I would like to make an addendum to the list of things I consider myself to be an expert on. To meatloaf and carrot cake I now add the traditional Cappuccino.
Why is it impossible to obtain this in St. Louis?
- notice the six ounce cup
- notice it’s ceramic
- notice the way the microfoam blends into the espresso
- notice (though you can’t) that it’s perfect thirds (espresso, microfoam, steamed milk)
- notice it’s awesome and not from St. Louis
Bad, very bad:
- notice the cardboard cup (with no option for ceramic)
- notice the meringue like foam that is anything but micro
- notice the almost complete absence of foam mixing with espresso
- notice (though you can’t) that it’s 2/3 foam
- notice it’s not awesome and is from St. Louis
I know I’m being a little snotty — a little. The thing is there’s real cappuccino, and then there’s the over-foamed, overly bitter, super-automatic espresso machine, Starbucks-upped fake one that comes in some sort of just shy of a half-gallon size.
These milk based drinks; they are all supposed to be 6oz traditionally. Every one of them. An espresso is 1/3 milk, 1/3 microfoam, 1/3 espresso. And look, I realize there’s the argument that I’m being all non-traditional by drinking cappuccino after noon, but they get the juices flowing — and at least they’re not the 24oz size.
Even worse there’s the 12oz single shot latte. Can you even taste the coffee in that?
I don’t care if the one you want is the weak flavored coffee for beginners. I really don’t. What gets me though, like a shiv in the chest, is that it’s that cruddy one that’s become the norm making it virtually impossible for me to get the real deal without a long drawn out conversation about what it is I want.
I don’t want to give a twenty minute dissertation when I order a traditional cappuccino. I just want a real one.
So please, if you know a barista in St. Louis with the skills to pull off Cappuccino #1, let me know who and where. I’m longing for the good stuff. I’ll travel anywhere — I had it mere hours ago in KC at Broadway Roasting Company, and I walked away a happier and jitterier man then before.
I would like to introduce you to one of my new favorite foods, Bánh xèo.
I’d never knowingly seen it at any Vietnamese restaurant until two weeks ago when I finally made it to Banh Mi So #1.
Bánh xèo is a pan fried rice flour and coconut milk crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, and onions. As you can probably see it was served with lettuce, mint and some sort of sweet and sour like sauce that I believe to be nuoc cham (sweet and sour fish sauce basically).
Almost like a Vietnamese taco, it was a study in texture, with each element adding it’s own distinctive crunch. With it’s delicate pan-fry, it was balanced beautifully by the freshness of the lettuce and mint. It was easily one of the best, and most interesting, things I’ve eaten in a long time.
next was the Banh Mi Dat Biet. The Signature Triple Crown Pork sandwich had seasoned pork, specialty ham, pork slices, and pate layered onto a perfectly crusty French loaf and topped with daikon, cilantro and jalapeno peppers. When the owner delivered the Banh Mi, he motioned to the nuoc cham suggesting I dip the sandwich in it.
This too had a wonderfully complex taste. The crusty bread; the rich fattiness of the pork; the bite of the cilantro; the heat of the jalapeño; and the sour sweetness of the nuoc cham. Each element took my mouth in a different –always-sublime– direction leaving me thinking about just how fresh everything was in this restaurant. Even with my crumby pictures, the color on both these dishes is vibrant and green unlike the greasy drabness of most items in an inexpensive American restaurant.
Add to the great food the presence of the owner, whom I assume was Mr. Truong, and it really couldn’t have gotten much better. He graciously answered my questions about ingredients on the menu I wasn’t totally familiar with. One in particular, mung beans, seemed to excite him and he told me a story about when he was a boy living “overseas”. In short, apparently the mung bean is the Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup as they would boil it down when people were sick.
It was a wonderful experience, and I can’t wait to go back.
It’s an interesting question, Jenny Vergara raised recently on Chowhound when she wondered whether “Taste of” events truly give you a taste of what a city has to offer. My personal opinion –no great shock I’m sure– is that they do not. Still, I can’t help being curious about what the more upscale restaurants will bring each year to entice us to visit their actual locations. Sometimes floundering, sometimes hitting the mark, Ellie and I look forward to going each year. At the very least, we know we’ll always get some Harvest bread pudding out of the deal and any day with that is a success.
The first Taste of St. Louis I am aware of was held during the Final Four in 2005. Few restaurants of quality were involved, and of those that were, some of the choices they made seemed especially strange. The one that sticks out most was Arthur Clay’s decision to serve pork steaks. As good as they were –and they were great– it was an odd decision considering what you would have found visiting their restaurant. A second Taste occurred in the late summer that year, so I will consider that the true first, and the 2007 Taste of St. Louis to be the third annual.
