Gut Check: Ian dines with kings, but keeps the common touch

A who's who of St. Louis food types descended upon 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar in Lafayette Square on Monday, June 22, for the inaugural Dorm Room dinner. Spotted in the crowd were Gerard Craft and Mathew Rice of Niche, Chris Sommers of Pi, Stephen Gontram of Harvest, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Café, STL Bites author Bill Burge, STL Hops blogger Mike Sweeney and at least one area restaurant critic trying his best to keep his head down.

The Dorm Room dinner challenges St. Louis chefs to prepare a multi-course meal using only the sort of equipment that you would find in the usual college dorm room: a toaster oven, hot plate and microwave. The first chef to undertake the task: Josh Galliano of Monarch.

First, a disclaimer: I didn't attend this dinner to review it. I've never been anonymous at 33, and I was personally invited to the dinner by new owner Jeff Stettner. In other words, take this for what it's worth: The Dorm Room is a very cool concept, and Galliano set the bar high for future chefs.

Galliano prepared five courses: pralined bacon; a salad of greens, shaved vegetables, fried plantains and ricotta salata in a sherry vinaigrette; herb-cured opah with a black garlic romescu and radish sprouts; red-braised pork belly and feet with a hardboiled egg; and brown butter and banana pudding with a Nilla wafer.

As I said, I didn't approach this as a review dinner. I didn't care that everything wasn't perfect. Given the Dorm Room's constraints, though, I was blown away by what Galliano was able to accomplish. The herb-cured opah (also known as moonfish) was especially outstanding. The fish had gorgeous pink flesh, a luscious texture and a bracing flavor that evoked the oceanfront experience: hot sand, cool water, a beachfront barbecue over an open flame.

(The meal cost $35, plus tax and tip — a steal given its quality.)

The Dorm Room will be a tough ticket: The buzz is already strong, and 33 hosts two seatings of only fifteen to twenty diners each. I hope other restaurants take note of its popularity. Not as an excuse to copy it, but as proof that St. Louis diners want to try new, exciting things.

It certainly wasn't like any meal I've had before.

Are you opening a new restaurant? Know of a place that has closed? Something else for Ian to chew on? E-mail ian.froeb@riverfronttimes.com. And check out this column's virtual doppelganger here.

 
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