Taking the Edge off E-Ville

It’s not my style to alert you to all deals because some deals are at places I wouldn’t want you to eat at in the first place.  With a definite amount of bias, however, I’d like to point out that although Kevin Willmann has moved on to great new things at Farmhaus, Edwardsville’s Erato on Main is still chugging along.  With the same great wine and beer list they’ve always had (and really that was part of the reason many of you drove to E-Ville anyway), the restaurant is still worth the trek.  Doubly so because you’ll get to sample  Jonathan Olson’s evolving menus as he finds his personal cooking style. Triply so because if you’re on the fence about the visit, today only you can turn $10 into $22 with the new Hot Sauce Deals of the Day website.

As an added bonus, 10% of all Hot Sauce proceeds will be donated to help fund important programs and services at Children’s Hospital.

For a taste of what’s in store, check out the new Erato on Main website.  Menus are updated each Friday so you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re in store for.

Full disclosure: As always, please keep in mind that while I believe my opinion to be correct, there are some establishments where my opinion is personally biased. This is one. Jonny “Style” Olson and other members of the Erato staff have become friends of mine because of my regularity in the restaurant.  Heck, Jon even guest-blogged once.

»crosslinked«

Slow Food Art of Food Menu

This is why you want to buy tickets for Art of Food

222 Artisan Bakery / Goshen Coffee – Debbie Sultan / Matt Herren

  • 222 Artisan breads in roll form: bacon, brioche, and sun dried tomato olive and feta
  • Goshen-roasted Costa Rican pour-over drip coffee

Bailey’s Chocolate Bar / Rooster – Robin Murphy

  • Fruitland roast beef sandwich with red onion marmalade and herbed Heartland Creamery goat cheese on a housemade roll
  • Bailey’s buttercream chocolate bar cake

An American Place – Joshua Galliano

  • Prairie Grass Farms lamb and foie gras ballotine, apple mustard, chickpea salad, saba

Annie Gunn’s – Lou Rook III

  • Duroc pork belly confit on Companion brioche roll with Atomic horseradish mustard and house made local peach chutney

Araka – Mark Curran

  • Prairie Grass Farms housemade sausages
  • Local heirloom tomato salad

Erato on Main – Kevin Willmann

  • House smoked Guthrie Farms chicken with local vegetable chow chow

Local Harvest Grocery – Clara Moore

  • Housemade hummus served on local cucumber circles and local tomatoes tossed with fresh pesto and served on Companion crostinis

Moxy Bistro – Eric Brenner

  • Duck breast with grilled peaches

Niche – Gerard Craft

  • Slow-roasted Greenwood Farms pork butt sandwiches with brussel sprout slaw on Companion bread

Schlafly Bottleworks – Matt Bessler

  • Schlafy “Gardenworks” beet and Arugula salad
  • Troutdale Farms smoked Trout Mousse with English cucumber cups
  • Bacon-wrapped Hinkebein Hills Farm smoked pork tenderloin with Schlafy pale ale raspberry BBQ sauce

Sidney Street Café – Kevin Nashan

  • Hinkebein Hills Farm smoked pork butt with cornmeal “toast”, Eilerman Brothers peach bbq glaze, Claverach Farm greens and pickled peaches
  • On the Wind Farms watermelon gazpacho with jumbo lump crab

Veruca – Mathew Rice

  • Local peach and lavender trifles

If you were cool…

you would be at Mad Art Gallery this Saturday for Slow Food St. Louis’s annual fund raiser, The Art of Food.

Art of Food

Full event details are at artoffood.org though what you’ll really want to know is who the chefs are:

Debbie Sultan & Matt Herren – 222 Artisan Bakery and Goshen Coffee
Joshua Galliano – An American Place
Lou Rook – Annie Gunn’s
Mark Curran – Araka
David Bailey – Bailey’s Chocolate Bar and Rooster
Kevin Willmann – Erato on Main
Eric Brenner – Moxy Bistro
Gerard CraftNiche
Matt Bessler – Schlafly Bottleworks
Kevin Nashan – Sidney Street Cafe
Mathew Rice – Veruca

and possibly more to come…

En Papiawesome

Not to be confused with the famous version, at Erato on Main last night, while Kevin Willmann was away at the STL Mag A-List awards claiming his Reason to Take a Drive victory, sous chef Jon Olson was serving up Gulf Pompano en Papillote with shaved fennel, local baby onions, Oregon white truffle & farm butter.

