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Photograph by Steve Adams
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SLM last listed St. Louis’ best dishes exactly two years ago, in “The 35 Best Dishes in St. Louis.” Recently, though, there has been a proliferation of restaurants in the metro area, with 45 new ones in the last quarter of 2011—that’s a new restaurant (an independent one, mind you) opening every other day. As St. Louis has clearly upped its offerings, we figured we’d better as well. And so we present The 50 Best Dishes in St. Louis, scattered across various types of cuisine and price points, from basic chicken and dumplings to the oddly named “squirrel fish. —George Mahe
$10 and Under
Sugo’s Spaghetteria, $10
We’re all for truth in menu verbiage, but at Sugo’s we get sold short: “House-Made Lasagna $10” fails to mention that the serving takes two hands to serve, feeds two people, contains two kinds of meat (including a distinctive sausage made on The Hill) and two kinds of cheese (one being generous shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano), and the prized sugo comes from a woman with two names, Mary Rose Del Pietro. This is very good lasagna…considering the price, maybe too good. 10419 Clayton, 314-569-0400, sugoscucina.com.
Mad Tomato, $10
The menu’s description is bare-bones, but the Hunter’s Egg is anything but. Creamy polenta, earthy cannellini beans, savory pancetta, and bright tomatoes provide layered flavor and varied texture, while the richness of a perfectly poached egg unites the dish’s humble ingredients into a hearty, deeply satisfying whole. Rustic but elegant in its simplicity, this is Italian comfort food at its finest. 8000 Carondelet, 314-932-5733, madtomatostl.com.
Asiana Garden, market price
While it might be cool to combine a squirrel and fish, the dish’s name actually refers to a fish that’s scored and deep-fried, so it resembles Rocky’s bushy tail. The fish is sometimes a sea bass, sometimes something similar. The whole thing arrives sizzling, with a carmine sour-and-sweet sauce, layered in contrasting tastes—not the gloppy imitations to which we’re all too often subjected. It’s easily one of the region’s best dishes—and at 1,200 years old, it’s the most venerable on this list. 7930 Olive, 314-726-4049.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY DEWEESE
Grilled Steak Fajita Tacos
Nachomama’s, $2.49 per taco, $8.49 platter
We suspect the throngs of regulars who pile into Nachomama’s to order the grilled steak fajita tacos do so for the same reason we do: Unlike fast-food tacos, the steak inside those toasted flour tortillas tastes wonderfully of beef, rather than something steak-like. Granted, you’ll pay more, and—topped with cabbage—they’re not your standard-issue tacos. But if you try them drizzled with one of the house-made salsas, you’ll return, too, and probably sooner rather than later. 9643 Manchester, 314-961-9110, nachomamas-stl.com.
No. 54 Bánh Xèo
Mai Lee, $8.95
Are bánh xèo, the airy crepes, a relic of Vietnam’s years as a French colony? Who cares, when Mai Lee’s large, crisp-at-the-edges version holds pork and shrimp, bean sprouts and mung beans? Made from rice flour, they’re so light they practically rise above the plate; they’re simultaneously crunchy, soft, warm, and cool. Wrapping chunks in the offered leaf lettuce is optional, but a drib of garlicky fish sauce and a nibble of zesty cilantro are essential. Bánh xèo are often greasy; these are not. 8396 Musick Memorial, 314-645-2835, maileerestaurant.com.
Remember the skin of milk that you hated on pudding as a kid? Now imagine that skin was cheese instead, and you somehow managed to turn it inside out so the creamy cheese goodness below was encapsulated in a satchel of the highest-quality, freshest mozzarella you’ve ever tasted in your life. That just begins to scratch the surface of Truffles’ textbook example of the simple Italian classic called burrata. 9202 Clayton, 314-567-9100, todayattruffles.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEVIN A. ROBERTS
Birria (Goat Stew)
Pueblo Nuevo, $9.95
With a platter of tortillas alongside, just the sight of this rich, russet bowl of stew is mouthwatering. It begins with a base of dried, roasted red peppers that provides a mildly spicy kick to the meaty broth. Grab a spoon—it gets better. Smoky and savory, the long-braised goat is reduced to moist shreds of tender, nearly sweet perfection. And a lime wedge adds a smack of citrus. (Think less Gruff, more delicious pot roast.) La cabra está exquisita. 7401 N. Lindbergh, 314-831-6885, pueblonuevostl.com.
