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Jul 26, 2014
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The Scoop: Café Pintxos at Hotel Ignacio to become sushi lounge BaiKu

Friday, July 25th, 2014


Japanese flavors are coming to Midtown. Sushi lounge BaiKu is slated to open in the former Café Pintxos space at Hotel Ignacio at 3407 Olive St., in early September.

When Café Pintxos opened in 2011, it operated as a soup-salad-sandwich cafe by day and a Spanish tapas bar by night. Neither concept quite caught on, and Café Pintxos has been quiet for some months.

Steve Smith, a partner in Hotel Ignacio and the owner of a trio of businesses in the complex - Triumph Grill, Moto Museum and Moto Europa – looked to reinvigorate the space. Smith tapped as his consultant Brad Beracha, owner of the now-defunct Japanese restaurant Miso on Meramec and Araka. The plan: Japan. “There’s not a lot of sushi for Midtown in this area by Grand (Boulevard),” Beracha said.

BaiKu, which means “motorcycle” in Japanese, will specialize in sushi. It will offer basic rolls, as well as five to seven specialty rolls. “It’s not a big roll menu,” Beracha said. “I want it to be small and done great.” The restaurant will also offer eight to 10 Japanese-inspired appetizers, such as ginger-scallion-sake wings and lobster shumai (steamed dumplings). The dinner menu will be rounded out with a couple Japanese entrees. During lunch hours, BaiKu will also offer Asian noodles with an eye on ramen. Other mid-day meal options will include bahn mi and a few stir-fry items.

BaiKu’s beverage program will focus on sake and wines that pair well with sushi, which will be offered as a special during happy hours. Look also for a small cocktail menu and Japanese brews on the beer list.

Helming the sushi bar will be chef Soung Min Lee, who worked at Miso until it shuttered, and then held the position of executive sushi chef at Central Table Food Hall since it opened last year. Beracha said Lee departed from Central Table a month ago. While the sushi-making action will take place behind the bar at BaiKu, all hot food will be prepared next door in the Triumph kitchen, where chef Josh Norris leads the culinary crew.

Beracha said sushi was a perfect fit for the space’s small bar, and he also hoped that the lighter fare of Japanese cuisine would appeal to ticketholders attending performances in Grand Center. “It’s not heavy,” he said. “When you go to a show, you’re not wanting to take a nap.”

The entire space – bar, dining area, lobby lounge area and patio – will undergo a remodel. Besides new furnishings, look for pieces of a disassembled motorcycle to be a focal point along one of the walls.



Readers’ Choice 2014: Favorite Chef – Ed Heath

Thursday, July 24th, 2014



When you’re one of the area’s most popular chefs, everyone wants a word with you. We yanked Ed Heath out of the Cleveland-Heath kitchen for 1 minute to pepper him with questions about his pasture-to-plate restaurant in Edwardsville, then let him get back to making more slinger-like lomo saltado and Japanese pancakes.

What dish on the Cleveland-Heath menu are you most excited about?
The duck breast with the German potato salad. English peas, bacon … oh my God, it’s so good.

What menu items surprise you with their popularity?
For the breakfast menu, the lomo (saltado). It’s even more popular than our biscuits and gravy. For the starter menu, the okonomiyaki. We get more comments about that than anything else on our menu. The popularity is almost shocking.

What dish can you not take off the menu?
The BLT.

Are you working with any new farmers or food producers?
Jenna Pohl. She owns Midwest Lamb. She’s all-natural in her feed, but these lambs are huge. They dress out at 90 to 100 pounds. We wonder if we should call them mutton. They are massive, and they are delicious.

What’s the biggest thing you learned since opening Cleveland-Heath in 2011?
Staffing – learning how to be an appropriate manager of people, and keep them happy and wanting to come back every day, and hungry so they want to keep learning on their own. We have a killer staff, but it’s been the most challenging thing.

What music do you listen to in the kitchen?
I hate really heavy metal, so we stick with contemporary rock ’n’ roll, Willie Nelson, good old country, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, some old-school rap, a ton of old blues. It’s really who gets a hold of the radio.

