Steven and Kathy Becker
have been serving up fast-casual meals at Nadoz Euro Bakery & Café
-- with the original location at the Coronado Ballroom in midtown St. Louis leading to a second at the Boulevard
, just across the street from the Galleria in Richmond Heights.
But over the weekend, the Beckers quietly opened the doors for a new venture just next to the Richmond Heights' Nadoz -- Vino Nadoz (16 the Boulevard; 314-726-0400)
. The official opening isn't until Wednesday, March 30, but Gut Check was able to pop over last Friday, try a few dishes and put together a scouting report.
The prognosis, we're happy to announce, is excellent.
In charge of the kitchen is Kathy Schmidt, the original chef at Jimmy's on the Park in Clayton and the executive chef of the three Nadoz locations. She's assisted by chef de cuisine Stephanie Hay and sommelier Walter Edwards, who'd worked with Schmidt in the past at a restaurant in Evansville, Indiana. Schmidt recruited the pair -- a couple in real life, not just their foodie ones -- to move to St. Louis in December and help her put the food and wine programs together.
"The menu is a lot of her inspiration," Schmidt says. "It's been a four-month odyssey." She adds, "It's not a large menu, but there's a lot of really cool stuff on it."
And that definitely includes Hay's "Rueben Bake," a pot of dip that Kathy Becker describes, accurately, as a deconstructed Reuben sandwich. Served with rye crackers and punctuated by one of the tangiest, tastiest Thousand Island dressings Gut Check has ever had the pleasure of scarfing down, it's a knockout.
We also adored the lobster mac & cheese. It's not a huge serving (and at $15, it's the priciest item on the menu), but you only have to try it once to realize it's actually something of a bargain: Each and every bite we tried was positively studded with fat chunks of lobster meat. The cheese sauce is sweeter than we're used to, with mascarpone joining the more typical Gruyère, Gouda and white cheddar. Delish.
But it was Schmidt's pear salad that we'll be pushing our friends to try next time we come back. (And yes, we will be back.) It has the usual baby greens and raspberry vinaigrette and chunks of blue cheese -- but it also introduces a savory Gorgonzola crème brûlée, served chilled and topped with three perfect slices of port-poached pears. Schmidt says she was inspired by a pairing of Gorgonzola and port, and indeed, we're not the only people who agree that's a felicitous combination: It is said to have been the hit of the night at Vino Nadoz's "family and friends" opening last week.
All this was pretty dazzling, but it took pairing our salad with a swig of the white burgundy recommended by sommelier Edwards to take the dish into the stratosphere. And that's when we really got what Vino Nadoz hopes to be about: a chef-driven restaurant, where a series of well-executed dishes dance cheek-to-cheek with an easily accessible wine list.
There are classic cocktails here, like the French 75 and the house version of a manhattan. But you could stay busy for meals on end with the wine list, which features a whopping 30 by the glass (45 by the bottle).
The space is sophisticated, with a giant chalkboard displaying the day's cheese selections and desserts. The bar, a handsome varnished butcher block, came from the former Kitchen K; the wood everywhere else is a light, bright bamboo. Kathy Becker assures us that, despite the sleekness of the space and its many hard surfaces, they've taken special care with hidden insulation in hopes that the noise levels don't get out of hand.
"We had 60 people here last night, and you could still have a conversation," she assures us. Good wine, good food and
a room where we don't have to shout to be heard? Did we mention we'll be back?
For the past nine years,