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Jan 23, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Taste by Niche’

The Scoop: Niche Food Group taps Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman to head its beverage programs

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014



Gerard Craft, owner of Niche Food Group and five-time James Beard award nominee, has enlisted new talent to direct the bar and wine programs at his four St. Louis restaurants. The Niche Food Group announced that Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman has joined its team as beverage director for Niche, Taste by Niche, Pastaria and Brasserie by Niche. Sherman previously held positions as the sommelier at Stephanie Izard’s acclaimed Girl & The Goat, and wine steward at the former Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago, where he served as right hand to wine director Michael Muser.

“He’s just a super sharp guy,” Craft said. “That’s the first and foremost is that he’s an amazing human being. Very smart, very well spoken, definitely understands hospitality.” Craft said he met Sherman by happenstance at Pastaria earlier this year, where the sommelier and his wife were dining. After discovering they had mutual industry connections, Craft quickly created a position for the Sherman. “If somebody great crosses our path, we’re going to try and make room,” he said.

Coincidentally, Sherman was already in process of relocating to St. Louis. His wife Jelena Dirks, a classical musician, had recently accepted a position with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

The serendipitous timing was a boon to Matt McGuire, director of service for Niche Food Group, who has been juggling the management of all four restaurants’ beverage programs. “We’re really excited,” he said. “The timing of him coming to St. Louis and our need … I feel very fortunate to have him.”

Sherman took the helm of the Niche Food Group’s wine lists last week, and he aims to begin new scheduling for its varied beverage programs. The wine, beer and cocktail lists will be tailored to further reflect and complement the restaurants’ food menus, though Sherman was quick to stress that established programs, such as the cocktail menu at Taste, won’t be changed significantly.

“My goal is to make sure the whole package is at the right level of consistency,” Sherman said. “I don’t need to be cowboy: walk in, guns blazing and change the world. There’s nothing broken with the programs as they are. But when you start looking at the fine details you ask: What is good? What can be made better?”

Such improvements will largely be made to the wine lists, Sherman said, adding that he’s made an effort to acclimate himself before making any substantial modifications. “I have to flirt with the city a bit,” he said. “I have to get to know the people who are here. I don’t ever want them to walk in and have them say, ‘Oh, this is a Chicago list, just in St. Louis.’ ”

Though Sherman also began his career as a classical musician, he quickly pivoted to the food service industry and enjoyed a meteoric rise to sommelier positions in Chicago’s top restaurants.

“I had some incredible mentors, people who really helped me gain a great foundation,” he said. “Part of what I think I bring is a history of leading and guiding and education. I came to the restaurant industry sideways. (But) I understand how to communicate and talk about wine in a language people understand. When I’m on the floor, I don’t usually talk about the soil structure. I talk about cars and movies.”

Sherman also boasts a strong technical background in wine lore. He holds a diploma from the International Sommelier Guild and is a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers. “My philosophy is that there’s amazing wine to be had at $30 or $3,000,” he said. “My goal with any wine program is to find wines that showcase a great value, beautiful craftsmanship and wines that people, frankly, like to drink.”


-photo by Alison Green

Potbelly Cake: The next-generation Pigwich at Taste

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Rare is the case when I report on a single dish, but rare is a dish such as the Pigwich. Perhaps the culinary crew at Taste didn’t realize the gem on their hands when they slapped two pig-shaped chocolate cookies between an unctuous swath of bacon buttercream, but the Pigwich quickly became the signature dessert when the cocktail lounge opened in 2009. Its retirement awhile back left Taste-ers wondering what might come next.

Matthew Daughaday now helms the Taste kitchen. As this One to Watch chef divulged in the January issue of Sauce, finding a replacement for the sweet n’ salty dessert has been on his mind. Yesterday, I learned that Daughaday had a Pigwich-inspired dessert in the research and development stage. Termed a “Potbelly Cake” (pictured), this play off of the now-defunct Hostess cupcake features a don’t-ask-about-calories bacon fat cream center and is topped with pig-shaped hard candy frosting, complete with squiggly pink icing for the tail. Look for the Potbelly Cake to be unveiled in the coming weeks. It will only be available on the weekends.

The Scoop: A round of bartending news

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

With beverage programs holding their weight against food menus these days, it’s not enough to simply keep up with what the chefs around town are up to. A trio of talented area bartenders are doing some moving and shaking worthy of notice.

Jamie Kilgore, the bartender at Cielo Bar and Restaurant whose face adorned the December cover of Sauce magazine and whose drinking advice got us through the holiday season, has given notice that she will be leaving the downtown restaurant inside The Four Seasons-St. Louis. Kilgore will be joining her husband, Ted Kilgore of Taste, as part of his new project, The Plantar’s House, a cocktail bar targeted to open mid-year.

Also, Jason Reed, who has worked behind the stick at Salt and briefly at newly opened Basso at The Cheshire, will be leaving Salt to develop the cocktail program for the recently announced Table.

Table is the communal dining restaurant to be located in Benton Park in the space formerly occupied by The Stable. Chef Cassy Vires and her husband Josh Renbarger of Home Wine Kitchen are behind that project and hope to have doors open by June.

Finally, Joel Clark (pictured) has left Sanctuaria. Clark, who jumped aboard the bar train at Sanctuaria more than two years ago, informed The Scoop that his final day at the restaurant was December 20. While Clark plans to remain a member of the St. Louis bartending community, his plans are still to be determined.

— photo by Jonathan Gayman

Drink This Weekend Edition: Taste and see what’s new at Taste

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Last week, a fall menu debuted at Taste, the bar and restaurant in the Central West End. When beverage director Ted Kilgore mentioned that the latest switch meant 20 new libations, I figured some advance research for area imbibers was in order.

Ever since Taste relocated from Benton Park to the Central West End, the menu has been categorized by flavor profile: crisp, light, aromatic; tart, bright, citrus; tart, spiced, savory; full, dark, robust; and full, dark, rich. Other sections include tiki drinks, classics, guest features and a rotating barrel-aged cocktail.

Ingredients from a trio of drinks from the “tart, spiced, savory” section captured my attention. There’s 2nd Star, a spicy take on a French 75 that uses a sublime black pepper and coriander agave simple syrup. Georgia On My Mind (pictured above, left) is a fizzy orchard in full bloom thanks to peach-ginger tea-infused bourbon and pear cider. Then there’s Cosecha (pictured above, right), a grape-lover’s boozy delight, as Concord grape syrup, Pisco and walnut-infused Grand Marnier, among other ingredients, are combined to a dusty rose color and capped with a thick layer of white foam.

Once upon a time, drinks were chiefly Kilgore’s conceptions, but he noted that this new menu was quite a collaborative effort among the Taste bar team. For example, 2nd Star is the brainchild of Joel Burton, who’s been tending bar for only six months. Then there’s Tres de Mayo (pictured above) by Mark Mathis, who explained that the first draft stemmed from a customer’s request for “something spicy with mezcal.” The end result: a deep, dark, fruity yet robust cocktail made from tequila, mezcal, three liqueurs (rhubarb, blackberry and maraschino), mole bitters and a Thai chile tincture.

The gin labels at Taste now tally 25. If you want to try out a fairly recent gin arrival (St. George Terroir) in a mixed drink, order Time Out of Mind, which Kilgore called, “One of the best drinks we’ve put on the menu in a while.” Being that St. George Terroir is highly piney in taste, this Negroni-esque cocktail reminds Kilgore of “walking through a forest.” The drinks at Taste are fashioned to pair with food, so the Taste team suggested Time Out of Mind paired with pork tartine (pictured, above), one of chef Matthew Daughaday’s new small plates. The tartine bespeaks fall: fennel, walnuts, sauteed frisée and addictive pickled caramel apple.

With cool weather upon us, two drinks at Taste – Cereal Killer (pictured above, left) and Harvest Festival (pictured above, right) – are ripe for the moment. Cereal Killer (amaro, bourbon, Founder’s Breakfast Stout, milk and mole bitters) gets its inspiration from a milk punch softened with lavender notes from Ramazzotti amaro. Harvest Festival is a chai-infused rum drink perked up with pumpkin purée and spices. Both drinks are thick, grow-your-winter-fur sippers that beg for slippers and a fireplace.

Taste may be a tried-and-true cocktailian watering hole, but as the recent menu change demonstrates, there’s always more to discover.

— Photos by Michelle Volansky

St. Louis Classic Cocktail Party to celebrate local distilleries

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

The St. Louis craft distilling scene is booming, and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate than with a toast. Area distillers Square One Brewery and Distillery, Pinckney Bend Distillery, Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Co., The Big O, Mastermind Vodka and St. Louis Distillery will be showcasing their artisanal spirits at the St. Louis Classic Cocktail Party at Lafayette Square Park on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m. Held in conjunction with the park’s free Summer Concert Series, entrance to the event is free, while a $2 drink ticket will allow you to sample a spirit or cocktail made with one of the local elixirs. Proceeds benefit The Arts Council of Lafayette Square.