What are your typical hours at the restaurant?
I am there Tuesday through Saturday, 15-plus hours each day.

How do you keep up your energy?
After work, I either jog or go to a 24-hour gym. If I didn’t exercise six or seven days a week for a minimum of an hour, I couldn’t keep up with it.

Find out who else you voted your favorites in St. Louis. Click here to see all our Readers’ Choice winners. And click here to get Ed Heath’s recipe for Chiva Cubana, deliver to you By Popular Demand.

-photo by Carmen Troesser

The Scoop: Local sushi star Naomi Hamamura joins the culinary team at United Provisions

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


With the opening of United Provisions just weeks away, there’s news that another talented face from the local culinary scene is joining the team at the highly anticipated international grocery store at 6241 Delmar Blvd., in University City.

Naomi “Hama” Hamamura, previously executive chef at the Wasabi location downtown, has been hired as the chef at The Dining District, the prepared foods and dining section inside the grocery store. United Provisions partner Ben Poremba said he hired Hamamura two weeks ago. “He’s the best,” said Poremba, who also owns Elaia and Olio and co-owns La Patisserie Chouquette. “I called him up. He liked the idea of a new place … something a little different from what he’s done so far.”

While Hamamura will be in a new location, he’ll still be the focus of attention as he prepares sushi, ceviche and other raw far at the 16-seat raw bar at United Provisions. The Dining District’s other stations include a grill, a plancha and a deli with cured meats and cheese, according to St. Louis Magazine. Executive chef Jay Stringer will overseeing the entire dining and prepared foods operation. A veteran of the Chicago dining scene, Stringer has worked in the kitchen at Olio since it opened almost two years ago.

Lunch hours at The Dining District will be counter service with dine-in or carryout options, while dinner will be full service at this restaurant within a grocery store. There will also be a coffee shop serving up drip Northwest Coffee and pastries from La Patisserie Chouquette. Poremba said United Provisions is expected to open Aug. 11.

While Hamamura’s career began in Japan, the chef has made a mark on the local food scene since arriving to the U.S. in 1979, including working at now-closed Japanese steakhouse Robata of Japan and Ritz Carlton – St. Louis, and owning and operating the now defunct Sansui and Sansui West. In 2010, when Hamamura sold Sansui West to Wasabi, he stayed on as its corporate chef. After a stint at Prasino, Hamamura returned to Wasabi, where he worked until July 14.

-photo by Greg Rannells

Editor’s Note: This piece originally misstated Naomi Hamamura’s responsibilities at The Dining District. It has been corrected.

The Scoop: Local distiller Pinckney Bend wins big at international spirits competition

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014


{Ralph Haynes, Pinckney Bend’s vice president of marketing}


Area distillery Pinckney Bend continues to rack up accolades for its spirits. Today, July 23, the International Wine & Spirits Competition announced the results of its 2014 spirits competition held in London, and the New Haven-based distillery was awarded two medals. Pinckney Bend earned a silver medal for its American rested whiskey and a bronze medal for its American gin, the only American gin to win a bronze.

Now in its 45th year, the IWSC promotes the quality and excellence of the world’s best wine, spirits and liqueurs. Competition entries, which hail from nearly 90 countries, undergo a blind tasting by a panel of judges comprised of industry professionals.

“The IWSC in London is like the World Cup of spirits competitions,” said Ralph Haynes, the distillery’s vice president of marketing. “For small craft distillers like Pinckney Bend, winning a medal at this venue gives us a rare chance to position ourselves on a world stage, in the company of the most respected spirit brands on the planet.”

This spring, Pinckney Bend won a double gold for its American rested whiskey at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, where it has earned medals for the last three years. The rest of the world is picking up on the quality of Pinckney Bend spirits, which are now available overseas in Singapore and Italy. In addition, the distillery just picked up a distributor in the Caribbean, Haynes said, with product slated to export to that region this fall.



