After months and months of DYING to go to Niche, I made it there.
It was basically everything I hoped it to be. A true foodie meal, and such a memorable experience. Incredibly unique and impeccable service. Gorgeous presentation and plating and excellent craft cocktails. But it was definitely bittersweet. Why?
Well, originally, Ken and I planned it to be our Valentine’s Day dinner. But, big things happened within a span of about three weeks. After two years of doing the STL >> Chicago long distance thing with Ken, I decided that I wanted to move to Chi-town. An opportunity fell in my lap at an advertising agency in Chicago, and I jumped on it. The only catch? My first day of work was scheduled to be Feb. 18. So, my dinner at Niche turned out to be not only our Valentine’s celebration, but also happened to fall on my my last day of work at my old agency.
Moving forward, I’ll be blogging about both St. Louis and Chicago. I’ve got about 10-15 St. Louis gluten-free restaurants still in the hopper for blog posts, so I’ll be keeping this as updated with STL content as I possibly can. Seeing as how my family and many of my best friends live in St. Louis, I plan to be back here frequently. In fact, in March alone, I was back 2 out of 4 weekends. You just can’t keep me away. I love this city way too much.
I’ll also be adding a section on my gluten-free directory for user-submitted suggestions. Many of you have commented on great places that I personally have not dined at, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate these suggestions. So give me a shout if you have had a safe, positive gluten-free experience at a restaurant in St. Louis, and I will add it to the list.
But back to Niche…
I don’t even really know where to begin. Niche has got the details DOWN. Plan to call far ahead for reservations. The atmosphere is relaxed, yet chic – not too stuffy. Gorgeous paintings adorn the walls and the decor is earthy yet sophisticated. The tables are pretty close together, but you barely even notice as you dig into the menu.
Ken and I had a lot to celebrate, so we decided to splurge. We chose to do the four-course pre fixe menu, for $65. (This was the Valentine’s Day pricing, so I’m not positive what the regular price is). You can also do a 7 course Chef’s tasting menu for $98 – an incredible steal as compared to similar experiences in NYC or Chicago. A la carte is another option, but I highly recommend you go for the gold and order the four-course menu. My rationale is that you’re paying for an experience – if you love food, the menu at Niche is just as exciting as seeing a show or a concert.
There were three options for each course – and the server graciously walked me through exactly which options I could have that were able to be prepared gluten-free. Be prepared to review the menu with your server when you arrive, as menus change frequently. However, our fantastic waiter Tom was incredibly knowledgeable about gluten-free and I had full confidence that the highly-trained kitchen staff would be attentive to the preparation of gluten-free food.
We started out with cocktails, which were, as expected, a-mazing. I ordered a “New Fashioned,” for $12, a spin on the Old Fashioned, with a hint of rosemary. It was excellent. Even the presentation of the cocktails was fantastic – they served it with its own tin of cherry ‘”caviar.” Later on in the evening, I had a glass of Malbec. If you’re ordering a bottle, you’ll have a wider selection; however, the selection of wines by the glass was more limited.
Really, the courses were works of art. I realize the details that are going to follow may sound like I’m gushing about a grade school crush or an ‘NSync concert, but I was truly impressed with the level of detail/care that went into each dish, and the overall art of presentation.
For my first course, I ordered the cauliflower lasagna, prepared with lamb jus, fleur de vallee, creme fraiche, mint, topped off with an under-easy egg. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to describe this dish. First of all…I’d never heard of flour de vallee; in fact, I had to google it while I was writing this blog post. Sorry, I’m not that cool. (If you were wondering, too: it’s a velvety, melt-in-your mouth cheese). I have a soft spot in my heart for the incredibly rich creme fraiche, and the creme fraiche + that cheese action + cauliflower was amazing. I’m not generally a huge cauliflower fan, but you wouldn’t even think that this was a cauliflower dish. As you dug into the dish, the egg yolk broke, providing a delicious creamy “sauce” almost that served as a perfect balance to the vegetables.
My second course was hickory smoked pork shoulder, with brussels sprouts, candied pecans, and get this…ICE CREAM. I think the ice cream may have been popcorn flavored – it was a perfect salty yet sweet offset to the rich pork shoulder. Seriously, a bite that combined all four elements in this dish was incredible – I really have never tasted anything like it. This flavor combo has literally never entered my mind, but hey, that’s why Niche gets paid the big bucks.
In between course #1 and #2, they brought you a precious little sorbet to cleanse the palate. #dorbs
For course #3, I was super torn between the filet and the red snapper. I went with the filet, Ken with the snapper (which I obvi stole a bite of). The filet was fantastic. It was served in strips, perfectly cooked to the medium I had requested, and came with poached pears, seasoned potatoes, sunflower seed brittle, and a sunchoke spread. The combination of pears, potatoes and filet was surprising but seriously awesome. I wasn’t as crazy about the sunflower brittle or the sunchoke spread, but again, with the combination of the pears and filet, it didn’t even matter.
The final dessert course rolls around, and I’m pretty stuffed. Seriously, I’m not sure how people do the 7 course tasting menu. But I took one for the team and gladly accepted my winter citrus dessert, made with ricotta, citrus and mint. This dessert was seriously phenom and had the air of a meringue. Sweet ricotta was layered between a “crust” of sorts, which Tom said was made with almonds. Fresh grapefruit, oranges, and perhaps tangerines topped the ricotta, along with a sweet lemon vinaigrette. The whole dessert was topped off with fresh mint, which provided a refreshing addition to the dish.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening and a bittersweet sendoff to Chi-town. I’m excited for a new adventure but can’t wait to be back and try out some new STL restaurants on my next trip back.
Until next time,