This year they moved the bulk of the action over to the Market Street side of the Gateway Mall. I’m not sure if they really wanted to do so, or if construction downtown forced them to, but it threw us when we didn’t see the restaurant row on Chestnut Street. Showing up around four, our initial reaction was that it seemed a lot smaller than the first two years. I’m not sure if this was a result of the time of day, or an actual truth, but we came to this decision non-scientifically by noticing the lack of port-a-potties compared to years past.
Although I never sit to eat, one thing I preferred to this years setups was the placement of park benches on 10th Street. This helped keep congestion down as they had been alongside Chestnut last year which had caused problems with the restaurant row foot traffic.
My approach to these events is to always take an initial pass to see who is there and what they’ve brought. On this pass I can determine my must-have items. Although I can eat a fairly impressive amount of food for my size, pacing is key, and I’d hate to waste room on something less then worthy.
Right or wrong, you can find our decisions after the jump…
On the first pass I spotted arancini at the Monarch booth. If you’ve never had one, an arancini, in its simplest form, is typically risotto that once cooled is rolled into a ball; stuffed with some kind of meat, cheese, or vegetable mixture; breaded with breadcrumbs; and fried to a golden brown. They get their name because the Italians say they look like “little oranges”. Arancini, as I understand it, is close to the Italian word for “orange”. They are one of my favorite Italian foods, so I was excited as I don’t often see them in St. Louis.
Unfortunately, these weren’t very good. The filling in most I’ve had has always been relatively stodgy with rice that, while perhaps not al dente (do to the traditional usage of using leftover risotto) still had a touch of bite to it. The filling in these was very thin and coupled with the rice, which was overcooked, they had a porridge like quality that I found unappealing.
note: I have noticed that one traditional version calls for making a ragu for the stuffing. It is entirely possible that this is what they were going for, and it was just a personal bias based upon what I like about arancini.
We also had the empanadas at Monarch. Unremarkable, they were a bit doughy, and merely ok. They were filled with braised beef that the menu said was tenderloin. It was a waste if it in fact was, because they would have had a more meaty flavor if they’d used a tougher more flavorful cut of beef or even oxtail. They were also missing the aioli mentioned on the menu.
I’ve only ever had lunch at Monarch, but if these are truly items they would serve, I’m even more baffled that people flock there than I was before. Neither of these items was worth the five dollars they charged.
Everest Café is a restaurant I’ve never been to. At their booth I sampled Gorkali Chicken with Basmatti Rice. Wisely serving some dark meat, the chicken was moist, and for someone who loves it (like myself) the heavy hand of curry was wonderful.
If unfamiliar, Everest is a Nepalese restaurant. Two of the dishes they served –gorkali and vegetable samosa- are both common Indian dishes. While I understand the food of Nepal has roots in the various cultures in their region (like India) I found the decision to serve only Indian influenced dishes perplexing.
When an ethnic restaurant goes to an event like this, they are there, at least on some level, acting as culinary ambassadors for the nation whose cuisine they serve. Knowing as little as I do about Nepalese cuisine, I have to believe that the general public knows even less. Why then, would they not throw in something like a more Tibetan influenced dish to showcase another angle of what Nepalese cuisine has to offer?
I just don’t get it.
LoRusso’s pulled through for me by proving another one of my culinary theories: everything tastes better fried. Frying, it seemed, was the order of the day so far – and what could be better than friend dough?
Just about every culture has some sort of fried dough in their arsenal and for the Italians, apparently it is sfinges. I’d never heard of this, and wanting to make sure they weren’t just making something up, I did a little digging when I got home and found that they are also often referred to as zeppole.
Basically like a sweet fritter, these had ricotta in them and tasted similar to a funnel cake do to the liberal dusting of powdered sugar. The ricotta gave them an appreciated lightness as they were our third fried food of the day.
If you hadn’t noticed by now, the Taste of St. Louis palette is decisively beige; the scent of fried foods lingering in the air.
With a great deal of money riding on their success, Lumiere Place did their utmost to pull all the stops for this event striding in with a refreshing dash of color. Their tent was two to three times larger than everyone else’s, and I have to admit, the presentation of everything was amazing for an event of this size. They were well organized, and I knew I had to try them all.
