Christmas came early to the CWE


Seriously!  How lucky are the residents of the Central West End (CWE)!?!  Gerard Craft opened Brasserie by Niche in the former Chez Leon space.  With Perry Hendrix at the helm of the stove, the CWE folks have just gotten themselves one heck of a neighborhood hotspot! Focusing on classic French bistro fare, you’ll never eat onion soup anywhere else.  Cassoulet, moules frites, French cheeses, country pate….and an amazing croque monsieur…coq au vin…you’ll feel like you are sitting in a Parisian bistro! With a nice beer and wine selection…Brasserie By Niche is one of my new favorite places to go. Lucky for me it’s a stone’s throw from the hospital…and after a long day caring for the masses…Brasserie is a welcome respite!

Next up: Pi!! Pi is close to opening its doors in their new CWE locale! That makes the third space opened by Chris Sommers! With the crazy success of his spot in the Delmar Loop..and the cult-like obsession cultivated at the Kirkwood spot he is about to dish out some of that crazy good cornmeal crust deep dish on the corner of Euclid and McPherson! And to make it even better Mathew Rice is going to be doing his ingenious desserts at the new CWE locale! His milkshake bar at the Kirkwood locale is a favorite already.  I suggest a Purple Cow or a chocolate malted milkshake if you make it out Kirkwood! The CWE spot is geared toward adults with a gorgeous reclaimed eco-friendly bar manned by Chad George!

So…no more complaining about the CWE not having anything new….get over to Brasserie (open NOW!) and Pi (slated to open to the public on Tuesday 12/ 15/09!)

Full Moon Feast


Simon and I were invited to attend an installation of Full Moon Foodies Dinner.  Full Moon Foodies is a monthly late-night dinner event hosted by Wes Johnson, Chef de Cuisine and Brendan Noonan, Executive Sous Chef at Eclipse in the Moonrise Hotel.  Each month, a melange of St. Louis food enthusiasts and culinary professionals are invited to partake in a themed meal on the night of the full moon.  This month’s full moon landed on a Friday night and a vegetarian feast was on the books.

Dinner guests included a who’s who of the St. Louis’ professional  food-writing community, chefs and local food enthusiasts, including Mathew Rice, Sara White, April Seager and my new friend Gilberto Pinela.  Our evening began with cocktails at the bar.  Packed in on the ground level of the restaurant were loads of patrons vying for a spot on the rooftop.  The wait was over an hour when we arrived.   With spectacular views, perfect weather and tasty drinks, that was enough to lure the crowds high above the street.  But, we were looking forward to a small intimate dinner in the cozy corner of the restaurant, so the rooftop would have to wait.

As guests arrived, we took our seats and began to anticipate the bounty for which we were gathered.  The meal was based on a video game played by Brendan.  Harvest Moon, a Japanese farming-simulation game was developed by Yasuhiro Wada.  The object of the game is to maintain a farm over a period of time, tending the crops and livestock through the seasons, while befriending the nearby townsfolk and getting married in some games.  With this in mind, Wes and Brendan focused on local (when appropriate), fresh vegetables for the meal.

To start out the meal, we nibbled on spiced roasted nuts.  Crunchy, spicy and sweet…they accompanied our cocktails perfectly.  Secondly a serving of warm herbed olives…with a great underbelly of heat. Simon offered up a new concoction he devised earlier that afternoon at The Wine Merchant.  Local goat cheese, whipped with mango honey and scotch bonnet peppers was coined The Goat Fire Ball.  It was another delicious nibble that brought the spice and heat.

And thus the feast began!  Bowls of pickled wax beans cooled your palate.  Along with watermelon dressed with pickled carrots, there was vast platters of fresh vegetables.  Plates of heirloom tomatoes with Koren melon dressed in a balsamic reduction, tempura of Ozark Forest mushrooms, okra, poblano and red bell peppers.   Knowing that some dinner guests were of the vegan persuasion, the tempura was executed san eggs.  Even with the egg omittance, the tempura was crispy and perfect.  Heaping bowls of Ozark Forest mushrooms were served. Maitake, Lobster and Hen of the Woods were sauteed with butter and thyme.  One bowl was sauteed with olive oil for our vegan guests.  A  rich carrot and potato curry was the main course.  The curry was hearty, with warm spices that satisfied.  A dollop of the Goat Fire Ball gave a second layer of flavor and heat that was genuinely scrumptious.  Fresh figs with cracked black pepper were piled high in a bowl.

