ATOMICPunk's Profile

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Araka vs. Niche: Parental Dinner

I've recently dined at both Niche and Araka. Am a long-time fan of Niche -- dine there maybe once every few months and always look forward to returning. It never disappoints. I eagerly anticipated trying Araka -- though I will have to admit that mostly was because of the early reviews about how great the place looks.

Here's my take on comparing the two: focusing strictly on the food, there's simply no comparison. Niche is in a different class. It's passionate, singular and committed to presenting good food in an exciting way. And it delivers ... every time. The problem with Araka is immediately clear upon opening the menu: it's a disney-like "sampling" of cuisine's and classic dishes. Just not a serious contender for consideration by a discriminating foodie. It does, however, look great (think Las Vegas-style restaurant). And the food is passable. If you have a large group -- it's a sensible choice. But they need to do something about sound abatement in the main dining areas.

If your group is 6 or less -- go to Niche.

St Louis: Downtown Restaurant Week

Adventurous? Really? That word does not come to my mind when I think of this place. They're blazing some twisted new trail, more along the lines of "Nuevo Old & Stuffy." I think their problem is that the urban hipster foodies don't like the ambience and the older, moneyed St. Louisans (who would love the ambience) are still too afraid to come downtown.

Calistoga Anniversary Weekend: Wineries and Food 'Field Trips'?

I recommend the El Molino winery. Very small. Quirky feature: their cave opens into the family living room! Exceptional Pinot Noir and a unique, developing Chardonnay.

Collinsville, IL

Don't know anything about the Greek-Italian place, but skip Neruda's (way too pricy and VERY hit and miss -- plus the smoke from the bar bathes the entire restaurant in a charming, stale patina -- very 1980's). For BBQ, try Smokin Al's on Hampton in STL.

Collinsville, IL

Can't recommend it to a visitor. Drive to Smokin Al's on Hampton in STL. Much better example of local BBQ.

Collinsville, IL

I wouldn't recommend Bella Milano -- especially not for someone visiting the area and with only a few opportunities for dining out in the area. See my comments above on Porters and Cunettos -- throw them all together and you've got Bella Milano.

Collinsville, IL

Tratorria Marcella, Andrias and Ramons, yes. And Andrias for steak only; nothing -- and I mean nothing -- else. For Ramons, you may need to suspend some of your notions about hygiene in public spaces, but a couple of those peyote-margeritas will make it all seem OK. Porters, Cunettos and Old Peking simply cannot be recommended. Porters is bland and cheesy (think Applebees run by hoosiers). Cunettos represents everything that is bad about "The Hill's" Italian food and Old Peking represents everything bad about greasy, fry-everything Chinese food. You'll find much better alternatives in St. Louis: try Niche on Sidney Street in the Soulard neighborhood, Bahn Mi So on South Grand for the best Vietnamese west of Saigon (kicking it old school), and La Tropicana on Lindenwood in the SouthWest City neighborhood for a killer Cuban sandwich or Mexican Torta -- go on a weekend afternoon, when a couple of Cuban muscians are playing, and its like taking a quick trip to Miami...

Eat well!