Archives for posts with tag: St. Louis

I am the kid of a career United States Air Force family. To put it mildly, I thrive on structure. Rules make my world go ‘round. I’m a by-the-book kind of gal.*

You can imagine that when I’m in the kitchen I want a recipe. I live it. I love it. I follow it to the letter. I eschew comments and changes that are suggested by reviewers on popular food sites. I find comfort in the structure.

Not too long ago, my fabulous food-loving friend, Jane Arnold, and I were embroiled in one of  those wonderful post-dinner-and-wine conversations. These are the kinds of conversations where anything seems possible. When she learned that I was now in possession of an accidentally** acquired torte pan, Jane lit up with the idea of a riff on a black forest cake for her birthday.

And post dinner and wine, I was SURE I could do it.

Now, imagine the anxiety that set in the next day in when I found myself with nothing more than a deadline, a torte pan, the notion of  a black forest cake, and no real recipe.

As a cold sweat broke across my brow, I took to the internet.

Black forest cake traditionally is a layer cake. That, my dear readers, is exactly what I found in recipe after recipe after recipe.  I, however, didn’t want to make a layer cake. I wanted to use my newly acquired torte pan.

So, I began to read the recipes for themes so that I could create my version of  this Bavarian classic.

The first thing I learned was that Kirschwasser (clear cherry brandy) is a traditional ingredient. Cake makers use it to create depth in the cherries and to add a little zipity-do-da to the whipped cream.

Kirschwasser is a clear cherry brandy. I bought my bottle at Randall's on Jefferson in STL.

Kirschwasser is a clear cherry brandy. I bought my bottle at Randall's on Jefferson in STL.

The other “themes” are all pretty obvious: chocolate cake; cherries; whipped cream. The methods by which someone like me might incorporate these themes, however, are all over the board. Some recipes call for box cake mixes; others called for canned cherries in heavy syrup; and yet others suggested processed whipped-cream-style products.

To be honest, that wasn’t what I was looking for.

So I started piecing it all together the way I thought it should be. Because, really, my way is usually best.***

This time was no exception.

I started with a chocolate cake recipe that I found on Epicurious. It’s lovely and rich. The best part is that it is a perfectly sized recipe. The original instruction is for this cake to be split between two five-inch pans. It, therefore, was perfect for one nine-and-a-half-inch torte pan.

Next, I googled “kirsch whipped cream” and what came up was perfection: cherry chocolate shortcakes with kirsch whipped cream! I had no intention of making shortcakes … this time .. but it gave me that deconstructed direction I was craving.

I made beautiful boozy cheeries.

photo (16)

I used frozen cherries with no sugar added (it being February and all). Otherwise, I would have started with fresh bing cherries.

I confidently whipped up gorgeously flavored and not-to-sweet cream.

photo (14)

If you've never whipped cream before, and some of you may not have, this is what it should look like. I promise, it will hold and not "melt."

I filled my perfectly rich and chocolate-y cake with the whipped cream and cherries.

photo (13)

So delicious.

And Jane had a gorgeous cake!

photo (17)

Happy birthday, Jane Arnold! (And thank you, Maria Morrison, for taking a great picture!)

To be honest, it was a leap for me. A giant, anxiety ridden, near paralyzing leap. The delicious result was more than worth the risk. It was rewarding. It was validating. It was motivating.

I’m inspired to do it again. Who knows what my my torte pan will render next. Whatever comes from it, though, I hope you’ll help me Eat It, St. Louis!

*Except for when it comes to speed limits. Those are more strong suggestions.

** So, I went to this Pampered Chef party and got caught up in the excitement. I thought I was ordering a TART pan. Yes, I could have returned it, but I started to think about what I’d do with a TORTE pan … and I couldn’t bring my self to send it back. It was a happy accident!

*** I should trust my kitchen skills more.

There are two things I can’t do without. Every year, my guilty pleasures’ debut set me all a tingle. I thoroughly bask the brief, yet golden glow they bring. The sun shines brighter. My coffee tastes richer. And the shoe sales are – um – shoe-ier.

Every year I just can’t wait for McRib season and The Rachel Zoe Project.

Yes, you heard me right. The McRib, all tangy and saucy and messy and mystery, makes me giddy. The first hint of McRib season, which started right on schedule last week, makes me clap and bounce like a little kid while I gleefully wait in the drive-thru lane. Truly, it’s my happy meal.

Yes

Yup. I break out the Wedgewood for The McRib.

If it makes me THAT happy, though, then why should I feel SSSSOOOO guilty? Because I’m (allegedly) a grown-up, and I know better than to eat fast food. Because the McRib is much maligned by the mainstream, and I simply love it for what it is … or isn’t … or might be. Because I secretly care about what people think about me, and I really just want to be one of the cool kids (but it’s troublesome with a big McRib sauce spot on my shirt).

