Ah, the Majestic. It had gone on so long it was impossible to think about it not being there. I first went there about this time of year - egad, fifty years ago? My math skills have gotten rusty, maybe that's it.
Ah, the Majestic. It had gone on so long it was impossible to think about it not being there. I first went there about this time of year - egad, fifty years ago? My math skills have gotten rusty, maybe that's it.
If you're one of the folks who love those post-Thanksgiving mashups of all the leftovers layered on two defenseless slices of bread, I've got the dish for you. The Kitchen Sink - now, of course, in its elegant new digs on Union Boulevard - offers the Humble Pie.
This is not pie as in "apple". It is not even pie as in "chicken pot". The ancestor of this creation is, per the menu, shepherd's pie.
It is clearly, though, a distant ancestor. The Humble begins with crumbled jalapeno cornbread, which is layered with sauteed peppers and onions, a generous amount of shrimp, and intermittent bits of andouille sausage and tasso ham, both properly spicy. That's topped with a layer of mashed sweet potatoes that has small chunks of banana stirred into it. The whole thing is covereded with etouffe sauce and a shower of white cheddar cheese and popped into the oven to bake. This is made to order, so it takes a little while.
But Worth It. Oh, yes. Sweet-spicy-salty dance across the tongue in a way that recalls, of all things, the way a good pad Thai in that same unlikely justaposition of flavors.
Plenty of leftovers, which reheat well. (And it's pretty darn good cold.)
The Kitchen Sink
255 Union Blvd.
Lunch and Dinner daily
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor
The morning after I saw "The Diary of Anne Frank" at the New Jewish Theatre, I heard someone on NPR talking about the idealism that blossoms in young adults and how they have this far-sighted view of what's possible. There she was in my mind again.
The 70-year-old story combines optimism and horror as adolescent Anne watches her world shrink and the horror grows. This is an adaptation of the original play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from the diaries edited rather heavily by the only survivor of the group in hiding, Anne's father Otto. Wendy Kesselman did the adaptation, darker and more realistic, drawing on newer discoveries from the diaries and survivors' stories; it won a Tony for Best New Play.
Director Gary Wayne Barker's casting choices bring together some of St. Louis' best and a fine new face. That's Samantha Moyer, who plays Anne, taking her from age 13 to nearly 16, formative years in a young woman. Barker wisely realizes that 13 was a lot younger in 1942 than it is these days, and Anne still shows remnants of childhood in her thinking and behavior at that point. Moyer's wide-eyed enthusiasm morphs into adolescent sulks and passions with great accuracy.
Not surprisingly, she and her mother don't get along, a situation more concentrated by the stress and the close quarters. Amy Loui as Edith Frank doesn't understand this; her quiet elder daughter, Margot (Taylor Steward) never acted this way, but Edith tries hard to hang on. Ottto Frank, the father Anne clearly adored, is Bobby Miller. Miller's a guy we usually see in roles that evoke laughs. His gravitas here is a wonder to watch, a quiet man but one who's clearly the moral leader of the family and the group gathered in the secret annexe.
The Van Daans, the other family who joins them, have a teenaged son, Peter, Leo B. Ramsey, another age-appropriate piece of performing with hormones carefully held in check. The parents, who could easily be stick characters, are fascinating, Jason Grubbe, who dreams of cream cakes, and Margeau Steinau, a great cook but not always able to control her tongue. And then there's Mr Dussel, with Terry Meddows playing the tense, iritable dentist who can hardly stand much of anything. Meddows carefully underplays him so the eruptions often come as a surprise.
The complex set is the work of scenic designer Jim Burwinkel, and the very good period costumes from Michele Friedman Siler. Maureen Berry's lighting works well.
Time for a new generation to hear this story and begin to learn.
The diary of Anne Frank
through November 2
The New Jewish Theatre
Jewish Community Center
The next round of St. Louis thater has a lot of intellectually and emotionally challenging work, it would appear. That's good stuff, sure. But sometimes folks just wanna have fun. Stray Dog Theatre's opening play for its 12th season is Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None", giving the opportunity for just that.
The three-act format of the play was, when it opened in 1943, standard for the time. Based on the best-selling of Christie's novels, it was published under this same name in the United States but originally in the UK under a title which even then was offensive in the US. (You can look it up; I'm not going there.) It was originally considered impossible to make into a play because of the complex plot and complicated ending. But Christie herself wrote the script, giving it an alternative ending. It does show its age at times, particularly in the first act, which is nothing but exposition, ten people telling each other just who they are. Or are supposed to be, that is. It's a classic English murder mystery scenario, a weekend house party with strangers and some disaster that isolates the guests.
