Tuesday, April 26, 2011

sub zero vodka bar

for a couple of years now, sub zero vodka bar has made a reputation for itself by (duh) slinging vodka to thirsty central west enders.  what many folks still don't know, though, is that sub zero has garnered plenty of attention from local publications for their food.  we tried their veggie burger about a year ago, and it was good, but sub zero fell off our radar simply because...well, we're not really sure.  but in our continuing efforts to sample all the veggie burgers our fair city has to offer, so we recently gave sub zero another shot.  as it turns out, the food is better than we remembered, and we're sure to pay sub zero another visit soon.

central west end

like many restaurants on euclid, sub zero gives you the option of outdoor seating. we, however, prefer our food to be exhaust-free, so we opt indoors. inside, it's divided three ways between bar and two dining rooms. you could sit at their famous "ice bar," but it's usually crowded and not very conducive to eating a full meal, so maybe migrate over there for a post-meal drink. the rest of the restaurant is decorated minimally, with a lot of metal and cool colors, like a big, modern icebox--one that serves up over 350 vodkas from 26 countries. cheers.

the servers we've had at sub zero have always been solid. on our most recent visit, our waitress was awesome. she did everything she could to get answers to our questions about vegetarian options/ingredients, and even though she was attending to multiple parties, she managed to make us feel like we were her only table. if we had thought of it at the time, we would've asked for her name and then requested her for our return visits.

for starters, we ordered the hummus and pita.  surprisingly smooth and flavorful, this is definitely a hummus that can hold its own. (seriously, we may start a campaign to make hummus one of st. louis's signature dishes. it's definitely plentiful around here, even more so than toasted ravioli...!) there's a subtle kick to this dish, like a little flirtatious tongue-footsie. turns out it's from some white pepper and a dash of sriracha. yum!

we were pleased to see that they offer an edamame dip, so we shared a plate of that, too. this one comes with fried pita triangles (but caveat herbivore, they are fried in a mixed fryer). maybe we shouldn't be surprised, but this was delicious, too. we do love a good edamame dip, and this was neither too pasty nor too oily, and it had a unique flavor. almost minty, the taste was zippy, green, fresh. we could see them using this as a spread or even on a salad.

for our first entree, we built our own burger--we got the black bean veggie patty and added arugula, avocado, jalapeno, chipotle mayo, and pepperjack cheese. our concoction was, we think, pretty brilliant, but there was a drawback: there didn't seem to be enough of any of the ingredients, so maybe the key is to order fewer so you actually get more. that way you don't end up paying a buck and a quarter for two slices of avocado. however, the patty was a treat; it's housemade, sturdy, savory, slightly smoky, very satisfying.

we also tried one of their signatures: the falafel burger, made of chickpeas with tahini, and served with cucumber, lettuce, and tomato in a pita (though we substituted for a bun). we ordered this burger not realizing that the patty is actually deep-fried, but we contacted them later and asked if it'd possible to get it pan-fried. a manager wrote us back immediately to let us know that they would give it a try in the kitchen that night and then get back to us. the experiment was a success, but if you ever want to request it this way, they only ask that you understand it'll take just a tad longer. we are definitely impressed by their flexibility and eagerness to please, and we feel a whole lot better knowing there's a way around the fryer. that being said, the patty itself was a refreshing change of pace. you get all the good things about falafel without the chalky dryness you so often associate with it. the toppings add some fresh crunch to the sandwich so as not to feel too heavy. all in all, it's an interesting dish and while it's not the first time we've seen a falafel burger, we've never had one quite like this.

nota bene: all but two of the sides are fried, and about half of the appetizers are. you're pretty limited to building your own burger and a few small plates, but the quality of the patties and the abundance of gourmet toppings easily makes sub zero worth a pit stop. so even though you may have cocktails on your mind for your sub zero visit, it may be your food that makes the biggest impression.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Sub Zero on Urbanspoon

closed: nosh

we're bummed to learn that nosh has gone out of business (thanks to the folks at rft for breaking the news).  we worried this would happen, as there were virtually no customers pretty much every time we passed by or stopped in.  it's a real shame, too, because we enjoyed their food quite a bit, and we absolutely adored their to-die-for hummus platter.  still, we're most saddened by the fact that yet another veg-friendly establishment has gone under.  here's hoping the owners find a way to revamp their original concept and soon open an improved restaurant in st. louis.  how about a restaurant devoted to hummus?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

rap session with sweetart's reine bayoc

if you're familiar with our blog at all, you know how head over heels in love we are with sweetart. this family operation is one of our standards, and we just can't get enough. sweetart has received plenty of glowing press in st. louis, but we have always been curious to know more about the brilliant mind at the helm of the business--reine bayoc. we've kept up with their blog and have been aware of some of reine's struggles balancing the restaurant, customers, and her family. there's a lot of love and consideration that keeps this place running, and it's almost palpable when you walk in. we were lucky enough to steal some of reine's precious time for an interview recently.  not surprisingly, reine (pronounced "rain") has an easy-going disposition, and she instantly made us feel like part of the family.  we loved getting to know her, and we know you will, too.

on discovering her talent:
you know, i was in editing--i majored in english and french in college and i was freelancing a lot of articles i had absolutely no interest in doing. the subject matter was a bore to me, and i just was losing passion for that. but i wanted to be a writer. i still consider myself to be a writer. i was looking for full-time work, and i couldn’t find anything that would fit the type of schedule that i had because i had three little kids.  so i thought, let me do 8,000 part-time jobs and sell cookies, too.  and i started tinkering with cookies, and then people started telling me, "oh! i’d like to buy some!" and i thought, "okay, i’ll sell you some!"  then the cookies started replacing the part-time jobs one at a time.  at one time I had four part-time jobs; i did some of everything. and slowly but surely, i started getting more and more orders, and that would take away a part-time job. then i did tower grove’s farmers’ market. and that was it!

