Long(ish) time readers will remember that I from time to time extol the value of “lunch”. I am not talking about grab and go, drive through, rush back to work lunch, but time stolen from an otherwise busy day providing a little oasis from daily reality where good conversation and food can be enjoyed leisurely. I’ve had three lunches in STL, with two falling into that category. And the third was a "grab and go" variety, but it was a planned one, a must do for any trip to STL.
After our great dinner at Brasserie by Niche with FOJTE and W, the next day we had an appointment with our “financial” guy and it always somehow works out that lunch is part of the deal. Pleased with our Gerard Craft experience at Brasserie, we decided to give him more business and try a lunch at the Clayton venue, “Pastaria”, where none of us had been. Our friend had another meeting scheduled after ours, so we agreed to meet at the restaurant. Finding a parking meter in busy Clayton and stuffing it with quarters (one per 15 minutes!) we headed out to find the place. Which we did, just a few doors from Café Napoli. Turns out that Pastaria is very informal, with (many) plain wooden tables, kind of stuffed in so that an adjoining table could be part of your dining experience. Besides that, it was loud (was middle of lunch service in busy Clayton on the Friday before Christmas). They would (understandably) not seat a incomplete party so we sat on the benches along with others awaiting a table. They did have kind of a cute sign at the stand:
The more we sat (and listened), the more we thought that this wasn’t quite the experience we were hoping for (good conversation and quiet, leisurely lunching), so decided to abandon Mr. Craft this time and trade possible food quality for ambiance. So, we celled our friend who was running late anyway, and went down to Napoli. Sure enough we could be seated as a party of two waiting for a third, and were given a table right away. We were approached by our server (I think with no speeches) and when he was told we were waiting for dash three, he said "how about a glass of something while you wait? Tea, water, coffee?" How about wine? "Sure, I’ll get you the wine list". He returned in a little bit with a……. wait for it…… iPad!! They had recently changed over their wine list to this media. He briefly showed us how to page between wines by the glass, bottle, red, white, domestic, imported, and so forth.. Despite the bit of incongruity between the kind of classic (although not “old”) Italian Restaurant, this modern device was easy to navigate. Other than the initial weirdness, it was sort of fun. I can see the advantage of it, it could be kept up to date more easily, and perhaps avoid the “we seem to be out of that” syndrome, it saves paper, and eliminates another tome on the table. I suppose it gets to be a personal choice.. It enables you to “select” your choice and when the server comes back he can look at (or take the list) with all the “selections” and fill it. Interesting concept. And, if wine list today, are menu’s next?? I think I have read something about that.
Anyway, MFO selected an Italian white whose name escapes me (carry the book, Feeder!!) but it wasn’t a common variety and I think had a Nebbiolo. Both were quite pleasant. About halfway through the glass, our friend arrived and caught up with us on the wine. Won’t do a “dish by dish” but all were very good. I had a daily special of a filet of trout in a nice sauce. I had spied it going to another table (always keep your eyes open before ordering) and noticed it came with a side of broccoli. I asked our server about it and he said yes, it was served that way. I divulged that I really didn’t like it much, and he said, “neither do I, how about some Pasta instead?”. Yes, please. Now that is good service… So while we didn’t get to try the second Gerard Craft place, we did have a very civilized lunch. I don’t think you would ever go wrong with Café Napoli, a nit here or there, but overall a good choice. Plus it’s fun to see the clientele..
"Lunch two" was on Wednesday, athe day after the hubbub of Christmas by Marriott was over. We scheduled another business meeting with the “Tax” side of our affairs, and had arranged to meet some long time friends for a lunch after that.. Turns out they had a “bug” and had to regret, which left us on our own. Although our tax bunch is down near “the Hill”, MFO had been looking for an opportunity to do the “other” Dominic’s, the Trattoria in Clayton. Being the day after Christmas, I was unsure if they were open for lunch (at all, and on the day after Christmas), but a quick (well, not so much) check on the Droid, the website said open for lunch, and turned down the thought to call offered by MFO.. Great. Off we went, and found a parking spot nearby and after again stuffing the parking meter like a slot machine, we started walking. The nearer we got, the less cars there were, and in fact their (unbeknownst) own parking lot was empty. Uh Oh, and sure enough there was the dreaded white sheet taped to the door announcing they would be open at 5:00 the day after Christmas. Kindly enough, MFO didn’t give me the (well deserved) I told you to call! So sadly we had to leave the donation to the City of Clayton in the parking meter and then, “now what?” Ever alert MFO suggested “how about Cardwell’s?”. Good choice I thought, and this time a cautionary drive by confirmed lights on and heads inside. We also noted that Oceana Bistro across the street was obviously busy, so a backup was available. So another parking meter benefitted from MFO’s bottomless change purse and we trooped over to Cardwell’s. As those of you St. Louisites know there is also a version in Plaza Frontenac. While the Plaza version is bustling and noisy, the Clayton one is more um, refined (?), formal (?), with tables isolated by partitions and lighting, just the kind of situation we were looking for after all our driving and thrashing around. We were on the down side of lunch service so the place was fairly empty which suited us just fine. Although we got started with a speech, the rest of the service was kindly. And because it was (well) after noon and our last day in STL, I thought what the hell and started with a cocktail
Which is NOT as you will notice, dear readers, my normal DMOTRWAT, but my second, more refined choice, a Gray Goose Dirty Martini, “up”. It did help.. For food I had a daily special of angel hair pasta with shrimp and asparagus (pushed aside), and MFO had a “fresh” spinach salad with “crispy fried shrimp”. It was kind of funny: both dishes included shrimp (which always sound good), but oddly enough the actuality was that they were just slightly larger than “popcorn” size. In a respectable restaurant they should be a feature of the dish, not kind of an afterthought. We also had a third party at our table, a little fruit fly that kept trying to join us. Rather bothersome. Eventually the hundredth lightning quick hand of the Bottom Feeder caught the little bugger. The server apologized, but not much he could do. I suppose that might be a product of an “open” kitchen, but I don’t know. Anyway it was a most enjoyable little time stolen from the day.
And come to think of it, maybe “lunch” is more about the experience than the food, while at dinner the food takes the spotlight. I would drive for dinner food, but most likely I would (pretty much) pick lunch by the atmosphere..
And lastly (for the food side), the mention of the “grab and go”, no question that any trip to STL is incomplete with grabbing this (yes, $11/Lb, and worth every freaking penny)
As college bowl season builds toward the crescendo of the mythical “national championship” game which will take place sometime in the third quarter of 2013, I managed to stay awake (mostly) last night in an attempt to give the MSU Spartans another chance to break my heart. But, this year I employed my secret weapon..
Which resulted in a Spartan Win! (at something like 1:45 am) by a “foot” (get it?); and as the commercial says: "It's only wierd if it doesn't work".... it did
I got a great idea, let’s have a holiday bowl game in…. Yankee Stadium!!!!
You know, the more I live, the more I appreciate the “eve” day of special “eve” days. Like today is the “eve” of New Year’s Eve. All you have to do is think about what you are going to do, you don’t actually have to do it.. Ahhhhh
Sietsema – New Years
If you get the Sunday Washington Post Magazine, check out today's Tom Sietsema Dining column. It contains “new years resolutions” for restaurateurs, and diners. Worth a read..Just a couple.. Restaurants: Drop the eggs (don’t put them on everything); Accept Reservations (people like to plan ahead); Audition Everything (like actually sit in the chairs you expect your guests to spend a couple of hours in); Diners: Show up on Time; ...and my personal favorite: Dress for the Occasion (…”dressing up a little isn’t showing off. It’s showing respect for the restaurant and for others around you”). Thanks Tom.. in other words: