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michaelstl's Profile

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An Already Researched Solicitation for Comments

Berkshire Room looks and sounds perfect, I think I'll swap The Aviary out for that. Thanks.

Oct 17, 2014
michaelstl in Chicago Area

An Already Researched Solicitation for Comments

I appreciate your thoughts and comments and apologize if my initial post was confusing/difficult.

Perhaps sterile was the wrong word for Grace, maybe generic is better in that the dining room and cuisine was no doubt well done, but didn't have much of unique identity. It was a nice meal, but the restaurant could've been anywhere. It also didn't help that the service was awkward as if they'd be told that they have to be warm and friendly, but not taught how to do that naturally. The places that have registered the most with me are places where either the food or overall experience reflects the area or is distinctive (Bras, Mirazur, to a lesser extent Manresa). For all the strengths of Chicago's food scence, at least at the high end, there aren't many places that have these characteristics.

I wasn't confusing Schwa and Sixteen. By risk, I was referring to the quarterly menu breakdown at Sixteen which is great for frequent visits, but based on reports I've seen can lead to uneven menus and is not as reliable as other high end restaurants in Chicago.

My main thought is that beyond Grace and Alinea, there aren't any true destination restaurants and based on your and Gonzo70 comments, my general thoughts were confirmed. The tier below all seem to have some sort of gimmick (El Ideas/Elizabeth with the dinner party style, Schwa with the "rock'n roll" approach with a mild disregard to customer service, 42 Grams (counter seating with a restrictive menu), etc. or a just solid restaurants of their type, but not worth planning a trip around. I was hoping to be convinced that some of these second tier places are really worth the 1st tier effort and cost to visit.

Right now I'm still leaning towards the dinners being Brindille and Boka as these seem to meet a good balance of food,comfort, and value. Though to contradict myself a bit, I am tempted by Elizabeth.

Thanks again for the insight. Both you and Gonzo70, help keep many visitors to Chicago steered in the right direction.

Oct 17, 2014
michaelstl in Chicago Area

A week of inspiring and disappointing meals!

Thank you for the report.

Regarding Pierre Gagnaire, I find it interesting that you criticize the style of serving multiple dishes at once as that is exactly what PG is known for. I can understand your reaction and points, but did you not know/expect this style prior to making the reservation? Or was it just that the execution of this approach was not done well on your visit?

Oct 16, 2014
michaelstl in France

An Already Researched Solicitation for Comments

My wife and I are planning a trip to December with our daughter who will be 3 months of age at the time of the visit. This is our fourth visit in the past two years to Chicago and have previously dined at Alinea (fine, but a horrible value relative to its pre-tickets, two menu era), Grace (very enjoyable, but a little sterile), Boka (previous incarnation), Blackbird (thoroughly enjoyed), Publican (brunch only, but a fine meal), The Aviary (loved and have gone several times), and Perennial Virant (multiple visits for brunch only). My wife is an ovo-lacto vegetarian which also slightly complicates our decision making. We’ll have a sitter for two nights so we won’t be trying to bring the kiddo everywhere.

I’m very familiar with the high end restaurants in Chicago, but have yet to be convinced that any other than Alinea or Grace require a visit as the others all seem to have a drawback that makes the choice risky.

Here’s what I was thinking at this point after our arrival on Friday afternoon:

Friday Dinner: We are staying at the Waldorf and are considering room service or carry out of Pizano's or Malnati’s. Would another option be purchasing items from Eataly and doing an in-room picnic?

Saturday lunch: Nico Osteria
Saturday Dinner: Brindille (or rolling the dice with Elizabeth), leaning towards Brindille for its intimacy/romantic vibe and that kind of French food always appeals

Sunday Brunch: Perennial Virant again (with our daughter)
Sunday Lunch: light snacks at Eataly if we haven’t gone yet
Sunday Dinner: drinks at The Aviary and Debating Acadia or returning to Blackbird because we enjoyed it so much or Boka because its relaunch essentially makes it a new restaurant.

Are there any great bakery/specialty food stores in the area of our hotel that are must visits? Are there cocktail bars that are quiet/calm that are convenient to our hotel for pre-dinner drinks in place of The Aviary?

I also considered:

Sixteen- is the cost worth the risk? Also, hotel dining rooms tend to lack personality (though the great view may make up for that here)
Tru: Concerned it may be even more sterile than Grace
North Pond: the menu never seems to appeal despite the charm of the location and the accolades
Avec: Would love to go, but don’t like the no reservations policy and are not going to wait around
Vera: Does this work for a full meal or only snacking?
L2O: I’d give this a try, but I understand that they don’t accommodate vegetarians

Thanks in advance for any advice.

