Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of Tasty Magazine for 2013

Everyone else was doing a best of recall of the year so I thought I would do the same.

I have to say that this year, has been a busy year for me personally.  We have had some family injuries and new family members so it has always been distractions for me to not try new places or even get a chance to.  I will say that over this year of 2013, I have been to many cities and have tried new things outside of this precious St. Louis area.

This year has been a big one with food trucks.  While they have almost always existed, a decline of food trucks in the later half of the 20th century in St. Louis has been rewarded with a huge influx of trucks in the past few years.  I have always heard stories about how the men would work down at the docks or the landing in the wee hours of the morning.  They would be starving and with no restaurants open, they would wait until the food trucks arrived.  I can imagine being so hungry and then seeing these food trucks drive up with wonderful and filling food, as if they delivered the workforce like an angel on high.  I also heard of them referred to as "roach coaches" as the laws, permits and inspections did not exist for food trucks in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's.  This is the year, as early as January 10th, where I had seen a truck parked downtown and just happened to be downtown to order from it.  It was the Taco Truck, which still runs around today.  The hot tacos were a blessing on a cold and wintry day.  They are the ones that whet my appetite for food trucks.  Had their food not been so delicious, I would have maybe stayed clear of some of them.


As the year went on, I tried as many trucks as I could get to.  You have to understand that while other sites have dedicated writers, who are paid to go and try things, I have a full time job that I am able to hold down, while trying these new places and restaurants.   I have tried Seoul Taco, Guerrilla Street Food (www.guerrillastreetfood.com ),Completely Sauced, My Big Fat Greek Food Truck, Sarah's Meltdown, Hot Aztec, Roberto Trucktoria.  While each has their own style and cuisine, I have to say that as far as order anything on the menu and have it be awesome: goes to Guerrilla Street Food.  

Burgers are burgers and while some places claim to make awesome burgers, I think that comment is a very subjective one.  I like my burger to be good, full of flavor, good toppings, good seasonings and cooked well. This year, I have been to a number of new places, just for their burgers.  The White Knight, has delicious burgers.  Bailey's Range has some awesome grass fed beef burgers, Bobby's Burger Palace in Maryland had nice toppings and could let you crunchify it.  The burger that still makes my mouth water, even now as I think of it, is this one:

This burger is from the "Man That's Good" Truck, run by Willis and his burgers are simply amazing.

While St. Louis should be known for their pizza, has their own style, and even has their own invented cheese, the pizzas I had in the area were not that good.  The long rustic style pizzas from Crushed Red, in Kirkwood, were okay.  The deep dish pizza from Pi, was also just okay.  I had to go to Normal, Illinois, and go to Firehouse Pizza and Pub, to get some good pizza for the year.  Basso, has their own wood fired pizzas and as many as we have had, we have not had a single bad one, they are all delicious.

I do like desserts and while I try to go to as many places as I can, I have been trying to put myself on a healthier diet this year.  I tried Jilly's Cupcake Bar and even though someone from them teaches at Forest Park Community College and even though they have won two times on "Cupcake Wars", I didn't think their cupcakes were that different or even amazing.  However, before you die, visit World Fair Donuts, on Shaw, as many times as you can.

I was graced this year, with the opportunities to take my kids and wife to some other cities this year for fun and work.  I went to Austin, Las Vegas, Bloomington, Normal, Cockeysville, Baltimore, and Lake Ozark.  I think I am always lucky to find some good restaurants in anywhere I go.