on becoming a restaurateur:
my husband already had a studio on meramec in dutchtown, and we said we should have a place together--we’ll have one rent; we’ll just make it happen. i thought, i don’t know... it’s a lot of pressure! you put yourself out there, anybody can say they love you, anybody can say they hate you. you just have to have the thickest skin and go for it and deal with people and their issues. i didn’t think i was ready for it, but i thought if i didn’t do it now, i wouldn’t do it in the future. so i just said, "okay, we can try it and see." we gave ourselves four years. we started year three in december.

on how she feels today about it:
i'm still feeling great about the place. yeah! you know, every now and then you feel like, "is this working? does this still feel good?" and right now in this moment, it feels really good and it’s working. 

on evolving from bakeshop to cafe:
i started just doing sweets. i've been a vegetarian for years, [but] i remember when we were going to open, we weren't going to have food; we were going to have quiche, brownies, cupcakes, that sort of thing. i understand why a lot of places open up and they're just baked goods: it's easier to maintain. but my girlfriend said, "you have to sell food," and i said, oh, maybe. and then people kept coming in asking for food. so i said, okay, i'll put five things on the menu. i thought, it'll just be food that i make at home. and she said, "you have to sell meat." i said, no, everybody sells meat. you can get a chicken salad sandwich anywhere. you can get a turkey sandwich anywhere. so i figure the people who really want that have plenty of choices. we, on the other hand--my kids are vegetarian, too, and cbabi's a vegetarian--we can't go everywhere to eat. so i thought, why not just make food that's vegetarian--people will either eat it, or they won't. everybody has a choice.

on her vegetarian family: 
[my kids] have always been raised vegetarian. we also go vegan from time to time. it's usually by my doing. at home what they eat is mostly vegan food. i say [they're] "vegetarian" because when they get with their grandparents, it's hard enough to get my mom not to feed them white castle, so if she wants to give them a grilled cheese sandwich, i say go for it. it's better than giving them a pork chop, which she would love to do. at home our diet is mostly vegan, and the lunches that they take are vegan. it's very hard in the kitchen when we're experimenting with something new [for the restaurant] and we're trying to do it vegan, and we're trying to do it regular, and you have to taste it.

on the formation of the menu:
[when creating a new menu item] i try it on myself, and if it makes me giggle, i don't let anybody else taste it. because if it makes me giggle, i know it's the one. it's just so good that it makes me laugh, and then i'm like, oh, this is it. [giggles] nobody has to taste it.
but yesterday, we were experimenting with a turtle bar off of some cookies that our newest person left something out of... we didn't know what it was, but they weren't baking right. so we were trying to manipulate it, so we didn't waste what was already made. and we were tasting, and we were like, oh, it tastes a little burnt. so that way, i'll let other people try it. usually when we bake anything new, the other bakers will taste it so they know, one, what it tasted like, and two, whether it might inspire a different product. you never know.
conceptually [the menu is] all me. i like to say that we're not fancy, by any means, and nor do i want to be. we've had some press where people will say "pastry chef reine bayoc," and i just laugh because i am not a pastry chef. i'm making things my grandmother could do. i'm just using really great products, and i'm trying to get as much stuff local, as many things as we can organic. it's not fancy, it's just simple. so if i like it, i think other people will like it.

on staying true to herself:
i like to say i’m catering to vegetarians and vegans and meat-eaters--i don’t want to exclude anybody. i think our veggie burger is good even if you like steakburgers. i would think it tastes pretty good! but i have to be sure that people know that you must do what you love. i'm creating things that i love, and i get a lot of people who come in here and--"oh, they have vegan food!" and they want something 100% raw, and i have to direct them to vegadeli because they cater to that more than we do. it's good to have people out there who are giving options. so, yes, i want to feed vegetarians and vegans and meat-eaters, but i also want to stand true to the things that i eat and enjoy. and know that the kitchen is about the size of this table, so... the things that we’re able to get out: small miracle! you just do what you can.
it’s really hard to stay true to yourself once you become public. it was really easy for me to decide what i wanted to do when i was baking in my house. when you have a storefront, you start hearing, you should do this and this, and why don’t you do this? we just had someone come in and say, "you really need to put chicken on the menu." i always hear things from everybody. so we try to focus on what’s near and dear to us and what we love. coming in in the mornings and seeing my grandmother’s picture, [i think], would she eat this? yeah, she would eat this.

on her source of inspiration:
we try to do things that are homey. like you would go into your grandmother's house and feel like... i have a picture of my grandmother on my mantle. every morning when i come in, it’s pitch black dark because it's that early, and i go over to her picture and i say good morning. and whatever i’ve made that day that seems like it’d be something that she'd like, i'll take it and put it on a platter by her photo and tell her what it is. or if something breaks, i'll give it to her.
i lived in france for a short time, and i loved their desserts. i thought they were spectacular. my french housemother even taught me how to make some things that were wonderful, beautiful! but at the end of the day, i’d rather have a piece of chocolate cake. you gotta know what you love. at the end of the day, i don’t want the fancy french dessert that i love so much there. it was comforting there because my grandmother wasn’t there, my mom wasn’t there. so i ate that there. here--this is what i like, so you have to do what you love.

some fun quick-fires, just to get to know reine a little better:

strangest request at work:
sometimes people come in and they say, "my great-grandmother made this filling for every cake, can you make this filling?" and they give me the recipe, and there are no directions. it’s just x, y, z as far as ingredients, and you have to figure out what their great-grandmother did. i know a lot of people who just say, "no, we don’t do that, we don’t re-create." but if it’s near and dear to somebody, i’ll do it. i’ll just figure it out. and usually it turns out great. nobody’s called to say it wasn’t!
what she does for herself:
i meditate twice a day. and i usually fit in a walk or yoga every day.