Oct 16, 2014
michaelstl in Chicago Area

Please critique my list for St Louis

Overall, a good list, but if it were me, I'd drop I Fratellini and Pan d'Olive and consider replacing them with Farmhaus, Libertine, Five or Elaia/Olio.

Oct 08, 2014
michaelstl in Great Plains

Pick 2 of River Cafe, Greenhouse, Harwood Arms, The Square, Hibiscus

I ate at The Ledbury, The Square, Hedone, Harwood Arms and Hibiscus on a visit in late March. Surprisingly, our meal at Hibiscus was the highlight even though we had good experiences all around. Of your list, I'd choose Hibiscus and Harwood Arms.

See link for my thread and report:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/922299

Jun 05, 2014
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

Bar/lounge near Sidney St Cafe

I'd recommend either 33 Wine Bar or Planter's House (excellent cocktails) both in the Lafayette Square neighborhood and a short drive to SSC.

Apr 15, 2014
michaelstl in Great Plains

London Advice

Returned from my trip recently and wanted to report back.

Lunch at Hibiscus: weekday lunch so the atmosphere was fairly quiet and clam which was perfect as we’d just got off our trans-Atlantic flight. Hibiscus was a place I had always wanted to visit even though it seems to be a polarizing restaurant and it’s easy to find many negative reviews so I had some apprehension about including it on our itinerary. It turned out that I had nothing to worry about. Our meal was lovely and was the perfect start to the trip. My wife is a vegetarian and currently pregnant so she has more restrictions than the average diner. The restaurant had clearly contemplated her menu and restrictions and was on top of everything (i.e. bringing olive oil for her as they know the butter was unpasteurized, preparing excellent non-alcoholic cocktails). Service also couldn’t have been more charming and was very technically correct/attentive throughout our meal. We ordered 3 courses off the a la carte menu that came with two amuses, a pre-dessert and petit fours with our coffee/tea order. This menu may not be the most economical menu option, but we felt we received a fair value for the cost. I had lamb sweet breads, a Bresse pigeon main and a fig mille-feuille. All were executed well and the accompanying ingredients supported the main elements well. We also received an extra course of a celeriac risotto with Perigord truffles that was a highlight. Hibiscus was also serving the excellent bread produced by Hedone so the bread service was a highlight. Overall, we loved our meal and experience and wouldn’t hesitate to return. It’s certainly not a trendy or exciting dining room, but for a refined, comfortable dining experience it was perfect.

Dinner at Harwood Arms: This was our third visit and we had an enjoyable meal. I had the scotch egg which was as good as ever and a main of braised short ribs (good, but may have needed more braising time as it wasn’t was tender as I would’ve expected). The menu seemed a little less game focused than in prior visits, but that may just be due to the time of year. Service was attentive in the harried way of a busy restaurant, but we were well taken care of. Wine list is still full of interesting wines and an added benefit to any visit here.

Lunch at Hedone: We had the carte blanche menu with the black truffle supplement (which was 20GBP and based on the amount we received and the number of courses that had the extra truffles seemed like a fair value). They were able to accommodate my wife’s restrictions and based on what I was able to try her menu was as well conceived and delicious as my own. Service was friendly and attentive though the restaurant wasn’t at capacity at any time during our Saturday lunch. Highlights of the meal were an egg/truffle dish, the umami flan, parmesan ravioli, the Cevennes onion dish (the black truffles helped with this one), and both desserts (citrus and the chocolate/raspberry). We had around 12 courses and all were at a very high level in terms of execution and product quality. The journey from central London was well worth it and I highly recommend a visit.
Dinner at The Ledbury: Also our third time visiting the Ledbury. Our dinner was lovely and the service team remains one of my favorite of any high end restaurant. They manage the friendly/formal boundaries as well as any restaurant. We both had the tasting menu and the highlights this time were the signature mackerel dish (I’d thought it was ok in the past, but really enjoyed it this time), the venison main and quail's egg with chestnuts and Perigord truffles. Everything was done well and consistently delicious, but very similar to our meal in December 2011 in terms of style and flavor profiles. This is both good and bad as Chef Graham seems to have found a style that works and is sticking with it, but it would’ve been nice to see a little evolution (whatever that means). Regardless, a very good meal and overall dining experience.