By the Book: Julie Mueller’s Blueberry Superfood Smoothie and Peach and Kale Stem Smoothie

Saturday, July 12th, 2014



I weigh the merits of single-subject cookbooks in the same way that I do single-purpose kitchen gadgets. Do I really need an avocado slicer or a garlic peeler when I can get the job done with a universal tool like a knife? So when a cookbook wholly devoted to kale comes along, I ask myself whether it’s outstanding enough to replace the ones I have that encompass the whole brassica family – along with every other leafy green on the planet.

Julie Mueller’s Let Them Eat Kale! Simple and Delicious Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Superfood, published this month, offers 75 recipes for using kale morning, noon and night. A tidy introduction provides a primer on the health benefits of kale, varieties of the plant and methods for preparing it, which range from using it raw to putting it under heat via blanching, braising, sauteing, roasting and grilling.




Smoothie recipes comprise half of the breakfast section of the book. A colorful image of a purple-specked blueberry smoothie caught my eye, as did the minimal (five!) ingredients needed to make it. And, when it’s 6 a.m. and you’ve not yet had that cup of coffee, the uncomplicated task of blending appeals, too.




The smoothie was thick and filling, but it tasted mostly of banana and blueberries. While you can feel good knowing there is 1 cup of vitamin- and fiber-packed kale in there, its earthy flavor is lost amid the fruit. Were I to make this recipe again, I’d double up on the kale.




Mueller smartly offers a few recipes for using kale stems. Though tough and fibrous, stems hold some nutritional value. Rather than discard them, they can be chopped and used like broccoli stems or celery to add crunchy texture or, in this case, to bulk up a peach smoothie.




The herbaceous quality of kale was completely masked in the resulting beverage. Fruit flavors abounded, but the drink was overwhelmingly sweet. That’s logical, I suppose, since it held ripe peaches, bananas, almond milk, orange juice and coconut milk. Based on information from Nutritiondata.com, the sugar clocked in at 49.68 grams. That’s nearly 25 grams of sugar per serving and 20 percent of the daily recommended sugar intake, per the National Academy of Sciences. How beneficial is a “superfood” when it’s smothered in sugar? What I did like about this recipe was the undertone of fresh ginger. Next time, I’ll add more ginger, kale and ice, and ease up on orange juice and one of the nut milks.

Let Them Eat Kale! isn’t going to take up precious cookbook space in my kitchen. But those just jumping aboard the kale bandwagon will appreciate Mueller’s easy recipes for incorporating the vegetable (whether sneaking it in by the cupful or letting the big green leaves shine by the bunch) in their diet.

Blueberry Superfood Smoothie
2 servings

1 cup kale leaves, loosely packed
1½ frozen bananas
1 cup frozen blueberries
¼ cup coconut milk (full-fat from the can)
1½ cups almond milk

• Add all ingredients to a blender, starting with the liquids (This will help blend everything together.). Blend until smooth.

Peach and Kale Stem Smoothie
2 servings

2 ripe peaches, pitted and frozen
2 ripe bananas, peeled and frozen
2 kale stems
1 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and grated
8 ice cubes
½ cup almond milk
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup coconut milk (full-fat from the can)

• Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. If necessary, add more almond milk or juice to help the blender process the frozen fruit.

What’s your favorite way to eat kale? Tell us about it in the comments for a chance to win your own copy of Let Them Eat Kale! 

The Scoop: Former Cleveland-Heath cook Jimmy Hippchen now executive chef at Ernesto’s Wine Bar

Friday, July 11th, 2014



In 2013, Jimmy Hippchen left his job as the executive chef at The Crow’s Nest to take a position as a line cook at Cleveland-Heath. Now, this member of the Ones to Watch class of 2014 wears the top toque once more as executive chef at Ernesto’s Wine Bar in Benton Park.

