Category Archives: $$$

Hard Rock Cafe New Menu Preview

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Hard Rock Café new menu preview media event   last night at Hard Rock Café in St. Louis. This restaurant, located at Union Station, is part of a chain of over 170 venues that has been in operation since the 70’s. Since opening in St. Louis 16 years ago, there have been no significant menu changes until January of this year. The company surveyed diners in 14 cities and ended up with a menu of 30 new or modified food and drink items. This event gave me the opportunity to sample about 15 appetizers and entrees, three desserts, and 10 different drinks.

The night started with signature drinks and appetizers. The cucumber gin mojito below on the left was the star drink of the night for me. Although the drink didn’t taste like a traditional mojito, it was light, refreshing, and very drinkable. There were several traditional appetizers including spinach artichoke dip, balsamic tomato bruchetta, and chicken wings as well as the clever Air Mexico which included a flight of margaritas with a side of chips and salsa (below on the right).

Next up were three flights of food including salads and entrees. Of all of the things we tried,  the grilled chicken arugula salad was my favorite (minus the chicken). The salad is served with grilled chicken, spicy pecans, dried cranberries, oranges, and feta. It is tossed in a lemon balsamic vinaigrette which was created specifically for this dish and compliments the arugula really well. I also enjoyed the grilled salmon wrapped in cedar paper. However, it was topped with small scoop of garlic butter which I thought was unnecessary for a fish that is already fairly high in fat. Although I did not partake in the smokehouse flight, I learned that all of the meat is smoked in-house, some of it for up to 24 hours. People sitting at my table did really like it though.

As far as dessert, I thought that the warm apple cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream stole the show. The two dessert drinks we were given to try included the warm, Caramel Cafe topped with caramel popcorn and the Twist and Shout Cafe Milkshake. Both would have been dessert enough on their own and it was hard to choose a favorite.

Although I tend to be a fan of unique, local restaurants, Hard Rock is a good option for a place to eat before or after Blues and Cardinals games, especially with their happy hour deals. I can only hope that the revamped menu rubs off on the rest of Union Station to bring it back to the exciting area that it once was.

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Brasserie by Niche

Brasserie by NicheI had forgotten how much I love the Central West End in the summer until a few days ago. I was walking around the area one evening with friends and the patios were full of people enjoying dinner and drinks. Performers were playing music on the street corners and everyone seemed to be enjoying the abnormally cool summer weather. I decided I couldn’t let another great St. Louis night pass by without heading down to this neighborhood for dinner.

I chose Brasserie by Niche and easily made an online reservation less than 24 hours in advance. We were quickly seated on the outdoor patio which spans the length of the front of the restaurant. All of the doors were open to the restaurant allowing a nice breeze to pass through. Tables inside were covered with red checkered table cloths and brown parchment paper giving it the feel of an upscale but casual French café. From our table, we could hear a cellist playing across the street which added to the atmosphere. Another couple dined outside with their dog at their feet. I have to say that I love nothing more than a restaurant that allows dogs (and even provides water bowls).

Ramble onThe menu was divided into several sections including amuse-bouche (literally translated as mouth amuser), salads, hors d’oeurves, cheeses, du jour dishes (daily specials), main courses, and sides. There were several traditional French dishes on the menu such as croque madame (ham, cheese & egg sandwich) and escargot but also several other non-traditional choices. They offer a selection of French wines, specialty cocktails, beer, scotch, and bourbon. My husband ordered a Perennial Saison de Lis and I chose Ramble On, a specialty cocktail with gin, lemon, raspberry liqueur, and grapefruit garnish with caramelized sugar. I enjoyed the tart cocktail but the uniqueness and thought put into the garnish is what made the drink.

Individual warm, fresh baguettes with chilled butter were brought out while we waited for our food. For a starter we chose the yellow tomato tart with both cherry and heirloom tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese on the side. The warm tart was made over a thin, crispy crust and was the perfect size for sharing. The tomatoes were extra sweet and tastedYellow tomato tart like they were picked that morning. While I was tempted to order the trout, I couldn’t come to a French restaurant and not order mussels and fries. I can’t say that they were better than the mussel at Planter’s House but they were good. You could really taste the actual flavor of the mussels through the simple broth of herbs, crème fraiche, and white wine as opposed to other broths that tend to overpower them. They were perfectly cooked and the portion was just right. I also appreciated that they cleared my bowl of shells half way through and left me with a new one. The side of fries were amazing. They were thin, crispy, and exactly how I would choose a fry to be made. My husband ordered braised beef served with glazed carrots and bacon lardons over a potato puree. He is not typically a bacon lover but he said that it went really well with the super tender beef.

Far bretonWe decided to be adventurous with dessert and chose the Far Breton with crème fraiche and prune ice cream. This traditional French dessert, similar to a custard with fruit mixed in, was served in a small tart dish. While I was nervous about the prune ice cream, I found that it was much less scary than I anticipated.