Many of these characters are broadly written and broadly played. Anthony Marston (Ryan Wiechmann) is a rawther detestable young gentleman who uses the word "wizard" more than any Harry Potter character. Phillip Lombard (Jeff Kargus) is a soldier of fortune disguised as a lounge lizard, wearing a suit whose previous owner may have been a race horse, so bold is its plaid. He spends much of his time leering at Vera Claythorne (Sarajane Alverson), a secretary to the house's owners, as Vera flaunts her charms and twitches nervously. The aging spinster Emily Brent (Judy E. Yordon) lectures Vera on the flaunting and everyone else on how they're on the road to perdition. Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Zachary Stefaniak), an eminent judge, wallows in his eminence and apparent leadership as well as his well-fingered beard.
More subtle are Mr. Rogers (Jason Meyers), the butler, and Mrs. Rogers (Lindsay Gingrich), his aggrieved wife, the cook. So is Dr. Armstrong (Mark Abels), a society neurologist, and retired General MacKenzie (David K. Gibbs), whose discussion of his living at his club creates some particularly good moments. Then there's the gent from Durban, South Africa (Michael Juncal), who seems rather a different sort than the other guests.
There's a certain amount of scenery chewing in the first group, aimed at delineating the high spirits of the piece, presumably. Chief among these are the righteous Yordon, the sort of person too many of us have known, but it's a spot-on creation by her. On the other hand, Vera and Phillip clearly know each other before the play begins but it's unclear just how well. Or perhaps the explanation of that gets swallowed up as dialogue sometimes seems muffled in terms of volume or clarity. Given Agatha Christie, close attention is often rewarded, so when that clears up, more will probably be revealed.
Those costumes are from the brain of Eileen Engel . Tyler Duenow's lighting works extremely well, and so does the music and sound effects from the talented Justin Been. All in all, fun for an October night.
And Then There Were None
through October 25
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
I had dinner at Truffles recently, preceeded by wandering next door to the Butchery, their new enterprise - which is way more than meat. Here's how it went in a link to St. Louis Magazine's piece.
The (still-)United Kingdom would probably win if there were a contest for amusing names for various foods. Yes, funny stuff elsewhere, Italy's priest-strangler pasta and Portuguese nuns' signs pastries, for instance. But you have to love a culture that can disduss spotted dick with a straight face.
Thus Alastair Nisbet's offering of baby forfar bridies is not appealing to pedophilia. Forfar bridies are a traditional Scottish hand pie, as we now often say. They're on the appetizer menu at the Scottish Arms, and definitely worth exploring.
I do think that one's study Scottish Aunt May wouldn't have used puff pastry for hers, but the pastry is light enough and thin enough to offset a filling that's about as study as Aunt May. It keeps them from being stodgy. And the filling is a reminder of just how delicious some of that food from the British Isles can be, despite the awful reputation it had until pretty recently. It's ground beef seasoned with a bit of carrot and onion, salt and plenty of black pepper.
The bridies are triangles here rather than the traditional horseshoe shape, but that leaves plenty of crispy corners to enjoy, with or without dipping them in the British condiment HP Sauce. HP sauce is brown, almost as thick as ketchup, with a fruity, sharpish edge, more exotic in its spicing and the tamarind in its ingredient list than one might expect. Worth exploring.
Three to a serving, a nice nibble with a pint while the three of you wait for the rest of the meal or the start of the footy.
8 S. Sarah St.
What to compare "All in the Timing" to? It's off-putting, perhaps, to liken it to scat singing or Bach. After all, this is from the author of the fascinating and puzzling "Venus in Fur", done at the Rep in 2013. David Ives' work returns to town at St. Louis Actors' Studio in the form of six one-act plays. In every one of them, all comedies, Ives plays with the concept of time - but in very different ways.
His primary tool is words - words and one of those little hand bells seen decades ago on hotels' front desks. The way he uses them in some of these pieces really is reminiscent of music without notes, the rhythm, the repetition - for example in "Sure Thing", the opening piece about two people, Emily Baker and Ben Ritchie, who meet in a coffee shop. After a while, the rhythm sweeps along like a stream. A rocky stream, perhaps, it's certainly not snooze-inducing, but it's certainly apparent.
Physical comedy prevails in "Words, Words, Words", bringing Ritchie, Michelle Hand and Shaun Sheley into a lab where they are chimpanzees that an optimistic researcher is hoping will write Hamlet. The language wafts between ape and English. (Swift, played by Ritchie, uses a particularly charming Bronx accent.) Another riff of words arrives with "The Universal Language" with Baker paired this time with Sheley. The rapidity of the dialogue is like scat singing without the melody, semi-comprehensible and fun. Overall, it's an excellent ensemble working with a deeply complicated script, and they carry it off almost flawlessly.
Patrick Huber's set pays homage to the famous Dali melting watch, time dissolving rather than just slipping away, a constant reminder of what we're going through. His lighting, more subtle, works well, too. Elizabeth Hellman's direction keeps things moving smoothly and gives impeccable timing.