Which brings me to The Rachel Zoe Project, which I love with the same zeal as I love the McRib. And, much like the McRib, Rachel’s time with me is short. I feel her pain when she struggles to delegate. I get simultaneously anxious and teary-eyed with her when she watches her beautiful styling work walk the red carpet at the Oscars. I get angry along with her when those she’s mentored leave and try to siphon her business. Oh, this show allows me to be part of a glamorous, fabulous made-for-TV reality.

Again, however, why so much guilt over Ms. Zoe and her show on Bravo? Because I’m trying to reform some of my own controlling, A-type, if-you’d-just-let-me-run-the-whole-show-it-would-be-better ways; and I really just want to be more like Rachel.  Because it shouldn’t seem reasonable for every successful woman to have multiple Hermès Birkin bags; and now I’m stalking them on Portero Luxury and wondering how much my 44-year-old eggs will fetch on the open market. Because – despite my food loving ways – I’d give anything to shimmy into sample sizes.*

But let’s face it: Rachel is one of the cool kids, and I have that pesky McRib sauce spot on my shirt. Damn.

So these are my guilty pleasures. For eight weeks, The Rachel Zoe Project feeds my seemingly insatiable appetite for fashion and glamor and A-type success. And for approximately eight weeks, McDonalds will offer to feed my appetite while I struggle not to hit up every drive-thru for a McRib.

Beware: The two (or three) times I can’t resist, kindly avert your eyes and move out of my way because I’m going to Eat It, St. Louis!

*Of course, with a McRib in one hand and a Birkin in the other!

We’ve all heard the following verse: Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for life.  We are living in times wherein those who can are supporting both sides of the verse to assure that people are strong in the short term and to teach them to flourish in the long term.

The world is a challenging place, and – thankfully – there are many terrific organizations that work to help more than 925 million people (according to the WFP) meet their critical day-to-day needs. Where would we be – as a global community – without the local work of Operation Food Search and Food Outreach, and the global work of groups like UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP)?

Long-term success in the war against poverty and hunger likely happens a little bit differently. That’s why I’ve asked my friend and mentor, Chuck Hirsch**, to be a guest contributor. Chuck is a member of the development board of a St. Louis-based organization that works to empower those who can change the future’s course. His insight and passion for this effort perhaps will inspire each of us to get involved with movements that touch our hearts and appeal to our sensibilities.

So please, check out Chuck’s blog entry – Fasting for Africa – and imagine how many more will eat when more people have the opportunity to fish. That’s what it’s all about at Eat It, St. Louis!

Fasting for Africa

It’s been a few years since I last traveled to South Africa, but I still clearly remember the combination of anxiety and eagerness I felt during the weeks leading up to my visits.  Each and every time, I was anxious about the differences – the exotic food; the diseases that are too common there and unheard of here; the sadness of the shanty towns that line the highway between the Cape Town airport contrasting with the modern downtown hotels; and the mysteries and dangers of the “bush,” where we would get within a few short yards of lions, leopards, Cape buffalo, rhinos, elephants, hyenas, jackals, and more.  And I was eager to see once again some very wonderful people – both old friends with whom I worked and new friends who always seemed eager to welcome and embrace visitors to their beautiful country.

I think about those wonderful people a lot when my wife Becky and I fast for Africa.

Becky and I are both members of the development board for MicroFinancing Partners in Africa (MPA).  This is an international organization headquartered in St. Louis, founded and directed by Sister Toni Temporiti.  Sister Toni’s clear and well-focused vision for her organization is “the eradication of extreme poverty in African communities through microfinancing.”

In the slum of Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya, MPA founder and president Sister Toni Temporiti and executive director Heather Cammarata meet with Lucy, one of the original 50 street beggars who helped found one of MPA's partner organizations, Jamii Bora. With a small loan from Jamii Bora, Lucy started a business selling porridge and worked her own way up to providing her family with a modest home, regular meals, and an education.(Photo courtesy of Heather Cammarata)

Microfinancing is an economic concept that is essentially built upon providing very small loans to people who run very small business operations.  MPA generates funds that are then provided to a number of different microfinancing projects – including a soy milk project in Tanzania, small business groups in poverty-ravaged areas of Kenya, and family dairy operations in Uganda.  (You can learn lots more about these projects at MPA’s Web site.)

The common theme that ties all of MPA’s partners together is expressed well through the MPA value statement:  “People have the right, the will and the capacity to direct their own future.”

I suppose it’s the “business person” in me that finds MPA’s approach to helping people so appealing.  This is an organization made up of people who truly want to help others, while fully understanding that the best way to help people is to give them a real opportunity to help themselves.  These monies that MPA provides are loans,  and with all the organizations with which MPA affiliates itself, the requirements for those who want to participate in the programs are well thought out and demanding.  Those who receive microfinancing support must have a business plan; they must work with others in developing and executing the plan; they must develop the discipline to stick with the plan; and they must ultimately be responsible to themselves, their families, and their business partners in repaying their loans.  With that approach, I believe, the dignity of the person is honored, true life lessons can be learned, and true change can take place.