$11 to $15
Poisson à la Braise (Grilled Fish)
Tam Tam African Restaurant, $11.99
While most African food in St. Louis is East African, Florissant’s Tam Tam specializes in West African classics like this whole tilapia dish from the owner’s homeland, Senegal. The dish manages to somehow be both unusual and familiar at the same time—thanks to Mediterranean influences—with the fish’s flesh slashed to aid absorption; marinated briefly in a mixture of lemon, pepper, oil, and garlic; then quickly grilled over high heat to caramelize the marinade and crisp the finger-licking-tasty skin. 35 Florissant Oaks Shopping Center, 314-921-3805, tamtamstl.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ASHLEY GIESEKING
Riverbend Restaurant & Bar, $12.99
One of the barometers of New Orleans cuisine—étouffée—happens to be well represented 1,300 miles upriver. Lucky us. As with straight poker on the Robert E. Lee, the secret is knowing the game, and Riverbend’s acclaimed chef, Steve Daney, clearly does. While Cajun purists opt for either shrimp or crawfish, we smile sheepishly and ask for both—and a rusty burnet stew, chock-full of the gulf’s bounty, appears. No seasoning is necessary...unless you want to pass over that bottle of Cristal. 701 Utah, 314-664-8443, riverbendbar.com.
Seared Sea Scallops With Black Truffles
Three immense, perfectly seared scallops are carefully positioned on the plate by a brace of Tony’s servers. Sauce, kept at the perfect temperature on the serving cart, is carefully spooned onto the bronzed bivalves. The scallops are sweet and perfectly cooked, but what makes us gasp is the sauce, creamy and rich with a wine reduction that leaves a note of tarragon, along with flavorful bits of black truffle. Ask—no, beg—for a sauce spoon. 410 Market, 314-231-7007, tonysstlouis.com.
Creole Midnight Snack
Kelly English Steakhouse, $12
Kelly English eats a lot better than we do. For us, a midnight snack is a bowl of stale cereal with past–the–expiration date milk; for English, it’s a slice of brioche toast topped with sautéed, rémoulade-sauced jumbo Gulf shrimp crowned by a poached egg. Inspired by late-night sober-up treats served at Mardi Gras balls in English’s native New Orleans, this filling “snack” yields a combo of textures and tastes that’s just flat decadent. We’re going to Kelly’s house…or his steakhouse. Harrah’s St. Louis, 777 Casino Center, 314-770-8248, harrahsstlouis.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Harmony—to the ear or the taste bud—depends on tension, the ebb and flow of the expected and unexpected to make something uniquely beautiful. For the hamachi crudo at Niche, this means a delicate play between the flavors of Italy and Japan. The expected? Flavors coalescing around raw fish, sea salt, and acid from citrus. The unexpected? Rich marshmallows of soy and mint, slivers of crispy potato, and light-as-air puffed rice combine to remind us that while many make noise, few make music. 1831 Sidney, 314-773-7755, nichestlouis.com.
Spicy Shrimp With Eggplant
Brio Tuscan Grille, $13
We know better than to order the same item at the same place every time we visit. At Brio, though, we’re powerless in succumbing to one of the best appetizers in town: bite-size chunks of crispy-fried eggplant and an equal number of one-bite shrimp, bathed in a light and kicky cream sauce that, were we children, we’d be swabbing with fingers. Plated onto a long, narrow dish, it’s perfect for sharing; place it lengthwise between you and your dining partner, and eat your way to the middle. Adults are allowed to have fun with their food, too. 1601 S. Lindbergh, 314-432-4410, brioitalian.com.
