You know it’s a slow weekend. When the kinkiest thing you did was whip butter.

About a week and a half ago I had the lovely honor of taking this extremely adorable girl out on a date.  Now I know what you’re thinking “Didn’t she say in a post or 2 ago that she just got married to a guy name Kyle?”….Yes, yes I am; however I am of the mindset that you are capable of loving a large number of people and you can essentially go out on dates with individuals you aren’t in a committed relationship with in order to develop something separate and unique. img_20170128_132301 Or ya know you can ask a friend out for a girl’s afternoon out and ham it up a bit.  Though there is nothing wrong with being polyamorous..  A large majority of my friends are polyamorous.  The girl I went on a date is polyamorous and I love her to utter bits. I am not anti poly.  I am pro poly…ALL THE POLY!

I have been taking the necessary actions to be able to spend more quality time with my friends away from group settings to help strengthen my own relationships with them.  This is just because life has a habit of screwing up stuff and making time pass before you realize that you’ve not hung out or seen someone for months.  I’ve asked each of the lovely ladies in my house out on dates and so far I’ve been able to successfully schedule two.  The first being with Krystal who made the suggestion we go get an afternoon tea.  The only place I was familiar with and was within relatively close proximity to where we both lived is The London Tea Room which is nestled in the lovely Morganford business area in South City, St Louis.  I had been wanting to go for a while now but due to life and the little roadblocks she tosses at you, I had not been able to get my foot in the door to enjoy a cuppa so I was eager to say yes and make plans to ensconce myself within the canisters of earl grey and darjeeling.

img_20170128_132354I was immediately in love as I was wrapped up in the aroma of tea, soup, scones, pasties (not nipple covers folks..not those pasties).  The atmosphere was warm and inviting and while rather small for space (at least in the front room) you didn’t feel cramped or crowded.  We mulled over our decisions and I aptly ordered an earl grey with milk and a few tasty treats.  Krystal ordered some sort of sweet matcha latte which I found pleasant and refreshing.  We hid ourselves in the back room, the front of the tea house was crowded which given the fact it was a Friday afternoon at around noon made me wonder how many of the patrons had played hookie that day or were in fact trying to hide their licentious activities behind a blueberry scone with Devon double cream.  What was only to have been an hour tea turned into a two-hour talk with us exchanging war stories about the trials and tribulations of matrimony.  It was a lovely time and will be a reoccurring date place for the two of us in the near future.

As the grey and dreary Friday melted away in the cold I found myself bored and wanting to be creative on Saturday.  Kyle works till 3 in the afternoon so I find myself with a lot of down time if I don’t go to my day job for overtime.  I had spent six hours of my day already stuck behind a desk and was in desperate need of some decompression time.  The thought of the previous afternoon’s date still fresh in my memory and the taste of scones with clotted cream very vivid and alive in my old noodle.  I crossed my fingers on my ride home to hope that I had the necessary ingredients to make scone and even possibly try my hand at making homemade clotted cream.  I quickly scrapped the clotted cream idea due to the fact that when it comes to food I am very much driven by my culinary IDimg_20170128_133534 and I didn’t have 12 hours to wait before I sunk my teeth into a warm scone (not a biscuit dammit!).  So I opted instead to pair it with some butter and jam.  Only problem was I only had enough butter for the recipe.  How in the hell can that happen when you’re as avid of a chef as I am? And then I remembered the popcorn binge from earlier in the week.  Double damn!   But luckily, redemption was hidden behind the milk and the kimchi in the form of a quart of heavy cream (insert hallelujah angelic chords of happiness here!). I shall have my afternoon tea after all and to quote the Mad Hatter “It’s always tea time!”.

I quickly gathered my ingredients to make my scones.  I opted for lemon rosemary given the fact that I had been able to salvage a few twigs from the rosemary plant outside before the frost set it and I had a lemon that was needing to be used for something other than the garbage disposal.  I had everything else I could possibly need.  It’s not an incredibly difficult recipe and if you’ve had any experience with making biscuits than making scones will be a snap.  The only thing different is you are going to be adding an egg.  The addition of the egg is what makes it a scone.  Other then that the technique is going to be the same.  You’re still going to be sifting your dry ingredients and then gently cut the fat into the mixture to form a fine crumb and will mix in enough liquid to bring the dough together.  You can even cut them out like you would biscuits.  For all intensive purposes, scones are just egg biscuits..No they really aren’t but it’s nice to live in that sort of world where it’s easy to just make something into something else isn’t it.

img_20170128_134303Prior to starting you will want to ensure that your butter is very cold. I will cut it into small pieces and then place it in the freezer while I’m gathering the rest of my supplies. I also have a tendency to keep a stick of butter already cut into tablespoon pieces in a ziplock bag in the freezer as a just in case.  Having well chilled butter will ensure that when its cut into the flour that you wont end up with a gloopy mess.  Cutting the butter simply means taking knife, fork, pastry blender, food processor and incorporating the butter into your flour  to make a fine crumb which will help for a flakier, tender end product.  If you have to big of pieces of fat, as they heat and melt they will leave large gaping holes in your pastry.  The only holes I like are in my cheese and um….well other places but that’s another blog and we don’t discuss such lascivious activities here.