Polina, a member of the Bukoba Women's Empowerment Association in Bukoba, Tanzania, demonstrates how tasty the soy milk is that is made as a part of the group's income-generating activity, harvesting soy beans and converting them to soy flour and milk. (Photo courtesy of Heather Cammarata)

MPA and its partners are made up of a lot of people who share that belief in the value of microfinancing as a great way to honor people while attacking the problem of poverty, and I think a lot about all of the members of the MPA team when my wife Becky and I fast for Africa.

The fast itself is one of the tools we use to raise money for MPA.  This year, we’ll be fasting 36 hours.  The fast starts at 9 p.m. on Thursday, October 20, 2011, and ends at 9 a.m. on Saturday, October 22, 2011.  Those of us who fast ask family and friends to support us with a donation to MPA, and if you’re so inclined to help out, you can do that through the MPA Web site as well.

Obviously, fasting for 36 hours is not a huge deal, especially when one considers our standard of living in contrast with the poverty and hunger that so many of our African brothers and sisters deal with every single day of their lives.  Becky and I have found, though, that even though it is not a huge deal, it is indeed a big enough deal – and a discomfort of large enough proportions – to help us put our own lives and the way we spend our time in a little bit clearer perspective.  It helps us see the world and feel the world from the point of view of those people we are hoping to help, and it helps reminds us of how blessed we are.  We both believe that with great blessing comes great responsibility, and feeling a few hours of the hunger that so much of the world lives with every single second of their lives is a good reminder of how important it is to help how and where we can.

Noline, a farmer in the Cow Project in Masaka, Uganda, who has just installed the biofuel system at her farm, shows how much her cow enjoys the caliendra grass. With the biofuel to operate a hotplate and a light inside the home, Noline says that she appreciates being able to feed her children something warm before sending them to school. (Photo courtesy of Heather Cammerata.)

Of course, there is plenty of poverty here in the United States and there are plenty of good causes that need good people to support them.  And believe me, I commend all who are doing charitable work.  It’s hard for me to explain exactly why I find MPA’s work in Africa appealing enough for me to work and fast to support its efforts.  No doubt it’s because I’ve been there and seen first-hand the kind of poverty MPA is working to eliminate.  No doubt it’s also because I love the part of Africa I visited and was charmed by the life-loving people I met.  And no doubt it’s my practical side that says the right approach to helping people is to help them help themselves.

But there’s one thing more.

Becky and I have four young-adult children who are inheriting a world that is much smaller in so many ways than the world we were in as we began our married lives.  Call it “post 9/11” or whatever you would like, but these days there is little doubt that whatever happens across the globe affects our personal lives here in the Midwest more quickly and more dramatically than ever before.  In short, our neighborhood has expanded, and so our responsibility to be good neighbors to all those around us has just been scaled up.

I have to laugh at myself as I share all these feelings about MPA and the reasons I fast.  I laugh because it’s pretty typically “American” — long-winded and full of introspection.

To illustrate how an African might sum up the same feelings in a more succinct African manner, I want to share one final note.  After one of our trips to South Africa, Becky and I were at the Johannesburg airport and found a card that captured in a few short lines a great deal of the emotion we’d felt on this beautiful trip.  We bought the card, brought it home, and framed it.  It now has a prominent place on the wall of our breakfast room, and the sentiment sums up well why we believe so strongly in MPA and the fast for Africa that supports it:

“Animals with spots and stripes and horns and big teeth . . . all together in the sun and in the rain . . .”

*Man, in this context, is all humanity. As you’ve read, women are pretty good at catching fish. 

**Chuck Hirsch is an experienced publishing professional, with a long career in business-to-business media.  He is the president of Hirsch Communications Consulting, LLC, which provides consulting services to the life, health, and financial services business. Chuck’s firm specializes in helping companies and wholesale organizations in these businesses better attract and communicate with the independent producers they want and need as their representatives.  In addition, he is Contributing Editor and writes a monthly article for one of the nation’s leading business-to-business magazines for financial services professionals.

I’m almost 98%* certain the answer is, “Yes, my friends would love me if I didn’t make the Artichoke Chicken Salad.” I’m just as certain, however, that being the purveyor of this side dish didn’t hurt when guest lists were being developed in the early days of my St. Louis social life.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t have to rely wholly on my classic good looks and sparkling personality to get me through the door.

Artichoke Chicken Salad was my ticket in. It helped break the ice: “So, which dish is yours?” It gave acquaintances a reason to follow up with me: “Would you mind sharing that recipe? It helped people get to know me: “What’s in that dish?” It also became the foundation that helped establish me as a go-to contributor for all kinds of party nosh: “I just made partner! Can you help me put together a celebration menu?”

Now, 12 years later, I’m fully ensconced in a wonderful group of true friends. Together we’ve celebrated life’s greatest joys and weathered its cruelest blows. We’ve planned and plotted; laughed and cried; risen and fallen; we’ve recovered and thrived. Rarely have I walked through any door without my ticket, and it never fails to deliver yummy satisfaction regardless of the occasion.

I’m thrilled to share this often-requested recipe with you.