Pan-Roasted Freshwater Prawns
Oceano Bistro, $13
Chefs know that presentation sells the dish. That’s why executive chef Jon Lowe sells a trawler’s worth of these freshwater prawns every week. This is an appetizer that masquerades as a mini entrée: Four monster prawns are sautéed, shells on, and set atop a grilled slice of baguette with a moat of saffron-scented seafood broth below. Spectacular—but intimidating. That is, until the server asks, “May I remove those shells for you?” at which point smiles appear and the diner easily navigates what might be the city’s best shellfish appetizer. 44 N. Brentwood, 314-721-9400, oceanobistro.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ASHLEY GIESEKING
Pick Two: Pastrami and Prime Rib
Bogart’s Smokehouse, $14.99
Pitmaster Skip Steele has enough barbecue-competition hardware to ensure that any plate at Bogart’s will be piled high with some of the finest smoked meats in town. We keep coming back for the oddball items, though, like the pastrami—sliced thin and tasting of pickling spice—that rivals the finest brisket in Manhattan. Alongside are more unconventional ’cue-shack offerings: smoked prime rib and a helping of smoked onions, au jus for dipping. Ribs, schmibs. 1627 S. Ninth, 314-621-3107, bogartssmokehouse.com.
Grilled Curried Chicken
Bobo Noodle House, $11
There are die-hard Bobo regulars who’ve only eaten one dish off its menu: this one. The first two steps of preparing the dish—a holdover from Zoe Pan-Asian Café, the erstwhile Central West End eatery once owned and operated by Bobo proprietor Zoe Robinson—remain unchanged. The bird is marinated in a curry sauce and then grilled. But it’s the final touch, sautéing the meat in the wok alongside its accompanying tangle of egg noodles, that’s catapulted the curried chicken to go-to, must-try status. 278 N. Skinker, 314-863-7373, bobonoodle.com.
$16 to $20
JFires’ Market Bistro, $17
From the vine-wrapped, trellis-topped patio to the romantically lit, century-old dining room, JFires’ is a delightful dining destination. Its Cajun fare tempts. Try, though, the house-made fettuccine, swirled around flaky chunks of jumbo lump crabmeat along with fresh tomato and asparagus, in a snappy sauce of ginger, white wine, and chipotle butter. Every ingredient plays well with the others, the generous portions of lump crab complementing the asparagus and chipotle, and the perfectly al dente pasta bringing it all together. 725 N. Market, Waterloo, Ill., 618-939-7233, jfires.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN GAYMAN
Chicken and Dumplings
Coastal Bistro & Bar, $17
Grandma’s version was delish, true. This one, though, arrives as a steamy, aromatic bowl of béchamel sauce, chunky with carrots and peas and—some genius here—chanterelle mushrooms, along with a skillfully concocted confit of chicken thighs. (Question: What’s that unique flavor in the sauce that you can’t quite identify? Answer: Anise.) It’s topped with a fluffy drop biscuit and still more chicken—pieces of splendidly crunchy, deep-fried, juice-dripping breast on the side. Apologies, Granny, but Coastal gets the nod on this one. 14 N. Central, 314-932-7377, coastalbistro.com.
Tagliolini with Chanterelles
The Crossing, $18 half order, $36 whole order
Brown some butter. Scatter shallots into the pan. Toss in a tangle of chanterelles. When it’s bubbling and fragrant, pour on chicken stock; let it reduce. Add house-made tagliolini, a Piemonte pasta specialty, spidery-thin strands that suck up sauces like Lindsay Lohan at happy hour. Sprinkle on a fairy dusting of grated Parmesan, and plate. Or just leave it all to the kitchen at The Crossing, where this spectacular dish is available every night. 7823 Forsyth, 314-721-7375, fialafood.com.
Much has been made of Farmhaus’ escolar, and for good reason: It’s the can’t-miss dish on a menu of can’t-miss dishes. A fillet of the intensely rich, deep-ocean whitefish trades its seawater home for a trifecta of butter, dill, and local Traminette wine, as well as a garnish of grilled blue prawns that are served head-on. The kicker? A rotating cast of vegetables—asparagus, bok choy, rapini, or Brussels sprouts—is perfect for soaking up the last vestiges of poaching sauce. 3257 Ivanhoe, 314-647-3800, farmhausrestaurant.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Southern Fried Chicken
Monarch Restaurant, $18
Preparation for fried chicken at Monarch is a multiday process, starting with daylong soaks for locally sourced Amish chickens, first in a sweet-tea brine and then in tangy buttermilk, before the meat is dredged in flour and cornmeal and fried in jet-black cast-iron skillets. Reach for the thigh first—tea-tinged dark meat that’s unbelievably moist—and savor a bite or two before making for a pair of classic Southern-fried chicken adornments, honey and house-made hot sauce. 7401 Manchester, 314-644-3995, monarchrestaurant.com.