favorite childhood memory: 
i have three brothers; i’m the only girl [and] i’m just real tomboysy. my brothers [and i], we would have parties. we were very poor. every now and then we'd scrounge up a couple dollars and we'd go get those cheap little sandwich cookies...like the very generic oreos, and popcorn, and chips, and [we'd] mix together the popcorn and chips. we would sit and just have a party. my mom was very protective. we weren’t at people’s houses.  there were four of us, so she just figured we could play together, so that’s what we did. we would just sit and have our little snack food, and we would have rapping contests. we would have a tape recorder and rap, or we would see who could write to 100 the fastest. i mean, you would think we were raised on a farm somewhere, the things that entertained us. that’s what we did. i’m still close with my brothers. i think that’s one of my favorite memories.

top two bucket list items:
i want to go to fiji. don’t know why. i saw it once on [the today show], and I was like, "(gasp) wow, that looks amazing!" and i want to take my daughter to paris because i experienced france, and i just want to be the first one to take her. all my kids, but she’s the oldest. so i see taking her to paris, just to have my daughter time. i remember reading this book not long ago, molly wizenberg's a homemade life. she had been [to paris] before with her family many times, but before she got married, her mom said, "i want to take you to paris because this is the last moment that you’re going to be my single daughter. soon you’re going to start your own family." i enjoyed france for the time that i was there. i think it's good to go somewhere else and see what living is like. i think here we work way too much; we're not enjoying life. i say that almost all the time to everyone else, and i have to remember it for myself, like, "okay, you’re supposed to be enjoying life! that’s really why you’re here!" you have to focus on what brings you joy. there are many things on that list, but those will be the top two for now. 

reine is, not surprisingly, very modest about sweetart's presence in the st. louis food scene. to understand her approach to her business is to understand her dedication to family, doing what she loves, and loving what she's doing. when asked about all the new and exciting things happening in st. louis kitchens, reine encourages us all to take chances: 

so many people are afraid to come in, and then they do, and they look at the menu. i don't have enough digits to count the people who come in and say, "there's no meat," and then walk right out. it's all about opening your mind and trying something new. you just gotta go, go, go. i think st. louis is really getting out there. i can't wait to see what happens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


many moons ago, we ate at milagro and had mixed results.  nothing was egregiously bad, but there wasn't anything that made us want to return, either.  for the sake of the blog, though, and because we like to give a place a second (or third) chance, clark recently returned for a solo assessment.  we knew that milagro uses a vegetarian-friendly fryer, so if nothing else, clark would be in for mad helpings of chips and salsa.

webster groves

the owners of milagro recently gave the restaurant a facelift, and though the difference isn't radical, it is significant.  the dining room is now divided into sections that allow for more privacy, and there just seems to be a better flow through the place.  the vibe certainly feels more modern than other mexican joints in town, and milagro has done much to distinguish itself as the upscale version of its sister restaurant, tortillaria.  clark sat in the bar area but only because there was better lighting there for photos.

clark's waiter was solid, attentive enough but never intrusive.  food came out a bit slowly, but this had nothing to do with the server.  the waiter was quick to get feedback about vegetarian items, and he never seemed put out by clark's inquisition.  at the end of the meal, clark had an opportunity to talk to a manager (owner?) to inquire further about the meal.  though not terribly personable, the manager was obviously knowledgeable about the menu and knew exactly which items were vegetarian.  it was clear that the chef had put much thought into the vegetarian options on the menu and that this philosophy had been clearly defined for the front-of-the-house crew.  very reassuring, indeed.

being a sucker for guacamole, clark started off the meal with milagro's version of this blended-avocado goodness.  the portion is ample, no doubt, and the avocados were fresh and plump. there was just the right amount of chopped vegetables to give the guacamole some color and flavor contrast, and the texture was sublime with its blend of smooth and chunky avocados.  unfortunately, though, the guacamole was undersalted and underseasoned, leaving the relatively mellow veggies and avocados to sing a flat note; the fresh mexican cheese didn't contribute any significant flavor, either.  it was close--really close--to being very good, but the guac needs some help if its to become crave-worthy.

next up were the traditional quesadillas, which were unlike anything clark has ever eaten.  instead of the typical fold-over tortilla style, these quesadillas are more like indian samosas on steroids.  these "corn masa turnovers" are not just unique because of their shape; they're also unique because of their exotic filling: huitlacoche.  for those not in the know, huitlacoche (aka "smut," aka "mexican truffle," aka "crow poop") is a corn fungus that most modern farmers consider a blight.  for hundreds of years, some folks in mexico have been eating huitlacoche as a delicacy.  certainly, this is the first time clark has seen it, and had he known what it was prior to ordering, he might have passed it up.  it's difficult to explain the flavor of huitlacoche, but there's something just a bit "off" about it.  it's neither delicious nor disgusting; either way, though, it was because of the oily pastry, not the corn fungus, that we won't be ordering this in the future.  still, it was very cool to try something entirely different.  crow poop.  hilarious.

last up was the grilled vegetable burrito, which is one of the entrees we tried the first time around.  stuffed to the gills with cilantro rice, black beans, squash, grilled corn, spinach, and zucchini, the burrito delivers the veggies better than any other we've had in the area. the sauces were solid complements, even if they were lacking a bit in chili heat.  what makes this burrito noteworthy, though, is that it's vegan--not something one can request vegan but something that is designed to be vegan.  as most of you know, it's a rarity to find 100% vegetarian items on a mexican restaurant's menu; to find a vegan burrito is virtually unheard of.  according to the manager clark spoke with, this vegan burrito is the direct result of an omnivore chef collaborating with his vegetarian wife.  (note to clark: always listen to the wife.  she's smarter than you.  always will be.)  unlike the guac, though, the burrito was a touch on the salty side, but it wasn't obnoxiously savory.  clark suspects that the slightly excessive saltiness is due to the kitchen's desire to compensate for the absence of cheese, and we'll gladly deal with a little extra salt when a kitchen is trying so hard to accommodate the vegan/vegetarian community. 