Hippchen, who joined Ernesto’s in June, spent the first few weeks adjusting to a new kitchen. Now he’s ready to unveil a new menu Tuesday, July 15, that he hopes is more tightly focused on food that reflects wine regions. “I am trying to develop a menu where the food goes with the wine. It’s a wine bar. I want to marry the two very well,” he said. “I don’t want a show-off menu as opposed to doing well-executed, good food.” Look for dishes like a Middle Eastern flatbread topped with harissa, roasted cauliflower, pickled raisins and feta, as well as his take on shrimp and grits, sauteed shrimp swimming in pool of roasted red pepper polenta, lobster broth and scallions.

Of his nearly seven years spent in restaurant kitchens, Hippchen considers his time at Cleveland-Heath under the leadership of chef-owner Ed Heath, voted Favorite Chef in this year’s Readers’ Choice poll, to be invaluable. “(I learned) what it means to cook for the guest and through the eyes of the guest,” he said. “Eric (Ed Heath) taught me how to clean up my flavors.”

-photo by Carmen Troesser




What I Do: Qui Tran of Mai Lee

Thursday, July 10th, 2014



Qui Tran, 36, has become the face of cult favorite Mai Lee, but he’s quick to credit his mother, Lee Tran, with the restaurant’s success. “The restaurant wasn’t doing so well,” recalled Tran of Mai Lee’s early days as a Chinese restaurant. “So my mother said, ‘Let’s do Vietnamese food.’ She took the first step in ’85 when there was not a Vietnamese restaurant in sight.” While he reveres his mother, the cuisine of his native country and life in America, there are some things that St. Louis’ king of pho can’t embrace – like ramen burgers. Here, Tran tells all.

Why did your parents pick St. Louis when they immigrated to the U.S.?
When we arrived, they didn’t speak any English. My dad said he remembers circling NY. They sent us to STL.

Where did you grow up?
The Hill. There’s my love for Italian food right there.

How old were you when you started working at Mai Lee?
Eight. I was translator, dishwasher. You grow up kind of fast. That’s why I don’t believe in child labor laws. Put ’em all to work! It builds character. I turned out OK, I think.

Is your mom still the primary cook at Mai Lee?
Yeah, she’s the exec. Mom and I finalize things. We do all the master sauces. If she’s not here, I’m doing it. People ask me, “Are you opening another one?” I’m like, “Not a Mai Lee.” It’s too difficult to replicate.

What’s the best-seller at Mai Lee?
I wanna say pho.

What’s one thing you wish people would understand about pho?
It takes a long time to cook – 10 to 12 hours. They need time to caress it.

How many pounds of noodles does the restaurant cook in a week?
For the rice noodles, we go through at least 300 pounds. And that’s a dry noodle when it weighs nothing.

There are more than 200 numbered items on the menu. Do you know what dish corresponds to each number?
Sometimes I’m like, “What is that?” I gotta look it up.

What would happen if you took off the numbers?
There would be a lot more Vietnamese-speaking people in St. Louis.

How do you feel about ramen burgers?
If I want ramen, I want ramen. If I want a burger, I want a good old American burger. Some trends are fine, but that one – I’m not interested.

Who’s the most famous person to walk through the door?
We had (Jerry) Seinfeld in here. We’re not like Pappy’s where you get all the famous people. (Pappy’s owner) Mike Emerson gets Wolverine.

If you were to open another restaurant, what would it be?
I’m working on a concept: a fun, little, casual noodle house.

What’s your timeline?
I’m taking my time – maybe a year and a half from now.

What’s your advice for non-Asians on using chopsticks?
The bottom chopstick never moves. You have to brace it between your thumb and index finger. Sometimes people crisscross. Sometimes people clamp. Sometimes people spread it out. I crisscross. There’s no wrong way as long as the bottom one is the stable one. It’s like the pivot foot when you’re playing basketball.

Do you play basketball?
I’m Asian. We don’t play basketball.