It's a fine, sophisticated piece of work. It's even funnier if you know who Phillip Glass is.
All in the Timing
through October 5
St. Louis Actors' Studio
Not all brunches need to be meals of debauchery. Sometimes all you need is a little room to spread out, the comfort food that doesn't awake the brain too jarringly and some time. Granite City Food and Brewery is NOT referring to the city on the Illinois side of the river. It's the nickname of the chain's home town, St. Cloud, MN. There are two GCFBs in Missouri, the other on the far north side of Kansas City. They offer a large printed menu and plenty of beer choices - but it was too early for alcohol service on this visit for the brunch buffet.
It's a big dining room, and at perhaps 50% capacity it was fairly quiet. Lots of families. A well-dressed post-church group filed into a side room. Service was adequate but not over the top, and plates were not removed until after I'd returned from the buffet line with a fresh one.
This is a budget-priced brunch - no drinks are included, not even coffee - so it was no surprise that it was a fairly small buffet. A green salad and some fresh fruit waited against a wall, but the hot line was where most of the traffic was.
I suppose it's not surprising in a house that makes its own beer that the meat offerings were mostly tastu Excellent, thick bacon that was crisp, and very good link sausage. Scrambled eggs both with and without cheese were victims of the usual chafing dish overcooking, of course, but the sausage gravy was very tasty and the biscuits tender. French toast did surprisingly welll in another chafing dish, not drying out. Interestingly, potatoes appeared twice, once early in the line, a potato cassrole, shreds in a creamy sauce not unlike what's jokingly called funeral potatoes, garlic and onion and pepper punching things up, and later, near the carving station, mashed potatoes with some garlic there, too, but much less.
The carving station served boneless ham, good but not great, and roast beef. Puzzling, the roast beef was. It was supposed to be prime rib and the slice looked medium rare. But to the fork (it didn't require a knife), the texture was much like brisket that was sliced across the grain, that slightly crumbly texture that comes after hours of gentle heat.
Across the way was something new: An eggs Benedict bar. The eggs, while not poached to order, were reheated in simmering water and the underpinnings assembled to order. Options besides Canadian bacon included mushrooms, tomato, creamed spinach and something else I couldn't quite identify. Hollandaise sauce was surprisingly good under the circumstances, and while some could quibble that everything wasn't piping hot, delivering any Benedict variation that way is difficult. English muffins cool quickly after toasting, the Canadian bacon is thin enough that it, too, looses heat, and the hollandaise itself can't be kept at a high temperature before the eggs in it begin to scramble. The Benny I had, classic but with an added slice of tomato, worked quite well, the muffin being crisp but not like styrofoam.
With the desserts was a waffle iron and batter, whipped cream and strawberries at hand. (For syrup, one had to return to the French toast.) Two large pans of large cinnamon rolls were being kept warm, and these turned out to be remarkably good. Unlike a certain national chain's product, even after they cooled to room temperature, they were tasty and moist, one of the finds of the morning. Scones, on the other hand were unusually dry and crumbly.
Not fabulous, but pretty good for a lower-priced buffet and a good choice for feeding folks who aren't deeply adventurous eaters.
11411 Olive St. Rd., Creve Coeur (Dierbergs Plaza)
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Brunch: $16, children under 12 free
It's the right time of the year to be thinking about boeuf bourguignon and steak frites, that's for sure. Dig in at Brasserie By Niche. Here's the link to a review from St. Louis Magazine's blog.
How is it that some creative works seem dated but others remain as fresh and impressive as when they were first born? Is it solely because of universal themes and the constancy of human emotions? Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart" has opened at HotCity Theater, around 30 years after it premiered in New York City. Written and set during the very earliest years of the AIDS epidemic in Manhattan, pretty much the eye of the storm, it rails wildly against the inertia of the establishment, both gay and straight, in the face of the disease, when almost nothing was known about it.
The play remains shockingly moving, especially, perhaps, because we've forgotten (or never knew, in the case of younger persons) just how bad things were. It's like going back and reading a book about Watergate - one remembers again how frightening the problems were.
It is, in many ways, autobiographical. Kramer was one of the earliest AIDS activists, and always one of the most outspoken and controversial; his play is about just such a man who challenges his peers, the government and the medical establishment to get up and meet the threat. Kramer says he has made his main character more outspoken than he was, but just how much more is arguable. The organizer, Ned, John Flack, does more than speak truth to power, at times he screams it, and a barrage of invective, too, caused by the inactivity of many and the snail's pace of the few that seem to move at all.
Ned is a man who, except for his anger, seems emotionally frozen - problem parents, years of psychotherapy, no long-term romantic relationships. The epidemic of this unnamed disease is beginning to gather steam as people present to doctors with strange infections and the purple lesions of Kaposi's sarcoma. Attention, to use the line from another play currently in town, must be paid, insists Ned. He lets down his guard with a reporter, Eric Dean White, he meets as he is badgering the New York Times and as they fall in love, he softens. But not much and only at home.
