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Feb 23, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Vicia’

6 STL-area chefs, restaurants earn James Beard nominations

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

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{ Vicia }

 

It’s that time of year again. The James Beard Foundation announced its list of semifinalists for its annual awards recognizing chefs and restaurants today, Feb. 15, and once again, St. Louis’ food scene was well represented with six nominations, including some first-timers.

Vicia was nominated for Best New Restaurant. “It’s a huge honor. It was something we hoped to achieve,” said co-owner Tara Gallina. “When we opened – you know, you always set goals for yourself – this was certainly a high goal, so nothing we would be heartbroken if we didn’t get. But we’ve been really pushing ourselves and our team.”

This is the latest in a slew of local and national honors for the Central West End restaurant, which opened in March 2017. Gallina said she’s aware of what this recognition can do for Vicia’s business, since James Beard nominations are something people look at for ideas while traveling.

“I’m the same way when I go to a new city,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be able to attract people from all over. These types of things are amazing for your business … and will also help attract amazing talent.”

Longtime St. Louis fine-dining standby Tony’s made the semifinalist list for Outstanding Service.

 

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{ Privado chef-owner Mike Randolph }

 

The foundation also singled out four area nominees for Best Chef: Midwest: Elaia executive chef Ben Grupe, Sardella executive chef Ashley Shelton, Privado chef-owner Mike Randolph and Lona’s Lil’ Eats chef-owner Lona Luo. This is the first such nomination for Grupe, Luo and Shelton and No. 3 for Randolph.

“It’s a great and humbling experience,” said Randolph, who was a semifinalist in 2016 and 2017. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t weird to see Privado on there instead of Público, because we’ve done such good work there. But Privado has been a really special project for me. You never know who’s going to be sitting at the table.” He added that it’s satisfying to see the unique weekend-only concept recognized. “It definitely puts a pep in our step.”

 

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{ at left, Lona Lil’ Eats chef owner Lona Luo } 

 

Luo said she found out about the honor when people starting congratulating her this morning.  The fast-casual Fox Park eatery specializes in fare from Xishuangbanna in China’s Yunnan province, where Luo grew up. She prides herself on making every sauce and marinade from scratch without MSG or preservatives. “If people are happy, their body is happy and it’s making me happy” she said.

Luo credits her front of house and kitchen staff, particularly chef Jason Hummel, with the success of her restaurant. “My team is absolutely awesome,” she said. “I really love them. Without them I cannot make that happen. … They are my right hands and my left hands.”

 

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{ Sardella executive chef Ashley Shelton }

 

This is the second time the James Beard Foundation recognized Shelton; in 2017, she was a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, which recognizes promising chefs younger than 30. Shelton, who was a 2016 One to Watch, said the nomination validated her growth in the kitchen. “I’m actually doing good at this,” she said. “It’s not just about being young anymore – it’s about being a talented chef.”

Shelton credited her Sardella team for helping her reach this point. “It’s awesome. I think it’s going to be a huge lift for everybody at Sardella,” she said. “It’s going to fuel them and push us to keep working even harder than we already are.”

Sardella owner Gerard Craft said Shelton earned the honor. “We’re super excited for her, and this is very well deserved,” he said. “She works her tail off everyday, and this is the result.”

 

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{ Elaia executive chef Ben Grupe }

 

Grupe said he appreciated the recognition of his team’s hard work. “It’s a great honor. It’s referred to as the Oscars of the culinary world, so just being nominated is a great achievement,” he said. “We’ll see where we fall when they make the next announcement in March.”

Elaia owner Ben Poremba said the honor further proves that Grupe is doing something special at the Botanical Heights fine dining restaurant.

“It wasn’t easy for me to leave my position and trust my restaurant to someone,” said Poremba, himself a three-time James Beard Best Chef: Midwest nominee. “But Ben came in and took it to new heights. I’m proud of him, proud of his work and proud of our restaurant group. It takes a lot of work, focus and resilience.”