Once you’ve gathered the necessary items you will want to start by sifting your flour and then add your leavening agent and sugar.  If using a food processor which let’s face it that is probably the cleanest and easiest way to do this, pour the dry ingredients in and then add the butter, breaking up any pieces that might be stuck together when it was resting in the cold dark freezer of despair.  Give it a few pulses until it takes on the consistency of sand.  Transfer the contents back to your sifting bowl and make a well in the center so that we can pour the milk in to start the mixing of the wet ingredients. If you are going to mix in add in’s now would be your chance (lemon zest and rosemary, chocolate chunks, raisins,  nothing that bleeds too much).   In your milk you’ll want to mix in one beaten egg until thoroughly combined (i.e no globs of albumin *that’s the egg white* left) because you don’t want little globs of clear goo floating around in your milk like so much chicken jism flotsam cast adrift in a bovine secretion ocean *gags*.  Pour the milk into the well and taking a fork start to mix the flour in.  Once it’s roughly combined and if adding things that will bleed (berries) add them here and finish mixing with your fingers until it comes together.  Lightly dust your work surface and quickly but gently bring the dough together.  You need to work quickly because you don’t want the butter to melt. img_20170128_134337 Taking a rolling-pin which has also been dusted, gently roll the dough out till it is roughly 3 cm in height.  Because of the baking powder added they will rise so don’t fret if you think they are too small.  Dip your biscuit cutter into your flour and slowly press into your dough to cut into your scone shape.  If you don’t have a biscuit cutter a glass with a thin edge will work perfectly well.  If for some reason you don’t have a glass and prefer to drink out of an old rusty can that once housed lima beans and you can’t bring to throw it away because you have too much sentimental attachment that um yeah I guess you can use that,  and get a few rounds of “mild” ECT therapy.  Or ya know, um yeah.  You need help.

Cut out your rounds of dough and placed on a baking sheet that has either been lined with parchment paper or has a silicone mat so they don’t stick or burn.  You will more than likely get around 15 scones if using a 2 inch (5 cm) biscuit cutter.  You can gently bring the dough back together to cut more, just keep this floating around in the back of your ECT addled brain that the more you mix and roll out the dough the tougher the scones will be.  I’d recommend only doing this roughly twice and be satisfied with around 20 scones.  You can always make a second batch should it not be enough.   Brush the tops with the second beaten egg and place in a preheated oven at 375 for roughly for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are a lovely golden brown.

Now if you’re an avid tea fan like I am and you love scones like I do than you’re probably a purist and prefer to enjoy your tasty baked goodness with some clotted cream and jam.  The question that is lingering on my lips is how do you eat it?  Are you a Devon or Cornwall scone eater?  Are you a clotted cream then jam or a jam then clotted cream type scone eater?  My opinion about you won’t really change.  I won’t suddenly decide to unfriend you from life and ignore your existence if you prefer to eat it the way those savages in Devon do and that is the spreading of the cream and then the jam.  Bloody uneducated, unrefined savages.  Cornwall does it best because the cream tastes better on top.  TOP IS THE BEST PLACE TO BE!!.    It’s how I eat my toast it’s how I eat my scones and I’ll never change…^.^  Really there isn’t any right or wrong way ( Cornwall is right, Devon is wrong) to eat your scone.  The only wrong thing is calling it a biscuit or not eating them at all.

Sadly I didn’t have any Devon double cream at home on this scone day but I did have an extra quart of heavy whipping cream lying about so instead of using butter which I didn’t have and only enjoying the scone with jam, I pulled out my handy-dandy Kitchenaid mixer and cranked that puppy on high and walked away for about 10 minutes or so.  Probably not the brightest idea I had that day considering when I came back I noticed the fat in the cream had separated from the liquids (which is what makes butter) but at 10 it caused the whey to ejaculate out of the bowl and all over my countertops.  Yeah not a pleasant sight I tell you what.  Damn bovine secretions being all sexual and orgasming EVERYWHERE…. It did however change me emotionally to the point that I will probably not buy butter at the store unless I absolutely have to because the end product was so delicious and such a lovely pale yellow that I am forever changed and altered.