This year, my family has been spending a lot of time in the Ozarks.  Thanks to a condo which we share with my in-laws, the 3-4 hour drive can reward us with a large space, soft beds, and a break from the busy city. This year though, we had discovered this great fresh, seasonal, farm-to-table restaurant called Savannah Grille, which had just celebrated their one year birthday.  It is awesome and every time I go to the Lake of the Ozarks area, I try to step in and say 'hi' and eat. http://savannahgrillerestaurant.com/

Once a year, if I am lucky, my in-laws fly my family out with them.  This means that for one day a year, my wife and I can look or at least act like we are rich snobs with a lot of class.  Whatever we do, we always try to eat somewhere nice and classy.  This year, I was watching on Facebook, at how Chef Rick Moonen was changing his awesomely awesome RM: Seafood restaurant into a Steam-Punk themed restaurant.  He did over the menu items, did a complete interior redesign and made everything new.  While this would have worked flawlessly with others, this year also happened to be the year that I had started my line of antique steam-punk inspired jewelry.
Zenith watch necklace with red Swarovski crystals on leather https://www.etsy.com/shop/Antiquarian78

I didn't know it at the time, but while going through a huge box of antique watches and watch parts, I started to learn about them, what makes them tick, and even started to learn more about the times they were produced.  This ties into RM: Boiler Room, because it looked like almost every Steam-punk stereotype was played out in his new restaurant.  The female staff was wearing corsets (which women in Edwardian and Victorian times would not have worn visible to the public) and I even think I recall seeing goggles, which are now one of the biggest stereotypes of steam-punk, that everyone HAS TO HAVE goggles.  The thing is: that the food was good,and some of the food was the most remarkable I have had this year.  I just wish that it wasn't tied to all of these Steam-punk sterotypes.

In Austin, we had a chance to eat at a restaurant which made itself out to be just like Farmhaus.  Farmhaus is awesome, just like how Basso is awesome.  Parkside is not awesome.  Everything from okay food that was overpriced to naive servers who are just plain slow, it wasn't a restaurant worthy of my dollar.

In Bloomington, while working, my family stopped into this small and shy looking restaurant only to find that they served some of the best fried foods I have ever eaten.  Nothing like getting over 100 chicken wings ,drumetts and wingetts for a super low price.  Super JJ's Fish and Chicken is where anyone should go for a great deal on great food.

Here in St. Louis, Rooster is a great breakfast restaurant and works so well with kids, while the new restaurant in the million dollar expansion of the Art Museum, isn't worth it. 

Ethnic or cultures that have restaurants in St. Louis, tend to be my favorite, but often times fail.  Dressel's Public House and Iron Barley were just okay in my book.  As for Asian food, Liu Shun Wok has pulled out to be my personal favorite.  It also helps that my sons both have dance class about 100 feet from that restaurant.  But it helps considering that this restaurant puts the same time and care into fresh ingredients and fast cooking as Farmhaus does. 
Just like everything, I know that there have been some really bad things that I have blocked from my permanent memory, but am willing to break the seal and dig deep for information. In the Ozarks, where even the worst bar or restaurant has one thing going for it, this place called Shell's Pasta Emporium had nothing.  Shell's Pasta Emporium advertised that it had homemade pasta and was customizable, like Noodles & Company, where here you pick the type of pasta, the toppings and the type of sauce.  That procedure makes it seem like you could pick some good combinations and then they would cook the pasta, cook the topping and get it ready and then get the sauce and you were ready.  What happened instead, was that at this restaurant, you paid almost $9, for 30 cents of boiled dried noodles, 2 ounces of sauce from a jar, and some microwaved, frozen chicken, with fake grill marks.  It was just bad.

Also, remind me to be very careful when I watch episodes of Bizarre Foods.  I love the show and Andrew seems to be one of the most genuine and nice people ever.  But, you really have to watch him, when he tries food.  He has developed an interesting way of doing a show about trying new things: he never qualifies the food.  Watch an episode and really pay attention.  He came to St. Louis and he went to Schottzies Bar & Grill and tried some of the food.  I don't think he actually said that anything was good, but went there anyway.  So, I'm up for something new on a Saturday afternoon and take my kids there.  Not only did we get some of the worst service ever, but the food was horrible.  I can't even bother trying to explain how bad everything was.  If there was a zombie apocalypse and the zombies would eat things that even tasted as bad as raw brains and body parts, they would likely even turn down the food at Schottzies.

