Monday, March 5, 2012

Finally, a trip to Niche'

I'm sorry but I can't find it.  While it must have been so technical issue, I really cannot explain how I had so much article here and then it disappeared.  Oh well, here it goes again.

After about a year, my wife and I finally got into Niche.  I say it has been a year because it has probably been that long.  I try to get to new restaurants as soon as I can but babysitting is one obstacle, as well as reservations. I'm old-school as I was raised to make reservations at a restaurant.  So, as long as I've been contacting Niche' for reservations, they have been telling me the same thing.  They have no reservations between 6 and 9pm.  I find this difficult to believe in a restaurant and even wrote a blog post about it last year.  I complained saying that there should be no reason that I can't make a 7pm reservation, unless they had 10 tables and they reserve each table, twice each night.  Well, they do not have 10 tables.  They have 21.

The restaurant is fancy, white table cloths, nice chairs and high ceilings.  It looks nice on the inside.  We arrived for our 6:00 reservation at 5:45 and as we went in, there was just that many people there, 4 tables were sat, out of 21 total and we were the 5th table.  We could not figure out why the 7pm reservations were not available because as we dined, the table on either side of us, stayed open, all the way until almost 8pm.  Why were we not allowed to make reservations at that time when they had available tables?  No clue.

Anyways, I really wanted to give this restaurant a try, since it is constantly voted and spoken of as the best in St. Louis.  Another problem is, even as complained by Robert Irvine, is that there are too many people standing around and talking.  My wife and I counted at least 8 servers, 1 hostess, one manager, who never left the kitchen window, 5 chefs and one more who was expediting everything.  The thing is, that when you have 5 tables, there is no reason to have 8 staff. Now, our guy, and I'm sorry that I forgot his name, was fast and friendly and I didn't see him chat with all the female servers who were already chatting away.

As we started our official meal, our waiter asked if we wanted anything to drink to start and I asked for a Rob Roy.  What was delivered to me very quickly soon after was nothing less than a perfectly made Rob Roy. The thing is, that most of the time that I order one, it never comes out correct.  My wife jokes that the only people who order Rob Roys are old men over 90, so I stump the bartenders when I order them. What certainly helped was the fact that the wife of Ted Kilgore, of Taste, was the bartender this night.  

My wife and I looked at the menu and immediately she was drawn to the Tasting Menu.  With 2 out of 5 items on the Tasting Menu being seafood and me not being a huge fan of which, I decided not to go with it and order off of the regular menu instead.  We were disappointed however, because we were told that they cannot have only one person out of 2 order the Tasting Menu because it screws up with the timing of the dishes for both.  We both complained because we had eaten at RM Seafood and my wife had a 6 course Tasting Menu and I had ordered items off of the normal menu and they timed everything perfectly.  So, the manager, who was still too busy, standing by the kitchen talking to the chefs, couldn't think of a good way to time her 5 dishes with my 2, fine.

We both ordered starters and she ordered the toasted anchovies and I ordered the spiced nuts.

While the nuts were nothing special, the anchovies had something special about them: I ate them.  Some of the nuts were spicy and some of them tasted sweet and still, some of them tasted like bacon.  I give these a 3 out of 5 stars.

 This is how the anchovies were prepared and delivered to us.  I have to say that there was this tomato based sauce on the tops of the bread and then the anchovies were decapitated.  But each bite I took had this calming and soothing flavor, if those could be attributed to flavors.  I am guessing that when Andrew Zimmern says that things taste of the sea, this is what he means.  It had a very slight fishy flavor to it, so slight that it was almost not noticable.  They were good enough, that I ate two of them.  This was my first time trying anchovies and they were delicious.  I would give these a 4 out of 5 stars.

After those starters, they had brought out a piece of bread.  It was a red pepper and rosemary faccocia.  I thought instantly; "where is the butter?"  What they gave us though, was a piece of bread so moist that there was no need for buttery spread.  It was good.  Probably a 2 out of 5 stars.