Tony’s and Luo didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

The finalists for each category will be announced at 8:30 a.m. March 14, and the annual James Beard Awards will take place May 7 in Chicago.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 11:20 a.m. Feb. 15 to include comments from Ben Grupe. it was updated again at 1:40 p.m. to include comments from Lona Luo. 

 

Ashley Shelton photo by Carmen Troesser, Ben Grupe photo courtesy of Grupe, Lona Luo photo by Elizabeth Maxson, Mike Randolph photo by Greg Rannells, Vicia photo by Michelle Volansky

Heather Hughes, Catherine Klene and Matt Sorrell contributed to this report. 

Related Content
• Sidney Street Cafe’s Kevin Nashan wins James Beard Award

• St. Louis food community reacts to James Beard wins

• James Beard Foundation names Kevin Nashan, Kevin Willmann Best Chef: Midwest finalists

Ones to Watch 2018: Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Sous Chefs, Vicia
Ages: 33
Why Watch Them: The best new restaurant in St. Louis couldn’t run without them.

To be the best, you’ve got to have direction. Aside from growing up in Illinois and working as Vicia sous chefs, that’s perhaps the biggest thing Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel have in common: a lodestar commitment to improving agriculture through their work with farmers as chefs. It’s why they’re both at Vicia now. “But also,” Schingel added and Seibold would agree, “I don’t like the idea of working at the second-best restaurant in St. Louis. I just don’t. I want to work at the best.”

The two have been chasing better food sourcing through some of the best restaurants in the country for most their careers. Seibold went from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro straight out of culinary school to Danny Meyer and Michael Anthony’s Gramercy Tavern to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. Asked about this laundry list of America’s culinary elite, the clean-cut chef matter-of-factly explained he thought Keller’s focus on technique would be a good introduction to fine dining, he was attracted to Anthony’s vegetable-centric philosophy, and he wanted to experience Chez Panisse’s relationships with farmers. Wouldn’t we all, though?

If it sounds like Seibold had to have plotted that precise course his entire life, that’s probably because he grew up in a restaurant family and always knew he wanted to be a chef. Schingel, equally intentional though perhaps less methodical, got into cooking because he was sick of eating Hot Pockets every day in college. Then he became obsessed.

After a sudden swerve into culinary school, he worked his way up the St. Louis food ladder to sous chef at Gerard Craft’s now-closed Niche. When Schingel later landed a stage position at In de Wulf in Belgium, his experience with farmers and foraging at the remote Michelin-starred restaurant sparked an increased interest in sourcing. That made his next gig at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns a dream job.

“It was the opportunity to take a graduate school mentality,” Schingel said. “[It was a place to] learn how sourcing products works, how to talk about farming practices and intelligent methods.”

It’s also where he met Vicia chef-owner Michael Gallina, then chef de cuisine at Blue Hill. “Alec is exactly what I’m looking for in someone to work close with – very intelligent, very hard-working, very meticulous,” Gallina said.

To succeed at a high-concept place like Vicia, you need to be what Gallina called an intelligent chef – not a “head-down cook” who just gets the work done, goes home and doesn’t think about it. “This isn’t a 9-to-5 job for Patrick and Alec. They take it home with them. They research. They read books. They’re constantly diving into what’s going to be next, trying to be ahead of the ballgame.”

Schingel is the first person in the kitchen each day; as daytime sous, he runs the lunch service and Vicia’s whole bread program. Seibold helps Gallina run dinner and handles most of the restaurant’s butchery. “He’s taking on a lot of ownership with the nighttime cooks,” Gallina said. “He’s also a very intelligent person. He’s got a lot of incredible ideas.”

Gallina also rhapsodized on both the sous chefs’ teaching abilities. But, most important to Schingel and Seibold, Gallina wants them to take more ownership of the menu and to be more involved in working with producers.

“I definitely couldn’t do it without them,” Gallina said. “This restaurant wouldn’t be half of what it is without the help of those two.”

After navigating a major restaurant opening (both came on months before Vicia’s first service), Schingel and Seibold leave us with only two questions about their next steps: when and where?

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Heather Hughes is managing editor at Sauce Magazine. 