So if any of you get a chance visit St. Louis I strongly recommend you hit up The London Tea Room for either a proper afternoon tea (they require at minimum 24 hour notice) or a quick-lunch with a friend.  It is totally worth it.  The atmosphere is lovely, the staff is lovely, it’s just lovely.  If you can’t make it here then please take an afternoon and have a few of your friends over and have an afternoon tea of your own.  I am having one in April for a group of friends and am excited because it means I get to make scones and butter and little sandwiches and pastry ^.^

English Scones

  • 500g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 2 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 2 heaped tbsp of caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 110g chopped cold unsalted butter
  • 300ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs (beaten in separate bowls)

Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheet with parchment paper or line with a silicone mat.  In a bowl sift flour, baking powder, sugar & salt and add to a food processor (you can use your hands for this if you don’t have a food process0r).  Add cold butter and mix until it resembles fine pastry flour. Transfer back to a bowl, making a well and  add milk & egg mixture and dry add ins *zest, dry herbs* and mix with fork until combined.  Place on a floured surface, rolling out gently to 3 cm in height and cut out scones, bringing the dough back together if you absolutely have to for more scones.  Brush with beaten egg and bake until golden brown 15-20 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack.

Homemade Butter

  • 1 quart heavy whipping cream

Place into a mixing bowl with a whisk attachment and mix on high for 10 minutes.  Once finished place in a sieve to drain out any whey and transfer contents needed to small serving dishes.  If storing for later, wrap in plastic and then freezer paper and freeze for up to 3 months.

 

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I feel like chicken tonight, like chicken tonight!

Sometimes even I, the avid chef and foodie, like to partake in creations that others make. Shocking I know but after working at my primary job at Wash U for 10-12 hours a day, I don’t always have that gusto and drive to stand in the kitchen for an hour or so making dinner for myself and for Kyle.  In the past few years St. Louis has become quite a little foodie mecha.  Food trucks, pop up dining events, we’ve developed quite a little food scene here.  And one thing that St. Louis sports a lot of are fried chicken restaurants.  We have fast food chains, mom and pop eateries, long standing chicken establishments and then we have the little hole in the wall all we serve are 5 dishes and they are all chicken type places.

I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are going to have a small single item driven menu then that item needs to be outstanding and on point.  I’d be ignorant to think that every plate might be the same but the food itself needs to be there or you’ll never really get anywhere.  Last night, Kyle inadvertently forgot to take the steaks I had planned on making for dinner out of the fridge to come to room temp.  Not wanting to eat at 8:00 at night we opted to have an impromptu date night close to home.  We picked Old Standard Fried Chicken located at 1621 Tower Grove Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110.

Located at the northern end of Tower Grove Park, Old Standard Fried Chicken roosts in what appears to be a converted garage.  A quaint patio area is fenced by planters which normally houses the four varieties of mint that the bar uses for its mixed drinks; however on our visit the mint appeared to have dried up in the insanely hot weather.   Walking in you immediately smell cedar and oak as the restaurant/bar itself is nothing but wood.  Exposed rafters line the concrete block walls and the old weathered floor gives that sort of refined industrial look to the space.  The light fixtures were few and spaced far between due to the copious amounts of windows that allow an exorbitant amount of natural light filter in and reflect off the white walls.  We were immediately greeted by our server and escorted to our table near the door.  The menu is pretty limited but when you have a name like Old Standard Fried Chicken I’d anticipate the menu being geared towards fried chicken and it was. With such “old standard” items like fried pickles, fried shrimps, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes the menu held promise that our choices, while limited, would be delicious.

Instead of defaulting to bottled soda or a crafted beer, Kyle and I chose to indulge with one of the housemade sodas.  A double cream and a strawberry cream.  At $3.75 a pop we were hoping for something more then a slim 8 oz glass half filled with ice (probably only roughly 4 oz of actual drink) with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  But for what it was which was a housemade soda it was delicious.  The “snack” we chose the fried horseradish pickles which were made in house and our main meal we each picked the chicken deal which contained two pieces of chicken of our choosing, 1 trimming and a biscuit.  Kyle chose the mac and cheese  and I opted for the meaty greens.  As we waited we enjoyed the atmosphere of the space.  It wasn’t loud or crowded and it was pleasant.  The wait staff was observant of when we needed our water refreshed and after about a 10 minute wait our pickles arrived.  I wish I could say that these were phenomenal; however the breading used simply tasted like unseasoned flour and did no justice to the sweet pickle slices hidden them.  The saving grace that added flavor to the snack was the spicy ranch dipping sauce and the sweet with a hint of heat pickle.  image000005

Our meal showed up around 10 minutes after our snack did.  At first glance I was excited at the prospect of having a good ole fashion fried chicken dinner. Our server provided us with little side cups of butter and orange marmalade for our biscuit and a little side cup of hot sauce.  One thing missing from the table was salt and pepper which was located next to the bar on a little side cart which housed their glasses.