Artichoke Chicken Salad **

1 Roasted chicken from your grocery store

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 Yellow pepper, diced

1 Red onion, small to medium (depending on your taste), finely diced

2 Jars of Progresso marinated (in OIL) artichoke hearts, drained, chopped, and liquid reserved

2 Boxes of Near East long grain and wild rice, cooked per the package

1 Cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise

Artichoke Chicken Salad ingredients

Step one: Cook the long grain and wild rice per the package and set aside to cool.

Step two: Take the skin off of the chicken and the meat off the bones. (Use is all!) By hand, shred the meat.

Shredded chicken. Not much to look at, but yummy.

Step three: In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, and chopped artichoke hearts.

All the chopped veg. Pretty!

Step four: In a medium bowl, whisk the reserved artichoke marinade with the mayonnaise until it becomes a smooth dressing. Set aside for a moment.

Step five: Add the cooled rice to the chicken and vegetables, and mix well.

Step six: Pour all of the dressing over the top, mix well, and refrigerate.

And presto, we have a salad!***

I hope this recipe works magic for you like it has for me. If this this kind of dish isn’t your cup of tea, take some time to develop your own signature offering for pot-luck parties. Between football season and holiday events, the invitations will begin arriving soon. Whether it’s a dip, dessert, side, or a cocktail, please know that I plan to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Why not 100%? Well, that would be a blatant act of hubris that would call for a God smack. A little humility never hurt anyone.

** Notes: This is a recipe for which the brand of ingredients makes a difference (in my opinion). The Near East doesn’t taste as salty as others; the Progresso oil-based marinade has perfect balance. Don’t panic if you can’t find the exact brands, however. This salad is delicious no matter what. It’s fool proof. Unless you get water-packed artichokes … then salad has no flavor and the dressing falls apart. Also, in the original version, which my mom makes, the salad calls for a can of sliced black olives. I don’t like olives, so I leave them out. But in all fairness, I thought you should know.

*** Thanks to Mark, my talented husband, for having a better eye for proportion and balance than I. I’d have no photography with this post otherwise. xo

In my formative food years, tacos were pretty standard fare. Regardless of where I got them – at a sit-down restaurant, a fast food drive through, or my mom’s house – there wasn’t a lot of variety: Hard, corn tortilla shells; mildly spiced ground beef; cheddar (I think) cheese; lettuce; tomatoes; and if I was feeling crazy a little dollop of sour cream.* Yup, that pretty much sums it up.

As a result, I really hadn’t had a taco in some time. While I liked them fine, they were never a must-have favorite. Outings to Mexican restaurants were filled with more interesting enchiladas and big-as-my-head burritos. And I was happy.

Little did I know that my world was about to be rocked.

On a random Friday night, Mark and I headed to Pueblo Solis, a little family-owned Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood. We love it there. The food is always good, the staff is great, and the house margarita (no need to get a super fancy one) is downright delicious.

This particular visit, however, there was something new. I learned about an off-the-menu special: the fish tacos. I said, to myself, “Self, that sounds delightful.” For some reason, the idea of grilled (not fried) fish struck me as refreshing. I needed a change of pace.

When my dinner was placed in front of me, I was instantly pleased. Four flour-tortilla-wrapped tacos – perhaps I should call them what they really are: four little packages of fish-filled love – were on the plate, along with usual (and yummy) refried beans and rice, and a couple of slices of lime.

Opening up the first taco to add a squeeze of lime, the taco fillings were beautiful to behold. The gorgeous, flakey grilled tilapia (which is super fresh and sourced from Bob’s Seafood) contrasted against the colorful and robust pico de gallo and complemented the crisp and cool and crunchy lettuce. An effective and effusive sprinkle of fresh cilantro brightened up the entire dish.

YYUUMMM! Order this, and you'll be happy! Fish Tacos, photo by Trish Sharp.

It all seems so simple. It didn’t seem so complicated. That’s why what happened next is beyond explanation.

I don’t remember much after my first bite. All I can recall is that when my head cleared (was that my second margarita?) there was nothing left. My plate was clear. I wanted more. No, that doesn’t quite capture it: I needed more!

I was hooked on fish tacos.

Perhaps is has something to do with the fairy dust. Well, maybe it isn’t exactly fairy dust, but it sets these fish tacos apart and ahead of all others. It’s the thinnest schmeer ever of special sauce. When I asked Moni Ramos, general manager and the all-around great guy who greets every guest, about the tacos’ fairy dust sauce, he generously told me it was made from mayonnaise, mustard, and roasted garlic.

“That’s it?,” I asked.

“Yes, that’s it,” he replied … with a grin.

The grin is what makes me think there is some other magic in there. He’s just not telling me, and that’s ok. It keeps me coming back!

What started off as a special for Lent is now a permanent off-the-menu treat. If you’re going to get the fish tacos, you have to know to ask for them. Now that you’re in the know, do it! Head down to Pueblo, order up your margarita (really, you just have to do it), get your fish tacos, and Eat It, St. Louis!