Dinner at The Square: First visit and a place I’d wanted to try for awhile. We went on a Monday night and were expecting it to be fairly quiet. However, there were several large groups in that dominated the dining room seemed overwhelm the service team a bit and we ended up getting a little lost in the shuffle. We didn’t necessarily received bad service, but we could tell that our table was an afterthought (the other tables were ordering some serious wine so I’d probably pay more attention to them as well). We had the 3 course a la carte menu with my entrée being the signature langoustine/gnocchi/truffle dish, a main a Cornish sea bass and the Brillat-Savarin cheesecake for dessert. All delicious in a very approachable way. We had a pre-dessert of a vanilla doughnut that was a highlight as well. I’m glad we went and it was a very nice meal and pleasant experience, but not quite as memorable as I’d hope due to the hectic service and the impact of the large groups.

Afternoon Tea at The Connaught: A very comfortable way to spend an afternoon. The pastries and scones were all very fresh and well done. The tea service and the tea used was also of a very high quality. Service couldn't have been more accommodating. Not inexpensive, but perfect for what it is. Recommend.

Apr 04, 2014
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

One fancy dinner in London

When is your trip? I have a trip planned to London late next month and will be dining at all three mentioned (The Ledbury, Hedone and Hibiscus) so if that's before your trip I could provide some recent, direct comparisons.

However, having already had two meals at The Ledbury, I'd be shocked if you went there and didn't have a lovely evening.

Feb 14, 2014
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

One dinner in St. Louis

It was Mi Linh, not Mai Lee that was blasted.

Feb 11, 2014
michaelstl in Great Plains

Southern Rhone

My wife and I dined at L'Oustalet in Gigondas in Sept. 2012 and really enjoyed it. Quality ingredients and the preparations were executed well. Also a nice wine list with fairly priced options (relative to what they'd be in the US) of many CDP wines. It also has a nice outdoor dining area if the weather is good on your visit.

Jan 22, 2014
michaelstl in France

London Advice

I appreciate the comments on pacing, but based on past trips, I've had no issues with getting burned out or not enjoying two meals a day. For instance, on my last trip to London, we did an afternoon tea followed by a tasting menu at The Ledbury and I had no problem enjoying every dish at dinner and being ready to go for another tasting menu the following day at Le Cinq. I run quite a bit and have a prodigious metabolism so it's not unusual for me to be hungry an hour or two after a 10-12 course menu.

Also, Texture has such light cooking, Terroirs will be a light meal and Hibiscus will be a set lunch so the lunches won't be nearly as ambitious as dinner.

I'll definitely give it some thought though as I agree that over doing it on trips like this can a problem.

Nov 01, 2013
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

London Advice

I agree, the pigeon dish at Texture is incredible. I'm happy to see it's still on the menu. The lightness of the cooking is a big appeal and it's also why I think it's a good recovery meal and way to kick off the trip.

Hedone responded stating that they'd be able to accommodate my wife so I think I'll slide out Medlar and replace it with Hedone while moving Ledbury/Square out to Sunday/Monday.

Kitchen Table is appealing as I agree it is a unique restaurant to London and the chef's resume is impressive. We also enjoyed the GM's service style when she was at Roganic so I'm sure it's a nice experience. However, sometimes those counter-style restaurants can be a bit oppressive in that it can be very much a "worship the chef" vibe and the close contact with the other guests can be either a positive or a negative. If we had more open nights, I think I'd give a try, but my instincts tell me the experience wouldn't really resonate with us. Also, while I have a considerable appetite and recover quickly, I think big meals at The Ledbury, The Square and Hedone is close to my limit.

Oct 31, 2013
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

London Advice

Thank you for your thoughts and your comments echo my own concerns about my lineup. It is fine dining heavy, but there isn't any true fine dining where I'm from and we have plenty of those mid-tier/upscale casual places so I lean towards the more formal options.

It'll be tough to drop places like Texture given how much we enjoyed our prior meal there. It also has the right kind of serene atmosphere to help us recover from the long flight from the US. I'll give it some thought though.

I've gone ahead and contacted Hedone to ask about whether they could accommodate my wife. I agree that it is unique and it's the one new place that most appeals to me, but I won't enjoy it if I know my wife isn't going to be well looked after. We'll see what their response is. Is there any concern about getting taxis/taking the tube back from Chiswick late at night? We'll likely be staying in the Mayfair area so will be a bit of a trek out there.

The fine dining Indian places were a bit of long shot anyways at making the itinerary, but I felt compelled to at least consider them. Trishna was the place I would choose if I went that route.

Thanks to all for the input and I'll definitely report back after our trip.

Oct 31, 2013
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

London Advice

Thanks for your thoughts regarding days of the week- that's what I figured, but wanted to be sure. This gives me a little more flexibility.