First off the meaty greens.  Collard greens smothered in smoked bacon which hey you can’t go wrong with bacon, but me not really being a huge pork fan I just ate around them.  First thing right off the bat the dish was lacking in seasoning.  Again there was a void where salt and an acid should be.  The greens were still slightly crispy but given the fact that they weren’t seasoned did not make up for that.  Kyle’s mac and cheese looked rather ooey and gooey but when I tried it I found our common theme.  The dishes simply lacked any sort of flavoring.   Sad really given the fact that this meal cost us $10.95 per person.  Would the chicken be any better?  I soon received that answer.  No it wasn’t.  I never really knew that it was hard to mess up fried chicken; however by eliminating any sort of brine or season it tasted dry and the rather harsh flour taste from the breading did not leave me much hope for redemption in this dish or this restaurant.  I know I’m picky but when you have to drown a piece of chicken in hot sauce to partake any sort of flavor something is seriously wrong.

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Johnny Down Bourbon Neat

The only saving grace besides the amazing whiskey and bourbon selection was the dessert.  Originally I had ordered the turtle pudding but was told it was out of stock, our server suggested the banana pudding, which per reviews of the restaurant was raved as a must have.  It was wonderfully thick and you could actually taste the bananas and it did not give an artificial chemical taste.  It was legitimate banana pudding which after much coercing Kyle tried along with his Johnny Down bourbon.

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Sadly, our experience at Old Standard Fried Chicken was not good.  After speaking to our server she advised us that the “chef” in the kitchen had only been there for about 3 weeks or so, but given that rather off reviews have been given about the food for a few months it more then likely is an ongoing trend.  Don’t get me wrong, I strongly recommend this place if you are a bourbon/whiskey fan and also want a good pudding, but if you are looking for old fashioned fried chicken you’d had more lucky in the drive through line at KFC a mile down the road.  Old Standard Fried Chicken?  More like No Standard Fried Chicken.  Sorry guys but the chicken is gonna be put down..and not in a good way  /sadpanda

 

I’ve got the luck of the Irish at the foot of Canal Street

Sorry I’ve not blogged in a hot minute.  With wedding planning, working overtime and the inevitable bout of stomach flu hitting multiple members of my household I’ve been a little busy.  But with both Kyle and myself on the mend we decided to go out and enjoy some of what St Louis has to offer which is no easy feat for us as our tastes vary about as much as our styles in tattoos.  Asking each other what they want for dinner can vary based on the day, the time, the placement of the sun, if the moon is in retrograde or whether or not we are wearing matching socks (which thankfully we don’t….ever…that’s just weird!) but we are always in agreement that it be somewhere that has an interesting menu and can offer up a variety of different fares.

For the past few weeks I’ve been having a real hankering for authentic Irish cuisine.  After the debacle that was O’Connells Pub (which was neither pub nor Irish food) I’ve had a longing for a good hearty Guinness stew or a substantial plate of bangers and mash.  I practically kicked myself for even contemplating going somewhere else other then Soulard’s own Irish rose…McGurks Irish Pub and Garden.

Located in the heart of St Louis’s French Quarter Soulard sits John D. McGurks Irish Pub and Garden.  Mcgurk’s first opened their doors in 1978 as a one room pub house, and over the years has risen among the ranks to the head of the class among the Irish Pubs in St. Louis leaving such favorites and much loved Llywelyn’s Pub being the runner up.

To say that the food there is good is an understatement.  It’s authentic Irish cuisine that has the ability to transport you to the emerald isle where you can wander the Moores amidst the fields of heather in hopes of catching a glimpse of the fabled phantom island of Brasil off in the distance.  It’s seriously that wonderful.  As we walked in we were immediately greeted by a little sprite of a hostess who excitedly chatted with us about the upcoming Mardi Gras celebration that was to happen in a few days.  Her exuberance immediately brought a smile to my face as she told us of how it was her first one in St Louis and that she heard it was always a busy day.  I playfully told her that I apologize for all the tourists who will trash the outside of the restaurant and told her to wear sensible shoes and to carry a Xanax as a just in case.   The restaurant was not crowded by any sense of the word which to me is the ideal time to enjoy a meal.  The kitchen staff is anxious to get food out the door and the quality always seems to be more spot on when there’s a relaxed atmosphere without the stress of the row of tickets.  Our waitress quickly came and took our drink orders as we browsed the extensive menu.  Such favorites as fish and chips, bangers and mash, Guinness and lamb stew immediately caught my eye as did not so traditional local favorites like grilled tilapia, the John D McGurk’s burger and the grilled three cheese sandwich.  All the food looked so good but I was on a mission.  And that mission was good ole traditional Irish food and personally nothing says traditional like corned beef and cabbage.

