Wiping the Plate Clean

Our intrepid reviewer calls for the last check and leaves some generous tips

I've been living the glamorous life of a restaurant critic, which is the same thing as the life of Riley, for exactly one year now. Not only have I eaten the free lunches my father always told me there's no such thing as, I've been able to disregard the sensibilities of thousands of readers twice a month (an enviable position, in spite of the occasional food poisoning). My ongoing mission has taken me to restaurants, cookshops and lunch counters of every description all over the city. Accompanied by my excellent posse of intrepid accomplices, I've supped on fabulous delicacies and sipped sumptuous wines. I've experienced poignant encounters with things like alligator, chicken feet, eels, cockles, sea urchins and -- the big kahuna of scary foods -- slingers. I've engendered the enmity of some restaurateurs, whereas others have erected shrines in my honor. I've even learned a thing or two.

Even so, the time has come to hand in my dinner pail. I'm stepping down, calling it quits, throwing in the towel. My editor thinks some of you might be interested in knowing why I've decided to bail out of the world's greatest job. Naturally, hardly any of my reasons are good ones -- a couple are downright bogus -- but here is a cross-section of 'em, in no particular order:

1. My cover has been blown. Among other security breaches, a photograph of me recently appeared on the cover of a local magazine. My editor says the picture doesn't look like me (I was wearing a fairly goofy wig, and I'm none too photogenic in the first place), but word on the street is that this photograph is already posted in the kitchens of several restaurants. Sadly, you can't be an effective restaurant critic if everybody knows who you are; the whole point is that you surreptitiously slither in, masquerade as a civilian and keep a straight face when the waiter spills clam chowder down your new Betsey Johnson bustier. Former New York Times food writer Ruth Reichl (now editor of Gourmet magazine) is famous for wearing disguises and flinging around credit cards bearing fake names in the line of duty, but I'm too vain to put on a fat suit just to go out for a pizza.

Grenache chef Justin Keimon (right), joined here by sous-chef Steve Scherrer, tints each dish with a sunny, azure-sky feeling unparalleled elsewhere in the city.
Jennifer Silverberg
Grenache chef Justin Keimon (right), joined here by sous-chef Steve Scherrer, tints each dish with a sunny, azure-sky feeling unparalleled elsewhere in the city.

Location Info

Map

Nachomama's

9643 Manchester Road
Rock Hill, MO 63119

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Webster Groves

Balaban's Wine Cellar & Tapas Bar

1772 Clarkson Road
Chesterfield, MO 63017

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Chesterfield

Blueberry Hill

6504 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Delmar/ The Loop

Chez Leon

7927 Forsyth Blvd.
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Clayton

Truffles

9202 Clayton Road
Ladue, MO 63124

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Ladue

Racanelli's Cucina

6655 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63130

Category: Restaurant > Bistro

Region: University City

Riddle's Penultimate Café & Wine Bar

6307 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO 63130

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Delmar/ The Loop

The Wine & Cheese Place

14748 Clayton Road
Ballwin, MO 63011

Category: Retail

Region: Manchester/ Ballwin

2. Food writing eats into my free time. My picture was on the cover of the aforementioned zine because in my other life I am a guitar player in a loud rock band. Rock-stardom is time-consuming, and although it is nowhere near as glamorous as restaurant-criticking, it is, I must admit, slightly more fun. Amusing though it is to think up just the right adjective to describe a botched foie gras, it just can't compare to shrieking around onstage with a Les Paul and afterward being asked to autograph a teenage girl's tushie in indelible marker. Sure, I could do both, but the fact is, I'm lazy.

3. OK, OK. The real reason I'm leaving is that, although there may be an infinite number of ways to describe a hollandaise, I think I've just about covered the subject to my own satisfaction. Meanwhile, I've got novels to not finish.

But before I go, I'm going to answer the question everybody's been asking me for the past year: "Where should I go for dinner?'

"Where should I go for lunch?" is easy: Nachomama's, of course. It's the best restaurant in St. Louis. I reveal no secrets when I assert that owner John St. Eve still whips up the best guacamole outside of Austin (his enchilada sauce is magical, too). Or Bar Italia, which is the best restaurant in St. Louis -- especially this time of year, when you can fritter away an entire afternoon over a latte on their excellent patio. Besides, most other places inexplicably pull closed their shutters at 2 o'clock. This renders them useless for serious gourmands, who by definition don't even roll out of bed until noon.

"Where can I go for a romantic date for cheap?" is easy, too: your house (boil a cow until it is reduced to the consistency of maple syrup, lob it into a pan of sautéed shallots and red wine or something, and serve it up with a couple of bloody tournedos). If romance is on your mind, money shouldn't be. Expecting love to bloom for under 50 bucks a head is expecting too much. Do you really want to have to spit a lump of gristle into your napkin at a time like this? Go on, take her to Balaban's and ply her with shimmering oysters and beef Wellington. Balaban's, the CWE's venerable miracle of delicious dependability, is the best restaurant in St. Louis.

"Where should I go for a burger?" Also easy: Blueberry Hill, the best restaurant in St. Louis. I worked there for 13 years, and I must have eaten thousands of those Big 7-Ounce Burgers, but even as I write this the thought of biting into one gives me a warm, fuzzy glow. The Berry also has a secret weapon: Ida Dale, the Loop's empress of home cooking, whose success with unpretentious stuff like pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes has been kept secret for too long.

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