Pueblo Solis
5127 Hampton Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63109
314-351-9000
http://www.pueblosolisstl.com

Pueblo Solis on Urbanspoon

*The first time I ever had sour cream on Mexican food was in a little restaurant in Lamar, Colorado, with my grandmother. It was a new idea for me, and I read it on the menu. I asked her if I should ask them to leave off the sour cream (quelle horror, some many years later!). She looked at me and plainly said, “Well, Amy Ann, we are in a Mexican restaurant that is owned and operated by a Mexican family. If you want to eat it the way it is supposed to be, then have it the way they make it.” Great wisdom from a great lady.

We, in St. Louis, take our food seriously.  Our independent restaurant culture is a force to be reckoned with. Living in mid-America, we have access to locally grown produce and locally raised livestock.  Our artisanal bakers keep raising the standards of excellence.

To heck with all the platitudes, food in St. Louis is just plain good and the food scene itself  is vibrant.

When you love something as much as we love food, why not throw a party (or two) to celebrate it?*

On Sunday, June 26, foodies can get up-close and personal with many of their favorite restaurants at Sauce Magazine’s reader’s choice party, Saucy Soiree.  This fabulous mix-and-mingle lets the average Joe (that’s us) chat-and-chew with the dashing trendsetters of our beloved restaurant scene.

For just $25 (in advance, $30 cash-only at the door) you’ll be treated to divine nosh from Farmhaus, Salume Beddu, Annie Gunn’s, Niche, Sidney Street, Bridge, Pappy’s BBQ, Salt, Modesto, Bailey’s Choc. Bar, Schlafly, Mike Shannon’s, Harvest, Chaumette Vineyards, Prime 1000, Kakao Chocolate, Eleven Eleven Mississippi, Molly’s in Soulard, and many more.

What’s more, you get to indulge in this lovely little feast at the super swanky Four Seasons Hotel (I love this venue and Trisha D., who makes every event perfection). Trust me when I tell you that the ticket is worth the price of admission!

As an aside, when you attend this event you’ll affirm your position as a foodie “insider.” The results of Sauce Magazine’s Reader’s Choice poll will be revealed here – and only here – ahead of publication.

Perhaps, though, you’re looking for something a bit more intimate? Check out A Feast in The Field at Claverach Vineyard and Organic Farm, hosted by Slow Food St. Louis, also on June 26.

This deluxe and elegant celebration of the bounty grown at Claverach will feature luminaries from many of the St. Louis area’s premiere eateries. The super-star slow-food-supporter chefs who’ve developed the evening’s meal – which includes dishes such as fried squash blossoms stuffed with duck confit and served with a savory sabayon and petite beet terrine, and barbequed glazed Heath Putnam Farm mangalista pork belly over Hodgson Mills yellow corn cake and bacon jam with a mélange of Overlook Farm pickled carrots, Ozark Forest shitake mushrooms, radish “shards, and Claverach Farm shoots – are:

On any given evening, I’d be over the moon to have a meal prepared by any one of these chefs. To have all of these talented, passionate artists working together for one night is almost too much for my little head and heart to process. This is the All-Star Game for any serious foodie.

Tickets for Feast in The Field are on sale now. If you’re a member of St. Louis Slow Food, tickets are $100 each. For non-members, tickets are $125.  This unique experience will begin at 3:00 pm and go until the last bit of deliciousness is had.

From the bottom of my happy foodie heart, thank you to all of the wonderful publications and organizations that support eating well and living well in St. Louis. More and more, our region is defined by the excellence found in our restaurants, our farmer’s markets, and on the tables of terrific home cooks. It is a true benefit of our St. Louis community that we can experience all of this passion and creativity in so many different ways … and at different price points. There truly is something for everyone.

A lovely summer Sunday night demands plans. Decide which event whets your appetite, buy a ticket, and Eat It, St. Louis!

*I love the independence of my blog, so I never accept “free” tickets in exchange for a blog post like this. I happen to really believe in what is going on here and I’m delighted to be able to support great efforts. Just thought you’d like to know …

I’ve been waving this banner my entire cocktail-drinking life. I had my first run-in with gin – which I believe was from a clear plastic bottle with G-I-N in big black letters on a white label – some 20+ years ago. With the fervor of a teetotaler, I have eschewed gin, turned my nose up at the idea, and openly chided friends who would freely choose a gin cocktail.

Then there is the Subcontinental at The Royale: gorgeous and green; fresh and refreshing; exotic and delicious. And loaded with gin … good gin … Bombay Sapphire, to be exact.

The life changing elixer: The Subcontinental.

Before I ever read the description on the menu, I saw it served to another patron. What intrigued me was the color. Served in a rocks glass, this original cocktail from the creative minds of proprietor Steve Smith and his long-time friend, Tim O’Connell, is the color of grass.*

When I asked the bartender about the lovely green drink, he launched into a near poetic description. This isn’t some fruity drink that’s all greened-up with Midori. No, no, no. The green comes from cucumbers; whole, beautiful cucumbers that Steve and his staff juice – skin and all – fresh every day.