Best New Restaurants: No. 1 – Vicia

Friday, December 1st, 2017

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here are St. Louis’ 12 best new restaurants of 2017.

 

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When something is as expected as naming Vicia the best new restaurant of 2017, you almost want to fight it. You want to know something big publications like Eater, Bon Appétit and Esquire don’t. (All have listed Vicia on national best new restaurant lists.) But you know what? Some things are expected for a reason.

It’s hard to compare a food truck (Balkan Treat Box, No. 4) to a weekends-only tasting menu experience (Privado, No. 2) to a bare-bones fast-casual spot serving one thing (St. Louis Soup Dumplings, No. 11). You have to assess each place on its own terms, and not just the qualifications of your personal preference. Vicia, objectively, attempts to do more than any other restaurant that opened in St. Louis this year. And from concept to menu, design, service and even a counter-service lunch option, it brings something fresh, stylish and clever to the local dining landscape.

Vicia is both familiarly hip and extreme in its farm-to-table, vegetable-forward sensibilities. Owners Michael and Tara Gallina captured our attention when they moved from the culinary Ivy League of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York to open their own place, intending to work closely with farmers to support methods so sustainable they improve soil health (vicia is the name of a cover crop planted for that purpose) and to waste almost nothing – not even vegetable tops – in the kitchen.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished with all of that,” said Michael, executive chef to Tara’s general manager. Vicia tries to support individual farmers by asking for the produce they need to sell, not just making regular orders. “We get a farm delivery every single day, and we try to make the menu a celebration of what comes in. It drives [Tara] nuts, because we print the menu three to four times a week sometimes.”

That kind of improvisation isn’t some hipster buzzword claptrap. Think about how hard it is to dial in one dish at home – a constantly shifting menu means a moving target. Vicia has three: lunch, a la carte snack plates and family-style dinner mains, and a tasting menu with wine pairings.

“We try not to waste anything,” Michael said. “The dynamic of lunch, a la carte and tasting menu really has to be very cohesive and synced with each other. If we’re running a pear salad on the a la carte menu, then the scrap has to be going into a puree for the tasting menu, or some of the other pieces that we’re cutting are going into Summer [Wright, Vicia’s executive pastry chef’s], apple butter.”

 

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Logistics nerds are already sold. But to be the best, Vicia’s food had to be as good as the mission statement, and eye-rollers at the concept would still be enchanted by its dishes that are at once familiar and unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.

A quick pick-two soup/salad/sandwich lunch, for example, turns into something else when your cauliflower soup comes topped with popcorn powder. The fact that the lunch menu is not just fancy entrees priced down for midday makes it that much more impressive.

The tasting menu starts with a flurry of small bites arriving at once. Simple, familiar luxuries like raw oysters – flown in from Maine for a late-summer menu – are suddenly surprising when topped with a watermelon granita. The same course featured two pieces of compressed watermelon rind that somehow tasted just like a puckering bite of pith and yet refreshingly clean, crisp and mild at the same time. How do they do that?

Other composed bites – like a rectangle of yellow watermelon topped with translucent slices of pickled green tomato, herbs and blooms beside a creamy dollop of whipped goat cheese – displayed perfect pitch in both texture and flavor combinations. All the plates worked together in a larger symphony of individual movements. And that was just the first course.

Even with so many plates and pairings, service doesn’t falter. It’s no surprise the staff can answer any question you have about a dish – they go on field trips to farms and other producers about once a month. What is surprising is how relaxed such knowledgeable and orchestrated service feels.

“I’m trying to bring the touches of fine dining but in a setting that makes people feel like they can be themselves and not have to be nervous at the table that they’re putting their wine glass in the wrong place, you know?” Tara said. “None of that.”

It’s typically impossible to hold a conversation during a tasting-menu dinner – the constant ceremony of plate transmission and wine pouring dominates the night. But the friendly, rationed visits from Vicia servers don’t feel like an interruption.

“I don’t want people to think of it as, ‘Oh, that’s the tasting-menu spot – that’s the special-occasion spot,’” Michael said. “It’s the place where you can have any kind of experience you want.”

