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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections on the Debut of the "Dorm Room" at 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2009 at 2:51 PM

  • Hedwig von Ebbel, Wikimedia Commons
A who's who of St. Louis food types descended upon 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar (1913 Park Avenue) last night for the inaugural "Dorm Room" dinner.

Among those spotted in the crowd -- writing that makes me feel just like Deb Peterson! -- were Gerard Craft and Mathew Rice of Niche, Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Café, Stephen Gontram of Harvest, Chris Sommers of Pi, Bill Burge of STL Bites and at least one off-the-clock restaurant critic trying to keep his head down.

The Dorm Room asks St. Louis chefs to prepare a multi-course meal using only the equipment you'd find in the typical dorm room: microwave, toaster, hot plate. First up was Josh Galliano of Monarch.

First, a disclaimer: I didn't attend this dinner to review it. I've never been anonymous at 33. My wife and I are regulars there, in fact. We know the staff by name and were personally invited to last night's dinner by new owner Jeff Stettner. So take what follows for what it's worth.

The Dorm Room is a very cool concept, and Galliano set the bar very high for the next chefs who undertake the challenge.

Galliano prepared four savory courses and a dessert:
First Course
Praline bacon

Second Course
Walker's salad greens, shaved vegetables, sherry vinaigrette, fried plantains, ricotta salata

Third Course
Herb-cured opah, black garlic romescu, radish sprouts

Fourth Course
Red-braised pork, pig feet, pork belly, hardboiled egg

Brown butter & banana pudding, with a 'Nilla Wafer
As I said, I didn't approach this as I would a review meal. (And even if I had been completely anonymous, I doubt neither Galliano nor 33 would repeat this exact menu under these Dorm Room circumstances.) I approached it as someone who loves good food and is an unabashed fan of Galliano's cooking. As such, I was blown away by what he was able to accomplish.

My favorite dish, by far, was the herb-cured opah (a Hawaiian fish also known as moonfish.) The fish had gorgeous pink flesh, a luscious texture and, with its accompaniments, a bracing flavor that evoked not simply the ocean but the entire oceanfront experience: the saltwater, the heat, the smell of food grilling in a beachfront barbecue. Just wonderful.

By the way, those five courses cost $35 per person (minus tax and tip, naturally), which is a steal given the meal's quality.

The atmosphere at 33 was as exciting as the food. As a critic, I don't get to share many experiences like this with fellow food lovers -- not to mention in the company of some of the industry types I most admire. It's always on to the next restaurant. So to spend a couple of hours among those who are passionate about food and, in the case of the chefs, those who seemed honestly excited for what one of their compatriots was doing, was inspiring.

The Dorm Room is a tough ticket -- there were two seatings of 15-20 diners each -- but worth trying to score. I hope other restaurants take note of its popularity and apparent success. Not as a suggestion that they should copy the Dorm Room concept itself, but as evidence that St. Louis diners want and are willing to try new things.

And this, I can honestly say, was unlike any meal I've had before.

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