And then he said the word I dreaded to hear: “Gin.” Gasp and heartbreak. I was all in up to that point. Geez louise, I HATE GIN. How could I reconcile my strident position on gin?

So, I simply contemplated the Subcontinental for several months. I sat on it. I struggled with the idea. I wanted to make this work. Cucumbers in cocktails was just too much to pass up and overlook. This was damned near a moral dilemma.

Then, on a clandestine evening that began as a simple dinner date at The Royale with my sweet husband, things took a turn. When the way-cooler-than-me waiter came to the table, I timidly asked him about the Subcontinental. When he noted my hesitation over the “gin situation,” he suggested that he could make the drink with vodka (that my friends, is booze I do NOT hate!). He also noted, with an air of sadness that verged on grief, that the cocktail would not be nearly as good.

I gave in. I argued with myself that it was worth the $7** gamble. I ordered up the Subcontinental.

And it was life changing.

When I lifted the glass to take my first sip, the fresh scent of summertime filled my nose. (This is an especially wonderful experience during the dead of winter.) The drink itself was savory with and edge of sweet. It was lovely, and smooth, and I had an uncustomary change of heart.

Perhaps, in the context of the Subcontinental, not only do I not hate gin … but I LOVE GIN.

I’m glad I opened up. This sort of conversion makes me wonder – in my foodie mind – what else I need to try that I maybe haven’t liked so much in the past.

So, while I think about what I might try next, I offer you a hearty “sláinte!”*** and encourage you to open yourself up to the possibilities you may have shut down because of one bad experience. You might find that you like to Eat It, St. Louis!

The Royale
3132 South Kingshighway Boulevard
Saint Louis, MO 63139-1108
(314) 772-3600

* Unfortunately, you’re stuck with my not-so-fabulous photography. This picture doesn’t even begin to do the drink justice.

** On Sundays, the Subcontinental is just $5 … what a deal!

*** Sláinte (pronounced Slan-cha) is the traditional Irish toast. It translates literally to “health.”

Royale on Urbanspoon

Foodbuzz

But there is a San Francisco. Ashleigh Brilliant wrote this, and quite honestly no truer words were ever penned. Every time I arrive in the City by The Bay, my soul simply sings.

When my singing soul needs sustenance, there is no shortage of bistros, grills, and eateries of all sorts to fuel the symphony within. Just wandering through the streets – which are teeming with life from pre-dawn hours to well after Midwestern bedtime – presented me with global fare and delicious options that made my choices difficult. I had the feeling, however, that no matter what my choice I would have no regrets.

My gut … as usual … was right.

My first stop was for a late lunch at the lovely bistro, Le Central. It was late enough in the afternoon to have the lunch crowd gone. There were a couple of regulars and a cheery bar tender who was happy to have me sit at the bar. I ordered my favorite French lunch of escargot and big glass of red wine, and relaxed into the atmosphere.

One of the most fabulous characteristics of San Francisco is the unabashed openness of the people. Whether they are native to the city or travellers, like me, there is little fear of striking up conversation and enjoying the community that sharing a meal provides. At Le Central, Toni the bartender; Gloria, the executive who heads up global HIV/AIDS initiatives for a bioscience company; and Sandra, her vibrant, funny, lifelong friend, scooped me up into their conversation. They told me about a trip they’d taken to Bali. We shared a “St. Louis Connection.” They told me about the majesty of Yosemite and the Ahwahnee Hotel. We talked about idealism and the real-world practicality of it all. We talked about cancer and we talked about living.

It was like I was supposed to be there, with them, on that glorious day.

When my escargot arrived, complete with half a baguette and full-fat French butter, my senses were electrified. The perfectly tender snails were basking in little pools of butter and garlic. The splash of Pernod gave them a signature sweetness and edge that makes the escargot a must-have dish. And good God; mopping up that divine sauce with the baguette was an act of pure decadence.

I was so very thankful to have my ad hoc lunching companions. Our spirited and convivial conversation kept me from eating so fast as to embarrass everyone and exposing myself as a glutton.

As my late lunch came to a close and my merry group said our goodbyes, I walked on clouds back to my hotel relishing in an afternoon that was better than anything I could have hoped for. I was grateful and my soul was humming a happy tune.

Le Central on Urbanspoon

Never one to skip a meal (seriously, have we met?), I set my sights on a late-ish dinner. My destination for this meal was no mystery. Armed with a recommendation from Paul*, a foodie Facebook friend from Phoenix, I got ready to make my way to the Tadich Grill in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District. Paul’s instructions were simple: Order the cioppino and a cold beer, you won’t be sorry.

The Tadich Grill is a little bit old-school. When you go the website, there is only a page that says it its “website is coming off the grill soon.” So, not knowing quite what to expect (Is it a fancy place? Will it be weird if I’m dining sans companion?), I decided to go for a casually cool look, packed a book, and hailed a taxi.