Vicia’s space is designed with that in mind. Light-drenched during the day and fashionably dim and energetic at night, the restaurant’s natural wood elements and massive white-paned windows make it feel both casually cool and sophisticated at the same time. It’s not easy to look so relaxed.

So while Vicia has its share of surprises, its No. 1 spot on this list isn’t one of them.

Photos by Greg Rannells

Heather Hughes is managing editor at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
• Review: Vicia

• Sneak Peek: Vicia in Central West End

Sauce Magazine: Best New Restaurants 2017

Best New Restaurants: Top 3 Dishes of 2017

Friday, December 1st, 2017

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1. Berkshire Pig at Vicia
The best restaurant of the year also served the best pork dish. Cooked to butter-softness and finished on the grill for a hint of smoke, the small serving rivaled any chop. On my visit before Vicia switched to family-style mains, the pork was served with a rich assortment of shelling beans and wild blooms – don’t forget to order those separately.

2. Seared Lacquered Halibut at Polite Society
Glazed with miso butter and highlighted with ginger, this was the best piece of fish I ate in 2017. Serving it on a bed of aromatic jasmine rice congee with vegetables made it the best fish entree.

3. Grilled Octopus at Nixta
Like a fool, I didn’t have the pulpo until months after I reviewed Ben Poremba’s upscale Mexican restaurant. With crispy tentacles and tender meat brightened by almond mole and garnished with charred lettuce, it’s no wonder this is Nixta’s most popular dish.

Photo by Jonathan Gayman 

Michael Renner is Sauce Magazine’s longtime restaurant critic who pens New & Notable

Related Content
• Best New Restaurants 2017: Vicia

• Best New Restaurants 2017: Polite Society

• Best New Restaurants 2017: Nixta

Nixta, Vicia make Bon Appetit’s top 50 new restaurants list

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

 

 

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{ Vicia chef-owner Michael Gallina }

 

Bon Appétit has announced its list of 50 Best New Restaurants in America, and two of St. Louis’ hottest eateries, Vicia and Nixta, made the cut.

The Mole Negro de Abuelita Concepción, an homage to a recipe from chef Tello Carreon’s grandmother, was singled out as a must-try dish at Nixta, while the Goose Egg, scrambled eggs served in a “bird’s nest,” was one of the specialties highlighted on Vicia’s menu, along with the restaurant’s focus on vegetables.

“It’s been quite a week,” said Tara Gallina, Vicia co-owner and general manager. Vicia also landed on Eater’s 12 Best New Restaurants in America list, which came out last week. “It’s a lot – it’s exciting!”

 

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{ from left, Nixta chef Tello Carreón and owner Ben Poremba } 

 

Nixta owner Ben Poremba, whose other eateries Elaia and Olio made the same list in 2013, said the news came as a complete surprise. “It’s nice to see the recognition on a national scale like that, especially coming back from the bittersweet moment of closing Old Standard and redoing the space,” he said.

Nixta landed on Sauce’s Best New Restaurants of 2016 shortly after opening in November last year.

Bon Appétit’s list of 50 will be whittled down to the Hot 10 on Aug. 15, which are featured in the September issue.

“That list has some pretty heavy hitters on it,” said Poremba. “But you never know.”

Gallina agreed that landing a top 10 spot would be remarkable. “There’s a lot of incredible competition this year,” she said. “A lot of amazing places have opened, so just to be on the list, as cheesy as that sounds, is quite an honor.”

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
Eater names Vicia one of the country’s Best New Restaurants

• Review: Vicia

Review: Nixta

Best New Restaurants: No. 5 – Nixta

Eater names Vicia one of the country’s Best New Restaurants

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

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Vicia has made a splash on the local and national dining scenes even before its highly anticipated opening in March, and now, the Central West End restaurant has just been named one of Eater’s 12 Best New Restaurants In America.

Eater restaurant editor Bill Addison wrote that each year, he has two goals when identifying the top new eateries: “Identifying the essential modern classics for our Best Restaurants in America list, and seeking out the new paragons — the restaurants that energize their communities and will come to define national excellence.”