Tropical shrimp and scallop ceviche with cilantro-chili oil
I love ceviche so I approached this with an extreme bias. Often, ceviche suffers from people being afraid to use too much citrus. Citrus, however is the point of ceviche. It’s the acidity that “cooks” the fish and gives it bite while imparting flavor. I’m not sure what tropical shrimp are, but these appeared to be rock shrimp. I prefer the choice of rock shrimp in ceviche as, at least in the times I’ve had it, they tend to stand up to the “cooking” better than traditional. I don’t know if this is a true benefit to using them, or if it’s just a matter of better cooks choosing them in my past experiences.
Regardless, theirs was well done. It had enough citrus tang to set the rock shrimp and scallops off nicely. It was also the first thing I’d had that was properly seasoned with salt and pepper. If I had one complaint, it would be that the chili oil could have had more kick to it. That, or something like a little jalapeño or other pepper, would have given it a little more heat and rounded it out nicely.
Heirloom tomato gazpacho and Goatsbeard Farms raw milk goat cheese crostini
Last year someone (I forget who) served scallop soup. I learned two things from that experience: 1) it’s a pain to eating soup in a crowd of people and 2) eating hot soup in the summertime temperatures of St. Louis is not the swiftest idea anyone ever had. This on the other hand, was great.
I’m not generally a huge gazpacho fan. More often than not, it tastes like someone through a bunch of vegetables and cilantro into V8. That’s obviously not what it should be, and although I was geared up to hate this, because I hate the whole “shooter” style concept, it was a great idea to puree it and serve it this way. It seemed to be almost completely tomato, and again, where others had failed, it was well seasoned. It was refreshing with just the right amount of acidity to bring out the ripe tomato flavor, and the classic goat cheese combo set it off nicely. Although, Goatsbeard Farms does not make a raw chevre to my knowledge.
White port marinated Tuscan melon shaved Danielle prosciutto and micro arugula
Excellent prosciutto; wickedly underipe melon! This is one of those integrity of the ingredient dishes. Without the melon to back it up, you’re left with nothing more than a plate of meat. The melon was so underipe in fact it had the texture of apples, and a little fancy pants micro arugula isn’t going to cover that up.
Lemon honey poached sekel pear with dark chocolate and toasted almonds
This looks beautiful doesn’t it? It’s the first thing I saw when we walked by the Lumiere booth on the initial pass. It was second only to the arancini on my list of must haves.
It was terrible.
The pear, hardly poached, made it impossible to cut with the little fork/spoons they provided. I was forced to pick it up by the stem to take bites, and even then it wasn’t worth eating the whole thing. The lemon flavor was completely absent, and if you’ve ever poached a pear before, you always do so with several spices in the poaching liquid to add a depth of flavor. Either the spices were absent, or the fact that it was so undercooked made it impossible for the pear to take on the fragrance.
Prior to the event, Lumiere Place had stated that they would be showcasing three of their dining establishments at the event. However, not one of these dishes gave you any indication as to which they would represent. Still, I have to hand it to them though. Even though I didn’t care for two of the four, the pricing on what they brought was a better representation of what you should expect at these events. It’s not a way for restaurants to make money, it’s a way for them to showcase their offerings and get you to make an actual trip to their location.
Knowing we could guarantee leaving on a high note, we saved Harvest for last.
In my opinion, the best constant on menu dessert in St. Louis, is the Harvest bread pudding. There is nothing I would dream of changing as it has never been anything but perfect. I ate more then I’d ever care to admit in the year I worked at Harvest, and unlike most things in life, it’s never grown old. The strong egg flavor of the brioche custard pudding in tandem with the warm buttery sweetness of the bourbon currant sauce makes it tough to beat.
This year it was served with raisins instead of currants, and although the currants are certainly a better mix as they are a touch sweeter, even this could not hold the dessert back. I can only assume they were left scrambling to make enough bourbon sauce for the weekend, and didn’t have time to get in the truckload of currants needed for three days worth of bread pudding. So if this was the first time you’d ever had a taste, definitely make a trip to Harvest to have the real deal – with currants..
Aside from some Schlafly Oktoberfest (which they sadly ran out of after one), that was our day. We rolled home for a nap a little fatter than before.
Sep 23, 2007 general food
I am a foodie from Kansas City (and a big fan of Chowhound) who is using my summer to travel to six different food festivals across the U.S. My goal is to see if it is possible to truly get a “taste” of each city/state and then write about my food experiences for a local food magazine in KC.
Although I’ve lived in St. Louis since 1986, I still view many things as an outsider and had a quick response to this as it’s something I’d thought about before. I proposed the following list:
- American Lager–aka Budweiser
- Toasted Ravioli
- Gooey Butter Cake
- Pork Steaks
- Cracker style thin crust pizza with provel cheese
Are there other things, uniquely St. Louis, that I am overlooking?