Flack's Ned is someone we've all known, brittle, angry, closed-off. He's always been close to the edge and this is all too much. It's a great performance, loud, yes, but within the character. White, a calmer guy by far, is deeply believable, but one doesn't sense much chemistry in this relationship until near the end of the play, perhaps a directorial decision.
Ned creates a group to attack the disease, as did Larry Kramer. Among the group are a bank vice president, the imposing Reginald Pierre, who tries to put the brakes on Ned for reasons that seem self-serving, an employee of the city health department who's utterly powerless and in fear of being fired, played by Tim Schall as struggling and reality-based, and Ben Watts' Tommy. Tommy's a hospital administrator, a soft Southern belle who can sometimes pour oil onto the roiled waters of the group. Good ensemble work from the group, especially as they watch Ned's eruptions. Ned's brother Ben, Greg Johnston, is not quite as stiff as Ned is wired, but he's a successful lawyer, and he, too, has a lot to watch out for.
My only quibble with the play is the physician, Emma Brookner, Lavonne Byers. Dr. Brookner, who's seeing lots of these cases, is in a wheelchair from polio. The saintly disabled person is far too easy a stock character to belong in this crowd, but Byers keeps her slow and steady and avoids going for easy sympathy - not that anyone will have any extra to offer, considering what's happening.
Sean Savoie's work with scenery and lighting works smoothly, and Patrick Burks' sound and projection does, too.
Marty Stanberry, who directed this play and is HotCity's artistic director, has given us something to sink our teeth and our emotion into. Hard stuff, but worthwhile.
The Normal Heart
through September 27
And now for something completely different. "One Man, Two Guvnors" is the first play of the Rep's current season. Although it's not the same sort of zaniness as Monty Python, it's certainly a deeply British piece of work that leaves audiences almost out of breath from laughing. And this from a work that came out of a 1743 play from the Venetian Carlo Goldoni? Yes, indeed.
It's Brighton, the once-elegant seaside resort town, in 1963. A skiffle band onstage, who remain a presence throughout the night, plays us in to an engagement party. The young lovers are the children of a low-level gangster and his attorney. A knock at the door brings in an old acquaintance, supposedly just killed, of the gangster. He wants a debt repaid, pronto, and, by the way, he was supposed to marry the gangster's daughter, not this guy she's holding hands with. Still, the money's the main thing, and the acquaintance brings in his bodyguard to show everyone he's serious about the demand.
Enter our hero, Francis Henshall, who's more flab than fab. It's a new job for Francis, and not very well paid. After he settles his boss, or guvnor, in a pub with rooms (and food) he accepts a second job as a factorum to anothr visitor staying at the pub. Of course, the two employers turn out to have a connection with each other beyond the frantic Francis.
Raymond McAnally is Francis. It's a demanding part, both physically and verbally. He's fast on his feet, despite his size, and deeply funny. When things run off-script, as they occasionally seem to do, he carries on, leaving a wake the size of a battleship's.
Delicious Karis Danish plays the googly-eyed Pauline, the bride-to-be who, if she were in Texas, would be described as dumb as a box of rocks. Her beloved, Luke Smith, wants to be an actor, leaving every bit of scenery appropriately and deeply chewed. Their fathers, Charlie "The Duck" Clench, Anthony Cochrane, and attorney Harry Dangle, who hangs precariously just this side of slimy, John Michalski, are fun to watch, but it's The Duck's old pal from their years in Brixton Prison, Lloyd Boateng, who gets the best lines. Lloyd, Mel Johnson, Jr., learned a trade in prison and he's running the kitchen at the gastropub.
Francis' other boss, Jack Fellows playing Stanley Stubbers, is a ghastly fine example of the English "public" [read: private] school educational system. It's a mirror-opposite of Dolly, The Duck's bookkeeper, , Ruth Pferdehirt, the seemingly dumb blonde who doesn't have particularly high standards in men but who may be the smartest one in the bunch. Evan Zes leans into his role as Alfie, the waiter at the pub.
It's an outstanding piece of stage work, pretty much a don't-miss. One always has the feeling that plays like this are as much choreographed as directed; the director is Edward Stern, a frequent guest at the Rep. His delegates the physical comedy directing to Leland Faulkner who deserves much credit as well. The show exceeds even the Rep's usual high standards.
And one story about the play: The last time Joe and I were in England, in the summer of 2011, our last day in town was unexpectedly spent at the funeral of Fran Landesman, former St. Louis resident, one-time queen of Gaslight Square, poet and lyricist. We'd taken a cab to the crematorium where the event took place and hitched a ride back to the Landesman house with two childhood friends of the Landesman sons, Cosmo and Myles. One of the guys, who was dressed like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, was a cab driver and actor who sang "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" at the funeral. And the other? It turned out he was an actor, too. Working, in fact. The play had opened two months before, and he was playing an ex-con named Lloyd Boateng in something called "One Man, Two Guvnors".
One Man, Two Guvnors
through October 5
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
"Fiddler On The Roof" is a warhorse. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, it's been done by schools and amateur groups for decades. And yet...and yet...theater finds itself returning to it time after time. And audiences do, too.
We've been reminded this year that that period of time was a fertile one on Broadway, with several shows of that era showcasing great scores. That's surely one of the great charms of Fiddler. One of my friends who's definitely not a regular theater-goer remarked she could sing the entire score because she played the record over and over again when she was younger.
Stages St. Louis has opened its version of "Fiddler" and reminded us all why it's a timeless show. Led by Bruce Sabath as Tevye, the chatty and long-suffering dairy farmer, it's a solid ensemble that's been extremely well-staged. This is not the Zero Mostel Tevye; Sabath's Tevye is more human and less a comic character - although not above an appropriate eye roll now and then. His wife, a character that should not be described as "long-suffering", thank you very much, is Kari Ely, fire and ice in a babushka.
Five daughters for whom husbands must be found, and only the last two can be put off for a few years - this is Tevye's task. Tzeitel, the eldest, Stephanie Lynne Mason, only has eyes for childhood friend Motel (pronounce that Mottle, please), a struggling tailor played by Nick Orfanella, but has another offer from Lazar Wolf, Christopher Limber, an older, successful butcher. And so the hijinks begin.
Hodel, the next in line and played by Julie Hanson, is wooed by the wandering intellectual Perchik, Jacon Michael Evans (who's a local guy transplanted to New York - Parkway North, if you were going to ask). Carissa Massaro, the middle daughter Chava, catches the eye of a Russian soldier, a gentile, Fyedka, David Bryant Johnson, at a time when pogroms are happening nearby. The girls and their swains work well together, and the voices are first-rate for this score. All this mild little romancing greatly frustrates Yente, the matchmaker, of course, and her shrieks and kvetching, courtesy of Rachel Coloff, punctuate the show. (Trivia fans: Bea Arthur, yes, of Golden Girls, originated this role on Broadway.)
Lou Bird's costumes reach their apogee in Motel's suits - hey, we're sure he's making them himself, after all, so they certainly whould be perfectly fitted. And the skirts swirl noticeably well during the musical numbers, the choreography of Jerome Robbins reproduced on this (probably remarkably smaller) stage by Gary John LaRosa. James Wolk's scenic design gives a nod of the head to Marc Chagall but not hitting us over the head with it, and Hamilton's staging of "Sabbath Prayer" in the first act is particularly notable.
Fun and very popular with this audience - several performances have already sold out.
Fiddler on the Roof
Stages St. Louis
Kirkwood Community Center
through October 5th
"The Great American Trailer Park Musical" will never be done at Opera Theatre. Of course not. With a name like that, though, one ought to be entitled to a good romp. And that's what Dramatic License Productions is delivering to audiences.
It's not without flaws, but it's bawdily funny without being totally tasteless, and, more intriguingly, manages to treat its characters with some respect. I may have had more experience with mobile home parks than some people. At one point in my life I came very close to having to live in a mobile home. I've had family members living in them. One of my oldest friends created a dwelling space in his that came amazingly close to elegant. So it was interesting to see how director Alan Knoll has given these folks, despite being caricatures to varying degrees, some dignity.
They're not costumed by Lisa Hazelhorst as something out of the Beverly Hillbillies or Dogpatch. I don't believe I saw any heads full of hair rollers, and the only bedroom slippers were on the agoraphobic housewife who couldn't get out her front door. The residents of Armadillo Acres are clean and tidy, folks just trying to get along.
Director Knoll is better known in these parts as one of the best comic actors around. His touch is apparent throughout the show. - it's clearly Knoll droll. The timing is great, the delivery smooth. He gets great work from his cast, beginning with Kim Furlow, who's lived at the trailer park for decades and buried her husband there. There's no fourth wall here; Furlow's character Betty talks to us throughout the show. She and her two sidekicks Linn (because her name is Linoleum) played by Stephanie Merritt and Pickles (because she thinks she is having a false pregnancy), Stephanie Benware, are a Greek chorus to the action.
The agoraphobe, Jamie Lynn Eros, and her husband the toll booth collector, Jeffrey Pruett, are a great pair. Both have good voices, and so does the third member of this love triangle, Leah Stewart. In fact, everyone sings well. However, as is often the case at many of the smaller venues in town, the problem is the audio levels. The band overrides the vocals much of the time. In a show where the lyrics are presumably part of the amusement, it's particularly annoying.