If you want to get a jump-start on your gin, vodka, whiskey and ginger liqueur samplings before the St. Louis Classic Cocktail Party, you’re in luck, as many area restaurants will be showcasing these local products during the week of September 3. On Tuesday, Sept. 4, for instance, Sub Zero will host a vodka tasting. On Thursday, Sept. 6, Square One is throwing a whiskey dinner that pairs various Square One whiskeys – including experimental batches – with each course. And throughout the week, TasteSalt, Niche and Demun Oyster Bar will feature cocktails made using local spirits, while Sanctuaria will shake St. Louis spirits in cocktails paired with food.

Check out the St. Louis Classic Cocktail Party Facebook page for more information on events.

Gerard Craft talks to Eater about his restaurants and “Midwest’s thriving restaurant scene”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Today national culinary website Eater published an interview with our very own Gerard Craft. Craft is, of course, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants – including Niche, Brasserie, Taste and Pastaria, set to open later this summer.

In the interview, Craft discussed how he chose to move to St. Louis as a young “completely tattooed chef,” why he’s moving his flagship Niche from its original Benton Park home to Clayton, what his future goals are for both Niche and Pastaria, the evolution of the St. Louis dining scene, and a bit more. Craft even gave a nod to several of his fellow chef pals, including Sidney Street’s Kevin Nashan (whom he credits as one of the reasons he chose to open Niche in St. Louis in the first place); Mike Randolph, whose lineage at Moto led him to open up The Good Pie and, later, Half & Half and Medianoche; barbecue bigwig Mike Emerson of Pappy’s; and Josh Galliano, who is in the process of opening his own restaurant.

To check out the full interview, click here.

Drinks by three St. Louis Bartenders named among 101 best new cocktails of 2012

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Congratulations to three area bartenders whose drinks were selected by bartending legend Gaz Regan to be among the 101 Best New Cocktails of 2012. Ted Kilgore of Taste by Niche, TJ Vytlacil of Blood & Sand and Joel Clark of Sanctuaria each submitted drink recipes that impressed Regan enough to make the final cut.

While the cocktails themselves have yet to be announced, the list of the bartenders who concocted these tasty beverages is posted on the Ardent Spirits website that Regan hosts. Each of the winning drink recipes will be published in Gaz Regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails 2012, which should be available in mid- to late June. Regan has written a bevy of beloved cocktail books including The Bartender’s Bible, The Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Gin Compendium.

The Scoop: Vino Nadoz gets a new face in the kitchen

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

There’s a new face at Vino Nadoz. Chris DiMercurio has joined the bistro and wine bar located at 16 The Boulevard in Richmond Heights as chef de cuisine. DiMercurio, 26, was formerly at Taste by Niche, where he had worked as a line cook since last November. Prior to that, the CIA graduate worked in the back of the house at various eateries in Vermont.

Although Trent Thrun remains executive chef for Steven Becker Fine Dining, parent company to Vino Nadoz, co-owner Kathy Becker told The Scoop that DiMercurio has “full reign of the kitchen” at Vino Nadoz. “He’s slowly putting his touch on things,” said Becker, noting that he has added items such as pâtés and house-made pickled vegetables to the menu since coming aboard two weeks ago. “He has a modern, contemporary vision. That’s what we want the direction of the wine bar to go [in].”

— Photo by Jessica Becker

The Scoop: James Beard Foundation Award escapes Gerard Craft yet again

Monday, May 7th, 2012

As the James Beard Foundation Awards were announced from New York’s Lincoln Center this evening, our local food community kept its fingers crossed in hopes that Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants, would finally walk away with one of the culinary community’s highest honors. Unfortunately, Craft, a three-time finalist and four-time semifinalist in the foundation’s Best Chef: Midwest category, did not take home the medal. The title went to Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wis.

Other chefs vying for the Best Chef: Midwest title were: Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo., Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee, Wis., and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul., Minn.

— Photo by Greg Rannells

Gerard Craft named finalist for 2012 James Beard Foundation Award

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The finalists for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards were announced via Twitter this afternoon and Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants, is on the short list in the Best Chef: Midwest category. This is Craft’s third time being named a finalist in this category.

The three other St. Louis chefs who had been named semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category were: Josh Galliano, chef at the recently shuttered Monarch; Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus; and Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe. In addition, Salt, the Central West End restaurant that chef-owner Wes Johnson opened last year, was in the running for Best New Restaurant.

Winners of the chef and restaurant awards will be announced at a gala ceremony held in New York City on Monday, May 7. Good luck, chef!

A pdf containing the full list of nominees is available here.

— Photo by Greg Rannells

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