Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Ratings Guide:
Half handshake, half chest-bump hug – 5 stars
Chest bump – 4 stars
Fist bump – 3 stars
High five – 2 stars
Handshake – 1 star
Manly ass slap – ½ star
Fone and fone – 0 stars

Restaurant: Niche
Location: 1831 Sidney St.

So at my first job out of college (to protect the innocent, lets just call the place Zebra Island Paradise), we had something that we called Zebra Island Paradise Hot (Z.I.P. Hot for short). It was how we described the women in the office. Now, I know this is going to sound callous and chauvinistic, and quite frankly, you’ll probably just think I’m an a-hole. But so be it, I have a point.

Z.I.P. Hot. What it meant was that the women in the office were hot compared to the other women in the office, but out in the real world, they wouldn’t rate quite as high. For example, let’s say someone at the office was a perfect 10, according to the Z.I.P. Hot scale. Well, that meant that outside the office they were probably more like an 8. Obviously the scale fluctuated based on who worked at Z.I.P. at the time, but you get the idea.

Why do I bring this up and risk tarnishing my incredible reputation and image? Well, I finally figured out the deal with St. Louis restaurants: they’re Z.I.P. Hot. See, in St. Louis these places are considered great, compared to everything else in St. Louis. But if they were in another city, like New York or London or Chicago or Miami, they’d be average. At best.

And that’s exactly how I felt about Niche. It’s Z.I.P. Hot. Considered one of the best restaurants in St. Louis (I think it even won Sauce’s best restaurant last year), it would be just slightly above average elsewhere. And I don’t mean that in a (completely) bad way. It just helps me finally put it all in perspective.

I treated my wife to dinner there for her birthday. I say “I treated” even though I’m paying with “our” money, but it’s the thought that counts.

The good people at Niche were nice enough to put us in the best seat in the house (in my opinion), which is the nice little table that bellies-up to the window that looks out onto the street. And the service throughout the entire night was great. Whether it was the hostess, manager, our waitress, or other servers who happen to just deliver our food, everyone was extremely nice and friendly and helpful and everything you’d want in a restaurant experience. You really couldn’t ask for much more in that department.

To start things off we got a bottle of wine. Nothing too expensive ($38), but it was really, really good. We also got an order of Dia’s Cheese Bread. These are basically little balls of bread with a cheesy flavor to them. Add the butter that comes with it and they’re delicious. The problem is that it wasn’t a huge serving or anything, and they charged you $4 for the order. Not that I’m trying to sound cheap, but this bread wasn’t so good that it was worth $4, especially when you consider that most places offer bread for free.

Next up I got the Celery Root Soup, which had chorizo, crispy potato, and blood orange. It sounded really good and tasted even better. You could mostly taste potato with a hint of the salty goodness of the chorizo. Just a really nice, well-balanced dish. Amy went with the three-course special, which allows you to order an appetizer (with some/several exceptions), a main course (with an exception or two), and a dessert (again, choices a little limited). It really is a nice option, especially at $35. Amy basically ordered everything she was going to order anyway, but this way she was able to get the dessert for free. Something to keep in mind if you go. So for the starter she got the Mixed Greens Salad. On the menu it’s $9, and when it comes out it looks really nice with a great presentation. But it tastes EXACTLY like the mixed green salad at Piece. And that’s not a bad thing, because the salad at Piece is probably my favorite salad in the world (restraining from several jokes right now), but the salad at Piece is also $9, and it feed about 100 people. I just don’t think it says much for an upscale restaurant when their salad tastes just like the salad from a pizza place, and it costs the same, and there’s less of it.

Next up on the menu? The Pork Duo for me, and the Local Trout for Amy. The Pork Duo had braised pork shank, and pork belly, along with a side of apples, some potatoes, and swiss chard. The chard was nasty, as were the apples. But the potatoes were pretty tasty, and both cuts of pork were fantastic. The pork belly was probably my favorite. Can you guess why? Correct! It’s bacon, except thicker. The shank was fine, but basically tasted like a good pulled pork sandwich. Amy’s Trout came with a bunch of side items as well. The greens were also terrible, but the white bean puree was a nice touch. The trout was just OK. You had to eat each bite with the skin to get any sort of flavor. If you just ate the meat it tasted like nothing. I think Amy described her entire meal as “fine”. Not a ringing endorsement. We also had a side of Polenta, which I thought was really good. It was pureed, and had goat cheese and honey. I liked it better than any of the sides that came with my meal.

For dessert Amy got the Liquid Chocolate Cake with ice cream, and it was really good. But then again I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those liquid chocolate cakes (lava cakes, as some places call it) that was bad, no matter where I got it. It might be the one dessert that you can’t screw up, because I’ve never found a place that has screwed it up. I got the Apple Crisp, which was OK (Amy liked it better than me).

A Cappuccino to finish things off and we were all set. Until the bill came. $137.70. With tip you’re looking at a cool $165 and change. Yikes. I really don’t mind spending money on food (there are 100+ posts to prove it), but this meal wasn’t worth close to that kind of money. The last time Amy and I went to Sola in Chicago (I bring it up only because the atmospheres and cuisines are very similar) we spent $155 with tip. So pretty comparable. Except that I walked out of Sola thinking, “That’s one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I cant’ wait to go back.” I walked out of Niche thinking, “That wasn’t a bad meal. Not sure I’d go back unless I was expensing it or someone else was paying, but it wasn’t bad.” Big difference.

Fist bump.

But it’s a Z.I.P. Hot chest bump with manly ass slap.


At 2:30 PM, Anonymous KAL said...

Z.I.P. Hot. You are an a-hole.
But I totally get the perspective you were going for.
Also glad I never worked at Zebra Island Paradise.


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