What is corned beef?  Is it beef made with corn?  Tell me!?!?!  No..corned beef is pretty much beef that has been cured in a salt brine…for a wee bit of time.  Some recipes say to brine it up for at least 10 days..and anything beef can be corned.  The most popular at the inexpensive tough ole piece of beef like tongue and brisket which as they get more tender the longer they are brined and can withstand the low and slow cooking method of the crockpot, sous vi style or by good ole dutch oven on the stove methods.  Want to try your hand at making homemade corned beef from scratch here’s a link for you:

Corned Beef: How to Cure your own

We started our meal very simple with their Galway Bay crab cakes.  Two lovely crab cakes topped with double smoked bacon, sweet corn and a spicy remoulade sauce drizzled over the tops.  Now lets face it, St Louis isnt exactly known for their crab cakes so the idea of getting something that might be reminiscent of the Chesapeake Bay area is hit and miss. While it was not that of a Chesapeake Bay crab cake where the crab is the start it did have a nice mouth feel and wasn’t overly processed.  The pleasant crispness of the cold sweet corn combined with the spicy remoulade left a pleasant burn that lingered away after a minute it was an opener that left us eager for our entree.

20160204_190016Kyle had never been to McGurk’s to eat before so this was a rare treat indeed for my St. Patty’s day husband.  After looking back and forth on the menu and being torn between the ribeye, the corned beef and cabbage and the bangers and mash he decided on an Irish classic, the bangers and mash.  In house made sausages steamed and seared, served over Yukon gold potatoes topped with a decadent gravy which featured the famous Irish beer Guinness with a side of sauteed carrots and green beans.  One of the things I’ve come to learn about Kyle is if he enjoys his food he doesn’t make a peep.  He eagerly dug in to his meal making little noises of contentment with each bite. I couldn’t help but smile over my plate of corned beef and cabbage at him, his happiness making the dinner even more enjoyable.  I soon had to face my meal which was sitting in front of me cooling. 20160204_185954 My corned beef and cabbage.  I wish photography did the food justice. The plate consisted of a bed of steamed red potatoes and carrots with a rather healthy wedge of cooked cabbage. Two soda bread rolls accompanied the dish as did a little dish of horseradish and honeyed butter.  The corned beef cooked with the expertise that only your grandmother would master was neither bland nor over boiled.  That’s a normal issue I have with corned beef.  It’s boiled to utter death and you don’t get that pickled taste.  It’s just a complete rubbery piece of dead cow.  This however was a vibrant pink from the curing process with little to no fat (only slight traces of marbling).  I was not disappointed in my choice of entry.  Only in the fact that my tiny surgically altered stomach could only take so much before telling me it was done for the evening but hey perk to tiny tummy is delicious leftovers which i did enjoy..repeatedly 😀

I’ve always loved eating at McGurk’s and while my last experience has been nearly a decade ago I was not disappointed.  The wait staff was fantastic,  the creative masterminds in the kitchen were rocking Ireland hardcore that night and John D Mcgurk is well entitled to boast such esteemed acknowledgements as one of the best bars in America and #3 best Irish Pub in the U.S.A

If you are craving some authentic Irish fare or just a really laid back atmosphere where you can enjoy a pint or 4 with your friends over some music I strongly recommend hitting this place up.  If you find yourself in the city go to

1200 RUSSELL BLVD
ST. LOUIS, MO 63104

 

and if you find yourself out in O’Fallon, MO visit McGurk’s Public House located at

108 S MAIN ST.
O’FALLON, MO 63366

 

Now as you can probably guess by the title of this blog McGurk’s wasn’t the only culinary joy Kyle and I got to experience.  As many people may know this weekend was Mardi Gras weekend and I being a former resident of the Soulard area could think of nothing better then being as FAR away from the commotion of the weekend festivities.  So I decided to toss in a few hours of overtime at my job.  Around noon I started to feel the pangs of hunger and instead of surfing the vending machines located in my office I opted to end my day early and see if the spouse wanted to go grab lunch before he went off to work.  The plan of attack?  The Kitchen Sink located in the CWE (Central West End).  Family owned and operated it’s name implies that everything is on the menu “except the kitchen sink”.  Taking their flavors and food styles from the heart of creole country the menu is very remniscent of New Orleans having mild spice levels but big bold flavors and is a good place for the NOLA newbie to get their shoes wet.