Addison lauded owners Tara and Michael Gallina for their use of seasonal procduce and no-waste philosophy, as well as Vicia’s price-conscious lunch service and tasting menu. “Tara and Michael Gallina’s remarkable debut restaurant … aims for out-and-out usefulness to its community,” he wrote.

General mangaer Tara Gallina said they were excited to receive the news.

“We’re very proud and honored to represent the city of St. Louis on a national scale,” she said. “We’ve been working really hard since before we opened and pushing everyone to do their absolute best, so it’s awesome for the entire team to be recognized,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Vicia

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

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Review: Vicia

Waste Not: The case for eating ugly carrots, beef neck and beetle-bitten cros

Sneak Peek: Vicia in the Central West End

Ones to Watch 2017: Jen Epley of Vicia

Trendwatch: What’s on the plate, in the glass and atop our wish list right now

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

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1. Proof in the Pudding
We’ve come a long way since Snack Packs – like the butterscotch pot de crème at Olive & Oak, a rich caramel pudding capped with salted caramel and whipped cream. At Pint Size Bakery, occasionally available Yum Cups are filled with rotating pudding flavors. But we all know chocolate reigns supreme, like the blend of milk and dark chocolate pudding with a black cocoa brownie, Thai basil ice cream and fresh blackberries currently on the menu at Taste. Retreat Gastropub recently offered an orange- and lemon-scented chocolate pudding served with toasted marshmallows and almond biscotti, while ClevelandHeath serves its version with Chantilly whipped cream and chocolate-dipped puffed rice.

 

2. Activate
Charcoal has made the move from face masks to the table. Gaining popularity as a detox ingredient at California juice shops like Pressed Juicery and Juice Served Here in recent years, activated charcoal has been making an appearance in cocktails like the inky mezcal-based Moonwalk at New York’s Mission Chinese Food. Closer to home, the black-hearted ingredient showed up for brunch in a chocolate-charcoal waffle at Hiro Asian Kitchen. Try a taste of the darkness at Clementine’s Creamery, where the black cherry ice cream is made with activated charcoal.

 

3. Bring in the Funk
Savory caramels are currently lending a sweet, funky accent to all manner of cuisine in St. Louis. The Copper Pig and Juniper have both combined fish sauce and caramel to great effect – the former on chicken wings and the latter on chicken and waffles. At Vista Ramen, crab caramel brings subtle sweetness and an unctuous umami pop to a tender pork rib dish. A little funk works just as well in cocktails, like The Sound of One Hand Clapping recently at Planter’s House, which combined tequila and mezcal with a miso-caramel syrup. On a more vegetal note, a beet caramel adds earthy sweetness to roasted beets, charred carrots and whipped herbed goat cheese at Boundary, while Vicia recently offered hazelnut financiers with an onion caramel sauce.

 

4. Get Crackin’
Pistachios have been lending their mild, nutty flavor to a variety of cocktail menus around town. The Lights Down, Music Up at ClevelandHeath uses Dumante Verdenoce, an Italian pistachio liqueur, to complement apricot and lemon in the rum-based drink. At The Preston, The Lady of Kildare, a unique tiki cocktail with Irish whiskey instead of the usual rum, includes a house-made pistachio syrup that plays well with tropical flavors like coconut and pineapple. And the Garden of Forking Paths at Taste utilizes the nut itself – ground and rimming a Collins glass.

 

5. The Big Cheese
Grilled cheese sandwiches have been subbing in for buns lately. Take The Big Lou special at The Corner Butcher in Fenton, where two of the sandwiches held two patties topped with nacho cheese. The Libertine appended GC to a classic BLT for a brunch special, and the ever-fluctuating menu at Shift: Test Kitchen recently experimented with The Sasquatch, pulled pork and cole slaw between two gooey sammies. Head to Festus for a Fatty Melt at Main & Mill Brewing Co., a classic patty melt with two grilled cheese sandwiches. And of course, Sugarfire Smoke House and Hi-Pointe Drive-In get in on the action with the Sweet Baby Cheesus special.