Tani Sushi Bistro, $20
A sampling of sashimi—delicate sections of raw fish—might be the best start to an evening of Japanese dining, drawing you further into Tani’s offerings of nigiri, maki, and temaki. Sashimi here will vary a bit, but it won’t disappoint: Premium cuts of salmon and tuna toro anchor the dish, while yellowtail and sea bass might lead you to rethink your options and simply reorder—or say, ”Just surprise me.” 16 S. Bemiston, 314-727-8264, tanisushi.com.
Grilled Hamachi Kam (Yellowtail Collar)
Fin Japanese Cuisine, $16.95
No, “fish jaw” might not be on many best-dishes lists. Pity. Other Japanese-themed places offer it; unfortunately, they usually pimp it unnecessarily with sauces. Hamachi kama is happily simple, correctly prepared perfection here: dusted with coarse salt, then broiled. The fish’s jaw and collar go under the heat long enough to char-crisp the skin and turn the flesh into a meaty, delicate, and satisfying treat. It’s a perfect meal—and an exquisite accompaniment to sake. 1682 Clarkson, 636-536-4228, finstl.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Milagro Modern Mexican, $15.95
Milagro’s take on this classic Yucatecan dish might be short on suckling pig (cochinita) and subterranean cooking (pibil), but it’s long on flavor. Chef Jason Tilford takes pork shoulder (the genesis of St. Louis’ venerable pork steak), rubs it with achiote—imparting a yellow-orange color and mildly peppery flavor—and then bathes it in a citrus marinade before wrapping it in banana leaves and slowly roasting it. The result is a succulently soul-satisfying pork dish. 20 Allen, 314-962-4300, milagromodernmexican.com.
I Fratellini, $20
Last fall, just to change things up a bit, the lobster risotto was removed from I Fratellini’s menu for the season. A customer coup nearly ensued, and it was back a week later. Lesson learned—although it really was a known fact all along: Lobster anything is going to be much-loved, especially when it’s presented with big chunks of claw meat and prepared with little more than authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh shallots and basil. 7624 Wydown, 314-727-7901, ifratellini.com.
$21 and Up
What baby seals are to cute, cassoulet is to comfort dining. It’s thick, luxuriantly rich, the soft white beans smoky with the fragrance of peppery, garlicky sausage, that slab of pork belly…oh, and did we forget the duck confit? You won’t. You’ll remember every bite of this remarkable dinner, from the spoon first cracking that crispy bread-crumb crust to the last scrabbled scarpetta of juice. It’s a classic presentation. No St. Louis winter is complete without enjoying it at least once. 1535 S. Eighth, 314-436-2500, eatatfranco.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY DEWEESE
Brasserie by Niche, $21
Few local places evoke l’esprit d’une brasserie—convivial and happily crowded, with select dishes—better than this CWE star. While bouillabaisse purists have more critiques about the dish’s “correctness” than Miss Manners at a frat kegger, the Brasserie largely plays homage to the original. Meaty white pollock, clams, mussels, and shrimp accompany potatoes in a silky, luscious tomato broth aromatic with fennel. That crusty piece of baguette? Use it. This splendid seafood presentation looks quite at home in its classic environment. 4580 Laclede, 314-454-0600, brasseriebyniche.com.
Oak Plank Taster
The Tavern Kitchen & Bar, $29
Gather round, all ye neophytes and undecideds. One of the reasons The Tavern was SLM’s 2011 Restaurant of the Year is because the eatery makes it so easy to experience what its chefs do there. Take the Oak Plank Taster, commonly called “the quad”: a bit of chicken saltimbocca, blushing pink pork tenderloin with pineapple, a riff on steak and eggs, a burly barley stew—it’s your own little tasting menu, all on one plate. The quad is the meat eater’s equivalent of The Tavern’s equally popular seafood sampler. Uh-oh, now which one do you choose? 2961 Dougherty Ferry, 636-825-0600, tavernstl.com/home.