Located right off of Union Avenue by the famed Forest Park, The Kitchen Sink finds itself home in CWE Apartment building.  You can find limited off street parking but your best luck is to park street side and walk the block to the diner.  Yes I said diner.  This offbeat diner is open seven days a week from 11 am to 10 pm Monday thru Friday and from 10 am to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday.  Immediately upon entering you feel as if you’re in a diner that would be found on Canal Street in New Orleans.  Floor to ceiling multi panel windows allow in large amounts of natural light which bounce and reflect off the white walls and counters without causing a glare on the myriad of photographs that plaster the wall with quaint quotes such as:

To the World you are One person, yet to One person you are the World

and

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity – Edgar Allan Poe

We came on a busy day.  Hello?  CWE on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?  I’m shocked we didn’t have a queue to get a table.  As I hoisted my short frame up onto my seat I immediately was drawn into the artwork which decorated the walls.  Above us was a blown up photograph of the funeral procession of John F Kennedy featuring the iconic salute of his son standing next to his grieving mother.  As we glance around at the potential goodies the other patrons were eating our server brings us two glasses of water in what my father refers to as “texas china”.  i.e Ball canning jars with handles.  Right away I smile with amusement because I find places who serve their beverages in fancy glasses to be a bit to pretentious.  Yes..something is too pretentious for me? Possibly the most food pretentious person on the planet (okay maybe that’s an exaggeration.  probably most food pretentious in my circle of friends).  We are handed our menus and start to look over the options.  Some of the options have very unappealing descriptions of what the food is.  For example.  S.O.S…Now being a military kid I know S.O.S to stand for “shit on a shingle”.  It sounds disgusting but is amazing because essentially its a chipped beef that is served on toast.  It looks like shit but tastes amazing and is quite possibly the best hangover food this side of the Mississippi.  Now of course The Kitchen Sink’s description was

(Shit on a Stick) Different marinated meats charbroiled & served on a skewer

*insert crickets*..Wait..different marinated meats…What type of meats?  It didn’t say so it was like okay what the hell are we gonna get.  So being the culinary risk takers that we are Kyle and I opted for that as our appetizer.  Now to the bigger task at hand.  The entree.  With a selection ranging from chicken and waffles to jambalaya and quite literally everything in between we were having a difficult time in narrowing down what we wanted our first experience to be.  And then we saw it.  Nestled at the bottom of the entree selection 3 little letters.  I.D.K.  What in the hell?  The description read that of a game of tummy roulette

“You don’t know what you want?  Neither do we but we’ll try..No Refund”  What the hell was that supposed to mean?  We’ll try.  Were the chefs going to randomly select something off of the menu?  What if it had pork in it or black olives, or worse?  What if it was a mixture of two things that totally don’t go together like biscuits and gravy with peanut butter and jelly?!  I wanted it.  I wanted it bad.  So I take the plunge into the hands of chefs I don’t know and order it, my only stipulation was it could not contain ANY black olives.  Allergic reaction was not on my menu for today’s lunch.  Kyle ordered the same and our server showing her obvious excitement stating “We don’t know what it is and the chefs dont until they get the order but everyone loves it”..That’s both promising and terrifying but hey what’s life without a few risks.   And then..the waiting game.

Being a person of industry I totally understand what it’s like to be both a patron in a busy restaurant as well as an employee working the busy lunch shift.  People get ansty, annoyed causing a ripple effect amongst the staff.  Our server checked on us periodically ensuring our order was being handled and that it would be out as soon as possible.  We politely say no rush we understand and our minds set to work at what possibly is waiting for us.  We see tray after tray of food coming out, each more delicious looking then the last.  Belgium waffles cooked to a golden brown served up with crispy fried chicken, art deco style bowls filled with gumbo and jambalaya and etouffee.  Salads that make my stomach wiggle with excitement, but I could not help but wonder what my lunch was going to be and what were the meats going to be in our S.O.S.  The answer to the second question was quickly answered as long awaited appetizer was laid in front of us.

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Laid out in a little row were three pieces of charcoal grilled pieces of skewered meat next to what looked like an etouffee.  On the first piece of “meat” was a bleu cheese type cream sauce, the second was naked and the third was topped with a cheese over slightly warmed diced tomatoes.  Okay still not sure what it was so I cut into the first piece and am given the identify of my protein selection, chicken.  Breathing a very audible sigh of relief I try the “etouffee” and confirm what my eyes had told me.  Only it was missing the crayfish and the chicken and the shrimp.  Essentially it was vegetarian.  Kyle cut into the tomato cheese covered skewer and woo 2 for 2.  Chicken.  That only left the naked skewer which was shocker, chicken.  And then…the main event…The I.D.K

Served up in two vibrant orange art deco style bowls were two completely separate dishes.  Can you imagine being the server who had to decide who got what?  I’d be a nervous wreck if I had to be the one to do that.  I can barely decide on what type of socks to wear on a daily basis.  By means of the playground rules she did the “eeny meeny miney mo” method and handed me the bowl in her right hand and presented Kyle the bowl in her left, although in hindsight whatever she presented both of us would have been happy with.

gumbo

I wish the photograph did my bowl justice however I was ravenous and while I normally want to get just the perfect picture, my stomach had other ideas which primarily focused around instant gastro-satisfaction.  Hunkered down in a bowl of rich flavorful gumbo were little fried hidden treasures of shrimp, catfish, tilapia and crayfish.  The gumbo itself was a veritable trove of tasty meats featuring chorizo, andouille, crab, crawfish and shrimp. The breading slightly spicy with that definitive southern style technique using seemed like cornmeal.  It wasn’t heavy, it was crispy without that aftertaste of oil and it didn’t lose its crunchy texture in the gravy of the gumbo.  Each bite offered more and more flavor as I dug through the the bowl like a kid playing in a sandbox that has buried treasure in it.  I was so wrapped up in my own lunch that I completely spaced about Kyle and what he had in front of him.