When I think of French food, I picture a stuffy restaurant with a complicated and intimidating menu. However, I really enjoyed everything about this meal, from the music playing across the street to the food and the service. The laid back atmosphere makes Brasserie a place that is good for a night out with friends, a first date, or a celebration.

 

Brasserie is located at the corner of Laclede Ave and Euclid at 4580 Laclede Ave St. Louis, MO

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Cedar Lake Cellars

We couldn’t have had a more perfect morning to drive the 50 minutes out to Foristell to have brunch at Cedar Lake Cellars. I have been there several other times to enjoy a glass of wine with friends, but I was unaware that they served Sunday brunch until it was suggested that I try it. The setting is beautiful with a newly built indoor restaurant and bar that opens to an outdoor, covered patio. Next to the patio is a large grassy area with Cedar Lake Cellars front entrance+picnic benches, chairs, and fire pits that back up to a beautiful lake complete with a dock that offers even more seating. Live music is often playing when the weather is nice and a second outdoor bar makes it easy to access wine, beer, and wine slushies (that’s right, wine slushies!).

Brunch is served from 11a.m. to 2p.m. on Sundays for $18.95 per person and we arrived at around 12:15p.m. without a reservation, although it is recommended that you make one. The hostess found us a table outside and offered to move it into the sun for us which was appreciated. She instructed us that our brunch would come with a Bloody Mary, Mimosa, or a glass of wine and that we could find plates inside next to the buffet.

We went to the buffet right away but we were unable to find plates where we were told they would be. We asked a waitress who said that they were running out but that she would try to find us more. She did come back after a few minutes and we proceeded to fill our plates with food from the buffet since the omelet line was several peoplCedar Lake Cellars buffete deep. Nothing on the table was labeled so I took my best guess at choosing vegetarian-friendly items. The bowl that should have been filled with biscuits was empty but the dish of macaroni was brought out while I was standing there so I helped myself to a serving of that as well as broccoli salad, marinated eggplant and onions, and potato casserole.

We sat down at our table and ate while we waited for a waitress to come take our drink order. The potato casserole and broccoli salad with poppy seed dressing, cranberries and pecans was good but just about everything else was disappointing. The marinated eggplant was spongy and had not been cooked while the macaroni was covered in sauce that tasted like Alfredo sauce from a jar and was cold (even though I watched it come out of the kitchen). My husband had beef stroganoff and didn’t touch it after the first bite. By now we had been at the table for 20 minutes and we were starting to feel thirsty but we decided to wait a bit longer, just to see what would happen.

We went back for more food and since there was no line at the omelet station, we headed that way. There were two pieces of French toast left sitting in a pan so I helped myself to one of those and then placed my omelet order. Since there were only 4 choices of toppings (cheese, turkey, red pepper, and red onion), the decision wasn’t difficult. My husband asked if they had tomatoes but the chef informed us that they “ran out a few days ago.” I know it is a small town but I have to assume that they have access to a grocery store every few days.

We went back to the taMimosa and Bloody Maryble where our old, dirty plates were still sitting and decided to flag someone down for drinks. The hostess happened to be the closest to us and she apologized, took our plates, and promised to send someone over. We ate our rubbery French toast and omelets which were good, despite the odd toppings. After 10 more minutes without drinks, we asked to speak to a manager who proceeded to apologize and offer us our drinks as well as a free meal. While we waited another 10 minutes, my husband went to get dessert. He returned with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, fruit, and bread pudding. Since there were no serving utensils, he used his hands to pick up the fruit and cookies. Finally, 50 minutes after we were seated and 30 minutes after we first started asking for drinks, our Bloody Mary and Mimosa arrived from an apologetic waitress.

I can count the times that I have complained to a manager on two fingers and while it was appropriate that we did not pay for our meal, we could have left on our own without paying and no one would have noticed the difference. While I would return for a drink on a nice day with a group of friends, Cedar Lake Cellars is just too far to drive to ever give it a second chance for brunch. I have seen them host large events in the same space where brunch is held but they seemed incapable of serving the number of people that showed up this morning. Aside from improving the service, simply stocking the buffet would have easily made this a more enjoyable experience.

Cedar Lake cellars is located 11008 Schreckengast Rd Wright City, MO 63390

Olio

Olio by dayHoly delicious! This is the first thought that pops into my head when I try to think of a way to describe Olio. When pulling up to this restaurant, one may ask themselves how something so amazing could come from what once was a small, average gas station. Well to answer your question, this Old Standard filling station was converted into a restaurant after sitting vacant for 30 years. It was then connected to the building next door where its sister restaurant, Elia is located. Many of the original features in the main dining area of the building were left as is, while others had to be rebuilt. Coupled with soft lighting, quiet music, and creative décor, the atmosphere at Olio is like none other in St. Louis.