Grilled Angus Hanger Steak
Yes, we wish they’d use the French term onglet. No matter what you call it, though, this odd-shaped muscle is seriously good eating, particularly presented as it is here. The meat is grilled, quickly, before it has time to toughen. Order it saignant, seductively pink in the middle, and have an order of frites just to put the balance on things. Harvest has this unusual—and delicious—cut down better than any other place in town. 1059 S. Big Bend, 314-645-3522, harveststlouis.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
Dry-Aged Bone-In Rib-Eye
Prime 1000, $55
Don’t let the sleek interior fool you. Serving up 18-ounce dry-aged, bone-in USDA Prime rib-eyes—the coveted yet often overlooked cowboy cut—proves that Prime 1000 has the soul of an old-school steakhouse. Unabashedly seasoned with only coarse kosher salt and pepper and seared on a rocket-hot grill, a well-marbled piece of beef requires little else. And that bone? The leftovers just might be the best midnight snack you’ve ever had. Then hand it off to Scruffy. 1000 Washington, 314-241-1000, prime1000.com.
Roasted Chicken With Truffled Mushroom Sauce
Chez Leon, $30
You have no problems that won’t be made better, if not entirely solved, by a roast chicken from Leon’s stylish chez. Seriously. The skin is wrapping-paper crackly, salty, golden. The plump breast is the opposite, soft and succulent; the thighs and leg are the juicy essence of chicken in a bite. A glossy truffle sauce drizzled on tastes like an Hermès leather clochette smells. Matched with a chilly purple glass of Beaujolais, it will put whatever’s ailing you in perspective. 7927 Forsyth, 314-361-1589, chezleon.com.
Marsala Braised Rabbit Hindquarter
Eleven Eleven Mississippi, $23.99
Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat—or really, the braising pan—chef Robert Colosimo conjures the Milanese splendor of osso buco from a decidedly Midwestern meat staple. In fact, Colosimo claims that many a diner’s face lights up at the childhood memory of seeing rabbit at the dinner table, only to illuminate anew upon tasting the fork-tender flesh, braised for nearly an hour until it’s falling off the bone. A gastronomic ta-da, indeed. 1111 Mississippi, 314-241-9999, 1111-m.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY DEWEESE
The grilled lamb-rib rack would have been enough. Joining it with a splendidly braised leg sends this dish smack-dab into best territory. Kerala-style basmati rice, pricked with cardamom, and a tangy mango relish add a happy touch. The gloriously browned crust and pink juiciness of the ribs contrast with the tender succulence of the leg. Add a cool, gracious, and beautiful California cab sav and a companion who could be similarly described, and life definitely becomes more tolerable. 131 Carondelet Plaza, 314-725-6777, araka.com.
Speck-Wrapped Pork Filet
Home Wine Kitchen, $24
Pork is finally getting its due on local menus. One of the best examples is this knockout dish: a pork tenderloin wrapped in speck. Juicy, full-flavored, a little salty and smoky, paired with fig jam and roasted Brussels sprouts, it’s seductive and sophisticated, like all of chef Cassy Vires’ food. And like everything else at Home, it comes and goes on the changing weekly menu—but the website will indicate its appearance. It’s worth looking out for. 7322 Manchester, 314-802-7676, homewinekitchen.com.
Applewood Smoked Duck
Sidney Street Café, $27
Like a boxer’s one-two punch, this duo of duck sets up its combo with the familiar—and perfectly medium-rare—duck breast made special with an unmistakable hit of smoke before quickly firing the knockout punch: Korean barbecue pulled duck leg. Its sweetness (think hoisin, but with more kick) begs you to pile it atop the accompanying scallion pancakes and roll them up moo shu–style—though no moo shu you’ve ever had around here has been anywhere near this good. 2000 Sidney, 314-771-5777, sidneystreetcafe.com.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY DEWEESE
Web Exclusive: Get a behind-the-scenes look at how chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Café creates the apple wood-smoked duck, one of the savory entrées mentioned in this month's cover story, "The 50 Best Dishes in St. Louis."