milagro's salsa, by the way, is quite delicious and has a beautiful color and consistency.  still, like the rest of the food at milagro, there's a noticeable absence of chili heat, and we wish very much that they would deliver bolder flavors.  still, the fact that vegetarian needs are not secondary at milagro makes them a place worth considering the next time you're in the mood for modern, inventive mexican cuisine.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Milagro Modern Mexican on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 17, 2011

everest cafe & bar

we've been dreading this entry for a while now.  we want very badly to give everest a glowing review; we want very badly to love the food.  to un-originally wax philosophical: often in life, you don't always get what you want, no matter how badly you desire it. 

the grove | manchester

we've always liked everest's interior.  it's a no-frills space, to be sure, but there's plenty of color and texture to keep the place looking lively.  it's a noticeably small space, too, so expect to sit relatively close to your tableneighbors.  

though the servers have always been friendly, the service is a bit spotty.  for sure, you do not want to be in a hurry if you're planning to have dinner at everest.  of course, we don't mind waiting sometimes, particularly when we're expecting to.  the primary concern we have with service at everest is the conflicting messages we've received during our visits.  just last fall, clark was assured that the kim chi was totally vegetarian, but we felt compelled to get confirmation on our most recent visit.  sure enough, the waitress told us that the kim chi--a dish traditionally prepared with at least a smidgeon of fish--did not contain fish, so we gladly ordered some.  minutes later, though, with clark feeling slightly less than assured, we took advantage of the chef's brief appearance in the dining room to inquire again about the kim chi.  the chef unequivocally, without hesitation, told us that the kim chi does contain fish.  (then, and we quote, "but only a little bit [of fish]." guhhh?)  now, we're relatively easy-going folks, and we're not "soap box vegetarians," but if your menu announces that an item is vegetarian, it had better be vegetarian.  most disconcerting is not that the server was misinformed; it's that the chef, fully aware of the fish in the kim chi, has not made an alteration to the menu.  we wonder how many vegetarians have gladly ordered and consumed the kim chi at everest; we wonder, too, how many noticed a strange fishiness but chalked it up to some kind of seaweed.  we don't want to belabor the point, but the mislabeling of the kim chi calls into question all of everest's vegetarian items, and this, of course, is a real drag.

we began the evening with the special everest appetizer, which consists of various vegetable fritters, samosas, and momos.  the tray of primarily fried foods comes with a deliciously hot and sour achar (something we hope, but cannot confirm, is vegetarian).  the momos are by far the stars of this platter, and there's very little reason we can give for not just ordering the momos by themselves.  in fact, the momos have always been our favorite item on the menu, and despite our reluctance to return to everest soon, there's a decent chance that the momos will call us back sooner than we think.  mostly, the downfall of this platter is how greasy one feels after finishing.

next up was the bi bim bop, which is one of clark's all-time favorite korean dishes.  in korea, bi bim bop is the meal of the people. comprised solely of whatever vegetables and proteins one has lying around, bi bim bop is as working class as a meal gets, and it's supposed to be simple and clean.  we both prefer dolsot ("hot pot") bi bim bop, but everest doesn't offer this option; nevertheless, we were both excited to dig into some deliciously healthful korean goodness.  as you can see from the photo, the vegetables weren't as abundant as one would like--a couple pieces of romaine, some shredded carrot, and a few bean sprouts--and the serving was on the small side.  of this latter point, we're not too fussy about portions, so long as the price point is reasonable.  at 10 bucks, though, we wonder what we were paying for, particularly considering the majority of this dish (and all bi bim bop) consists of white rice.  in any case, the flavors were fine if unexciting, but it's the tofu that really let us down, lacking virtually all semblance of flavor.  the dish needed something original, something interesting, to make it worth our time, and the tofu would've been the perfect ingredient to show off.  no such luck.

in an attempt to sample everest's most representative dish for vegetarians, we concluded with the complete nepalese meal.  a medley of daal (lentils), bhat (plain rice), mixed veggies, and tarkari ra saag (spinach curry), the platter delivers a variety of flavors (though not textures) to sample.  traditionally, the nepalese mix everything together with the white rice and the lentil soup to make one big starchy stew.  we're fans of smashing up different flavors (hello, sweet corn and mashed potatoes!), but the result in this case is not something worthy of exclamation points.  as with everything else, it's not that the food is bad at all; it's that the food is just food. 

it's awesome that everest uses organic veggies when available, and we couldn't be more impressed by the owner's commitment to making the world a better place.  it's cool, too, that everest gives you a chance to sample south asian cuisine (korean, indian, and nepalese).  but if we're talking about food that makes us want more, we can't say that this is the place.  combined with our reservations about everest's definition of "vegetarian," we can only hesitantly recommend a visit.  nevertheless, we do think vegetarians can find something to satisfy their needs; it'll just take a few visits to figure out which items are worth their time.  we suggest starting with the momos.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Everest Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 16, 2011

cafe eau

we want to be clear about one thing: we WANT to write positive reviews for all local restaurants. we don't enjoy doling out criticism and negative feedback. unfortunately, encountering praise-worthy grub is only part of the foodblogger's job. so, as much as it pains us to write two lukewarm reviews in a row, write them we must. hopefully, as has been the case with a couple of st. louis restaurants, our review will get them to rethink their vegetarian offerings. if nothing else, though, we're giving you all a little something to consider before making your way to one of these bland establishments. to be clear, though, cafe eau wasn't a horrible experience at all; we just wanted/needed more.