Frankly, it's curiosity more than anything that appeals about Hibiscus. It seems to get such wide ranging reviews, but the style of food seems interesting so I've always come close to trying it. It does seem like more of a risk than a typical 2* meal. I was leaning towards just doing the set lunch as a way to hedge my bets as that menu appears to be a good value (though the ingredients are clearly less luxe than the "normal" menu).

Oct 30, 2013
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

London Advice

I'll be making my fourth visit to London in a few months and while I feel like I have a good sense of the dining scene and have been following this board since my last visit (December 2011), I want to get some input on my dining plan.

Here's what I have as of now:

Friday ( Day of arrival)
L- Texture (2nd visit)
D- Harwood Arms (3rd visit)

Saturday
L- Terroirs (3rd visit) before a matinee theater show
D- The Ledbury (3rd visit)

Sunday
L-Open, but having afternoon tea somewhere, maybe the Berkeley or the Connaught
D- The Square

Monday (Last Day)
L- Hibiscus
D- Medlar

I'm not particularly interested in Indian or Asian food, but have considered trying one of the Michelin * Indian restaurants.

I know what I have is solid, but am struggling between fitting in new places and returning to old favorites. Non-negotiables would be returning to The Ledbury and Harwood Arms and trying The Square.

Hedone is/was high on my list, but are closed on Sun/Mon and I'm concerned with how well they'd accommodate my wife (she's a vegetarian) given their style of cooking. The Kitchen Table @ Bubbledogs also appeals as well as Koffmann's to try some of the signature dishes. I've read that Clare Smyth/GR-RHR is in good form as well so that is also tempting.

So what am I missing that should push out my current selections? Clove Club? Any of the J. Atherton restaurants? Alyn Williams?

Does anyone have any experience/comment on whether the particular night of the week makes a difference at London's top tables (i.e. Friday night vs. Monday night)?

Thanks in advance for any insight or input.

Oct 30, 2013
michaelstl in U.K./Ireland

Looking for Great Restaurants to Take Clients (2 lunches, 2 dinners) during Conference in St. Louis

I'd go back to two of my original suggestions of Five and Sidney Street Cafe. Both are in neighborhoods that are different than where The Crossing is located- more urban and character. Both are closer to your hotel than The Crossing as well.

Sidney Street Cafe has some of the best food in town, but the service could be more refined (sometimes it feels a little too TGI Friday's) and the wine list is disappointing, but the care that goes into the cooking is evident. The pastry chef there is also very talented. They have updated the decor inside recently which was an improvement.

I think Five is not regarded highly enough in St. Louis and is much better than many more lauded local places. Great farm-to-table cooking, often very simple, but with great ingredients. Great wine list in terms of both value and variety.

I thought about suggesting Niche (I think it's the best overall restaurant in town), but it has a limited menu- either a 4 or 9 course menu with little option for the diner to choose. It also can be quite loud. Those two reasons made me think it wouldn't work well for the occasion the OP mentioned. It's definitely the restaurant that's received the most national attention/acclaim.

Aug 28, 2013
michaelstl in Great Plains

Looking for Great Restaurants to Take Clients (2 lunches, 2 dinners) during Conference in St. Louis

I'd vote for Elaia over Blood and Sand for the second dinner as I think it will work better for business discussions.

I second the recommendation for Bogart's for a BBQ lunch. I prefer it to Pappy's, but both are great options for ribs and BBQ in general.

Aug 28, 2013
michaelstl in Great Plains

Looking for Great Restaurants to Take Clients (2 lunches, 2 dinners) during Conference in St. Louis

The Crossing and Harvest are approximately 15 minutes west of the downtown area where your hotel is located.

Five is 10-15 minutes southwest of your hotel.

Elaia is around 10 minutes southwest from your hotel.

Sidney Street Cafe is less than 10 minutes south of your hotel.

For lunch, check out Pi Pizza and Robust which are both downtown and close to your hotel.

Regarding Tony's, personally I would not recommend it as I think it is very dated and unexciting in terms of it's style of cooking. It does offer the most full service experience (tableside preparations, captains, etc.) in St. Louis which I suspect is much of the reason it get's praised as few (if any) restaurants in the midwest attempt this. If you or any of your clients have much fine dining experience in major cities or Europe, this aspect of the experience at Tony's won't seem nearly as impressive and the food alone doesn't make it a destination (in my mind). It is well-known and well-loved among native St. Louisans though.

This may be a bit of stretch for a business dinner, but if you want to be adventurous, another option closer to downtown for dinner would be Blood and Sand. This is typically a members only restaurant/cocktail bar, but I believe one can visit/reserve once as a non-member. The chef is quite talented and the food here is very good. This would only be a 5 min cab ride from your hotel.