I think we finished the year with a trip two weeks ago to Basso.  My wife and I stopped in on a very busy Friday night for a cocktail and then came back that next morning for lunch.  The food is just awesome.  If I had money, I'd invest in that restaurant, I love it. www.basso-stl.com/

Anyways, 2013 was a great year for foodies and fooding.  I hope everyone had a great 2013.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Let's make bacon!

I can't help it, the Simpson phenomenon has entered my mind and set up shop as references involving Homer Simpson abound.

(Lisa) “I’m going to become a vegetarian”
(Homer) “Does that mean you’re not going to eat any pork?”
(Lisa) “Yes”
(Homer) “Bacon?”
(Lisa) “Yes Dad”
(Homer) "Ham?”
(Lisa) “Dad all those meats come from the same animal”
(Homer) “Right Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal!”"

Homer is right though, the idea that bacon, ham, and so many other parts come from the same animal not only dances on the line of a mythical and magical animal but also shows the state of human ingenuity as we can eat just about every part of the animal (more-so if you are Andrew Zimmern).

My favorite part of pork, is in fact bacon.  I thought I would try making some.  After being inspired by Chef Robert Sills, I thought I would get some pork belly and try it out.  So, I spontaneously stopped into Matekers Meats, near Tesson Ferry Road, and asked if they had any bacon that was nitrite free.  They didn't have any but suggested to me that I get pork belly.  So, they gave me a good deal and I went home with 1 &1/2 pounds of pork belly.  But, what should I do with it?  Well...

So, the first one was for a maple brown sugar type of bacon: http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/maple-cured-bacon.html .

I went ahead and did the marinate, where I didn't have any pink curing salt and instead just used regular Kosher salt.  After 7 days in the refrigerator, 250 degrees and 2 hours later, I then put them back in the oven at 350 degrees and cooked them up nice and good. Also, of note: I sprinkled some pure, unbleached, sugar on them before they finished cooking.

Next, what was I doing with the other side?  Korean style: http://seoulfuladventures.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/makin-bacon/ 

I will say that after I followed pretty much the same steps as the first batch of bacon, I noticed that it didn't really have a taste of anything other than the soy sauce. I wanted it to have a really bold Korean chili powder flavor, like the Korean chili powder that my brother-in-law's wife brought me, from Korea.  Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, it really didn't have as good as a flavor as the maple one did.

 I think if I do it again, the maple ones will cure in salty maple syrup and brown sugar; large amounts of both.  As for the Korean one, a lot more chili powder.  I did like that it didn't taste like store-bought bacon.  My made at home bacon still tasted like pork, which is something so unusual, because store-bought bacon tastes nothing like pork.  Anyhow, if you are looking to make your own bacon, give it a try on either of those links.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Basso always amazes

Late last month, I took my wife to Basso, on her birthday, for lunch.  I know, lunch sounds so taboo considering that most restaurants only open around 4 or 4:30 and even so, only open for dinner and after-hours.  But, as I said, I went there for lunch.  They do serve a lunch and on a weekend when it is cold outside and you want to go someplace nice and warm and have great food...then go to Basso.

I want to warn you though, Basso may just be my favorite restaurant in St. Louis.  The prices are very reasonable, the service is excellent, the atmosphere is warm and comforting while still young and hip, the chef is amazing and everything is going for this place.  So, this review and write-up may seem a little biased.

First off, we ordered a Basso salad, the Mafalda (which doesn't look like it is available on the lunch menu anymore), a cauliflower soup and pizza, that they had split in half where one side had shrimp and the other side had poblano peppers and sausage.

Everything was delicious.  Period.

Why are you still reading this?  Basso is awesome.  They get my best of Tasty Magazine for 2013, for Best Restaurant.  Go there, eat there and you will love it.  Tell them I sent you, why not!  It is so cool, they even have valet parking.  Come'on, take the wife there before you finish your Christmas shopping.  Stop there, then go to the Galleria.  It is a win-win situation.  

