Monday, October 18, 2010

I've found my Niche. It's in St. Louis.

Even though it was over a year ago now, my meal at Niche in St. Louis still ranks as one of the best dining experiences of my life. Everything just came together perfectly, providing me with a meal I’ll never forget.

Located along cozy Sidney Street in the historic Benton Park neighborhood of St. Louis, Niche presents itself well right from the word “go.” The ambiance in the restaurant itself is warm and surprisingly unpretentious (given that it’s a “fine dining” sort of place), and the staff is friendly and welcoming. I had made reservations through OpenTable, and the hostess was ready for my friend and me as soon as we arrived, showing us to our table promptly.

We managed to sample a wide variety of dishes over the evening, and not a single one disappointed. We started with a snack of cheese bread, which was the least glamorous thing we ate all evening. But what can you expect? It’s cheese bread! We then moved on to the appetizers themselves, ordering pan-fried pig’s head and sweetbreads. A pig’s head and calf glands may not sound particularly appetizing to less-adventurous eaters, but I can assure you that both appetizers were delicious. I had never had sweetbreads before, and they were melt-in-your-mouth amazing. As we were finishing our dishes, our server informed us that the chef was going to send us an extra appetizer of Vitello tonnato as well and some palate-cleansing lemongrass-chamomile sorbet as a way of saying thanks for making the trip from Indy. We were floored by his generosity and happily scarfed down both treats.

For our mains, my friend ordered the pork duo with crispy pork belly and I ordered the seared scallops. My scallops were great, but I ended up being a little jealous of the pork. The one bite of crispy pork belly that I sampled made me want more! For desert, I ordered a scoop of the house-made horchata ice cream and a scoop of the house-made vanilla malt ice cream, both of which rocked my world. My friend had the liquid chocolate cake with house-made “Orange Julius” ice cream topped with Pop Rocks. The cake was rich and moist and the Pop Rocks helped enliven the tasty orange ice cream by sizzling in your mouth with each bite.

Basically, everything was awesome. Every dish came out perfectly timed and prepared with little wait between the courses. Our waitress was on-the-ball and quick-with-the-banter, which I always like. The chef even came out to our table at the end of our meal to ask us how we had enjoyed our food.

When the bill arrived, we were surprised at how reasonable the price was, given the artistry of the food. According to Niche’s website, it looks like they are currently running a special where you can get a three-course meal for just $40. I really must think of a reason to visit St. Louis soon…. Heck, I suppose eating at Niche is reason enough!

Niche on Urbanspoon

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