Friday, August 30, 2013

Wanderlust | St. Louis

Amy and I squeezed in tons of things during my brief, three-day visit to the Midwest, so I wanted to make a little guide of where we ate and drank, what we saw, and what we did together in St. Louis.

Amy made appointments for us at Blown Away, a little blow dry-only salon in St. Louis. Its hairdryers are suspended in the air, with the cords plugged to the ceiling for easy of drying for the stylists. Here are our perfect coiffs upon leaving the salon!

Later that night, we hopped on over to Chef Gerard Craft's Pastaria (see review here) in Clayton for some crazy awesome risotto balls and fantastic housemade pastas.

Amy and I met up with her best friend Mel and her brother David at The Muny, the nation's older and largest outdoor musical theatre (largest meaning having the most amount of seats), to see Disney's Mary Poppins: The Musical. After 10-15 minutes into the show, there was a huge downpour of rain, causing the show to postpone until nearly 11 PM (when it was safe for the cast to return to stage without risk of slipping on a wet stage). However, by then, we had already bailed after being drenched in makeshift ponchos and tiny umbrellas to return back to Mel's apartment to watch Two Weeks' Notice. It was an honest effort, and the night ended up being really fun anyhow! :P

The next morning, we found our way to downtown St. Louis for brunch {1,2} at Rooster, where there was {4} a half hour wait already before 11:30 AM!

02A - Rooster
By the time we got our table (actually a lot quicker than the time estimate), we were starving, {5} so we toasted with peach bellinis and had homemade sourdough toast (ha-ha) with butter and fresh strawberry jam. Loved the thick slices! For our main course, Amy had the {8} goat cheese #2 with mushrooms, fresh spinach, and tomato jam, while I had the {6} bacon #2 with Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, and a spicy mayonnaise.We also shared {7} a side of breakfast potatoes. An utterly and completely solid brunch -- I don't think I've had a breakfast crepe this good. Definitely worth the wait!

02B - Arch 1
After brunch, we headed over to {1-2,4} the Gateway Arch to how the wait was for the next ride up to the top of the Arch. The next available Journey to the Top up wasn't for another two hours, so we made sure to buy tickets for the next trip up and walked around for a bit before heading over to the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis for a little afternoon respite.

Quick panoramic shot of the Gateway Arch!

Underneath the Arch!

02C - FS
{1,4,7} The Four Seasons St. Louis was about a 10-15 minute walk from the Arch. As with any Four Seasons Hotel, the interiors were serene yet modern, providing us the perfect in between spot to cool down from the summer heat. {3,5} We had great refreshing drinks at Cielo Bar -- {6} Amy had a good ol' mojito while I had a cocktail that had pineapple juice and ginger beer in it I believe. We really enjoyed this nice break, especially {8} with the fabulous view of the Arch right out the window.

{1} We returned back to the tourist concourse at the base of the Gateway Arch. We still had some time to spare so we walked through the Museum of Westward Expansion right inside, which delved into the history of the American expansion into the Midwest and how Louis and Clark ties into it all.

02B - Arch 2
{2} Getting to the top took about a half hour (waiting in line, queuing up, walking through to the little pod entryway, riding a little pod for five to the top, etc.), but when we finally got up there, {3,5} boy, was the view gorgeous! We could see City Hall and Busch Stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals play. {4} I even got a photo of myself with the landmark sign inside the Arch indicating we were 630 feet above the ground!

02D - Jilly's
Before heading back to Amy's apartment, we made sure to stop at Jilly's Cupcake Bar. I had the {2}24-Karat Carrot Cake cupcake filled with vanilla whipped cream and topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting, toasted coconut, white chocolate shavings, and 24-karat gold dust. Amy had the {3}Twisted Pink Velvet cupcake filled with caramel and topped with cream cheese, caramel buttercream, and a pecan praline. The cake of the cupcake was quite moist and soft, while the toppings and filling are on the sweeter side. As they're quite big, they're best for sharing flavors among a group of friends -- that way you can try many flavors without filling up!

The colorful bakery window of Jilly's.

{1} Later that evening, I joined Amy and Mel for a cooking class at Kitchen Conservatory entitled Grills Gone Wild, where the entire menu focused on how to best grill indoors. {2} Kitchen Conservatory is a premier kitchen store that has a selection of more than 6,000 essential and useful cooking products in its store as well as {4} offers cooking classes of all genres and cuisines in the two auxiliary kitchens at the back of the store.

02E - KC 1
The evening's cooking demo began with {3}some mango mojitos, {5} a lemon herb dip with crudité, as well as {6,7} preparation for our salad and dessert. It was great we came to class hungry, both for food and knowledge. We certainly learned tons with our three-hour session at Kitchen Conservatory -- e.g., how to properly zest a lemon efficiently, how to grill fruit, how to make do with what's available, etc.