Cocktails, such as Lemon Lime Gin & Tonic infused with sorrel were consumed…along with Champagne/Elderberry flower liqueur concoctions.  On a sweet note: Brendan found some “sweet crunchy sticks” at the local Asian Market. And that was the literal translation, folks.  There were rice sticks covered in a fine sugar from what I could tell.  The package was brought out and  in a hilarious twist of fate…fitted right in with the video game themed meal!  I never got a chance to read the actual ingredients…all I heard was that they were vegan so they were OK for all at the table.  Finally, a meringue topped with local peaches were the final course.  The meringue was light, sweet and fluffy.  The peaches, although local and fresh, were a tad under-ripe.

All in all, the Full Moon Foodies dinner was an amazing experience.  Food enthusiasts and professionals gathering together to enjoy good food, make new discoveries, exchange ideas and just have fun is a wonderful concept.  A giant thanks to Wes and Brendan for being such gracious hosts and putting together a delicious vegetarian meal!

I can only hope I am lucky enough to be invited back for another Full Moon Foodies Dinner!

Niche TasteBar


you should go there.  the drinks are amazing…the food spectacular.  Ted Kilgore is a mad scientist and booze genius…pair with Gerard Crafts inventive and satisfying food….it’s a win-win.   they also stay open late…where else can you get a great cheese plate at midnight, hmm?  need i say more?

it is really, really good…and fun…and just all around a nice place to sit for an hour or so……plus the music didn’t suck.

there…that is my review…done and done.

Veruca Bakeshop closing to make way for Niche Taste Bar


That’s right folks….what once was a bright bubbly bakeshop during the day will now transform into a sleek new lounge featuring cocktails and a menu of small plates .  Wine tastings may be in the future as well.

As sad as I am to see Veruca Bakeshop go dark, I am excited for the new concept to take form!  Mathew Rice and Gerard Craft do amazing things together and I’m sure I’ll fall in love with Niche Taste Bar the minute I take my first bite.

Don’t fret though….Mathew will still be doing his famous wedding cakes, confections and cakes.  They will need to be pre-ordered through Niche!  I am very excited to see the new desserts that come from Mathew in the months to come!  Here’s a little scoop:  one of Mathew’s fabulous wedding cakes will be shown in a summer issue of Martha Stewart Weddings!!

Mathew will also be piloting a new bread program for the restaurant.  Now, all the breads will be made in house!  I can’t wait to get my chubby little fingers on some of that!

Look for Niche Taste Bar to debut this Spring!

Food & Wine Feature Mathew Rice!!


F&W is showcasing another stellar recipe from our very own Mathew Rice, Pastry Chef at Niche and Veruca Bakeshop.  You’ll find it on pg. 77 of the February issue.  It is a feature highlighting the under appreciated milk chocolate.  Mathew did a knock up job on his Milk Chocolate Cookies with Malted Cream.  I’m going to make them this weekend as a present to myself and as a bit of a band-aid for my homesick heart.

I just did a whirlwind tour of St. Louis this weekend and boy oh boy…did I have fun.  It was a bittersweet trip…as you all may know, the Shaved Duck is going under a transformation.  I was able to spend some quality time with my favorite bartender and the staff before they bid the Duck adieu….but, I’m not fretting too much…by the time we are back in StL I hope to see them back in action…from what I hear, works are in the making for a new spot due out in the Spring with Brendan Noonan, Wes Johnson and Pat Thomas.  Fingers crossed. And I hope that the new menu makeover at the Duck is what they need and wish them best of luck!!