Dinner soon came, or at least the first of our two dinner dishes.  My wife ordered the Lobster dish, which was  pullman, celery, tarragon, togarashi hollandaise.   Togarashi is the Japanese word for red chili pepper.  What was delivered was this:

This was a dish that had pieces of lobster in a sauce, then a salt and sugar cracker and then a bundle of squid ink pasta and then it repeats.  Here is the thing: I tried a bite of lobster but wasn't impressed.  It tasted a bit chewy for me, but I don't eat lobster on a regular basis.  The best part of my wife's dish, was the pasta.  The night before this outing, we had watched Andrew Zimmern eat some squid ink pasta, I think he was in Maine.  I think of squid ink as the ink in my pen, smelling awful and possibly tasting even worse.  Well, the pasta with squid ink, tasted nutty and delicious.  No pen ink anywhere and it was very tasty.  It was tasty enough that if I saw squid ink pasta somewhere else, I would order it.  I would give this dish a 4 out of 5.

I ordered the BBQ Trotter, which had foie gras, calvados, tabacco, grapefruit and mint.  Calvados is a type of apple brandy.  This is what my plate looked like:

The dot and the line on either side of the food, is a tabacco sauce that tastes to me like the smoke from a cigarette does.  I tasted it and then avoided it.  There are these sugar glass-like pieces which had large pieces of salt on them and were sweet and salty together.  The grapefruit was extremely tart and had tiny mint leaves on them.  There were these discs made of shredded pig trotter.  They tasted like the best Braunshweiger that you had ever had, with a hint of BBQ sauce. I don't want to be the evil one who says that something doesn't belong, but the foie gras doesn't belong.  You have this awesome tasting BBQ, porky flavor and then if you eat it together, you get this cold, creamy, fatty flavor.  The foie gras doesn't go well with the trotter; flavor wise.  I know that people put it on plates to make plates seem fancier, but it just doesn't go well together.  I even tried the whole deal: I put a small bite of the trotter, foie gras, grapefruit, mint leaf, sugar/salt cracker and dipped it in a run of the tabacco sauce and took a bite.  There was a complex mix of flavors in my mouth and many did not melt together.  I think this dish would have tasted better had you replace the foie gras with truffles, to be honest.  It was an interesting dish and I have had foie gras before, but it was warmed last time.  Overall, I would give this plate a 4 out of 5 stars.

My wife's main plate was the Roasted Local Chicken, with parsnip, picholine, foie, granola and sherry jus.

 My wife thought it was an okay dish.  She didn't see how the green sauce went with the other flavors and didn't like how the parsnips were still raw in the middle of the chips.  But besides that she said it was a good chicken dish.  I say a 3 out of 5 on this one.

I ordered the Pork Duo.  This was smoked shoulder, pulled belly, popcorn polenta, dill and hickory broth.  What you see here is the smoked shoulder on the right, which was tasty with a salty and peppery crust.  The left side had some vegetables and some dill and a polenta cake/biscuit.  The waiter came by with a very small sauce pot with the pulled belly still in the hot hickory broth and he spooned it over the vegetables on the left side of the dish and then poured the rest of the broth on top.  Everything was delicious.  The pulled pork had a sweetness from the broth and the broth had a slight dill hint, which I loved.  This was my dish, there was only one thing wrong with it and that was the polenta.  The polenta was delivered on this plate as a one inch thick biscuit and was not hard, but heavy.  It was even heavier after soaking up most of that broth.  It still was very good and I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

My final thought is that this is a good restaurant and has some good food.  If they had better customer service, it would have been better.  (The manager or the front of the house guy, in his collared shirt, tie and slacks, talked to a number of people, just not us.  I don't know why that was.  I was wearing a suit coat, nice slacks and a collared shirt, no tie though.  My outfit was valued at a couple hundred dollars and my wife's was as well.  So, I don't think we didn't look "fancy" enough to talk to.)  It was odd because even at other restaurants, every member of the front staff would say hi, from the manager at RM in Las Vegas to even the owner of Chez Leon.  This manager, just glared at us once and then didn't even come by.  Also, as I said, some of the dishes just didn't seem to work together.  Maybe because I don't own a restaurant or write for a magazine, but I have plenty of books about flavors and study and eat and experiment enough to know that some things just don't go well together.  Food should be cooked thoroughly, unless otherwise noted.  Hot food should not be on the same plate as almost ice cold food, unless you are trying something along the lines of some molecular gastronomy or molecular cuisine.  I don't know, as long and as hard as my wife and I have tried to get into this restaurant certainly didn't leave us with this idea that this is the best that St. Louis has to offer.  I don't care who pushes them or where they advertise, if it was best in the city, then everything would have been perfect.

My advise, is if you can get in, and you have a couple hundred dollars to spare, then go and try it yourself.  If you have half of that amount and want a nice night out for two, ask me and I'll tell you someplace else to go.

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