02E - KC 2
{1} The salad ended up turning into grilled hearts of romaine salad with blue cheese dressing and bacon, but I substituted the blue cheese for olive oil and balsamic vinegar (still delicious!). For our main course, we watched our instructor poach potatoes in butter (so much butter but OMG so good!) for the side dish, while simultaneously grilling a generously sized cut of salmon (with the pretty criss-cross charred exterior!). The resulting dish was grilled salmon with tangy horseradish-cucumber sauce along with a side of butter-poached and roasted potatoes. Dessert used the grilled peach sundaes with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, toasted pecans, and grade B maple syrup. Absolute perfection!

{1,5} After class, I wanted to be sure we hit up Taste by Niche before I was to head back to NYC, another spot run by Chef Gerard Craft. I first heard of Taste by Niche listed as part of Bon Appetit's Top 10 Cocktail Bars in America, so I knew we had to check it out.

02F - Taste
While there was an {1} inside seating area with bar, we decided to sit outside after arriving around 11 PM. It was the perfect decision as these musicians like to play live jazz on Laclede Avenue Amy had the {2}Curious Flowers Hendrick's gin, Fruitlab hibiscus, Mathilde cassis, lemon, house orange marmalade, Angostura, and Gruet brut. This drink was truly delicious, with a nectar-like consistency and finishing with a light herbaceous, fruity groove. I had the {3Nude Bomb with Plantation 5-Year rum, Rhum JM, St. Germain, Don's Mix, grapefruit, coconut water, and tiki bitters, which channeled sitting under a straw umbrella on a tropical island. Wish we could've tried more drinks here, so there's always next time!

{1} The next morning, Amy and I met my old college roommate, Dave, for brunch at Half & Half.

03A - HH
Half & Half has a pretty intense coffee selection -- three varieties potentially available in four different brewing methods! Amy got Finca Salaca from Costa Rica roasted by Kaldi's Coffee prepared in a cold brew method. Very concentrated, but very smooth! As for the main courses, {3} I had the salmon hash with potatoes, chives, sunny-side up eggs, and hollandaise. {4} Dave had the eggs benedict with poached eggs, hollandaise, spinach, and ham over english muffins and a side of potatoes. {5} Amy had the Brussels sprout and cheddar omelet with mixed greens. Although the service was unacceptably slow that morning (even after waiting 30-45 minutes for a table), the food was pretty decent and hit the spot for my brunch craving.

Later that afternoon, {1} Amy and I headed to Whole Foods to pick up the necessary ingredients for our homemade feast that evening that Amy and Mel planned to feature in their local St. Louis cooking blog, It Takes Two, with me as a guest chef!

03B - It Takes Two
On the menu: {2} white bean dip with homemade pita chips, a recipe from Food Network's Giada De Laurentiis; {4} tomato and watermelon gazpacho, a recipe from Food Network magazine; {3} an amazing stone fruit sangria, a recipe from Everyday Food; the boldest tomato-beet salad, a recipe from Everyday Food; a modified recipe of roasted salmon with a citrus sauce from Rachael Ray magazine with a recipe for a side of double-mint barley tabbouleh; {5,6} a modified recipe of peach and raspberry crisp (sans raspberries) served with vanilla bean ice cream by Food Network's Ina Garten.

Check out Mel's blog write-up on "Fresh Perspectives" over at It Takes Two!

Thanks again to Amy for being the best hostess -- what a great visit to St. Louis!

Price point: $35 for a blowout at Blown Away; $7.75-8.95 for each breakfast crepe at Rooster, $6 for each cocktail, $1.75 for each side, $2.50 for homemade toast; $10 cocktails at Cielo Bar; $10 per person for a Journey to the Top of the Gateway Arch; $5 per cupcake at Jilly's Cupcake Bar; $10 for each original cocktails at Taste by Niche; $8-11.50 per main course at Half & Half;

--August 2-4, 2013

*Blown Away
8815 Ladue Road
St. Louis, MO 63124

7734 Forsyth Boulevard
Clayton, MO 63105

*The Muny
1 Theatre Drive
St. Louis, MO 63112

1104 Locust Street
St. Louis, MO 63101

*Gateway Arch
100 Washington Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63102

*Cielo Bar
Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis
999 North 2nd Street
St. Louis, MO 63102

*Kitchen Conservatory
8021 Clayton Road
St. Louis, MO 63117

*Taste by Niche
4584 Laclede Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63108

Half & Half
8133 Maryland Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105

Whole Foods Market
1160 Town and Country Crossing Drive
Town and Country, MO 63017

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