The first leg of our journey west was nothing all that special (I'm talking food here - obviously seeing our families was a highlight!). And then we arrived in St. Louis, MO. Having emailed back and forth with Holly for months, we decided it was the ideal opportunity for us all to meet and for her to show off her city! Side note about Holly - we met because of the blogs. She and I have had some fantastic and lengthy email exchanges, and covered a ton of various topics. However it always comes back to food. So I knew she would take us somewhere amazing. She showed up at the hotel with gift bags (for ALL - including Max), filled with local goodies (and in true Holly fashion, the gift bags were specialized - mine was much more savory, keith's was deliciously sweet).
We started with a quick walk over to Union Station for some Grey Goose martinis (with olives, mine dirty) before heading to dinner. Holly had mentioned the restaurant Niche, and I was sold from her description. She had been wanting to give it a try, and this was a perfect opportunity to share our love of great food. The restaurant had a great feeling as soon as we walked in - the atmosphere was inviting and relaxed. After ooo-ing and aah-ing over the menu for a few minutes, we decided that - as a table - we could not resist the Chef's Tasting Menu.
First course: Maple Custard. The custard was gently piled into the bottom of an egg shell. There were delicious morsels of roasted mushrooms on top, and the entire thing was topped with a generous pile of bonito caviar. Fantastic explosions of flavor throughout this tiny little dish. From the salty pop of the caviar to the creamy sweetness of the custard - these were definitely flavors I would never have been brave enough to put together on my own. Which is why I love experiencing the creativity of an excellent chef.
Second course: Lobster. The lobster was cooked perfectly, and all of the components of the dish meshed fantastically. However I have to give total props to the brown butter hollandaise. It was creamy and delicious and gave you the butter flavor you wanted for the lobster as well as the creamy texture that complimented the dish as a whole.
Third course: Pig Head Fagottini. This was one of the dishes that made us really excited about the menu - I was sold when the waitress said it was actually pig jowl meat. YES - bring it on! And I should say at this point that Holly and I have some fun things in common - one of which is how vocal we are when we eat. Not necessarily talking - but non-verbal appreciation of the food we're enjoying. Lots of moaning and sighing. Amazing food is definitely orally orgasmic. :) Back to the pig jowl - unfortunately it was the weakest part of the meal. The strawberry juice was hard to find in the flavor of the dish, and the meat was certainly not the star. The big flavor of the dish was the pasta cups - and unfortunately pasta just isn't a strong enough flavor to carry a dish. Instead it just created a bit of a bland note. However by the third bite I was tasting more of the components, and perhaps that was the chef's plan.
Fourth course: Sorbet. The sorbet was lemon & basil and was one of the most fantastic things I've put in my mouth in a while. Cold, tangy, herbacious and amazingly fragrant. The basil flavor was wonderfully strong and delicious, and the sorbet did exactly what it was supposed to do - it cleansed our taste buds to prepare us for what was to come.
Fifth course: Beef. This was, in my opinion, the best course of the meal. The tenderloin was cooked perfectly, and the mixture of fava beans, peas and mint was outstanding. Yet the stand out had to be the ramp hollandaise - I could have licked the plate clean (and nearly did).
Sixth course: Rhubarb Napoleon. Perfect and light ending to a gorgeous meal. The rhubarb was as it should be - tart and not too sweet. And while we did not follow the wine suggestions for the menu (we started with a bottle of Illumination - Sauvignon Blanc, and ended with a delicious Chardonnay), I don't think we needed them. This was an outstanding meal, and we got to share it with one of the most fantastic people in all of St. Louis. But the evening didn't end there!
Holly had one more surprise up her sleeve - the address of a cigar bar. SWOON! We hopped in a taxi and shuttled off to Charles P. Stanley. We piled right into the cigar room - keith and I both took suggestions and bought some cigars, while Holly went for something that could be inhaled. :) And with cigars & torch in hand, I finished the package with a glass of Macallan 12 year old scotch. We sat and talked about everything from friends to kids to relationships to sex. An amazing evening in St. Louis, all thanks to the amazing Holly. Thank you for such a fantastic evening - I can't wait to show you around my food favorites in Portland!