cafe eau | chase park plaza
central west end

situated across the lobby in chase park plaza, cafe eau serves as the more informal counterpoint to eau bistro.  the vibe in the cafe is certainly more modern than the bistro, and the clientele, too, seems to be a bit more "hip." (note: we are infinitely not "hip.")  the few times we've passed through the cafe, we've noticed that most of the cwe urbanites perch or stand at the bar; for our meal, we opted for a seat at a table, far away from the cwe urbanites.

service was brusque and inattentive, from hostess to server to bartender.  (at one point, another server, possibly noticing our dissatisfaction, stopped by to see if we needed anything, and she was a delight to speak with.)  in a nutshell: we were brought glasses of water at the beginning of the meal, and none of us got a refill until clark walked up to the bar to get one.  as we've mentioned before, we actually prefer a slightly more hands-off approach from our servers, but let's just say we wanted a bit more attention from cafe eau. 

we were encouraged with cafe eau's first offering: the cranberry spinach salad.  cranberries and walnuts are always good companions, and the spinach was plump and properly dressed with a refreshing cranberry champagne vinaigrette.  the slivers of granny smith apples provided a crunchy and tart one-two punch, and the goat cheese (as usual) brought everything together, keeping the tartness of the salad from overwhelming us.  it was a lovely salad, no doubt, but at a whopping 9 bucks, we're not sure it's worth it.

considering that hummus rules our world, sampling cafe eau's version was the main reason clark purchased a restaurant.com to this cwe hotspot.  as hummus goes, this one was oddly sour but competent, and we enjoyed the roasted red peppers and kalamata olives.  what we didn't understand was the olive oil and feta combination.  it may be that the feta mellowed out too much from the oil bath, but primarily we were just unimpressed by the quality of the olive oil.  and the pita, though grilled, needed some kind of seasoning to make it worth the calories.  again, overall the hummus is competent if underwhelming.

because of the paucity of vegetarian offerings at cafe eau, we had few options for our concluding dish, so we went with the tuscany flatbread.  if, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, we would've been in hog heaven with this flatbread.  in this case, though, we'll go with something else they say: don't judge a book by its cover.  as you can see, the flatbread is gorgeous to look at, what with the bright red peppers and the abundance of feta and goat cheese.  unfortunately, on the palate, this flatbread is only ordinary.  suffice to say that the various ingredients lacked any distinctive character, and the crust, despite its good-looking char, had very little flavor.  the most glaring flaw, though, was the sauce.  it may be homemade (we don't know because we didn't get a chance to ask), but it tasted like tomato paste from a can, with seemingly no trace of the basil pesto it claims as a base.  to be sure, by no means we were disgusted by the flatbread; in fact, it's thoroughly edible.  it just needs a facesaucelift if we're to consider ordering it again.


now for a couple of notes about the menu.  cafe eau does offer a black bean chili, which we were very excited about, but they add meat to it.  why?  why not use that option to appeal to a crowd that might be interested in healthier eating?  they also offer one other vegetarian option in the "sandwiches & more" section, but it feebly combines the two things most often found at restaurants that haven't thought much about vegetarian cuisine: portobellos and wraps (aka, the double whammy).  cafe eau's vegetarian menu is typical of most mainstream restaurants in a city: uninventive and uninspired.  yes, the food is decent, but in a city like st. louis where extraordinary vegetarian food can easily be found, cafe eau has a long way to go if they're to lure us back.  that said, we understand some restaurants/chefs/kitchens just aren't meant for vegetarians.  that's cool with us.  but, if you're in the cwe and looking for some quality veg fare, head across the lobby to the bistro, where you're sure to find something of interest.


vegetarian-friendly score:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

search and devour: hummus bar at cafe natasha's

we're sure most folks in the tower grove neighborhood have at least heard about cafe natasha's hummus bar, but we'd be remiss if we didn't spread the word to the rest of the city.  (sometime in the near future, we'll be returning for a sampling from the menu, at which point we'll give a full write-up.)

here's the first thing you need to know: everything on the hummus bar is vegan.  vegan, we say!  even the falafel is vegan.  the second thing you need to know: everything other than the pita is homemade.  homemade, we say!  from the succulent mushroom curry to the creamy hummus to the delectable falafel, cafe natasha's delivers a unique medley of flavors and textures.  the vegetables aren't overcooked or mistreated; in fact, one of the most delicious options was the basil tomatoes (just look at how vibrant and fresh!).  there are also two rices to choose from--saffron and traditional biryani--and each is worth your time if you're down with starches.  add in a complimentary cocktail, and you're talking about one of the best bargains on the st. louis happy hour scene.  most of all, though, we just loved how relaxed we felt in the cafe.  yes, the service was great (as was the interaction with cafe natasha's matriarch), but as we've mentioned before, it's difficult to overestimate how comforting it is to sit down to a vegan meal.  when we're lucky enough to find ourselves in front of such a meal, we're willing to forgive some of the shortcomings of the food; at cafe natasha's, though, there are no shortcomings to forgive.

Café Natasha's Kabab International on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 11, 2011

terrene: spring menu

by now, most of you know that we're big fans of terrene, so when we found out about their new spring menu, we got our butts over there for some eats.  rest assured, though, that our assessment is in no way biased.

central west end

we've written extensively about terrene's staff before, but we want to relate to you our most recent experience.  as usual, we perched at the bar for our early-evening dinner, and we had a nice conversation with our favorite bartender john.  another familiar face brought us our first dish, and after chatting with him a bit, we discovered that the man we've exchanged pleasantries with upwards of 30 times is actually the owner (his name is john, too). we've always been fond of him, but now we're even more impressed because he doesn't feel compelled to flaunt his ownership.  very cool.  even cooler?  he asked us to give him our candid impressions of terrene's newest vegetarian options.  he sincerely wanted to know if the food was to our liking and if there was anything they could do to improve it.  as it turns out, and this should come as no surprise, the food didn't need any improvements.

the spring menu doesn't radically depart from winter's offering, but there are some significant additions and subtractions.  (we're including a snippet from the new menu, as terrene has yet to post it to their website.)  gone is the wild mushroom flatbread; in its place is a chicken flatbread.  now, obviously, we vegetarians want no part of this chicken, but we took advantage of our circumstances and encouraged john to consider using match's chicken substitute.  considering terrene has been using match for quite some time, and considering john's willingness to embrace all things local, we wouldn't be surprised at all to see a vegetarian "chicken" flatbread sometime soon.

a sidebar: if you visit terrene soon, it wouldn't hurt if you requested the match "chicken," too.

gone, too, are the gnocchi, which have been replaced by the stuffed grape leaves as the new "small plate" vegetarian option (you'll have to wait til summer to see the tofu tacos again).  the delicately-wrapped grape leaves are filled with sundried tomato and kalamata tapenade, and cous cous replaces the oft-seen brown rice as the starchy stuffing.  the stuffed grape leaves tasted "clean" and made us feel light.  the yogurt sauce provided some nice tang, too, and we really enjoyed the cucumber and watercress salad.  we just wish more restaurants would use watercress.  it's so underused.

next up was the new vegetarian option on the "big plate" menu: vegetarian pasta.  this pasta is the replacement for the sublime vegetarian meatloaf--a dish we will sorely miss until next winter--so we were a bit skeptical when we ordered the pasta.  though no match (bad pun intended) for the meatloaf, the pasta was exceptionally good. 

a- (a "minus" primarily because of price)

vegetarian-friendly assessment:

Terrene on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 10, 2011


this was one of the first places clark took lois early in their courtship.  lois, being half-okinawan and having spent some of her childhood in singapore, is always on the lookout for good asian food.  clark, too, loves asian cuisine both traditional and contemporary, so we went back to miso for the first time in a while.  their menu offers a contemporary american perspective on dishes from around the asian continent, not just japan (as the name may suggest).  itadakimasu!


upstairs and downstairs have completely different vibes, but both are modern and casual chic.  downstairs, the lounge can provide more privacy or just more of a nightlife feel if you're there for some cocktails and a few rolls to nosh on.  in both areas, they've waived decoration for interesting textures and materials.  upstairs, there are two huge vases holding armfuls of bamboo, one wall features a mosaic of light peach stones, and the tables and chairs have a zebrawood-like veneer that might recall zen rock gardens.  the windows open on nice nights, and there is some outdoor seating, too.  it's a very comfortable space: it doesn't feel conceited, but it doesn't venture into cheesy, either.  (though we wouldn't complain if a maneki neko settled in the host's station.)

we don't like to use this word because we know how patronizing it can sound, but our server this evening was really sweet.  always attentive, never nettlesome, he was just what we like.  it's never easy for a server to constantly assure tables that food is coming (albeit slooowly), and we were actually glad this evening that he didn't try--for both our sakes.  we could see him keeping an eye on the kitchen.  we had limited interaction with anyone else, but about three others waved us goodnight as we left, and it seemed genuine.  we were comfortable here. 
(a quick note on the aforementioned delay in service: we noticed sushi plates were prepared very promptly, and only cooked items coming from the kitchen seemed to take a while.  but we aren't assuming or even suggesting that it's commonly this way.)

to start, we had the warm mushroom salad, featuring enoke, shiitake, and grilled asparagus in a sesame-citrus splash.  the dressing didn't really come through, but it's actually alright because the mushrooms were so fresh and flavorful.  what we could actually taste more was the butter sauce they were lightly cooked in, which also included mirin--just to give it a little lift of sweetness to complement the savory fungi.  the asparagus was a nice touch, although we'd like a little more.  their crisp, green flavor really stands out and adds a necessary difference in texture to an otherwise very soft dish.

for entrees, we stared with the tokyo street noodles.  the noodles seemed somewhat overcooked and had a resulting doughy mouthfeel.  the description on the menu says this dish is "wok tossed," but it tasted like the snow peas were actually cooked separately; when we ate one pod on its own, it never seemed to have the seasoning of the rest of the dish.  it's not a huge flaw, but it causes a sort of disconnectedness where the ingredients just don't feel married.  the addition of shiitake and scallions were a nice touch, and we did love how fresh the snow peas were.  cooking them as lightly as they did was a treat, but the over-generous amount of oil in the dish made it feel inappropriately heavy.

we also shared a vegetable fried rice, to which we added tofu.  served with a nice variety of vegetables, neither too salty nor too oily, this was a comforting version of an old favorite.  you may notice the photo of this dish is conspicuously eggless, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn that miso's fried rice doesn't suffer from this omission in the least.  there's nothing too inventive here, but the clean flavors and crisp vegetables make this one a very satisfying option--for vegetarians and omnivores alike.  and it turns out, the optional tofu was the standout of the night.  the texture was soft, but not spongy or soggy.  the flavor was nutty, and had a delicious fermented taste, not sour or cardboard-like at all.  the seasoning and the light crispiness developed on the outside was outstanding and reminded us of nutritional yeast: slightly cheesy and really savory, yet not so loud as to drown out the other elements of the dish.  this fried rice is really a chorus of ingredients all working together, but there's no mistaking that that tofu is the star.

overall, we enjoyed our meal at miso--despite the wait and despite our preference for less butter and oil.  we know what kind of crowd they're cooking for, and they're not looking for traditional japanese cuisine.  while these dishes do deliver the vegetables (see how green, how abundant those snow peas!), our prior experience here with vegetarian makimono has suffered the same pitfalls as other sushi joints around the city.  vegetarian sushi options are usually meager and ludicrously overpriced (anyone who thinks $5 for a cucumber roll is fair is, as lois's mom would say with disbelief, baka!).  however, miso at least offers a dinner menu with more options than most for vegetarian fare, so we know where to go when we're in the mood for a fried rice and some sake. 


vegetarian-friendly score:

Miso on Meramec on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 9, 2011

search and devour: gelato at the gelateria

we stumbled upon this place while walking to the car after dinner at cafe natasha's.  we were actually heading up to tower grove creamery, but the gelateria looked too good to pass up.  turns out, our instincts were spot on.  lois went with a hazelnut and vanilla earl grey blend, and clark went with the pistachio straight up.  we've been searching all over the city for a decent pistachio, and we're just tickled to report that we've found it.  the gelateria gets its ingredients straight from torino, italy (a place we hear knows a little some-some 'bout gelato), and then the good folks at the gelateria work their magic to create some of the creamiest gelato in all of the lou.  this place is ridiculously cute, too, and sports an intimate patio on the backside, tucked away from all the noise coming from south grand traffic.  with warmer weather on the way, we know this won't be the last time we wolf down the gelateria's delectable treats.
Gelateria Del Leone on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 7, 2011

rap session with schlafly's scot smelser

we sat down last week for a little q & a with scot smelser, g.m. and executive chef of schlafly.  it's been one of our standard spots in st. louis from the beginning, and we've always been curious about the menu--like, when it's being designed, how much of a focus are vegetarian options and how do they decide on what specific vegetarian items to add?  (we could ask questions like this at a number of places around the city, and in fact, we will.  stay tuned for more interviews to come periodically.)  schlafly has a daring and forward-thinking philosophy, so we thought it fitting to make them our first interview.  one of the many interesting things we learned is that scot is a former vegetarian, which obviously has great influence over the shape of the menu.  we hope you have as much fun finding out about scot and schlafly as we did.  enjoy!

on designing a brewhouse menu for vegetarians, too:
when i moved back to st. louis, i saw a big emptiness.  we moved back in 2001, and there was no vegadeli--there was really nothing, and so when we were designing the menu here, we weren't necessarily going to be a strict vegetarian place.  we have a pretty broad base of people we cater to in our restaurant, but i knew there was a void that could be filled with some nice vegetarian options.  

i've always wanted to have more than just the raw veggie sandwich that you get just as a token sandwich.  i hated that when i was a vegetarian.  we wanted something that was unique for vegetarians, and i think right now we have three vegetarian sandwiches on.  i just always want [there to be an] option, and another option that i wanted to have was to make sure we always had a vegan cheese.  we serve a lot of different animal proteins, so obviously that's the furthest thing vegans want to be by, but they can still [eat here] with meat-eaters.

the schlafly beer name is really an excellent thing to be associated with for this restaurant because we can get people in here for schlafly but then actually showcase what we're trying to do food-wise.  because it's local beer and then local food.  it's a nice tie-in.  
i have a chef [matt bessler] i work with and he runs day-to-day operations, and we've worked together for ten years.  we're constantly battling because i always want to add more vegetarian options and he's like, 'well, we're not a vegetarian restaurant!'  but even people who aren't vegetarians are trying to eat healthier.

when we first opened, i really wanted to have tempeh.  i think i had just moved back into eating meat again, but i still wanted to have veggie meatballs.  the tempeh wasn't holding [the meatballs] together, and then when match came along, we found it.  so we have match chicken and match beef, and the match pork is in our biscuits and gravy for brunch.  that's something we don't even tell people about when they're ordering.  when people find out, a lot of times they're surprised.  they're like, 'this is phenomenal!'  it's right on it.  that's a fun one that we won't be changing.  we've had a good relationship with [match owner allison burgess] for years.  we're constantly working with her to get some new products in here to expand it.

on schlafly's dedication to supporting local businesses
something i found out about out west [in boulder] that really went hand-in-hand with the vegetarian movement was the local movement.  that's really caught on in the last ten years, which is awesome, [and now] it's one of those things you can see even in the grocery.

[for vegan cheese] we're using teese right now, and teese is out of chicago, so that kind of spills back into our local philosophy.  we actually just sourced a missouri guy making tofu; we're gonna call it "mofu."  it's gonna be fun, yeah, and that's coming on with this new menu.  it'll initially be in our tofu curry. 

in both schlafly restaurants, [the food] is from scratch and...we get a lot of our stuff locally.  the purveyor list is maybe up to 40 local businesses we're supporting.  and it goes beyond food, even.  it goes into the chemicals that we wash our dishes with: they make those chemicals here in st. louis and they're designed [with the environment in mind].  we're trying to spread it as close as possible.

on schlafly bottleworks's philosophy:
we still don't have fryers here.  when we opened, that was part of the concept.  at the time we called it--and we never really wrote it down--but we said we were celebrating the midwestern table.  that was kind of what we were doing, but we had stuff not from the midwest; we're getting closer to celebrating the midwestern table now more than any time.  we also said we're not going to have a hamburger, so we have a bison burger.  it's still a red meat burger.  and we said we're not going to have fryers because there's a health benefit to not eating those kind of fats, but there's also the good feeling about the food that you're getting, that you don't have this greasy slop.

we definitely have had people that are really surprised when they come into the brewery and they can't get a burger and fries.  or hot wings, or toasted ravioli.  i'm okay with it; i try not to eat that kind of food anyway.  it was a big move when we added those [billy goat chips] and tortilla chips, because for the longest time we were like, 'okay, no fried food.'  but then we thought maybe we're not really selling ourselves out by selling these fried items because at least they're not ruffles and tostitos.