Address: 7036 Clayton Ave, St Louis, MO 63117
Phone:(314) 932-7820

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Theme for Christmas of 2013

Every year, my mother-in-law wishes to do a theme for Christmas.  A few years ago, it was a Mexican theme and one year it was just a rainbow theme.  We always try to do something different to help break the monotony of the boring Christmas ham, yadda, yadda, yadda.  This year, while mulling around a few ideas, we turned down the Medieval themed meal for comfort food.   

It is a good idea, all in all.  Turn a meal, that traditionally has one person becoming a slave to the kitchen and making everything, into a meal that everyone makes their favorite items and brings them in.  This is exactly what Andrew Zimmern uses as the theme for his show.  You can learn so much about someone by sharing their favorite food or their favorite meals.  Some of the things we have to look forward to are Macaroni and Cheese, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches and Ice Cream.  What did I pick?  Let me tell you a little story...

Long ago, my grandma used to cook a lot.  She was your regular, St. Louis style, German American woman.  She was born in 1923 in St. Louis, and even talked to me about when she was young, she worked at the Old Shoe Factory, down on Washington, before there were any stores, shops or even restaurants down there.  It is hard to think of how St. Louis actually was, almost 90 years ago, but it is true that a lot has changed in this time.  So, my grandma, whom had parents that had a farm, and then sold the farm to work in factories and manual labor, to provide food and education for their children, still taught the good values of their culture.  My grandma, since she was a woman, was required to learn to cook, so she could be in charge of feeding a family one day.

As far as 3 generations ago, including my grandparents, the ascendants were still born in Missouri.  Missouri was still Missouri, in the 1800's, and places like Rock Creek, Mattis and St. Ann still exist today, but have been consumed by the County.  In fact, some of my family, settled down on a nice piece of farmland, in Mattis, Missouri.  Mattis, is now only the name of a road, off of Tesson Ferry, near St. Anthony's Hospital.  My family, had the large farm with a small road to get to it.  The name of that road, is now Bauer Rd.  Anyway, with my family being in St. Louis, since the mid 1800's, you would figure that they would completely become American and lose all hopes and sense of identity: but this was not the case.  I think the best way to keep a culture or a history, is actually through food.  In this case, my grandmother continued to make German and Austrian style foods and meals, for our whole family.

My generation, has little or no idea of what my grandmother's generation went through.  My Generation X, has no culture, that we are fearing could be lost if we don't tell someone about it.  Moreover, in particular, my comfort food meal is Sauerbraten and Kartoffelkloesse.  I don't have a cool meal or food item that I can one day pass the recipe off to my kids and say, this is a piece of your heritage, because when my grandma wasn't cooking German food, my family was eating regular, cheap, unhealthy, American style, fast food.

Anyways..., when I was young, my grandma would only cook German food once a year.  She didn't cook much, normally because she only lived with my Grandfather and neither one of them would eat that much food.  A cool thing that my grandma did, was allow every one of her 3 children, to name a meal of their choice, and then when it was their birthday, she would create it and everyone would come over.  I don't know nor remember what my uncle and aunt had as their meals of choice.  I can tell you, that my father, had Sauerbraten and Kartoffelkloesse with Sweet and Sour Green Beans (I can't find the German name for this).  Everyone would sit at the dining room table, with my Grandfather at the head of the table and my Grandmother at his side corner.  The kids, myself included, would sit at the end, sharing the piano bench as an extra seat.  Now, every year, I would watch all of the grown ups, eat the fantastic food and the kids, like myself and my brothers, as we were the first grandchildren, would eat a scaled down version of normal pot roast and canned green beans.