As I walked through the door, the hustle and bustle let me know that I’d arrived as just my kind of place. The waiter behind the bar hollered out, “ONE!?!?” I similarly hollered back, “YES!,” and he directed me to a seat at a long, art deco bar. It seemed as though nearly all of the restaurant were flying solo.

(Note to file: The book and taxi were both unnecessary!)

Although I glanced at the menu, which was extensive, I simply followed Paul’s directions and ordered the cioppino and a Stella Artois. The meal that came to me was out of this world.

To start, when you take your seat, there is a huge hunk – yeah, HUNK – of sourdough bread waiting. It might make you think that the grill skimps on its portions. Rest assured, that is not the case. When the main attraction arrived in a trough-sized dish, this stew was packed with sea food: Clams and mussels; scallops and shrimp; halibut and Dungeness crab. It was perfect.

Here’s something to know. Often the various components of a mixed-seafood anything can be uneven in the cooking which can make for tough scallops, rubbery shrimp, or all-around blandness. This was definitely not the case with the Tadich Grill cioppino. Whether or not every piece of seafood was cooked individually I do not know. What I do know is that every bite was tender and sweet and flavorful in just the right way. It was amazing.

As I took each bite, a hint of heat punctuated the brilliant flavor. At no time did I run out of the “good stuff.” As a matter of fact, I got full before the magnificent trough was empty and failed to finish my meal.

Um … that never happens. I was sad to leave such goodness behind.

With a heavy heart, and a full tummy, I settled up my tab and walked back to my hotel, mostly uphill, and as always, in high heels. My soul was beginning to sing a sweet lullaby.

Tadich Grill on Urbanspoon

As the sun was coming up on the next day – a real work day for me, as I was there as a freelance marketing representative for Elsevier, the world’s largest STM publisher – I had a bit of a food hangover so breakfast was out of the question. It was an easy pass, however, because I knew what was ahead for the evening: Dinner at Ame, the Michelin-rated restaurant in the chichi St. Regis Hotel.

First, the St. Regis is so deluxe that the only sign is a small white plaque near the entrance. I loved it!

My dining companions for the evening were Cynthia, an executive publisher and a mentor with Elsevier; Dr. Doug Zipes, editor-in-chief of HeartRhythm Journal and author of the thriller, The Black Widows; and his lovely wife and managing editor, Joan. It was an evening filled with smart chat, big laughs, and great food.

My meal began with a beet salad, which was presented in the most artistic way. These lovely roasted baby beets, both sunshine yellow and vibrant red-purple, were positioned around the plate vertically and also sliced and placed horizontally. Goat cheese crème fraiche dotted the plate and made for a perfectly delicate dressing (if you can call it that). Plus, it looked really pretty when I dragged the red-purple beets through the white and little trails of pink were left behind.

The evening we were there, Ame’s special was sea bass – a personal favorite – with grilled octopus. Really … I eat snails … how could I say “no” to grilled octopus? This is, after all, one of the primary reasons it is fun to dine at fancy-schmancy restaurants: you get good stuff.

To be certain, the sea bass was perfection. The grilled octopus, however, was the star of the show. A visual treat and a tasty nosh, it had a delicate smoky quality from the grilling that refined the usually sweet sea treat and elevated it from mere calamari.

The experience at Ame was made a little extra-special-wonderful because of the deluxe service. Let’s face it, Michelin stars aren’t handed out willy-nilly. No, they are earned through a combination of innovative cuisine and well-trained, attentive-but-not-intrusive staff. The team who took care of our table – we asked lots of questions, switched up described preparations, and bantered shamelessly – was accommodating, light-hearted, and put the exclamation point on our evening.

At the end of our meal, our entire party felt indulged and pampered.

Replaying the night’s repartee and repast as I taxied back to the hotel, the pace and volume of my soul’s concert changed as frequently as a newly licensed 16-year-old changes the radio station. I was giddy and bubbly and happy to have been included in such a lovely evening.

Ame on Urbanspoon

On my last full day in San Francisco, my colleague, Matt (who’s a delightful foodie, too!), and I decided we would venture out of the usual downtown area and try a restaurant that @Kimberly9938 (one of my fabulous foodie Twitter followers)* had recommended with great enthusiasm: Nopa.

To quote Usher, “wow, oh, wow!”

At the onset, it was great to hit up a neighborhood. Nopa is located in the heart of the Northern Panhandle – hence the name – area of the city. Modest homes (although not likely modestly priced … it is San Francisco), markets, delis, and shops lined the busy streets. Young families were out and about carrying on life that was different from Downtown.

When we arrived at Nopa – and yes, if you’re downtown a taxi is totally necessary – we were welcomed into a warm environment where community was clearly intrinsic to the philosophy of the restaurant. A large community table is situated by the bar, and the places there quickly filled in with diners and drinkers who shared easy smiles and exchanged hearty, “hellos!”

Matt and I chose to sit at the Chef’s Table, which looks directly into the kitchen. As colleagues, we could “talk shop” all dinner long. Sitting in this place, however, at this time, we were able to engage with the sous chef and talk about … what else … food and our love of it.