Still, the musical numbers can be a lot of fun, in part thanks to choreographer Zachary Stefaniak. The close of Act I begins with Furlow appearing a la Mae West, complete with chorus boy, continues with the Greek chorus girls looking and moving like the women from Mamma Mia!, and ends up with the whole cast, including Pruett in a John Travolta Stayin' Alive suit and set of moves. Over the top? Of course.
An evening of froth and silliness. The world has been grim lately; here's a nice change.
The Great American Trailer Park Musical
through September 21
Dramatic License Productions
Chesterfield Mall (upper level near Sears)
Is Tony's really so different from similarly-priced restaurants in town? Is there another place we explain carefully to outsiders and the unfamiliar? I don't think so, and it seems to me that what makes the difference is the aura of the place. Diners today expect servers to say, "Hi, I'm Phil and I'll be your server tonight. You guys doing okay? How 'bout them [insert name of seasonally appropriate team here], eh?" Diners may not like it, but that casualness, to one degree or another, is how it rolls most of the time.
That's not how it goes at the House of Bommarito. A generation (or two) who grew up without neckties may never have experienced a restaurant where the general idea is to make a guest feel like they were sitting on a velvet cushion filled with swans' down. Happily, this does not come off as snootiness except for a very few those who arrive expecting it. I've always prepared our next generation of budding Eaters by saying something like, "Just pretend you're a princess." My next line, inserted when appropriate is, " And remember, princesses are always polite." (None of the family's young princes have had a Tony's opportunity yet.)
Last year's redecorating has changed the bar substantially, and to a lesser degree the dining rooms' walls and art. The long hall approaching the maitre d's stand remains, giving one the pleasant sensation of Making An Entrance. There were anticipated menu changes, although it was hard to imagine the house classics being removed.
It was time to visit and skip favorites to investigate the new - at least to some degree. So no succumbing to the scallops with truffle as a first course, since they were still on the menu. But my tablemate fell for the oxtail consomme, one of the rotation of soups the house does so well. Perfectly clear, with a few carefully carved vegetable pieces in the bottom of the bowl, it was the classic dark brown, with notes of vegetable and just a light hit of clove in there as well. New to the menu and probably seasonal was vitello tonnato. A classic Italian summer dish, this involves cold slices of veal topped with a tuna mayonnaise. Capers add piquancy, and it appeared that some lemon kicked the mayo up a notch - an absolutely delicious dish.
Came now, in a first-course style, the Italian way (although there would never be a problem having it as a main course; this kitchen is nothing if not flexible), a housemade fettucini with duck confit and wild mushrooms. This was quite possibly the most splendid dish of the night, duck and mushroom juices cuddling up with the pasta and nice bits of the meat and various mushrooms, deeply savory and rich. Perhaps it wasn't the proper dish for a hot summer night, but sometimes tastes good overrules good taste, and this was certainly worthwhile.
Steak has always been one of the sleepers on the menu here. Every one I've had over the years was excellent. And since the lamb chops have been removed from the menu - hard to get consistently good ones, says owner Vince Bommarito - I've had a number of them. Never the pepper steak, which is two immense slices of strip steak, seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper and served with a green peppercorn sauce, fragrant with brandy. Chicken with grapefruit, fennel and olives sounded intriguing. When it arrived, two "airplane cuts", boneless breast with the first joint of the wing attached, roasted, sat above a tangle of onion and fennel, nuggets of black olive here and there. Small pieces of pink grapefruit topped the dish. The aroma was seductive, and the vegetables and fruit quite tasty, fortunately, since the chicken was overcooked.
My advice has always been to pace oneself here to allow for dessert. Products of the estimable Helen Fletcher, they're invariably luscious. Allowing for my traditional bow in the direction of the chocolate cake (here called a torte) and housemade banana ice cream, there was another choice that lured this time, a chocolate and coconut fantasy that began with a chocolate tart, its crust a rich chocolate dough, the filling shredded coconut and topped with chocolate ganache. It then went on to coconut ice cream with a nicely gooey fudge sauce. Absolutely killer, especially the ice crem, and I may have to get some of that instead of the banana the next time I get the chocolate cake.
The noise levels here are worthy of note - even on a busy night, conversations are easy, and on a quieter night, it's not hushed, but merely calm. It's always a good spot for people watching - two movers and a shaker were at the next table on this visit, for instance, at a table where we saw Tim McCarver a few years ago. Service purrs along, almost unnoticeable until the chafing dishes are wheeled up, the aroma wafts past the nose and the food is presented with a (restrained) flourish.
Still a splendid place for a proper, leisurely celebratory dinner.
410 Market St.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes, but call ahead for another door
It seems like many of the most powerful works about crises come out of the middle of them, rather than being written or sung or painted with the benefit of hindsight. Certainly no single work of art can capture more than a millisecond of the situation, especially one as complex and long-lasting as the Middle East. But in Human Terrain, which received its world premiere on August 29 in the respectful arms of Mustard Seed Theatre, we have a look at Fallujah in the mid-2000's.