I also developed a sick fascination with Bobo Noodle house….more on that later.  I just wanted to fill you all in about Mathew’s F&W recipe feature.  Hope you all had a relaxing and peaceful holiday.

some of my favorite people got gold stars……


The RFT just announced thier “Best Of” (for you PHX/Scottsdale Folks is the equivalent of our PHX New TImes).  I am proud to announce that Kevin Willmann (of Erato on Main….oh how we dearly miss it) was named BEST NEW CHEF!  Go Kevin!!!!  This is what they said about Kevin:

What do you need to be a topnotch chef? A fancy, cutting-edge kitchen? A corps of a dozen line cooks at your beck and call? Prime real estate in a major metropolitan area? None of the above, if you’re Kevin Willmann. In a kitchen that makes a freshman dorm room look expansive, in a restaurant a half-hour’s drive from downtown St. Louis, Willmann takes ingredients from local producers and fashions them into dishes that are playful in conception, beautiful on the plate and, above all else, delicious. The menu changes frequently, but you’re certain to encounter unusual combinations — peach and prosciutto, scallops and truffled whipped cream — and contemporary spins on good ol’ fashioned home cookin’. (If a dish includes spoon bread, order it.) Willmann was born in Greenville, Illinois. After making his bones along the Gulf Coast in Florida, he worked at several St. Louis restaurants: Big Sky Café, Lucas Park Grille and Mosaic. But it’s at Erato in downtown Edwardsville that he has found the perfect outlet for his talent. Yes, the kitchen is small, but it hardly matters when the talent is so great.

Ugh..I’m so happy that he was recognized. It’s the least he deserves…I’m dying for Kevin and his sous chef, Jon to trek out here and stage with Kevin Binkley…it would be AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Up next for Best New Restaurant:  Pappy’s. If you have read this blog at all….you know that I LOVE PAPPY’S.  I love it so much that since moving out to the desert, I’ve dreamed about eating ribs at Pappy’s three times…and dreamt about the brisket twice…..So, when I read that Mike Emerson and his crew got the nod for best new restaurant….I did a little happy dance….Here is what the RFT has to say bout Pappy’s:

Winning sports teams often cite “chemistry” among the players as a reason for their success. The metaphor works for restaurants, too. In fact, Pappy’s Smokehouse can credit actual chemistry — you know, the subject you slept through in high school — for being named Best New Restaurant. After all, what is barbecue but the most delicious and, in its own way, elegant chemistry of all? Tough cuts of meat, cooked long and low over apple and cherry wood, become Pappy’s indescribably delicious pulled pork, pork ribs and beef brisket. Chemistry also imbues all that meat with a gorgeous dark pink smoke ring, the telltale tattoo of great ‘cue. Now add to that the other chemistry: Owner Mike Emerson works the floor as if the success of his midtown restaurant depended on that very moment. He greets regulars and newcomers alike waiting in the long line with a hearty handshake; he clears tables and serves food. When Pappy’s runs out of meat, that’s it: Emerson would rather close his doors than serve yesterday’s reheated goods. To those who seek greatness in multimillion-dollar build-outs and fancy cuisine, however soulless, Pappy’s might seem like just another barbecue joint. But to those who appreciate the rare chemistry of great food, great people and a passion for serving the best possible product — well, Pappy’s ain’t rocket science. It’s a bona fide miracle.

And best of all, my dear, dear friend Mathew Rice was given praise for his delectible treats at both Veruca and Niche.  I am soooooooooooo proud of him.  I know how many hours he toils over his creations…he puts his heart and soul into his work and it shows.  I’ve yet to find better anywhere in the US…and I’ve eaten at some pretty fancy places…nothing compares to Matty’s goods…nothing.  It’s one of the things that almost brings me to tears when I think of home…..now, who else’s red velvet cake can do that….right, NOBODY’S.  Here is what they said about my friend:

“Pastry chef” seems an inadequate title for Mathew Rice, who masterminds the desserts at the Benton Park restaurant Niche and its new, adjacent bakeshop, Veruca. “Mastermind” works — though that too seems to miss something essential about Rice’s baking. His desserts plug into someplace deep in the unconscious, where the simple pleasures of our childhood reside: tollhouse cookies, Hostess snack cakes, s’mores. Rice interprets each in a way that brings both a smile of recognition and the thrill of the new. Those s’mores, for instance, are toasted-marshmallow semifreddo with salted caramel and a graham cracker. Not that all of Rice’s ideas are rooted in the past. Sometimes it’s a combination of cleverness and convenience, like his slices of red velvet cake served to look like a small sandwich wrapped in wax paper. And sometimes it’s working with something no one else does, like the South Asian dish kulfi, a dense frozen dessert so good it might supplant ice cream as your favorite summer treat.