Sep 22, 2007 restaurants
|My Google news feelers reeled this one in from KWMU this evening:
There’s a Maria Hickey interview as well if you follow the link.
I’m wondering if this is two of the places on hand at Taste of St. Louis from Lumiere. I’ll report back tomorrow as I admittedly did not listen to the interview. Great chef that he is, I still find Hubert Keller a little annoying.
edit: I also just found this more detailed article from the St. Louis Business Journal. It looks like I may get several $40 entrées out of this one, though I don’t think St. Louis is ready for the $60 Kobe Burger just yet.
Sep 21, 2007 sustainable agriculture
|[Source: Simply Recipes]|
My friends fiancé puts meat into two categories. One is “happy meat”, and the other is simply meat she won’t eat. It struck me as funny the first time she said it to me, but really, is there a better description to give you a quick indication of exactly where a person is coming from?
This post today from Simply Recipes is one of the best I’ve read on pork farming. They were invited to Willis Farm, in Iowa, and after eight months of longing, they finally went. I think it does a good job stating the facts without getting overly biased one way or the other, and they took some amazing photos.
If you want to try and do the right thing by pigs, I know of three choices in our area: Benne’s Best Meat, Greenwood Farms, and Hinkebein Hills Farms.I’m sure there are more that I’m not aware of. If you know of any other sources for happy pigs or any other meat for that matter, please let us know in the comments.
Tags: Hinkebein Hills Farm
I like to read about food and I’ve amassed a pretty hefty cookbook collection over the years. They take up several bookshelves, and Ellie actually tells stories about how much space it takes up in our home. One of them is 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide, and unlike Heidi Swanson, there seems to be no end in site.
Hoping to save a little space, I recently started going to the library when I noticed they had an old, hard to find, cookbook I wanted to read. In the digital age, I’d somehow forgotten what a great public service the library is, and around 641, Dewey shows the glutens of the world a little love. Honestly, I was pretty shocked to see how great the gastronomy and cookbook sections were. So, while the library has worked out great, the money savings has been a little more mixed.
One book I was shocked to see was Marco Pierre White’s autobiography, The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef. If you don’t know who he is, before Gordon Ramsay, there was White. He is the original rock and roll chef and the first person I’m aware of to consistently go into the dining room and tell people to shove off.
When I was on the ACF Jr. Culinary Team, he was a hero of ours, and I grabbed up all his cookbooks; the best of which was the tough to find White Heat. In it, we discovered strange foods like caul fat, that we, as young cooks, had never seen, had, or even heard of.
There’s a funny story in the book about a Michelin 3 star chef dining at White’s restaurant and afterwards coming into the kitchen to say everything was great except the fish, which was salty. White told the cook who prepared it to tell the chef to “F off”. That cook was Ramsay. His foray into customer abuse had begun.
Overall, as interesting as it was to me, a fan, I’m sad to say, the autobiography is pretty poor. White has a tremendous ego, and comes off sounding like a real jerk that ruins every meaningful relationship he’s ever been apart of both personally and in business. The book, therefore, was a library win. It equaled money saved because if I ever own it, it will have to be both cheap, and used.
Another I just happened across on the racks was one of my current reads: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It’s an interesting book about Barbara Kingsolver’s family doing their part–as they see it–to eat locally for a year. In many chapters, she and her husband unfortunatly get a bit preachy and come off sounding a touch condescending to those with a viewpoint that might differ from their own. Still, it’s entertaining and informative.
The best chapter that I’ve read so far is called “You Can’t Run Away on Harvest Day”. Unlike many in the locavore movement, the Kingsolver’s eat meat. To that end, they raised/are raising their own chickens and turkeys, and Kingsolver does a remarkable job talking about the reasons for eating meat, and why it is not inhumane. One point, which I’d never really thought about in detail, is that the animals on farms were domesticated to be docile. They were bread specifically as food, and for the most part, they would not survive in the wild. She touches also on the Slow Food point: the best way to save heritage breeds is to, in fact, eat them.
I’m not quite done with this one, but I’d definitely recommend it. Even with it’s definite one-sided-ness it’s one of the better books on the subject as Kingsolver is a more engaging author then most.
This book, therefore, was a library loss. I was enjoying it so much, I bought my own.
There were several more wins like Heston Blumenthal’s book . I’d always wanted it, but once I had the opportunity to flip through it, I realized it was a complete waste. Every chef out there wants a cookbook these days, but few chefs can really pull one off. It’s tough to come up with a new idea for a cookbook, or a new and interesting way to present an old one, and he failed on many levels.
Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was a draw. Old idea: Vietnamese food. New twist: easy to follow recipes with beautiful pictures that make you want to jump into the pages because your mouth is watering. I bought it.
|Then there’s the incredibly strange book I stumbled upon Tuesday: Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand.I spotted this in the new release rack at the library yesterday and I had to grab it.It’s not every day my fringe-hipster-indie-rock-world crosses paths with my over-opinionated-gluttonous-food-world.
Apparently Alex Kapranos (lead singer/guitarist) was a chef and cook while he was in a series of failed bands leading up to Franz Ferdinand. So, while traveling all over the globe rock star style, he ate from both really well to really strange. He documents it here, and so far, it’s well written and entertaining.
Saturday, Ellie and I found ourselves craving some of the addicting cinnamon rolls from 222 Artisan Bakery . 222 also happens to be Goshen Coffee Company, and needing coffee beans, I set out for Edwardsville to score the goods.
As I neared the river, it was not meant to be. The highway was a parking lot. I knew I’d never make it before they closed at noon, so I exited south Riverview Drive en route to an alternate fix: 4 Seasons Bakery snickerdoodles at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market . This was also a bust. I had no idea they’d moved the market temporarily last weekend.
Sometimes, not often, bad news turns good, and in the end I had a brief tour of places I’d always meant to try, but for one reason or another had not. Banh Mi So and Hartford Coffee Company were my first stops before continuing the quest for cupcake perfection at The Cupcakery.
Located in the Central West End, The Cupcakery initially eluded me. I thought I was in the right spot, but I couldn’t find it. I was throwing Goog-411 for a serious loop trying to enunciate “cupcakery” and finally I folded, called my Dad, and had him tell me where I should be looking. As it turned out, I was already on the right part of the block. Fortunately, they do have a sidwalk sign sitting out on Maryland Ave, so once on foot, it was easy enough to find. A note: If you go looking for it, you’ll find it tucked back behind the Chase Park Plaza, down the side street of Bar Louie, off Maryland Ave.
My initial impression: The Cupcakery is small. Just like their website, there are no frills. The space is simple and to the point. Seating is minimal with a few tables and chairs inside and out. Cupcakes are the obvious heart of the business and they have one small bakery case filled with a limited selection of five regular and one or two weekly special flavors. Apart from some beverage choices and t-shirts, you’ll find no sandwiches or other savory foods to distract from the focus here.
Where Jilly’s went big with layers of flavor, syrups, fillings and garnishments, The Cupcakery takes the simple approach. The cupcakes, physically smaller then Jilly’s are each made of one flavored cake and one flavored buttercream with a small garnishment to set it off. As they should be, they are also less expensive.
There was no way I was going to repeat the embarrassment of Jilly’s photo-ops, so once again I picked two to-go and split.
First was the Peanut Butter Cup which consists of dark Chocolate cake and peanut butter buttercream. The cake really did have a rich dark chocolate flavor, but it, similar to my previous cupcakes, was a bit on the dry side. The thing is, because the cupcakes at The Cupcakery are smaller, as a result, you’re able to get a a bit of buttercream with every bite. This completely remedied any dryness issues because the peanut butter buttercream had a creamy smoothness that was irresistible. Not too sweet, every bite reminded me why the chocolate-peanut butter one-two is a top five favorite of most men.
Second, I had one of their specials, the Lemondrop. It was lemon cake with lemon buttercream garnished with a small lemon jaw-breaker. I’m sorry to turn on the Peanut Butter Cup, but this was the best cupcake so far. It was incredibly moist. The lemon flavor was perfect and not overpowering. Even as my second helping it had no heaviness, and the buttercream had such fluffy lightness I was instantly left craving for more.So I leave you with this: Because of their size, it seems, cupcakes are easy to dry out. You can aim high for the gourmet cake like Jilly’s. But, unless they’re perfect, you might be left wishing you’d had a slice of moist cake instead. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll wish you had a simpler, but more perfect cupcake from The Cupcakery.
While it’s nice they’re trying to come up with uses for the waste, this seems a little strange to me. Curious about how that effect the taste and texture I found another article about a study where soy fed pork was proven leaner and more healthful then the regular stuff.
But, here’s the pig quote-of-the-day:
One draw back that was noted by Jeanne Stewart (student at Iowa State) was that this special diet made the meat too soft to procure bacon from.
Does soft equal mushy? I don’t think any of us are interested in mushy pork. And, a pig without bacon? No thank you.