 

6. The Spice Route
Area bartenders are reaching into the spice cabinet for a taste of India on their cocktail menus. Retreat Gastropub mixes gin with coconut milk, turmeric and ginger in the curry leaf-topped Golden State, and combines rum, mango, vermouth and chai in its Cash Me Outside cocktail. Reeds American Table opts for yellow curry and coriander mixed with coconut milk in the Philosophical Zombie, while Planter’s House recently featured a chai five-spice syrup with bourbon, tequila and amaro in the Exit Stage Left. Polite Society’s arsenal of house-made tinctures and infusions includes a blood orange and cardamom gastrique featured in the Sanguine cocktail, made with vodka and coconut water. Frazer’s makes use of Desipop, a masala-cumin soda, in its rum-based Kama Sutra. Over at Eclipse, they’re shaking cardamom bitters into the Effervescent Love Machine, while just down the street, the team at Randolfi’s also added cardamom bitters to Advice from a Fortune Cookie and curry bitters to A Rule of Plumb.

 

Photo by Carmen Troesser

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Hit List: 3 places you must try this April

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

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1. Vicia: 4260 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.553.9239, viciarestaurant.com

After more than a year of anticipation, pop-ups and special events, doors have finally opened at Vicia in the Cortex Innovation Community. Veterans of New York’s acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns, owners Michael and Tara Gallina focus on vegetable-forward, seasonally driven cuisine. To that end, the menu is flexible, letting farm-fresh ingredients dictate the day’s dishes. Take a leisurely lunch break at Vicia’s sun-drenched dining room to mix-and-match from a short list of meticulous dishes. Our tartine featured a thick slice of house-made porridge bread topped with butternut squash sofrito, marinated kale and oyster mushrooms, while the grain salad tucked a mix of wheat berries, rye and farro under shaved carrots, daikon and a rainbow of radishes with dollops of goat cheese sauce and pesto made from radish and turnip tops. Indulge with a quiche – ours included earthy shiitake mushrooms, spinach and leeks nestled in a fluffy, rich filling – but don’t forget to save room for dessert. A buttery turnover shattered at first bite, revealing sweet kumquat and ricotta. At press time, only lunch service was available, but based on that experience, we’ll eagerly make our dinner reservations.

 

2. Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade: 2236 First Capitol Drive, St. Charles, 636.224.8626, twoplumbers.com

Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade is as simple as a place named for Mario and Luigi should be: just 10 taps and more than 30 arcade games. The 21-and-older brewery currently offers a couple of its beers (keep an eye out for Ermac Irish red IPA and Braunenmantel American brown ale) and is brewing more to add alongside taps pouring the likes of Schlafly, Founders and Crown Valley. Bring in food (or order a Dan O’s frozen pizza from the bar), grab a pour and drop some quarters to play old-school favorites like Dungeons & Dragons, Time Crisis II and, of course, Super Mario Bros.

 

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3. Snax Gastrobar: 3500 Watson Road, St. Louis, 314.353.9463, snaxstl.com

And now for something completely different from the minds behind Robust Wine Bar. Instead of extensive wine lists and small plates, fill up with comfort food at Snax Gastrobar. Try the messy, delectable burger (two smash patties piled with cheese, bacon, a mayo-based Snax Sauce and the usual accoutrements), or pick up the Reuben, featuring a balance of house-cured smoked pastrami and sauerkraut. Prefer a knife and fork? Order the simple roasted chicken; a boned breast is seared for crisp skin and juicy, tender meat, all piled atop braised beans with rich shiitake mushrooms and bright lemon-garlic jus.

 

Photos by Michelle Volansky

Related Content

 • Sneak Peek: Vicia in Midtown

• Sneak Peek: Two Plumbers Brewery & Arcade in St. Charles

Sneak Peek: Snax Gastrobar in Lindenwood Park

Sneak Peek: Vicia in Midtown

Monday, March 20th, 2017

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More than a year after announcing their move to St. Louis, Michael and Tara Gallina’s highly anticipated Vicia opens for lunch this Wednesday, March 22 in the Cortex Innovation District at 4260 Forest Park Ave. Dinner service will debut on Tuesday, March 28.

