Friday, June 27, 2008

Niche - St. Louis

Niche is certainly one of the better restaurants in St. Louis, and one that I would highly recommend. Like some of my previous comments about StL food, however, its charging big boy prices without backing it up with a big boy experience.

And you are absolutely correct that with an on-site pastry chef, I certainly would have offered a bread service. We passed on the cheese options which were minimal at best (Stilton, Maytag, St. Andre).

Enough of the negative, here's the positive:

We had the Chef's Tasting Menu with Wine Pairings. That started with a glass of Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco followed by "Parsnip consomme, bacon, grapefruit, brown butter foam." This was the weakest of the courses. The bacon and grapefruit were sodium alginate caviar and were over cooked (over chemically processed?). But it was a nice flavor combination albeit a bit non-distinctive.

Next was a glass of Josef Ehmoser Gruner Veltiner, 2006 and "Fried brandade, arugula, egg and ramps." Salt cod and potatoes formed into a cake and fried, an over easy egg with sauted vegetables. This dish received mixed reviews. I enjoyed it, the other two did not so much. One said it was too fishy, the other too potatoey. I like it just fine. I would however, have fixed the presentation by poaching the egg or at least cooking the egg in a way that it did connect with the other eggs, leaving torn edges. For the price - make my egg pretty, please.

The pours were full glass which (I hang my head in shame as I type this) were too much. I would rather they had dropped the pours to 1/2 glass (along with the price). It was difficult to keep up with the amount of liquor being thrown in front of me.

But ploughing ahead (as I was getting ploughed) we had M. Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone, 2006 with "Reuben - rye gnocchi, pickled mustard seeds & horseradish." This was the one dish that I wanted to emulate. The rye gnocchi had an outstanding taste, the mustard seeds were great texture, and the meat - corned pig tongue - while an odd choice for a rueben - was superb. This really tasted exactly like a rueben and was very playful. Again, mixed reviews from the table as some thought it was too strong, and the gnocchi to mushy. I disagree - gnocci is what it is and chef did a good job on these, and yes, ruebens are strong flavored.

An off-menu palate cleanser was then brought to us (good choice and the only one we received) which was a carrot lime sorbet. I can't wait to get home to throw lime in my carrot cake frosting - this was a very, very good taste.

Another full pour of Torii Mor Pinot Noir, 2006 served with "Lamb, rhubarb, hummus & white chocolate." This was, in my opinion, the only innovative course. I had not seen white chocolate used in hummus before and it really worked well. We argued for quite some time about whether a dark or milk chocolate might have been better, but I don't think so. White chocolate has a roundness, and yet a flavor snap that brown/real chocolate just don't have. The lamb chops were prepared properly and the rhubarb sauce added a nice twang. I believe the foam was a fresh garlic foam, but I can't remember.

Finally was the dessert - the course that I cared most about. Noble One Botrytis Semillon, 2005 (a wine I had never had before) with "Coconut kulfi, passion fruit glazed pineapple, granola." First, I find kulfis to be lazy/convenient desserts. I made one recently in my ice cream class because I knew I wouldn't have time to make enough ice creams for the participants, but the tradeoff to convenience is texture. Kulfis are hard. In my restaurant universe, I would have zapped the kulfi in the microwave for 10 seconds on power 1 and softened it just a bit. Other than that, it was a wonderful dessert. Kulfi creaminess with an intense coconut flavor, paired well with the slight acidity and zing from the pineapple.

The tasting menu cost $65 and the wine $35. This was the least expensive of the tasting menus that I have done, but as far as quality and innovation, it was proportionate. That said, it was a very good meal and one I would do again.

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