It would be easy to feel pessimistic about the St. Louis dining scene. The economy is in rough shape — thanks in no small part to the sharp rise in the cost of milk, corn and other staple foods — and if another year has seen more restaurants close, we don't remember it. Even such institutions as Busch's Grove and Balaban's shut their doors and turned off the lights. Yet the past twelve months haven't been all doom and gloom. Gerard Craft, owner and executive chef of Niche in Benton Park, made the long list of nominees for the James Beard "Best Chef: Midwest" Award and was named one of the nation's best new chefs by Food & Wine magazine. Acero, chef Jim Fiala's Maplewood restaurant, was featured in a Bon Appétit article on the best Italian food in America. And this year has welcomed new restaurants that, though small and casual, are raising the bar on pizza, neighborhood pubs and numerous other things that we too often take for granted. Eating out is a luxury, no doubt, and most of us will be tightening our belts into the new year. Still, when we do want to treat ourselves, we have a better selection of restaurants now than at any time in the recent past — proof that the St. Louis dining scene is surviving the tumult and may just be ready to thrive.
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