an easel over to your table that has the day’s menu.

For my most recent visit I tried the lobster ravioli (again).

lobster ravioli

As you can see there are only a few ravioli but they are stuffed.  They did not skimp on the filling like other places.  I like that the sauce and cheese on top were different than I had on a previous visit.  I have enjoyed this dish twice now, and I know I will order it again.

My favorite thing about Abigail’s is the desserts.  In particular their gooey butter cake is to die for.  Not just my favorite dessert there, but my favorite gooey butter cake I have tried.  If you are on your way to visit friends and family, take a slice to go.  I guarantee they will appreciate it.

gooey butter cake

Abigail’s is a place that I don’t have the opportunity to frequent often.  However each time I have been seems to be better than the last.  It is hands down my favorite place to stop on a road trip across Missouri.  Do yourself a favor and drive the 2 miles off the interstate into Rocheport to enjoy Abigail’s.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 4.  In St. Louis, I would probably rate it a 3.  However, in a small town like Rocheport this is an unexpected find.  It’s just a neat place to experience.  If you are in a rush, this is not the place to stop.  This is a place to take some time and enjoy.  Also the servers also get tied up talking to some of the regular customers.  It’s all part of the experience.  I have only eaten there for brunch / lunch.  I hear that it is very hard to get a table during dinner.  Plan ahead!

Abigail's on Urbanspoon

The Tavern Kitchen & Bar – St. Louis, MO – Wine AND Beer Pairing

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 🙂

Chef Justin in action

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.

The Tavern Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Pachamama’s, Lawrence, KS – Pork Perfection!

Hopefully everyone had a great weekend and survived their Monday.  I spent the past weekend playing tour guide for a friend on my 3rd consecutive road trip to Kansas.  One of my “must-do” stops when in Lawrence, KS is Pachamama’s.

Pachamama’s is a trendy restaurant conveniently located in the downtown area.  This allows for easy access to Lawrence nightlife post a great meal.  First things first, I had to enjoy one of their cocktails.  Normally I don’t blog about the drinks that accompany my meals, but check this photo out:

The Barbados Squeeze

That was the Barbados squeeze.  It contained rum, ginger beer, lemon, and soda.  It wasn’t overly strong.  It was actually really light and refreshing and allowed me to focus on the flavor of the food.

My appetizer was the slow cooked and pulled BBQ goat.  I can’t remember the last time I had ordered goat.  It was served on a buttermilk bacon / scallion biscuit.  I really enjoyed the biscuit.  The scallion added a little bite to it.  The goat was a little bland but the sweet chow chow added nice tart kick.

Slow cook and pulled goat

My main course was the slow cooked Heritage pork shank with a bourbon brown sugar glaze.  It was served on a bed of cheddar and apple grits with a side of snap pea slaw.  OMG!  The pork was amazing.  Cooking it with the meat on the bone it adds so much flavor and texture.  There is something about having meat served this way that triggers those latent caveman instincts.  I had to remember my surroundings so I didn’t just pick it up and gnaw it right off the bone.  The glaze was sweet and enhanced the juicy pork.  The grits and slaw were both nice, but the pork was clearly the start of this dish.

So much delightful pork!

Pachamama’s is my top choice for a fine dining experience in Lawrence.  It holds a special place in my heart since I first tried duck at their original location.  I have gone there for over 10 years and that won’t change any time soon.

Dive 2 Five Scale:  4.  This is a nice restaurant for a college town.  There was live music during my visit but it was subtle and still allowed for conversation.  There was a mixture of people dressed in jeans to suits.  Don’t forget to check out the Star bar when you visit.

Pachamama's on Urbanspoon

Farmhaus Nose To Tail Dinner – The Lesser Used Cuts of Pork

Today’s post is about a unique dining experience I had this week at Farmhaus.  Farmhaus is one of the premier farm-to-table restaurants in St. Louis.  For one night only, they had their “Nose to Tail” dinner.  It focused on the lesser used parts of the pig.

First course:  Amuse.  I preferred the crostini to the cornbread but both were good.  The lardo was still pretty cold so it was a little hard to spread but had lots of flavor.

Bread and Butter. House cured lardo, cornbread, crostini

2nd course:  Charcuterie. My favorite of the 3 was the coppa romana.  I LOVED the spiciness.  The pig ear was a little chewy but added texture when combined with the tender tongue.  I also enjoyed the house made pickles.

Porchetta di testa (right), coppa (middle), tongue and ear terrine (left).

3rd course:  Green Bay salad or “Because We Had to Have a Salad”.  As you can tell by the picture, shadows were becoming an issue later in the night.  Maybe it was the wine pairing as well. 🙂  I loved the fried cheese curds.  The breading was light and let the cheese be the focus. The braunschweiger was of a higher quality than I remembered eating as a child.  You have to appreciate liver to enjoy it.  I practically licked the plate clean.

House Braunschweiger, fried cheese curds, pork croutons, smoked egg salad dressing

4th course:  Reuben.  This sandwich was fantastic.  The pastrami had some chew to it being made from the pig’s heart.  The house made rye was nicely toasted.  The 1000 island dressing was a great accompaniment.  I liked it being served on the slaw so you could add (or not) to the sandwich to taste.  At this point this was my favorite dish.

Pig heart pastrami, smoked rye bread, house 1000 island dressing

5th course:  Pork Belly.  However, after the first bite of this dish I had a new favorite!  This dish had so much depth.  The yin and yang of the ingredients hit all the key elements.  You had sweet (corn / melon), salty (pork belly), and spicy (green beans).  The contrast of the cold melon served on top of the hot belly. The crispy pork belly skin compared to the smooth fatty rest of the belly.  This dish had it all.  I eat pork belly every chance I get and this was one of the best I have sampled.

Pork Belly. Spicy pickled green beans, creamed corn

6th course:  Crostata.  This was the dish that was the most talked about with my co-workers.  No one could understand how pig liver could work in caramel.  Even at the event, the chef de cuisine shared how they thought the pastry chef was nuts for suggesting it.  From what they said, it took several iterations to develop the version we tasted. I appreciate that effort because it was well worth it.  This was a dish I woke up still thinking about this morning.

Crostata- local peaches, buttermilk ice cream, pig liver caramel

7th course:  Black pudding.  As one guest questioned, “is this what I think it is?”  Yes, it contains blood.  I liked the presentation with the tulie covering up the black pudding and suspending the meringue.  My inner child liked that I got to smash something.  The richness of the meringue and the slightly mineral twinge of the chocolate pudding were a lot for some to handle.

Black pudding. Burnt orange meringue, walnut tuile

This was a very exciting night for an adventurous eater like myself.  I appreciate the chances that Farmhaus and its’ chefs took with the menu and the event.  Most of my co-workers thought I was nuts as they heard about this event.  Although that may be a fair assessment of me in general, there was nothing crazy about the Nose to Tail dinner.  It was well thought out and executed in every detail.  I hope they schedule more events like this in the future.

Dive 2 Five Scale:   A solid 4.  Although Farmhaus has a very minimalist approach to decorating their restaurant, the experience is top-notch.  From the server’s knowledge and excitement of the menu to the preparation and attention to detail throughout the service.  A great place to celebrate a special night with an amazing meal in a lively environment.