A nod also went out for the best beer selection in a restuarant and rightly so, it was given to the Shaved Duck. Good job, Pat…..we really miss you guys.  We really do.

Best Cheesesteak went to 9th Street Deli….I told you that a looonnngg time ago…but congrats to Mike Risk (a nice Lebanese boy, by the way!….we have to support our own, ya know!)

Best Bakery:  222 in Edwardsville…duh.  I’d kill for a bear claw right now….really…I would…seriously.

Last year, Simon won for best cheese counter at the Merch….DiGrigorio’s won it this year….which I guess is okay if you want to limit yourself to Italian cheese…they’d be the folks to ask.

I know this is a goofy post….I’m just so damned happy for these guys that won “Best Of’.  They are my friends and I’m not ashamed to say it.  Call me a braggart, name dropper or whatever….they just rock and it’s nice to see that they are getting recognized for the great work they do.

**Last but not least by any means is 33 Wine Bar in Lafayette Square!  Jake and his boys got the nod for best wine bar….and it is the best.  1. because he has bubbles hanging from his ceiling.  2.  a GREAT patio 3.  knowledgeable staff and some amazing selections of both wine AND beer. 4.  it’s smoke free and you don’t leave smelling like the inside of an ashtray.  Good job Jake!

So, about Cafe Bink…..


I’ve noticed some folks have been searching for Cafe Bink in STL….sorry folks…it’s in Carefree AZ.  If you ever travel to Scottsdale…it’s just a 30 minute drive north….don’t miss it.

But I digress:  Lunch at Cafe Bink was delicious….albeit on the spendy side.  We knew that going into it though.  I’m just not accustomed to dropping $75 on a mid-day meal….but it was worth it.

Upon our arrival, Simon was very skeptical.  There was a young mother and her two toddler children in the cafe and (as silly as it may seem) Simon dreads eating out with children around….unless they are well behaved.  Mean, I know…but it’s a pet peeve of his….and I must say I have to agree with him at times.  There is nothing worse than trying to enjoy a great meal with a toddler running around screaming at it’s mother for chicken fingers.  But….that is a topic for another day…..

We were greeted at Cafe Bink with house-made foccacia.  Wow.  It was really good.  Had the lovely crust on the outside and was warm and chewy on the inside.  Flecks of Fleur de sel were strewn across the top and gave a salty little kick here and there.  It was served with a sweet, fruity extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar plate….simple but pleasing.

Of course we ordered the famous fries.  Now, you have to understand something…..I am not a big potato fan.  I like them two ways, whipped with cream and butter or deep fried to a golden brown.  I don’t like new potatoes, potato gratin or scalloped….just whipped or in fry form…I know…I know….but it’s who I am.  Before leaving St. Louis, we fell in love with the Shaved Duck’s fries….uber shoestring potatoes fried in duck fat.  Now….I have said this from the beginning and the boys at the Duck know all about it…..I just wanted the fried thicker cut….I don’t mind shoestring but these were SUPER shoestring and they were tricky to eat….although delicious….I always managed to get them down.  The fries at at Cafe Bink (not fried in duck fat mind you) were thicker and friend to PERFECTION!  Jesus H Christ…..they were the best pomme frites I have EVER put in my mouth.  They arrived in the traditional Parisian fashion (wrapped in newspaper and stuck in the little metal cone)….and were accompanied by 3 different dipping sauces: 1) truffled catsup 2) herbed mayo 3) traditional aoili.  Each sauce was beautiful.  Don’t need to say much about the truffled catsup…it was simply that…house-made catsup with a hint of truffle.  I almost died and went to heaven.  (I am a big catsup eater….and truffle lover).  The herbed mayo was jam packed with herbs…a bright green concoction with a heavy dill flavor….would go great with fish….and the aoili was light and garlicy…..not heavy or oily…perfect.