We are still attempting to figure out what exactly Kyle had because it had a very prevalent feel of being Asian in style yet with it being a creole/cajun diner we were curious if it was a play on a teriyaki stir fry but using bourbon in the sauce.  bourbon shrimp His also was presented in an art deco style bowl served over a bed of white short grain rice and showcased expertly seared shrimp with a lovely saute of zucchini and yellow squash.  The “sauce” had a lovely smokey quality which hinted to the possibility of bourbon with a sweetness that reminded us of a simple rustic teriyaki.  I wish I could get more descriptive with Kyle’s but he was not in the mood to share and made quick work of his lunch, being ever so quiet as he savored every succulent bite of shrimp.  It smelled amazing and I wish I had the opportunity to try his but I was enthralled in my own lunch and while I offered up some for him to try I was very happy when he turned me down.  I didn’t want to share it.

As we paid our bill which was roughly $46.00 for the two of us we looked at our to-go containers and experienced a brief moment of sadness over the fact that the I.D.K we had today may never be the I.D.K we will order in the future.  I failed to ask our server how many times the chef team repeats an order but since its a crew of 9 young chefs eager to stretch their culinary legs and make a name for themselves then I doubt there is much redundancy.  Knowing that made my lunch experience all the better.  The possibility that my lunch was unique just to me and that no one else would get to experience the same dish in quite the same way.  Yeah…I’m good with that.

So all in all both of these restaurants offered up unique experiences which did not take from the other.  McGurk’s with its rustic old world Irish pub feel, amazing homestyle Irish food and friendly wait staff started my week out amazingly and The Kitchen Sink brought it all home to mama.  These are two spots in St. Louis I strongly recommend you going to be it the first time or the seventh time.  Good places are hard to find but once you get there oh the joy you experience.

If you want to plan your next outing around these two fine St Louis establishments please take in the other sites that their location has to offer.  McGurk’s is located on the edge of Soulard which is home to a pretty awesome farmers market and provides an eclectic environment to wander and casually stroll about the streets.  The Kitchen Sink is located a block away from Forest Park where you might want to go after you eat to work of the sleepies that come with eating rich food.  Either way you can’t really lose…Unless you go on a day when they are closed.

Enjoy and let your food experience be amazing.  I’ve provided the websites for you to look at and as a FYI for the Kitchen Sink online menu?  The I.D.K does not appear.  It’s on the menu inside the restaurant.

The Kitchen Sink: The Name Speaks for itself

 

John D McGurk’s Irish Pub

 

 

 

 

Robata Of Maplewood: Sushi, Ramen Yakatori Review

“A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountains, and the earth. All existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.” (Maezumi – The Ramen Girl 2008)

Like most Americans I was introduced to the wonderful world of ramen via a tiny cellophane wrapped package.  Located in the soup aisle on the bottom shelf, rows upon rows of ramen in every possible flavor a kid would want.  Beef, chicken, shrimp, oriental.  And for the more adventurous, creamy chicken, chili, roast beef.  Plus growing up poor in the heart of the Midwest it was also cheap.  Like $.10 a package cheap.  So there was the allure of the crinkly package with the mystery foil pouch.  But was it true ramen? To me then yes I would say it was ramen but after last night?  It would be remiss of me to say yes after eating at one of the new ramen shops located in St. Louis, MO.  Robata in Maplewood.

Nestled into a tiny converted Church’s chicken sits Robata of Maplewood with its floor to ceiling glass windows and obscure parking lot.  Robata of Maplewood is the first of its kind in the tiny little borough but is part of a rapid growing trend in the St. Louis metropolitan area and it is a welcome addition to the culinary scene here.

It caters to the dinner crowd, opening its doors at 5 pm and closing at 11 pm Monday through Thursday and 5 pm through 12 am Friday and Saturday.  The quaint restaurant seats 35 patrons and offers a variety of sitting from bar style to table which flank both the kitchen where you can watch the hustle and bustle of the chefs working the line in a kitchen no larger then half my bedroom or alongside the glass windows which offer up a view of the patio as well as Manchester Avenue.   The genius behind Robata are the former owners of the now closed Sekisui, husband and wife team Thom and Emily Chantharasy so needless to say, given my long standing patronage of Sekisui, I was more then ecstatic to experience and subsequently enjoy the culinary treats of this new venue.