Olio does not take reservations so with fingers crossed, we arrived at around 6:30 pm on a Tuesday and were immediately seated with our food and drink menus. The beer offerings are a bit pricier than one would expect to find in St. Louis but the selection is unique. The extensive wine list, managed by renowned sommelier Andrey Ivanov, features wine and bubbly from around the world. We were fortunate enough to meet Andrey, who graciously volunteered to take us on a tour of the wine cellar that sits beneath Elia. The cellar houses beer, wine, bubbly, whiskey, a bit of produce, and even a giant red boiler that was kept from the original setup. Outside of the wine cellar is a private dining table that can comfortably seat 14 people.

The infamous burrata

After a long deliberation about the drinks, we went with a Weihenstephaner “Korbinian” doppelbock beer for my husband and Giusti and Zanza “Nemorino Bianco” wine for me; both did not disappoint. We were told that the dishes are meant to be shared and we ended up choosing four. Our first dish, and the best thing that I have eaten since my blogging adventure began, was the burrata. These two heavenly pieces of cheese were drizzled with the most delicious olive oil and spice which made them slightly sweet. I went to bed that night thinking about this dish and I would return for it alone. Next, we moved on to the hummus with chopped nuts, smoked paprika, and noticeably high quality EVOO. The hummus was cold and silky smooth and balanced with just a bit of crunch from the nuts. It was served with fresh bread that had a perfect crisp crust and a soft center. My husband then chose the Turkish flatbread with beef and cilantro which I obviously had no part of while I went for the cauliflower tartine. This is best described as a cauliflower salad with a hint of curry served on three pieces of the same delicious bread that came with the hummus. While this was tasty, I just could not stop thinking about that burrata!

Because we were having so much fun we decided on another round of drinks and a dessert. We shared a white chocolate raspberry “pie in a glass” that was created across the street at La Patisserie Choquette. This small dessert was the perfect end to our meal.
While I was sad for this night to end, I know I will be returning for a glass of wine on the [surprisingly large] patio once the weather warms up!
I wanted to give a special shout out to Andrey for walking us through the space and making it feel like home.

Olio can be found at 1634 Tower Grove St. Louis, Mo 63110

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Katie’s Pizza and Pasta

As I chose my next restaurant, I set my sights on the predecessor of a restaurant that I have always loved, Katie’s Pizza. I was hopeful that their new venture, Katie’s Pizza and Pasta, would come with the same character and delicious food as its sister restaurant. Upon arriving, I immediately noticed that they did a really nice job creating a warm, cozy feeling inside with exciting elements such as walls covered by plants, an eclectic variety of mismatched chairs and tables, and unique low hanging lights.

We arrived at 6:30 on a Tuesday evening and we were greeted by a 45 minute wait (unbeknownst to us, they do take reservations). We passed the time with a drink at the bar and happened to set up a Twitter account while we waited (followkaties pizza and pasta 13 me at @myweeklybite). They serve up a moderate beer selection along with crafted cocktails and have a decent happy hour if you can make it by 6 p.m.

We were seated at a high top table right next to the kitchen which was open to the whole restaurant. We decided to start with Katie’s famous fried artichokes with a balsamic reduction. We were served a very healthy portion of artichokes which were just crisp but not heavily fried. They were topped with shaved Parmesan and drizzled with balsamic which was not overpowering as it sometimes can be.

Then, just as I was happily settling into my meal, my ULTIMATE pet peeve occurred. We had taken about four bites of our appetizer when our pizza appeared. Now I was forced to choose between finishing my appetizer and letting my pizza get cold. My husband and I happened to be splitting a pizza and pasta so we finished our first course and moved on to our second. However, our pasta did not arrive until we were well finished with our pizza. Had we not been sharing, this would have left one person watching the other eat.

We chose to split the Kup’s Egg pizza topped with EVOO, mushrooms, sausage (only over half, of course), fontina, farm egg, thyme, and truffle. The crust was very light and had that perfect, wood-fire oven crunch and taste to it. One pizza would not have been enough to split between two people so we were glad we opted for pasta as well.

We were then served Black Spaghetti made with squid ink pasta, clams, mussels, shrimp, caviar, and chili flakes. This dish was seasoned just right but my issues lied with the pasta and caviar. The homemade spaghetti noodles clumped together in such a way that I ended up cutting the pasta with a knife and spearing it with a fork to eat it rather than being able to twirl it as I normally would. The large pieces of caviar were served on top of the dish and were hot when we went eat them. I am a huge lover of caviar but I hope to never eat hot caviar again!

While the ambiance and flavors of the dishes at Katie’s Pizza and Pasta were just right, given the price and flaws with our meal, I would not rush back to this location. However, I have heard great things about this restaurant from other people and I am always open to having my mind changed so if you have had a different experience, I would love to hear about it.

Katie’s Pizza and Pasta is located at 9568 Manchester Rd. Rock Hill, Missouri 63119

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