Rather than stick to a traditional dinner, we jumped right into the community atmosphere of Nopa. We got twice the bang for the buck by agreeing on two appetizers and two entrees and sharing them between us. Matt chose the flatbread with bacon and shallots. I chose the giant white beans, tomato, feta, oregano and breadcrumbs. Both the flatbread and the beans were baked in a wood-fired brick oven.

Now, those of you who know me know one thing: I don’t like bacon. Yes, I eat pork. Yes, I LOVE sausage. I really just don’t care for bacon. As we were watching the flatbreads come from the oven, I found that I couldn’t resist and I was glad that Matt had ordered one up. It was divine. The bacon was perfectly done – not too crisp, not too limp — and full of amazing flavor. The sweet tang of shallot complemented the meaty pork. And the finish of olive oil made it just perfect. My, oh, my! (Another Usher reference.)

My giant white bean bake (for lack of the better descriptor) hit me in my giant comfort food spot. Simple and beautiful; warm and thick; aromatic and bubbly, the dish came straight from the brick oven. While I know we’d agreed to share our dishes, I was a little sore that I’d promised to share this one. It was the kind of dish that you eat a little too quickly because you’re afraid someone might take it away.

For the entrée, Matt ordered the grilled pork chop and I ordered the 9-hour Bolognese with house-made pappardelle. Let me be clear: The pork chop was the way to go.

Way too often, whether I’m at home or in a restaurant, pork is always overdone. A little too white all the way through; a little too dry.

At Nopa, the grilled pork chop, which had to be at least an inch and a half thick, is just a little pink in the middle and juicy. So juicy, in fact, you’d think they injected the chop with jus. But no, the pork chop is simply a superstar example of perfectly grilled meat. It brings out the Fred Flinstone in the daintiest woman; it speaks to the unapologetic carnivore within; it makes you want another portion even though you know it’s preposterous.

My Bolognese was good. Very good, in fact. But I really wanted my very own pork chop. And one to go!

The evening of incredible food, communal dining, and awesome people (my colleague, our cool and edgy waitress, the sous chef, and the patrons on either side of us) created an experience that was at once chic and unselfconscious. My soul was in the San Francisco swing of things, singing out in happy, hippy, poetic tones that felt like the shining sun.

Nopa on Urbanspoon

San Francisco is my heaven, and I’m so lucky to have been there time and time again. I feel like a better, brighter version of me came home. For me, that feeling comes from the meals I shared, the people I met, the adventure I charted for myself and the beautiful music that the whole experience created within my soul.

I wish I could share the happy song I hear with all of you; but, I’m tone deaf. So please, go find – or revisit – your heaven, venture into a new place, chat up the folks next to you, engage your waiter or waitress, listen closely to what happens in your soul, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* Thank you to Paul and Kimberly, a Facebook friend and Twitter follower respectively, who guided me to great places in San Francisco. I love social media and how it enables people with similar interests to connect and share. Thank you for pulling your chairs up to my table and being part of the conversation. Without you, this post would have been only half as long … and half as interesting!

Foodbuzz

There are bunnies in Maplewood.

More importantly, there are milk chocolate and raspberry-white-chocolate bunnies at Kakao.

Save these sweet bunnies!

These are the cutest bunnies (all flop eared and expressive) and different from any you may have found in your basket this year. The clock, however, is ticking, and their time is coming to an end.

At the close of business on Tuesday, May 3, Pelletier the Chocolatier will melt down the remaining bunnies and turn them into fabulous new confections. I just can’t let that happen!

Hop on over to Kakao and secure your very own sweet bunny. Maybe Mom might like one – paired with a lemon-thyme-pink peppercorn truffle, a salted caramel, bacon brittle, or a marshmallow pie – for Mother’s Day? Perhaps you didn’t get your own at Easter and you simply want one for yourself.

Lemon-thyme-pink peppercorn truffle ... my FAVORITE!

Whatever your chocolate need might be, these bunnies are waiting for you to Eat It, St. Louis!

Kakao Maplewood
7272 Manchester (at Southwest)
Maplewood, MO 63143
314-645-4446

Thanks to Trish Sharp for her lovely photography!

Kakao Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Peeps are yummy.

Peeps are yellow.

A sweet sugar crunch,

All filled with marshmallow.

Peeps!

Peeps can be chicks.

Peeps can be bunnies.

Whenever I eat one,

I feel warm and sunny.

Chicks & Bunnies!

Peeps are classic.

Peeps are iconic.

They’re like Audrey Hepburn,

Or a perfect gin and tonic.

Peeps & Audrey & a G&T!

Peeps make me giggle.

Peeps give me a rush.

I’ll even say this,

They were my first candy crush.

Crushing on Peeps.

Peeps are fun.

Peeps are frivolous.

Get yours at Walgreens,

And Eat It, St. Louis!

Photo styling by me, Amy Burdge; Photography by my husband, Mark.

Foodbuzz
%d bloggers like this: