First of all, and most important, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas celebration. We certainly did with FOJ’s both the “E” and the “Y” and their families. We had lovely food at both the Northern (STL – The E), and Southern (Cape Girardeau – The Y) locations, with Christmas Eve at the former and Christmas day at the latter. You know I go various ways on FaceBook, but it was nice to see so many pictures of families being together, often convening over food which is what it is all about. On the other side of FaceBook, whoever posted the video of how to gift wrap a cat should be ashamed. Let’s humiliate an animal for our silly personal aggrandizement. Anyway the Feeder wishes everyone a happy remainder of the Holiday period, except the egotistical cat wrapper..
So anyway, most people know that St. Louis is heavily populated by people with Italian heritage and is the home to several Italian restaurants, including the (IMHO) flagship, Tony’s. We didn’t visit this trip, but through kind of happenstance we visited three others. A quick review of each is probably warranted. And a reminder to any of the folks we shared the table with, I try to objectively divorce looking at the restaurant experience from the enjoyment of being with our friends regardless of the other stuff.
(sorry no photos for this edition)
On our first day here, we dropped in (announced) on some friends we see fairly regularly when in STL. I used to work here with him and have enjoyed watching their family grow over the years to where their “little guys” have now become college and post college “kids”. Amazing how that happens. Anyway, a late afternoon visit turned into a spur of the moment unplanned dinner with them to continue “catching up”.. They live in “West County” and suggested a relatively newly opened branch of Charlie Gitto’s near them in Chesterfield. This installation has been dubbed “Charlie Gitto’s From the Hill”. St. Louisans will know that Gitto’s was a long time resident of “the Hill”, one of many little “homey” places. They eventually put a branch down town, and now herald a venue in fashionable West County. I would have to strain my failing memory to recall the last visit we made to one of the others, but this newer “From the Hill” seems to reflect the “fashionable” location in that it is filled with wood and chrome fitted chairs. Although we didn’t have reservations, we were seated easily. Our server let us know he would be “taking care of us” right away. Sigh. Water glasses were filled immediately, and I don’t think got more than one sip down all night with an arm extending to fill them almost as soon as you put them down. Menus were distributed, and a request had to be made for a wine list. Our table (of four) was one of many that what’s his name had to “take care of” so there were some lapses. Barely a little conversation at the table took place before he arrived with pad in hand and had to be called off. We had a great time chatting with our friends, and eventually she suggested that we get some “T-Rav” (STL speak for the local signature dish) which I thought was a good idea. We also got a couple of wines by the glass, and eventually did consider the menu. I guess it followed the National Standard for Italian food a separate paragraph for each item, generally listed by protein (beef, chicken, veal, fish, etc.), plus salads and soups. The traditional dishes were there, although for some reason we call Veal Piccata “Veal Lemonata” even though the description revealed a classic definition of the Piccata (sautéed with white wine lemon sauce and capers). Marsala and Parmigianino versions were available for both chicken and Veal. Minestrone headed the “zuppa” category. Anyway, the good and bad was that all the expected dishes were available. The only “off the menu” item offered was a Veal Stuffed Ravioli.
The T-Rav arrived (before the bread basket) and were really very good. Table orders for entrees included the Special Ravioli (MFO), Lasagna, and Chicken Spiedini. As for the Feeder, it was kind a coincidence. The most recent issue of “Cooks Illustrated” featured an article about “restaurant quality Chicken Saltimbocca* (we wanted a simpler version with restaurant quality without… the usual Cook’s Illustrated approach. Saltimbocca translates something like “explodes in the mouth” and generally involves the protein pounded thin, sautéed and topped with (also sautéed) spinach, prosciutto, and cheeses and some sort of sauce. So I veered away from the Veal Piccata (call it what you will) to see how they carried it off. I also decided on their “Wedge” salad as a change of pace from the standard green or Italian chopped salad. Fair enough.
Well, since we have two more places to visit yet, I’ll “cut to the chase”. Since I don’t ever get Saltimbocca anything, I am not sure I am a judge. But, I do know that sage shouldn’t be bitter, but sweet. Also the sauce maybe shouldn’t be an unattractive muddy brown, and the chicken could be tender, and the cheese might be a little less time under the heat lamp. Needless to say, I didn’t much enjoy the dish. Again, maybe it was my lack of experience. Everybody else seemed to enjoy theirs, although MFO’s ravioli arrived in a soup like dish swimming in sauce, not what I expected.
Oh, since I’m complaining, one more thing. I have to confess that I am a “slow eater”. and tend to linger over my dish. My friend is (by comparison) a “fast eater” and had finished his plate when mine was maybe a little less than half consumed. The very MINUTE his fork hit the plate, a minion arrived at the table with one hand on the plate “are you through with this sir?” dragging it toward him. Well, yes and no. He was finished, but the table wasn’t. I know there are various schools of thought about this, do you want other diners to feel they should “hurry up” or do you want the fast guy to sit and look at an empty plate for a while, as the rest of us finish. I much prefer the clear the table when the last person finishes, but I can understand another viewpoint.
Anyway, although we had a great time finding out what we had been doing since last year, (IMHO) the food didn’t do much to enhance the experience. I would like a chance to visit one of the longer occupied places.
The next day, we had an appointment with our financial advisor, to make sure the Flutters can still gallivant around the British Isles, Grand Caymans and so forth. We always schedule about an eleven AM appointment, and although this is a bit over simplified, the meeting usually progresses something like this: “Well things seem to be going well, the growth in the account is about matching your withdrawals” a couple of generalities about the Market, and “Let’s go to lunch”. Our advisor has a good palate, and does get around to local restaurants a lot. So after a bit of discussion he suggested Remi’s Kitchen & Wine Bar, located in Clayton. Like Charlie’s it started out in one spot, but unlike Gitto’s, it has stayed right there. It is in a kind of a run down building in down town Clayton and requires a few steps down to gain entry. The space is nothing sleek, probably been the same for the twenty years they’ve been in business. We got “the greeting” (will we ever move past this), but the wine and cocktail list was delivered with the menu. It may be somewhat of a stretch to include this in a “Italian” review piece, but the do have a category of “Mediterranean Grazing”, and they do list a Tuscan stew, a Carbonara pasta dish, and several Mediterranean leaning dishes on the menu. They also (at least for lunch) have a list of “daily specials” which are deemed to be favorites, and Tuesday featured Roasted Chicken in Puff Pastry, with seasonable vegetables in a buerre blanc sauce. That actually sounded so good we all ordered that.
A little quirk is that they had several wines that were “WOT” meaning Wines on Tap. These suffice for many (but not all) wines by the glass. They have one of those octopus like systems with hoses running to several refrigerated bottles. Most of these systems have a nitrogen arrangement to maintain freshness. I of course seeked out one that was NOT WOT, a very nice Chardonnay. We quite enjoyed the lunch, although it might have been a bit slow due to Christmas week, but nonetheless a very solid lunch. We won’t go into the luxuries of lunch, although we do remember the Oscar Wilde quote of “Don’t ask what you can do for your Country, ask “what’s for lunch”. Advice for the ages. We’ll remember Remy’s next time
Remembering another sage quote from Thumper: “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”. Well this is kind of inverse, but our third Italian experience was at another Clayton haunt, Café Napoli. It precedes Remy’s by a few years, and has been near the corner of Forsythe and Hanley forever. So, if you expect paragraph after paragraph of Feeder pickiness, forget it. I have visited the place over the years for (mostly) lunch and some dinners for years, and found that it never changes, is always reliable, and the food is good. Service is also friendly and at dinner you are apt to see many of the customers greeted by name by the servers, usually a good sign. We were joined here by our STL ex pat friend who was in town for the holidays, and now resides in DC, and his wife who still maintains a residence here.
They still maintain the practice of presenting the tray with raw “Stuff’ and an explanation of tonight’s preparation of same, plus a nice menu which is pretty much arranged as enumerated above as typically Italian , although I am pleased to report that here a duck is called Vitello Piccata, as it should be. Thank you..
Since I see I have entered Page three (tre), all I can say is that everything was properly prepared, served right (including my pan seared diver scallops). Always a lovely experience no worries.
So I would rate our experiences as increasing in satisfaction as listed. A pleasure to be in St. Louis with so many options, and I haven’t scratched the surface.
Our last restaurant experience was a dinner at Libertine (nee Chez Lyon) with FOJTE the following night (between Napoli and the Christmas Eve feast). Another edition to follow. At Napoli, we of course were
we leave for the return to the Digs tomorrow...