on vegetarian options in st. louis
we've had our [tofu curry] since the beginning, and i was telling the chef in the back that i want to move to this tofu sandwich i used to eat when i was down in the south.  when i lived in atlanta, there were a lot of vegetarian restaurants, and we're just now in st. louis getting that open-mindedness to the vegetarian diet and even vegan diet.  it's really awesome that there are even strict vegan restaurants out there.  it's really cool to be part of that scene, to say the least.

some fun quick-fires, just to get to know scot a little better:

strangest request at work:
one time when we were at the taproom, where we do a lot of private parties, and i was trying to help cater food.  this person really wanted me to make an authentic chinese dinner.  asian food is some of my most favorite things to eat, but i didn't know anything about how to cook it.  but they loved it!  the bride was a caucasian woman and the groom was chinese, so here i am cooking for all these chinese people.  that was pretty weird.  i did it, but i don't know how, really. 

favorite thing to do when not working:
i like to hang with my children.  we like to do whatever...make art, go hiking.

favorite thing to do when working:
it's really about beer and people. so. beerpeople.

favorite city:
ooo.  gonna have to say maplewood; it's where i live.  but #2's brooklyn.

top two bucket list items:
samuel smith brewery and take the kids to the redwoods.

sitting down with scot for the first time was like sitting down with an old friend.  he really made us feel welcome.  not only did we learn a lot about schlafly's philosophy, we learned a lot about the type of people who are transforming st. louis into a destination rather than a layover.  when we asked scot how he felt about st. louis as a foodie city, he was, as expected, optimistic: 

i think we got a lot going on.  for a long time i think people in st. louis kind of looked down on themselves, like, 'well, we're not chicago'...but in a sense there's a lot of pride now because there's a lot of treasures here and there's a spirit that we're stronger than that.  i think people are happy.  i think we're good!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


one of david bailey's three wildly successful restaurants, rooster serves up crepes and sandwiches to hungry downtown 9-to-5ers. located just a block from bridge, rooster is the early-day counterpoint to bridge's late-day appeal. unfortunately, your humble narrators, staunch suburbanites we be, have had mixed results at rooster. still, we wanted to provide a report for our readers, so we decided to give rooster another shot.


rooster's decor is vibrant but not frenetic, conducive more to chill-out sessions with friends than the pound-and-go rituals of manhattanites.  if you are in a hurry, there's a bar for speedier service; in our experience, though, most folks choose to sit in the dining area, lingering over coffee and conversation.  we were fortunate to perch at one of the window tables this visit, which provided us with a lovely view of the locust street foot traffic.

in the spirit of unbiased reviews, we have to tell you that our experience with service at rooster has worn us out.  on our first visit, we were so neglected that after 30 minutes of no service, we were forced to leave for friendlier confines (we chose schlafly).  another time, service was great until the order was taken, but then we received no service at all and had to go to the bar to pay.  on this visit, though, service was terrific the entire time.  our waiter provided answers to our vegetarian-specific questions, enthusiastically gave us directions to bridge, and generally made us feel very welcome.  we're not sure which of these experiences best represents rooster, but our guts tell us service is more often like our most recent visit.  always listen to your guts, people.

the point, really, is this: we're willing to endure virtually all manner of server jackassery if the food is exceptional enough.  as with the service, rooster's food has also been hit or miss.  for the purposes of this review, we'll just report on how good the food was on our most recent trip.  if you've been reading our recon reports the last month or so, you know we've been on a sort of breakfast bonanza.  lois has always been a big proponent of breakfast foods, with clark only recently warming to the brilliance of eggs (thanks to the local harvest slinger).  point is, we've had some amazing breakfast dishes recently--from northstar (in columbus) to sweetart to local harvest--so we feel relatively qualified for a review of rooster.

our primary objective was to sample rooster's veggie burger, but we started with a vegetarian breakfast scramble.  similar to a slinger (sans chili and cheese), the scramble comes with mad veggies--zuchini, roasted tomatoes, red onion, spinach, garlic, and mushrooms--and is served over a bed of roasted potatoes.  we're particularly fond of the fact that rooster serves the veggie scramble without cheese; it's a choice that made us feel ever so slightly less guilty about the eggy cholesterol.  overall, though, we weren't as impressed with rooster's plate of eggs as we were with any of our recently reviewed restaurants.  (have we mentioned how good the slinger is at local harvest???)

out of respect for lois's addiction to affinity for all things breakfast, we opted for a savory crepe.  based on the server's recommendation, we went with the goat cheese crepe, which came filled with wild mushrooms, basil, and oven-dried tomatoes.  the crepe casing was quite nice, really, and the ingredients complemented each other well enough. however, there seemed to be a shortage of ingredients, and we were left wondering what our 8 bucks were paying for. again, we felt the food was competent but not exceptional.  

fortunately, the veggie burger didn't disappoint.  rooster provides a vegan version if you substitute their toasted bread for focaccia, and we gratefully accepted the vegan option.  again, we give props to rooster for designing yet another menu item without dairy, particularly considering how many restaurants in the area bog down their ingredients with copious amounts of cheese.  there's a time and place for indulging in cheese, no doubt; we just think rooster should be commended for eschewing dairy on items where you least expect it: eggs and veggie burgers.  very cool.  the burger patty had a nice crunch, and we loved all the black beans scattered throughout.  the addition of guacamole as a substitute for cheese was also much appreciated.  the tangy, nutty guac provided more than enough flavor to make you forget about cheese for a while.  the focaccia, too, was good (somehow buttery despite being vegan), but we felt it was perhaps a bit too much bun for such a mild-flavored patty.

even though we weren't overwhelmed by the food, we'd certainly consider going back, and we have no reservations in recommending rooster if you're downtown and in need of sustenance.  combine rooster's vegetarian-friendly menu (over 20 items!) with their commitment to local produce and dairy, and there's very good reason to celebrate.


vegetarian-friendly score:
Rooster on Urbanspoon