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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#2: The "Pork Duo" at Niche

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 1:00 PM

  • Ian Froeb
The night I planned to propose to my girlfriend, I took her to dinner at Niche first. I was pretty sure she'd say yes, but I didn't want to leave anything to chance. That should tell you all you need to know about the esteem in which I hold Gerard Craft's restaurant.

I've dined at Niche many times since then, and I doubt the menu has been the same twice -- as is appropriate, given that Craft and his able crew follow both the seasons and their own whims.

As a general rule, though, I always look first to the current pork selection(s). Whether it's the pork shank pappardelle that first put the restaurant on the radar of Food & Wine magazine -- and which is back on the menu now -- or a St. Louis-convention-challenging fried pig's head, Niche knows how to prepare every last bit of a pig.

The pork entrée right now is called, simply, a "duo" -- though in fact there are three forms of pig on the plate. From left to right in the photo above is smoked pork loin, cornbread pudding, pork belly and a hash of Brussels sprouts that is topped with a chicharrón. Your server pours a sorghum-sherry sauce over the dish's first three elements tableside.

You get a little bit of everything with this dish: the smokiness of good barbecue; the natural sweetness of pork heightened by the cornbread and the sauce; the unctuous fat of the belly. My favorite part might be the belly's exterior: beyond crisp, it cracks under your fork like the surface of a créme brûlée and works your teeth like hard candy.

When I return to Niche, this dish might no longer be on the menu -- never to return, perhaps. That's part of the excitement of dining here. You savor your meal because, unlike your favorite burger or barbecue joint, you might never repeat its exact circumstances. And you don't mind this because you're asking the same question that has been driving Craft and his team for five years now:

What's next?

1831 Sidney Street

I'm counting down -- in no particular order -- 100 of my favorite dishes in St. Louis. Some are well-known, others obscure. Some are expensive, others dirt cheap. All of them, I guarantee, are delicious. Please do not hesitate to share your own favorites via the comments thread.


#3: The bread pudding at Harvest
#4: The ribs at Pappy's Smokehouse
#5: The applewood-smoked duck breast at Sidney Street Café
#6: Beef tenderloin with foie gras and a port wine demi-glace at Tony's
#7: Dry-aged steak at Prime 1000
#8: Tajadas con queso at Fritanga
#9: Kumamoto oysters at DeMun Oyster Bar
#10: Tacos al pastor at La Vallesana

#11: The Heath Bar concrete at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
#12: Beef tongue at Café Natasha's Kabob International
#13: The root beer braised short rib at Monarch
#14: The egg raviolo at Acero
#15: Pappardelle at the Tavern Kitchen + Bar
#16: Carnitas at La Tejana Taqueria
#17: Benne's Farm half chicken at Five Bistro
#18: Dátiles rellenos at Modesto
#19: Hot-and-sour noodles at Joy Luck Buffet
#20: Lamb vindaloo at India Palace

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