The Gallinas, both alums of the internationally acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns, made news in October 2015 when they announced a return to Michael Gallina’s hometown to open a seasonally driven, vegetable-forward restaurant where he would serve as executive chef and Tara Gallina as general manager.

The 2,500-square-foot space features a 14-seat bar, an exposed kitchen and a covered patio, all separated from the main dining room by walls of windows. The patio is bookended by a lounge area with more casual seating on one end and an enormous wood-fired grill on the other.

“I’d love to have that thing covered with meat and vegetables basically all day,” said Michael Gallina. His menu incorporates meat as a condiment more than main attraction and features vegetables as the unexpected stars of Vicia’s dishes. He plans to utilize the grill for everything from slowly cooking large cuts of meat to burying vegetables in the coals for unique charred sauces.

Lunch will consist of soups, salads, sandwiches and tartines with pick-two and pick-three options, supplemented by sweet treats from executive pastry chef Summer Wright. “The menu will not be set at all,” said Gallina, who plans to print offerings daily.

Though some dishes will have the same general structure – like a grain salad made with fruits or vegetables, goat cheese and vegetable-top pesto – the specific ingredients will depend on what the restaurant gets day-to-day from area farmers.

Dinner will have a more varied menu of bite-sized snacks, shareable plates and entrees. “I want it to change as much as we can,” Gallina said. “I’m holding off to see what’s available next week.” The restaurant also plans to eventually offer a tasting menu.

Vicia will be open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. When it begins next week, dinner service will be Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect from one of this year’s most anticipated new restaurants:

 

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Photos by Michelle Volansky 

Related Content

The Scoop: Gallinas to open Vicia in The Cortex

The Scoop: Chef Michael Gallina to open series of pop-ups, new restaurant in native STL

• Ones to Watch 2017: Jen Epley of Vicia

Ones to Watch 2017: Jen Epley of Vicia

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Assistant general manager, Vicia
Age: 31
Why watch her: She knows what you need before you do.

Jen Epley has her eye on you. Where did you sit, what did you order and what was your favorite dish? If you don’t like cilantro, you won’t see it – now or the next time you dine with her.

For Epley, successful service means everything appears effortless. Wine keys, pens, lighters and birthday candles are accounted for before the night begins. Guests are greeted warmly, treated with friendly respect and watched carefully from the moment they’re seated until the last glass of wine is consumed.

“You have to know something about them. They are there for that experience of connecting with the food, the servers, the beverages. They want to feel everything that you put into that restaurant,” Epley said. “You have to be part of it. … If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be there because that resonates with all the guests that walk in.”

This is something she’s learned from hospitality pros in some of the best restaurants in the city, starting at Five Bistro five years ago.

“She’s really one of the unsung heroes of service in St. Louis,” said advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov. He trained Epley on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern wine when they worked at Olio and Elaia. “She’s so technically sound that she can do everything better than most people on autopilot, and meanwhile … look around the room and anticipate what’s next.”

“So many people treat serving as ‘Same job, different apron,’” said Sardella general manager Chris Kelling, who worked with Epley at Niche. “She has goals to ascend in the industry and be amongst the best. That is something I’ve only recently seen in St. Louis, that people are taking hospitality as a career.”

It seems only natural that Epley’s next step is to help open Vicia under co-owner and general manager Tara Gallina, who was service captain at Blue Hill at Stone Barns – a restaurant lauded as much for service as culinary talent. Before a recent wine tasting meeting, Epley pulled out a tote bag filled with polished stemware and ever-present spiral-bound notebooks.

“When I write things down, it’s easier to remember than typing,” she explained, rifling through pages filled with impeccably written wine tasting notes and potential front-of-house hires. Epley loves the puzzle of it all, carefully sorting each detail into its proper column. “It’s a fun game of Tetris,” she said.

“She’s always two steps ahead, which is what you have to be, and seeing the big picture at all times,” Gallina said. “She really just gets it.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

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