Upon arriving we were immediately greeted by one of the servers who inquired as to whether or not we wanted to sit at the bar or at one of the tables located to the right of the door.  Normally I’d want to sit at the bar to watch the preparation of the meals but I diverted from my traditional seating and opted to sit in the small and cozy dining area.  Due to the cold weather outside and the comfortable temperature inside, the ceiling tall windows were covered in condensation and provided a rather unique albeit unintentional water feature to our dining experience. The restaurant was near full capacity yet did not seem to be inundated with noise from the conversations had at each of the individual tables.  It was cozy yet did not feel cramped with that busy bustle feeling that did not make one think they were intruding.  The longest we waited was 3 minutes for our water while both Kyle and I glanced over the over sized menus with a child like enthusiasm. Almost immediately I squealed with delight as I noticed the a la carte menu.  Listed were the traditional St Louis tempura options: shrimp, crab stick, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli and my personal favorite, sweet potato. As we sipped our hot green tea and choice caffeinated iced beverages we perused the menu with an unfiltered enthusiasm.  Deep fried garlic, tempura soft shell crab, bacon enoki yakatori it all looked so good.  It all dragged you further and further down the menu, but our goal was the ramen.

They offer three different broth types: pork broth, chicken and vegetarian.  Kyle being the porcine lover and supporter that he is quickly opted for first option and chose the tonkotsu to be the broth vessel in which his ramen experience would be voyaged.  Proclaimed to be the most holy grails of ramen broth it displays a thick, creamy nearly white in color flavor adventure obtained from the pork marrow bones which had been cooked to oblivion and back.  Each bowl came with the “standard” ramen fillers of roast pork, spinach, a lovely halved hard boiled egg with a still somewhat soft yolk, seasoned bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, nori, red ginger and kikurage (wood ear mushrooms).  That in and of itself is a sure palate pleaser yet Robata offers even more tantalizing toppings ranging from pork gyozo (fried) and takana (pickled mustard greens)..  You were only limited by either your wallet ($8.95 for a basic bowl and no additional topping being more then $4.75 for scallops) or your aversion to going outside your comfort box and well lets face it.  If you’re at a ramen shop in the middle of Maplewood at 7:30 on a Wednesday and your main staples are White Castles or Taco Bell then you’re already out of your comfort zone and I commend you for it.  Along with the cornicopia of toppings as well as broth types you are also given four options in noodle style from regular cut, thin cut, fat cut and for an additional $1.95 rice noodles.  I opted for the corn miso with the add ins of kimchi and takana as I love pickled and sweet vegetables and felt it would be a beautiful accompaniment to the.

ramen

 As we talked of our day and enjoyed our appetizers we were quickly gifted two large bowls of steaming hot ramen, our mouths forming perfect little cherub o’s as we let our eyes wander over the the humble feast before us. Our conversation quickly went quiet as we attempted to the best strategy in which to consume the luscious noodles and broth.  Remembering recent episodes of “In the Mind of the Chef” i recalled Chef David Chang saying that eating ramen was not a graceful act as you are more shoveling your noodles into your mouth bite after bite.    Kyle quickly opted for the mixing of toppings option where I preferred to obtain a little of each in every chopstick full.  The kimchi and takana played perfectly with the chicken based broth of the corn miso.  The little kernels of sweet corn burst in my mouth contently and provided a necessary crunchy component to the harmony of delicately steamed vegetables.  The constant chatter from the other tables seemed to fade away into the background.  There was nothing but these never ending bowls of ramen before us.  As Kyle finished his bowl I leaned back in my chair to see the dent I had made and I was astonished at how much I had left.  Not because I didnt like it but because it was that filling.  Our waiter quietly presented us with our check and as I asked for a to go container he quickly whisked my bowl away and brought it back in a plain white soup container.  Our total bill for the two of us was only $42.90 which is less then what we normally spend at a sushi restaurant for a nice dinner.  We were thanked for our patronage and told to come back soon as we journeyed back out into the cold dark night of St Louis in January with our bellies full and a lighter happier mood at the notion that the following day I’d be able to enjoy the ramen all over again at my job for lunch.

All in all our experience at Robata was stellar.  The proximity of the tables to each other did not take away from our experience.  It actually enhanced our experience as we were able to exchange conversation with our neighbors without feeling as though we were intruding.  The food while humble in origin was not lacking in flavor or presentation.  The portion size was amazing for the price and the serving staff personable and inviting.  It is a place worth visiting and worth visiting again and again be it for a special occasion or just as a adventure destination for dinner.  Not wanting to wait in line?  Call ahead and place a pick up order.  Kyle and I plan on going back and enjoying the sushi and yakatori along with more delicious bowls of ramen.  Hope you discover this little gem and enjoy what the steamed up windows have to offer.

Robata in Maplewood is conveniently located at 7260 Manchester Rd, Maplewood, MO 63143