I’m sure the majority of you are familiar with en papillote, but for those that are not, it is a French method for cooking delicate foods inside parchment paper. These days you will see some people cheat by using foil instead, but traditionally you cut a heart shape out of parchment, place the contents on one side (generally fish; vegetables; and some sort of oil, butter or sauce to keep it moist), fold it in half, fold over the seams to seal it, and bake it in the oven. The gist is that the food actually steams which results in an extremely moist outcome.

I have had three en papillotes

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Going Fishing at Erato on Main

Kona Kamppachi

This weekend at Erato on Main Kevin Willmann is trying to win some sort of Kona Kampachi contest and will be serving what he once called “assuming fish with unassuming fish.” At least he called it that to me.

Not a fan of the duo overall “because one always upstages the other” he’s all for doing it when it works and the two items truly make something greater together than they would on their own.

The assuming fish is

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stlbites.com Recipe Exclusive

erato logoIf you’ve not been paying attention, with three trips in nine days, and probably a dozen so far this year, stlbites has much love for Erato on Main and their entire staff.

But as much as we like the staff it’s Kevin Wilmann’s daily changing menu of whatever looks freshest that keep us addictively trekking back for more; today though we’ll be talking about the one menu that doesn’t change daily.

Doubling as the restaurant’s pastry chef we’ve basically memorized Sous Chef Jon Olson’s dessert menu as he keeps it small almost always having the staples of a chocolate cake with basil ice cream and carrot cake with goat cheese icing.

Mostly this is the result of their kitchen being about the size of my closet. Still, he’s been trying to mix it up recently, and over the weekend served a lemon curd with blackberry tea foam (with I believe preserved lemon rind). The blackberry foam was a subtle flavor to compliment the tartness of the lemon, and while it did need a bit more textural crunch, when asked how he made the curd, he was happy to oblige by sharing the recipe.

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Jamón Ibérico Bellota

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The minute I heard that the Wine Merchant had gotten in Jamón Ibérico Bellota a couple weeks ago I raised the question: shoulder or ham?

You see, until recently, Jamón Ibérico Bellota was not exported from Spain as it was the finest of their Jamón and they consumed it all. Because Jamón is one of my favorite hams, and I had always wanted to taste the very finest example, I’d been following the news closely that it would soon be available in the US and was shocked when Annie posted the news and answered my question that it was, in fact, the shoulder as I had suspected.

Many people quickly sum up what this ham is by saying that it is made from hogs that feed on acorns. While true it is a bit of an oversimplification of what these hogs represent.

To at least attempt to further explain what it is for you, I’ve cribbed some info from wikipedia which has a surprisingly good entry on Iberico.

Jamón Ibérico is a type of Jamón, a cured ham produced only in Spain. It is at least 75% Black Iberian Pig…the only breed of pig that naturally seeks and eats mainly acorns.

The Black Iberian Pig lives primarily in the south and southwest parts of Spain. Immediately after weaning the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches.

The finest Jamón Ibérico is called Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called la dehesa) along the southern border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period.

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The importer of Jamón Ibérico is La Tienda a Spanish Food importer based out of New York, and although their information on the Iberico is also quite good, it is obviously written in a bit more of a sales pitch method as they stand to profit from a great deal from your ponying up large sums of your hard earned cash to purchase even a few slices of their ham.

Also, if you’ve ever seen the Culinaria series of books, the book for Spain is probably the best of the books I’ve laid hands on, and while that might just be my love of Spanish food talking, it has some excellent photographs of the Ibérico hams. If you’re in your local Borders, cruise on over to the cut-out books because I’ve seen them a lot lately.

But of course the real question is how does it taste?

In a word, amazing.

Every so often you eat something that strikes some sort of cord with you deep within your soul. The moment I sampled the Ibérico at the Wine Merchant it instantly took me back to being a kid and tasting an acorn under the uniquely childish assumption that if the squirrels ate them all the time, then they must be good.

Unfortunately, as anyone else who’s made that mistake would know, raw acorns leave a little something to be desired, and as their startlingly sharp astringency hit me I realized that they were not only not good, they were awful.