Around 10 or so, I remembered that I thought it was time to try what the adults were raving about.  I told my dad that I didn't want the kid stuff, as I watched my older brother take each bite in utter delight.  I had myself a small piece of Sauerbraten, two large Kartoffelkloesse, smothered in gravy, and a large dinner roll.  I had the plate back in front of me, and reached into the dark colored meat with my fork, eager to try it.  It was delicious.  There was this tart, sour and bitter flavor that is so remarkable and goes well with the savory umami of beef that everything went together almost like a machine.  I well-oiled German machine. Well combined with the Kartoffelkloesse, which are basically large baseball sized potato dumplings, every bite reminds me of eating roast beef with some salt and vinegar potato chips.  You have such a unique and delicious flavor that both compliment each other so well.

So, what are you doing for Christmas?          

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chef John Johnson might have to duck to get in, but it is here.

So last year, the wonderful people at River City Casino did this deal with the Center for Hearing and Speech where the reservation cost of getting a spot at a giant gingerbread house and having wonderful specially prepared Christmas food, went straight to the Center.  It was $20 a reservation and the idea was to get enough people to reserve and then that money gets donated straight to the Center for Hearing and Speech.

They are doing it again this year.

(I'm telling you, look at how Chef John has his head tilted down.  I don't think he can fit in the doorway.)

So, this year, as you can see from above, the house is completed.  It is 14 feet tall, 10 feet wide and it has over 450 pounds of dough in it.  So, they made this house with 100 pounds of sugar, 300 pounds of icing, 700 pounds of cookies, gumdrops and cupcakes.  Last time, the menu selection was awesome.  Not only that, but because they offered a breakfast selection, my kids had their food of delicious food.

I have to say this as well, this time, the interior of the gingerbread house looks so much more elegant:

There is a one time reservation fee of $20, that is needed for this.  Call here:  314-388-7625 or go to www.rivercity.com to make your reservation.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Panorama without the panorama

After waiting what seemed like forever, this year, the extension to the St. Louis Art Museum opened up and showed St. Louis what a real art museum looks like.  Yeah, I  know our historical Greek-influenced building matches those of Chicago and even looks like museums in ancient Lebanon, but with the every new and growing trends in art, it would be nice if something could change and reflect this.  The new extension is that change.  It looks like something from out of Europe, as this black large building sticks out from the classical building that we have all known and grown up to love.  The new building looks huge and when you go inside and see that the tall ceilings and large rooms, make the whole area more welcoming as more enjoyable.

Within this new part of the art museum, the board has placed a new chef and a new restaurant.  The restaurant, named Panorama, is inside a 2,500 square foot area with floor to ceiling windows which overlook some views of Forest Park.  However nice the view is, it is only out of one direction of the restaurant, which makes me wonder why a restaurant would be called Panorama if it does not offer panoramic views.

It has a nice feel to it, making it out to appear to be a stuffy museum restaurant and only to see that the prices are comparable to that of other medium level restaurants like Ruby Tuesdays, for instance. Paying $12 for a hamburger is completely alright when it comes out with a side salad and is in fact locally grass fed.

So, what we got, between the two of us, was overall good.  The food seemed and tasted fine.  But not really good.  If I use my scale, of 1 to 5, I would say that the average experience at this restaurant was a 2 or a 2 and 1/2.  The waiter was perfect, nice and quick.  The food was priced very well.  The hostess got a table for us even though we had a reservation.  The food was hot and local.  Everything pointed in the right direction, but just didn't seem to move any further than that.

My wife ordered the special, which was fish on a puff pastry with blue cheese and a cream sauce:

She liked it and said it was good.  But, to quote her using a line based on her weight watcher's point diet; "It was good, but I wouldn't spend the points on it again."  She gave the dish a 2 and 1/2 out of 5.  This means that it was a bit more than average good.  Like it was okay with a bit of creativity to it.  It wasn't something that was very good, it didn't have a new technique or anything awesome and didn't blow up my battleship.

I ordered a locally raised grass fed cow burger.  It looked like this, with a side of a lightly dressed pile of salad greens.

The burger had a nice char to it. The bun had no oil or butter on it and was also just grilled.  The burger tasted like really good beef, but was a tad under-seasoned. I give my burger a 2 and 1/2 our of 5 stars.  