Do you play any sports?
I’m a traditional martial artist. I have multiple black belts. In this high-stress environment, that’s my outlet. People are always like, “Why do you smile so much at work?” I say, “Well, because I get to punch the bag at night.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Plush ends table service to focus on snacks

Monday, July 7th, 2014


{Chicken and waffles are still offered on Plush’s new, snack-focused menu.}


If you’ve visited Plush since late June, you may have noticed changes to its dining options. The Midtown entertainment venue has called an end to table service and replaced its full menu with minimal snack offerings.

“We are focusing on apps and small foods that go well with the lounge and music events,” owner Maebelle Reed said via email.

Plush opened on New Year’s Eve 2011 as an eclectic combination of a bar, a diner, a coffeehouse and a live music venue. Under the direction of executive chef David Zimmerman, the menu included a smorgasboard of scratch comfort foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night. (We loved the smoked tomato and cracked pepper waffle so much we asked Zimmerman for the recipe.)

However, Zimmerman left Plush three months ago due to health reasons. Courtland Eiland, who worked with Zimmerman for many years, now helms the kitchen.

The new menu includes items like loaded fries and loaded nachos, wings, chicken and waffles, beef and veggie sliders, wraps and a Macken muffin, a muffin version of Plush’s Macken Cheese featuring cheddar and Colby. More Macken muffin flavors are slated to appear in the fall. While Zimmerman developed the recipes, Reed said the kitchen has “tweaked some of them for easier presentation.”

The Scoop: Members-only pop-up Dinner Lab expands to St. Louis

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014


New Orleans-based pop-up dinner organizer Dinner Lab has expanded its members-only dining concept to St. Louis. The company hosts meals prepared by aspiring chefs for a crowd of 80 to 100 adventurous eaters.

“Dinner Lab is a platform for up-and-coming chefs to put forth a menu that they are really passionate about (and) that they don’t necessarily get to cook at their day-to-day restaurant,” said Drew Barrett, Dinner Lab’s chief operating officer. Chefs also get quality feedback from the Dinner Lab community, he added.

Company founders Brian Bourdainick and Paco Roberts hosted the first Dinner Lab in New Orleans in fall 2012. They have since expanded the concept to 19 cities; Barrett said Dinner Lab added St. Louis to its roster last week, the end of June.

Unlike some underground dinners or pop-ups, this dinner club operates as a subscription service. Members pay a $125 annual fee, which gives them access to the calendar of events for all cities where Dinner Lab operates. Guests then typically pay $55 for each five-course dinner, including alcoholic beverages and gratuity. “The membership fee is really set up not to create exclusivity but just to help subsidize the cost of putting on these events,” Barrett said. “At a $55 price point – gratuity and alcohol included – it’s a pretty good value.”

Dinner Lab offers anywhere between 30 and 60 events a year in each of its cities. While the majority of events feature local chefs, the company also brings in culinarians from other markets. Event locations are usually in nontraditional spaces.

The first Dinner Lab event in St. Louis is scheduled for Aug. 14 and will feature a multi-course Colombian meal by Dinner Lab culinary director, chef Mario Rodriguez. Barrett said the company has been in contact with St. Louis chefs to participate in future dinners.

-photo courtesy of Dinner Lab

Editor’s note: This report originally described the first meal as Columbian. It has been updated. 

The Scoop: Gulf Shores restaurant to open location in Edwardsville

Monday, June 30th, 2014


{Gulf Shores owner Harry Parker}


Harry Parker is taking his Gulf Coast dining concept to the east side of the Mississippi River. The owner of Gulf Shores Restaurant and Grill, which opened in Creve Coeur nearly eight years ago, is adding a second location in Edwardsville. The newest Gulf Shores will be located at 215 Harvard Drive in the space formerly occupied by a Pita Pit, next door to Oriental Spoon.

Parker said Edwardsville’s steady growth, its proximity to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and “the uniqueness of our offering: great seafood and Cajun food” were all incentives to sign a lease in the burgeoning community. “I’ve had my sights on Edwardsville close to a year,” he said.

The permitting process is underway, and Parker anticipates a late September or early October opening after 10 to 12 weeks of demolition. Upon completion, the 3,800-square-foot space will offer seating for 160 guests and patio dining.



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