Aug 27, 2013
michaelstl in Great Plains

Looking for Great Restaurants to Take Clients (2 lunches, 2 dinners) during Conference in St. Louis

I'd offer the following suggestions:

The Crossing
Harvest
Five
Sidney Street Cafe
Elaia

All are "adult" restaurants that offer a nice atmosphere and a noise level that should work well for business discussions.

Five, The Crossing and Elaia also have good wine lists.

Aug 27, 2013
michaelstl in Great Plains

Table d’Eugène for a vegetarian and meat-eater couple?

My wife and I ate there awhile ago (May 2009) and they were easily and graciously able to accommodate my wife who is an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I believe her first course was off the carte and they made her main from the veggies they had on hand. Her dish turned out quite well and we both enjoyed our meal.

Aug 15, 2013
michaelstl in France

Two old foodies coming to Paris with our vegetarian, no GMO will cross my lips daughter

Le Cinq can indeed arrange for a vegetarian tasting. When I went, they put together menu specifically for my wife who's an ovo-lacto vegetarian while I had the normal tasting menu for dinner. It did take a couple rounds of correspondence as fish kept ending up on the menus they proposed for her though. I think the final menu ended up being fully vegan.

At other places in Paris, Provence and Italy, we've always found restaurants to be very accommodating (meaning more bistro-level to upscale, but not 2/3* places) and have been able to put together respectable vegetarian dishes on the fly though we try to give warning if possible. For the top level places, we've always notified the restaurant in advance of the restrictions and had no issues though one 3* in Italy wasn't prepared for us to order the larger tasting menu so they could not match a veggie course for course with the normal menu so it may be beneficial to note what menu you're likely to order.

My strategy is just to just plan where I think sounds good or want to eat and only make concessions to my wife being a vegetarian in circumstances where it's obvious that she won't be well looked after- specialty seafood restaurants, steakhouses, more classic places like Rostang in Paris, the entire country of Spain (sigh) etc.

Aug 07, 2013
michaelstl in France

Sydney and Queenstown advice

Still plenty of time until our trip and thnak you for your suggestions. Right now here is our Queenstown dining plan:

Eichardt's
Rata
Pier 19
Considering The Bunker or Wai for our final dinner
Probably going to try Fergburger as well.

Gnocchi in Rome

I had the gnocchi at Roscioli on my visit in late May and it was incredible. It's now my reference point for all future gnocchi.

Jul 03, 2013
michaelstl in Italy

Sydney and Queenstown advice

This is helpful, I'll lean towards Guillaume with Bridge Room as a solid backup (especially if getting a reservation at Guillaume becomes difficult due to its impending closure).

Sydney and Queenstown advice

As expected things are moving around a bit on our itinerary and now it looks like we're going to the Opera House on our first night. I realize that quality may take a step down as convenience and quality rarely go together for food, but what places near the opera house are good options? I've noted Aria and Guillaume at Bennelong Restaurant within the opera house as options. Is one much better than the other? In this case, I'd be looking for a classy, polished experience, not necessarily exciting.

I don't want to rush through a fixed tasting menu so many of the top-tier places seem to be out and want to keep the logistic worries to a minimum.

Due to the early dinner now, the lunch at Quay is off. Somewhat disappointing from a pure gaining the experience of trying somewhere that acclaimed, but feel like the Sixpenny, Four in Hand and some wine bar visits will make the trip reawrding enough on that end.

Sydney and Queenstown advice

I really like the look of Four in Hand and I'm planning on that being our stop for last meal of the trip. Thanks again for the advice.

Sydney and Queenstown advice

This is very helpful and I really appreciate the insight on the Aussie wine from both PhilD and BeanTownGolfer. I'll keep those tips in mind on our trip.

Chicago Cocktail Bars - Recommendations?

I'd add the the bar in the Peninsula is also a good option for well made cocktails. Understandably won't be a very "Chicago" experience though.

Jun 28, 2013
michaelstl in Chicago Area

Sydney and Queenstown advice

It didn't take long going through the various online wine lists of some of the better Sydney restaurants to prepare me for the high wine prices. I'm finding Sydney wine lists to be similar to Vancouver restaurants where a combination of an expensive overall city and high alcohol taxes lead to high overall wine prices. I'm definitely hoping the recent trend in the currency markets continues

Your comments regarding Aussie wines have made me more optimistic about the wine we'll find on our trip. We really enjoy both northern/southern Rhone wines so hopefully we can find good examples of Australia's take on those grapes (that aren't overwhelmingly fruit forward). How do the better Aussie Riesling's compare to German Rieslings as we really enjoy both the dry and off dry Rieslings from that region?

Thanks again for your comments.