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JILL NICKELL
Pomme, Pomme Café & Wine Bar, and Atlas Restaurant
“Comfort foods offer solace, but I get tired of them after a few bites. With the cassoulet at Atlas, there’s so much difference in the textures and flavors—they work well as a harmonious whole, but there’s a lot of interest.”
“A sweet/savory braised dark, saucy, and moist lamb shank sits atop potato purée, ringed with pea sauce and roasted carrots, plus garlic confit to round out the flavor and taste of this dish. This has been one of my favorite winter dishes ever since I was a young chef.”
The seared halibut sits on puréed Jerusalem artichokes and is topped with broccoli sprouts, carrot chips, julienned cucumber, and truffles bathed in a lemon vinaigrette. “It’s my favorite combination of flavors,” says Aramburu. “It exemplifies my style.”
The sorghum-lacquered duck—Salt’s Americanized take on the classic Peking duck—is “easy to do, it’s a warming dish, and the sweet component pairs really well with the fat in the duck.”
Balaban’s Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar
“Braised lamb shank served with lentil ragu, veal- stock reduction, shaved Manchego, and pomegranate—this is the season for it. The elements pair really well, it’s got a lot of color, and you can really differentiate all the textures.”
Grilled House-Made Meatloaf
Annie Gunn’s, $14, lunch only
“One of my chef friends says, ‘There’s nothing wrong with meatloaf as long as you season it well and make it the best you can,’ and Annie Gunn’s is the best example of that point in St. Louis.”
Chitlins With Hot Bean Paste
Wei Hong Seafood Restaurant, $10.50
“Chewy—in a good way—the muscular slices of fei-chang chitlins absorb the fiery, fragrant hot bean sauce of garlic, chilis, and sesame-seed oil. It’s an exquisite combination of taste and texture.”
The Royale, $10
“Perfectly smoked, a large serving of rich and hearty beef laps over the sides of a nicely heated tortilla—proving once again that the higher the slurp factor, the better the taco.”
Seared Ahi Tuna
“Spice-rubbed, barely-seared tuna over eggplant caponata may be the classic modern Italian seafood dish, exactly what one should expect from chef Fabrizio Schenardi.”
Andrew Mark Veety
“Since we moved to St. Louis, Modesto has been a place where my wife and I have celebrated many of the big and little events in our lives. On those special nights, the fried lobster tail with chimichurri sauce is never missing from our order.”
Shaved Duck, $7.99
“I love the flavor combination: house-smoked pulled pork with bacon and pistachio butter top a soft baked apple. It’s sweet, savory, smoky, and perfect for cold weather.”
Ann Lemons Pollack
Fried Chicken Livers (Ordered Hot and Spicy)
Porter’s Fried Chicken, $4.59
“Medium-hot in spicing, very hot in temperature, these flavor bombs deserve—demand—an icy drink. Probably not the thing to convert the liver-reluctant, but then you never know, do you?”
Geo’s Wings & More, $7.39
“Because these wings are fried, then sauced, then fried and sauced again, their supertangy buffalo-wing flavor announces itself like Ethel Merman taking the stage—these wings ain’t shy.”
A “Best” Worth Celebrating: Handmade Colombian Tamales
Most tamales are encased in rolled masa; we’ve found that the best ones are not. It takes Rubiela Garcia weeks to prep the Colombian-style tamales for the annual Fiesta in Florissant, held every June. With a banana leaf underneath, masa acts as the base. Atop that is a layer of spiced rice and seasoned chicken and pork, followed by a crown of onions, carrots, and potatoes. The tamale is then cinched together and slow-simmered to marry the flavors. Untying this lovely package is one of the highlights of summer in St. Louis.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KEVIN A. ROBERTS
Meal on the Move
Guerrilla Street Food’s Chicken Adobo, $6
Brian Hardesty and Joel Crespo’s Guerrilla Street Food truck is famous for an inventive collection of lunch dishes starring various permutations of roasted pork, but it’s a chicken dish that’s satisfaction incarnate. Chicken adobo—chicken braised in soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, vinegar, and whole peppercorns, served over rice—has a flavor that pops on the tongue. Venturing outside in winter to order something—anything—from Guerrilla is rewarded by unusual Filipino flavors that meld just so, provoking well-earned envy from the next cubicle over. Varying locations, 314-529-1328, guerrillastreetfood.com.