And more specifically, it's a look at a woman in the middle of the conflict - not an Iraqui, but an American woman, a civilian employee attached to a military unit. She's an anthropologist, brought in to do mapping of the human terrain - there is such a project - in order to better understand the country, and presumably its power structure on a micro as well as a macro scale.
Mabry (a first name, pronounced with a long "a"), played by Melisssa Gerth, seems slightly more self-assured than a PhD fresh from academia's ivory towers might be, but hardly with a core of steel. The commanding officer, B. Weller, emphatically points out that she's his responsibility and under his command. The pair are a fine contrast, Gerth's slightly wispy character and Weller transitioning from explosive to human - whatever it takes to make things work. Not long after she arrives, there's an order that such civilian employees must have a guard and so she can no longer go out practicing her language skills without having what is in effect a nanny. This inhibits conversation with the natives even more than she's already encountered - which is plenty. She's met an Iraqi woman and they become friends, although life seems generally a game of "Who Do You Trust?"
There's one scene with a considerable discussion of veiling, which reminds us of the pleasures and even the powers of invisibility. (Hermione Grainger, please discuss.) That's something that we haven't heard much, if anything about, but is worthy of at least some mulling. Wendy Greenwood does good work as Adilah, the woman with the veil.
Fine tech work, too,as is Mustard Seed's habit, especially John Stark's set design. Playwright Jennifer Blackmer's script could use a little tightening, especially in the scenes where much of the dialogue is in what I assume is Arabic, the primary language of Iraq. But the tale is a good and valid one and the transitions in time are very smoothly handled, not always easy to do. But like the situation in the Middle East, there's no easy answer. In fact, there may not be an answer at all.
through September 14, 2014
Mustard Seed Theatre
St. Louis Magazine is using some of my restaurant reviews, so I am happy to say that you can read about it here. Other reviews, plus theater, travel and whatever strikes my whimsy will continue to be here, and, as always, I'll provide these links to the SLM material
It was, for many years, almost an adjunct dining room for the Barnes, Washington U Med School, Jewish and St. Louis College of Pharmacy students. That's how I met it. When it closed in the spring, I wrote this for St. Louis Magazine.
Brunch in New York can be
a.) a contact sport,
b.) excellent people watching
e.) all of the above
The correct answer is, naturally, "e". Experienced test-takers know to re-read questions to look for
key words, and here the key is "can be". Not "is", at least not necessarily. I've found a spot that's very good on several of those counts, not perfect, but rewarding in many ways.
The Tribeca Grand Hotel, just south of Canal Street, is one of those old buildings re-purposed as a hotel. Brunch is served in the Church Lounge, which is to say several areas on the first floor, an atrium, booths with large windows and the bar itself. It's dramatic and the art work quite serious. The building takes up an entire block and on at least three sides of it, it's unmarked, so despite the Google map, we were guessing until we saw a large clock on the street with the hotel's name in small, elegant letters.
This is a fashionable hotel in a hot neighborhood, so it was a surprise to see the price point for the buffet brunch, complete with live music. $26 for adults, $15 for children, and for an additional $15, two hours of unlimited mimosas, Bellinis or bloody Marys. Given the cost of cocktails in New York, this latter is quite a surprise, too. So what's the trade-off?
Not surprisingly, this is not one of those buffets that would be at home in a Tudor banqueting hall. (For that, plan on the Waldorf-Astoria - except in the summer, when they tell me it's doesn't operate.) But what they offer is of high quality. The only things brought to one's table are cocktails; coffee as well as juice is fetch-it-yourself, a bit of a downer.
On the cold table, one is greeted by first-rate lox and sable from the esteemed traditional purveyor Russ & Daughters. Bagels, of course, cream cheese, sliced tomato and onions - and a new fillip, guacamole, assertively seasoned. Green salads, of course, including one with watercress, dice of beet and tomato and candied pecans, plus fruit salad and one with blackeyed peas. Never thought I'd see that ingredient in lower Manhattan. Also offered was a Spanish tortilla, the open-face omelet often served at room temperature. Theirs was filled with bits of various vegetables, a little insipid compared to some of the onion-laced versions found elsewhere. And the potatoes so necessary to any brunch are here, too, strangely enough, a lacy sheet of crisply fried matchstick-sized potato strings that doesn't suffer from being away from the heat. Also wedges of lemon-roasted potato - and those really should be warm, although they're pretty tasty.