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This made the Ibérico all the more striking because it really does taste strongly of acorns, and on that first bite I was immediately struck by the prominent acorn astringency. Rather then lingering, however, and ruining the flavor of the ham, the astringency marries itself with the buttery fat of the ham.

Honestly, I just don’t know how to describe it. You simply have to taste it for yourself because any words I can think of simply don’t do it justice.

Now lucky for Kevin Willmann and his staff at Erato, we decided to take him a few slices because we knew he and his sous chef Jon would be equally excited. During service I handed it to him and he asked if it needed to be refrigerated. I forget what I said, but it was something to the effect of “it would never last that long once you taste it.”

I mention it not to drop his name but because of a conversation he and I later had that evening. He thought almost precisely the same thing I did and related a story about how the moment he tasted it it took him back to being a kid playing under an oak tree with his toys.

It is one of the most amazing food products I have ever tasted, and unlike any other cured pork product I have ever had, even at $15 for the .09 pounds I bought, it is worth every penny as it is the kind of thing you should only eat alone savoring each bite so as to fully appreciate its quality.

I’ve already been back for more, and I absolutely can not wait to try the true hams (not shoulder) once they are finished curing and imported into America.

Edwardsville

Amy Zupanci, current employee of Niche but native of Edwardsville, IL, is planning to open a fine dining restaurant around Main Street in Edwardsville later this year.

With my frequent trips across the river I’d heard rumor of this previously, but the Edwardsville Intelligencer has now confirmed it with this article.

It’s safe to say I love Edwardsville, and while I think their community definitely has room for more fine dining, when I read this:

“I will do a lot of my own pickling and canning,” Zupanci said. “I don’t want a greenhouse tomato on a plate.”

The reason for this new restaurant is simply because Edwardsville is currently lacking in the fine dining department, according to Zupanci.

“We just don’t have a restaurant like this,” Zupanci said. “I would like to bring back Main Street because our standards have raised.”

it left me wondering: Just what the hell has Kevin Willmann been doing for the last year at Erato On Main?

  • Canning: he does it
  • Local sourcing: he’s extremely committed
  • Fine dining: definitely

Now, if by fine dining we’re talking suit and tie formal, then no, you won’t find it at Erato or anywhere else in Edwardsville that I’m aware of. However, although I could very easily be wrong, I also don’t think Edwardsville wants a restaurant like that.

So if, presumably, we’re talking about upscale food in a more relaxed environment with a Niche-like dress code, then someone owes Willman an apology because he’s already doing that, and very well.

Spanish Wine Dinner @ Erato on Main

erato.jpgIf you didn’t look at the bottom of that Erato menu I posted, they’re having a Spanish Wine Dinner on November 28th. Here are more details as reprinted from their event card:

7:30 November 28th

Featuring the wines of America premier Spanish importer Jorge Ordonez and the culinary creations of Chef Kevin Willmann.

Tim Wermeling from Garnacha Inc. will be joining us from Chicago to present the wines specifically chosen for this event.

Ticket’s are $85 and seating is extremely limited

There will also be a Jorge Ordonez tasting at the bar from 5:00-7:00.

Please call (618)307-3203 to reserver your seats.

FYI – I just called and they said it’s about half full at this time.

Erato, A Tale of Sea Bass

erato.jpgIan seems to like it, Bonwich felt mostly the same, and Sauce gave their chef an awfully nice write up/interview. Add to that the suggestions by Wayno on Chowhound and Matt at 222, and at last, so as to break up my apparent love letters to 222 Artisan Bakery, I will skip clean over their open house and mention that we got around to something we’d been meaning to do for a long time.

Saturday night we finally went to Erato. And while I must preface this with the fact that it certainly didn’t hurt that Matt slyly called before we headed down to tell Chef Kevin Willmann to take care of us, I’m definitely inclined to agree with all of the above people. There is a clear effort by Erato to raise the bar of St. Louis dining, and although it was a bit of a whirlwind as we were already somewhat stuffed full of pastry when we arrived, I will quickly tell you about our meal.