Next Si had the french onion soup….nothing very fancy but it was executed properly.  The gruyere was strong and flavorful….so many times they top french onion soup with chinzy swiss cheese and it has no flavor….not at Cafe Bink….the cheese was great.  The soup was rich and almost resembled an onion compote under the crouton.  I had a mixed green salad with chevre, dried figs and pancetta.  Simple and good.  The one thing I must say is that they knew how to dress a salad properly.  There wasn’t a pool of vinegarette at the bottom of my bowl…each leaf had a nice touch of dressing and that was it.  Simon had a truffled grilled cheese…..talk about decadence.  It was one of the best grilled cheeses I have ever had.  Not greasy at all!  The bread was crispy golden and the cheese was melted just right…..it came with house-made dill pickles and chips…both good as well.

We finished off the meal with a strawberry milkshake and some chocolate chip cookies……I must tell you that I am VERY picky about dessert and have been spoiled by one of St. Louis’ best pastry chef’s magical creations…..

while the shake and cookies were good…they couldn’t hold a flame to the work of Mathew Rice.  Not even close.  The presentation was cute but the shake lacked strawberry flavor and the cookies we not fresh…..what i wouldn’t give for a peachy keen shake from Veruca right now…….or a peppermint matty….ugh.,…

now…all Binkley’s needs is a little jonny style stage action……but alas, the man himself is in NYC……playing with the cool kids….

Who made the grade in St. Louis??


Last evening I had the opportunity to attend St. Louis Magazine’s A List Awards Party at Lumen (it is a gorgeous event space…wow). It is not an event I would normally attend. Mind you, at one point in my life, it would have been on the radar. Many of you may not know this, but St. Louis Magazine crowned me one of St. Louis’ Top Singles back in the day….not shabby for a kid from downtown. But, as time passed….I grew tired of the scene….fell in love with the Cheesemonger and left that life behind.

Alas, my buddy Mathew Rice was being honored for Niche’s desserts and we set up a table to hand out the goodies. Much to my surprise we were put in the best spot in the house: center balcony over looking the crowd (and was there ever a crowd! Whoa). To our left, Eric Brenner, A List Chef winner…and to our right Ricardo’s Italian Cafe…A list winner for casual Italian food. ***Sidenote on Ricardo’s: My very first job as a bus-girl was at Ricardo’s over 15 years ago…yep. I have known Mark and Michelle Adams for years and started out babysitting their two little boys…who now help run the restaurant. Good people, that Adams family. If you have not had the chance to go to Ricardo’s in Lafayette Square…make a point to get over there. They are even open for lunch.***

So, with being flanked by two tables of pals…the night was sure to be fun. And lucky for us the open bar sat directly across from our table. Nice perk.

Along comes Mike Emerson owner of Pappy’s Smokehouse! Mike and I have been chummy since he has opened his doors. We were one of his first customers and I was sure to tell him how much we loved his BBQ. After some more chit chat at the awards event…turns out Mike and I go way back and didn’t even know it. I’ve known his brother Danny my entire life and he grew up with some older members of my family. Pappy’s was being honored for best BBQ in St. Louis….what an honor….open not even ONE YEAR and they are picked for the A List. That was a no-brainer, though. Pappy’s by far is the BEST BBQ in St. Louis….hands down. Don’t fight me on it…you won’t win. And Pappy’s is another place to rush to…..amazing. And before you all shout out ‘favoritism’…..please know that I was singing this joint’s praises long before I actually met Mike and realized his family and mine were close. So zip it.

It was a great time.  Kevin Willmann, chef at Erato on Main was being honored as well.  It was great to see him outside the kitchen!  City Hall was representin’ with Mike McMillen and his crew.  All the pretty people were out in droves….dressed to kill….and packed in Lumen like little sardines sweating.  I was so happy when we ran out of food and could head outside to hang at the Pappy’s table.  (they were outside)  It was a great night to be outside with a cocktail.

Good party St. Louis Magazine….and even better choices for your A-List winners.

Food and Wine: June Issue


**Photo by Jonathan Swegle

Be on the lookout for St. Louis’ favorite new pastry chef in the upcoming issue of F&W. That’s right, Mathew Rice will be the featured pastry chef for The Last Bite. Wonder what they will feature….some would say red velvet cake….some would say the kulfi….what dessert do you think they will feature?

Whatever it is, it will be delicious. Be sure to pick up June’s issue of Food and Wine and support our local chefs!!