Kitchen Ins and Outs
Call it the DIY invasion, recession chic, or a good old-fashioned return to what’s good and old-fashioned: When it comes to restaurant menus, everything old—painstaking, primitive cooking techniques; indigenous meats; marginalized herbs—is new again. —R.M.L.
In: Browned Butter
its best part—the milk solids with the deliciously nutty aroma derived from heating and separating unsalted butter—has been joyfully rediscovered. Browned butter is now showing up in decadent, flavorful sauces and even as a luscious ingredient in desserts. (Don’t worry—we’ll atone with an all–olive oil diet tomorrow.)
Out: Hollandaise Sauce
If you see it in restaurants at all these days, it’s on a traditional eggs Benedict, perhaps with some kind of chopped-herb additive or other accoutrement to fancy it up. Boooring.
When farm-raised Missouri trout receives pride of place on menus where opulent, exotic fish once hogged the spotlight, you know the locavore movement has won. No longer relegated to down-market, early-bird-special status, trout is flaunting its culinary versatility: smoked and tossed into a salad, prepared in classic French styles, or simply seared in the pan to let its irresistible sweetness and light shine through.
Out: Chilean Sea Bass
The Seafood Formerly Known as Patagonian Toothfish went from unknown to wildly popular so damn fast. Now it’s enduring the crash-and-burn phase of its fadness as restaurateurs find it too pricey to make a profit. It’s the Kobe beef of fish.
A close cousin to anise and a taste-alike to one of the cocktail world’s everything-old-is-new-again darlings (that would be absinthe), this licorice-flavored herb is popping up in soups, sauces, and main plates with fantastic frequency. It’s a delightful, welcome surprise for adventurous palates.
Once upon a time (in the 2000s), it seems that we frequented restaurants because we liked pretending we were all vaguely foreign and otherworldly, a daydream for which cilantro fit the bill. Now that its heyday has receded, there’s no shame in admitting it if, to your tongue, cilantro always tasted like soap.
Delicious Dining for Less
Seven ways to eat well and save a buck
1) Eat out on off-nights. Restaurants—even the good ones—reward early-in-the-week diners. Brasserie by Niche and Home Wine Kitchen offer great prix-fixe deals every Monday night.
2) Subscribe to newsletters. Many restaurants notify regulars of special deals through a monthly e-newsletter. Big Sky Café will even comp a bottle of wine on subscribers’ birthdays.
3) Look for loss-leader dishes. Consciously or not, some restaurants offer their best dishes at artificially low prices. (Cases in point: Sugo’s lasagna and Oceano’s freshwater prawns.)
4) Get on the deep-discount bandwagon. Groupon and other daily deals are everywhere, usually arriving via email. Take advantage. Those businesses want you to visit—or visit again—or they wouldn’t buy into those programs.
5) Take advantage of dining-deal events. Events like Downtown Restaurant Week, held every August, have spawned similar “three courses for $25” deals in the suburbs. (January 23 through 29, for instance, marked Clayton Restaurant Week.) Eager to shake a few new hands, participating owners can be especially generous.
6) Enjoy early-bird/happy-hour deals. The majority of restaurants now offer some or all of their appetizers at half price (in the bar and often in the restaurant, too) from around 4 to 6 p.m. during the week.
7) Eat at the bar. Savvy (and procrastinating) diners, as well as those in the industry, prefer dining at a restaurant’s bar. Owners know this, so service and ticket times are often quicker; prospective new menu items are often tested there; and bartenders tend to be more, ahem, generous with their own customers. Bonus: It’s where drink experiments occur, as well—that’s how we found Milagro Modern Mexican’s piña colada. —G.M.
Edited by George Mahe; By Bill Burge, Byron Kerman, Rose Maura Lorre, Dave Lowry, George Mahe, Katie O'Connor, Joe and Ann Pollack, and Andrew Mark Veety