First we had the Fresh HOUSE MOZZARELLA bruschetta. Simple house made mozzarella was topped with fresh tomatoes and a reduced balsamic drizzle. While I like my bruschetta a little thicker and as a result less crunchy and crostini-like, the house made mozzarella was a nice touch, and brought back memories of my having to make it at Truffles. Theirs was awful, never salted enough, and filled with dried herbs. Kevin’s was really nice. Salt is key when making cheese, and he knows it.

Sweet potato “NACHOS” + blue cheese, hickory back lardoons, & red pepper ketchup were incredibly hearty for what really amounted to a finger food. The ketchup had a bit of a barbecue sauce like flavor as most non-Heinz ketchups generally do and I’m curious to know if it was exclusively red peppers. I didn’t think to ask. Also, I’ve no idea what kind of blue cheese they used, but it was incredibly potent and had a real Roquefort or gorgonzola like grit to it. If you’re not a fan of really strong blue cheese you might be put off by this as it was the dominant flavor followed by the ketchup. Even I, a big fan of strong blue cheeses, felt it would have been perhaps a touch better with a less pungent blue like Point Reyes. Overall though, it was an interesting and fun riff on an American standard and one I’d happily eat again.

Next we had Roasted PEAR, PROSCIUTTO, & Hartland Creamery goats cheese crostini + local mizzuna & balsamic reduction. This was my second favorite thing of the night. I really like the simple clean flavor combination of salty prosciutto and sweet fruit. I wish more people would be confident enough to serve such simple fair. I did feel the pear was maybe a touch undercooked for my personal taste, but it wasn’t like the ridiculously raw one from Lumiere Place at the taste of St. Louis and didn’t particularly detract as they were very flavorful pears. (it’s actually Heartland Creamery though)

Fennel pollen seared SCALLOPS + grilled corn ice cream & bacon dust was the first of the two items that really impressed me as they are a clear indication that Willmann is definitely trying to raise the previously mentioned bar by adding to the mix a little adventure. Ellie really enjoyed the play on hot vs. cold. I’m personally not sold on it, but it had nothing to do with this dish, and more to do with my not quite buying into the hot/cold savory courses just yet. They honestly weird me out a little as the cold immediately brings down the warmth of the hot food so quickly that in my opinion, it takes something away from those elements.

Stepping away from my own prejudice, however, I can definitely say this was well executed. I’ve never knowingly had fennel pollen, and the bacon dust was a thoughtful addition as it incorporated a subtle bacon flavor rather than overwhelming the dish the way many would with bacon bits.

Our last savory dish was the Oven Roasted SEABASS + collard greens & ham hock – cabernet sauce. This alone was worth the drive. I had commented to Ellie when I saw it that I’d decided, when last I had it, that sea bass was probably my favorite fish. If you’ve never had sea bass it is a mild flavored flaky white fish. While that might describe something like halibut too, while halibut has a soft giving texture, sea bass is much firmer offering a lot more bite.

Just as I was asking our server to bring this out for our last item, she said Willmann had already started one for us. Fantastic!

What they failed to mention on the menu –and I don’t know if this was just an addition for our sake as we will eat just about anything– but there was a house made habanero jelly on the rim of the plate. It was, without question, the single hottest thing I have ever eaten in an upscale restaurant. The sensation of the burning heat, followed by the sweetness of the sea bass, and the hearty smoky flavors of the ham hock collard greens was stunning. As you repeated each step — jelly, sea bass, collard greens your mouth was on a roller coaster ride of taste sensations. Ellie doesn’t really do hot food, and try as I might to get her to take the tiniest bite of the habanero jelly, she just wouldn’t do it. She missed out; because this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in St. Louis.

Regretfully, we didn’t have room for more than that, as I’d have really liked to try the Missouri LAMB CHOPS + smashed sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes & stone ground mustard demi.

For dessert we shared the gooey chocolate cake with basil ice cream. It was the standard molten chocolate cake that was all the rave in the late nineties. While I find it a bit ho-hum on the whole, there’s was prepared nicely, with the basil ice cream adding an interesting contrast. Plus, when you see the size of the kitchen they’re working out of, you are definitely more than willing to cut them some slack for not pulling all the stops on the desserts.

We look forward to going back.

Here is the 2007.11.03 Erato Menu.

Note: Please keep in mind that while I believe my opinion to be correct, there are some establishments that I am close enough to that my opinion is personally biased. This is one.