As I stated before, everything was pretty good, but not really good.  For a restaurant of that magnitude, or that much hype, I would have expected food along the lines of quality as Basso or Farmhaus.

Anyways, if you want to try it for yourself, here is the link: http://www.slam.org/dining/about.php

Also, make sure you make a reservation as this tiny restaurant fills up fast.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What my Thanksgiving looked like

I know, the idea of thanksgiving dinner is one set in the minds of all American families.  There is a large table, nicely decorated with the colors of reds, oranges, yellows and browns.  There are pumpkins, squashes and maybe some nuts or pine cones.  There are autumn leaves and the look and feel of a bit of chill in the air. The table has a large bird, preferably a turkey, roasted to perfection and alongside it is an assortment of side dishes.  There are cranberries, something horrible like a onion and green bean casserole and then tons of other things like dressing or rolls.  This is what comes to mind with a traditional thanksgiving meal.

Well, frankly as soon as my wife and I married, her family and ours started to do things differently.  We started to do themes to out thanksgiving, to make it a bit more fun.  This year's theme was Halloween and we worked at what we could.  As my my kids made the decorations, the rest of us prepared some items, with my mother in law creating enough food to feed an army, and we set it out.  This is what the food looked like at our thanksgiving dinner.

 Little red bell pepper 'skulls' were filled with some black rice noodles and some chopped pumpkins.

Mashed potato ghosts with peppercorns for eyes.

These were bread sticks that had some colored almond slices on the end, to resemble a finger and a finger nail.

Some lamb ribs were cut and then a ring of onion was placed on the second to last one, like a ring on a finger on a hand.

Still wrapped up for dessert later, this was a sugar free pumpkin pie with candy eyeballs on top.

Chocolate and strawberry skull cakes were stuffed with something sweet in their brain cavity.  The chocolate skull had some chocolate icing and the strawberry one had some cherry jam.

There you have it.  I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A new season at Farmhaus

What is really good for me, when it comes to writing about Farmhaus, is that they change their menu so much that every time I have gone there, they have a different menu.  Things that are locally found change throughout the weather patterns and the seasons so everything is new and different.  My wife and I went to Farmhaus this past Friday night.  We thought that we would enjoy our Black Friday out while the rest of the world was still shopping.

Farmhouse had a special tasting menu and with some seafood items on the menu, my wife grabbed that as I went ahead and ordered two larger plates from the regular menu.

So, she started her's with a little chef's tasting of a little corn cake with some yummy things on it: like shaved foie gras.

She then had a dish which was potatoes, mushrooms, foamed up eggs and caviar.  

Then the next dish in her tasting list was a sun choke soup with mushrooms on top.

She then had the Bay Scallop Gratin.

Next came a pork loin, with apples and greens and a mustard sauce.

That was all finished with a plate with a piece of chocolate cake and a piece of a coffee flavored cake with little flavors that added up to a Bourbon stout.

Here is how you can judge if the food is good enough for my wife: if she eats all of it or as much as she can. My wife is on a diet and if she eats the food and loves every bite of it and is willing to come back, then you know it has to be good.

What did I get?  I ordered the Porchetta dish.  It is done in a Korean style with home-made kimchi.  The pork belly is sliced thick and cooked tender so it has that looks and smell and taste of bacon and goes so well with the warm puffy pancake like buns.  I like this at a 4 out of 5 stars.

I finished with the bacon meatloaf, which may not seem so great at first, but they slice off these big chunks of meatloaf and then wrap them in bacon, like a Filet Mignon.  There wasn't a dry part in the whole dish.   The yellow potato mash was good at sucking up excess sauce giving it more flavor.  The crunchy onions went well with the tiny pearl onions and everything just went well together.  I'd say a good 3 and 1/2 stars out of 5 on this one.

Overall, if you haven't been to Farmhaus this season, please check them out and enjoy what you can.