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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Breaking: Gerard Craft Moving Niche and Taste by Niche, Opening Porano [Updated with Comments from Gerard Craft]

Posted By on Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 2:46 PM

Gerard Craft at Brasserie by Niche, the only one of his restaurants not undergoing a change. - JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Jennifer Silverberg
  • Gerard Craft at Brasserie by Niche, the only one of his restaurants not undergoing a change.
Jennifer Silverberg
Gerard Craft at Brasserie by Niche, the only one of his restaurants not undergoing a change.
Hot off the wire is the biggest restaurant news in quite a while, a wholesale shake-up of the restaurant empire of Gerard Craft.

First, the worst-kept secret in the St. Louis restaurant world is now official. (Credit Feast for posting it before the press release made it official.) Taste by Niche is moving into the former Moxy space at 4584 Laclede Avenue, next to Brasserie by Niche.

The bigger news is that Niche itself will take over the small Taste by Niche space at 1831 Sidney Street, serving eight- and ten-course tasting menus.

The biggest news is that the larger Niche space at 1831 Sidney Street will become Porano, an Italian restaurant inspired by a trip Craft took to Italy's Umbria region.

After the jump, Craft speaks about the changes.

Will the move of Taste by Niche entail any change to its small-plates format?

"You might see a little more food, but no," says Craft. "[The space] is just too small right now."

However, that space will become the new home of Craft's flagship restaurant, Niche. As with Taste, the relocated Niche will seat about a dozen diners at the table and at the bar. The restaurant will be open three or four evenings each week for eight- or ten-course tasting menus. Unlike Taste, however, reservations will be required.

Why the change to a restaurant that someone clearly on Craft's payroll dubbed the most important to open in St. Louis last decade?

"I feel like Niche has always been known for progression and constantly evolving. And I feel like for myself to do that at this point, you need to control it a little better. We [prepared a tasting menu] a year ago for New Year's Eve in the Taste space. It was the best day of cooking in my entire life. You really get to take the time. The guests really appreciate it. You get to live up to their expectiatons."

Craft adds that the process of evolution will include close collaboration with his team. "We're starting a think tank within our restaurant. We're looking ot have a small test kitchen where we can play around and do this the right away.

"I would never do this if I didn't 100% believe in what we're able to pull off in this space."

The space that is now Niche will become Porano. Craft says he has been considering an Italian restaurant for several years. (He even considered the space that would become Brasserie by Niche for this restaurant until he realized he "would be dumb not to" open a French restaurant there.)

"Italy is a place I love going. It will never cease to inspire me. If you look at a lot fo the dishes in Niche's history, they're kind of Italian-based dishes."

Porano is the name of a small village Craft once visited: "I had arguably the best meal of my life there. In somebody's house. All the people there have wood ovens in their houses. I had an oven-roasted lasanga with fifteen layers, with béchamel and fonduta. I had porchetta. They basted the potatoes with fat from the porchetta. When picking a name, I wanted something truly close to me."

Porano is located in Italy's Umbria region. The restaurant's cuisine won't be limited to Umbria, however. "It will also have lots of influences from north of there, Piemonte. I was fortunate to get sent out there with Slow Food, and I completely fell in love with this region.

"At the end of the day, this is the food I love to eat when I go out. I'm extremely happy to get to do it."

Taste's move will happen first. Niche will close for the holidays. Porano will open next, followed by the relocated Niche. Keep reading Gut Check for more details on the specific opening/re-opening dates.

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