The hot food is over on the bar, and aims pretty much exclusively at breakfast items. There's an omelet station, of course, although one guest reported getting The Look when she asked for a couple of eggs over easy. On the other hand, I saw another guest do the same and the request was quickly complied with. This also where the fat, tender Belgian waffles are turned out, with warm, real maple syrup. There's ham, lean but very moist, a light cure and a glaze with just a little pop to it. The link sausages are first-rate, un-greasy but not tough, just a hint of warm spices like cinnamon among the pepper and maybe even some sage for them. And bacon? Bacon comes from another well-known supplier, Benton's of Tennessee, plenty lean, not soggy from a steam table, some of it crisp and some of it almost like country ham in its texture, and not heavily brined. Good stuff.
The dessert headliner is the doughnuts from the Doughnut Factory, although on my visit, the plain cake doughnuts, an unusual offering from a place known for its more exotic choices, were rather dry. The dessert of choice was a bundt-cake-looking pound cake with blackberries, best taken with what labels said were clotted cream and lemon curd. By classic standards, it was more like creme fraiche and a lemon sauce, less rich than a curd but properly lemony. The cake/cream/lemon combination was a fine finale.
The biggest downside was the service. Plates piled up on the table until one of my pals grabbed a passing server to request their removal. Cocktails took at least 10 minutes to arrive when first ordered, although the second round came with more alacrity. We had to physically take a salt shaker from a table across the way because no one walked by or gazed our way. No one was rude. They were just disorganized, or rookies , or perhaps hung over.
I think this place is worthwhile - not a gem, but fun. For most folks, it's a new neighborhood, the people watching (a local crowd) is good, the music is nice, the noise levels are acceptable, and much of the food is tasty. The service is just plain erratic. But this is good bang for the buck, and there's always Chinatown for an after-brunch stroll.
Tribeca Grand Hotel
2 Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.), New York
Brunch Sat. (live DJ) and Sun. (live jazz) 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Ah, casino buffets...visions of the horn of plenty, slightly out of tune, perhaps, but tootling "We're In The Money" as food pours out, filling tables to overwhelming. Fruit rolls off the side, a turkey tips at an unseemly angle, pies and cakes vie for space with potato salad - that sort of thing. Casinos, at least those out here in the provinces, seem to stock their buffet with fairly awful stuff or surprisingly good. (It's probably true in Vegas as well; we just never hear about it.) And since St. Louis is perpetually in search of a really good brunch buffet, we thought about casinos.
River City Casino's buffets hold forth at The Great Food Exposition restaurant. (Park on the north end of the building to avoid a trip through the gaming floor.) The room has a couple of surprises for newcomers. One is that there are actually windows that look outside, an unusual thing in casinos, where they prefer that people not know even faintly what time it is. The windows are screened heavily from the view of the parking lot by plenty of trees, but the bucolic effect is quite nice. The other is that the aroma of cigarettes inside the entrance and following one down the hall is intense and apparently permanent. (Wry aside: Leaving that same entrance one sees several "No Smoking" signs. Outside.) It persists as one enters the restaurant, stops at the pay station, explains one's beverage choice and starts to be escorted to a table. Happily, both the dining areas and the long buffet counters are free of the scent. If they can manage the aroma that well, why not take the air-cleaning even farther down the hall?
The large salad and soup bar that greets guests is not much to become excited about, even though there's soup on it too - as well as oatmeal and grits. Experienced buffet folks know soups fills up the diner too fast. But hold fast - the best salads aren't actually on the salad bar. Croissants and corn muffins are, though, and real butter, an encouraging sign.
Cold items are on the far ends of the main buffet, hot ones in the center. Sushi is forgettable, but nearby is a rather attractive antipasto selection with grilled marinated portobello slices, sauteed asparagus not overcooked, little balls of mozzarella in a balsamic dressing, and thinly sliced capicola, dry-cured pork, a little spicy and quite nice. Shrimp, of course, hanging out in this neighborhood, and they, too, are tasty, not overcooked nor watery. A couple of different kinds of marinated salads, like artichoke and sweet pepper, show up, as well.
The usual large pieces of meat are around, salmon, turkey breast, ham - but instead of prime rib, there was sliced flank steak, some of it actually rare, and very tasty it was. Fried chicken, excelled, fresh, well-seasoned and not at all greasy. Another odd arrangement was that the chicken was with the pastas, and quite a distance from very good mashed potatoes and intriguingly spiced sweet potatoes.
An Asian section began with more interesting small salads, cucumber, a sort of slaw, and went on to crab rangoon, good but with an unusual sweetness, shrimp shu mai, the dim sum dumpling that weren't in a steamer but had been cooked somehow so that the rice dough covering had almost crisped, and what was, in effect, some sweet and sour chicken. Asian short ribs, said the tag - not pretty to look at, dark brown, the grain of the meat almost resembling the grain of wood. But so free of fat and gristle they might not have actually been short ribs - and absolutely delicious, tender and surprisingly moist. The rice was actually in takeout boxes.
The breakfast section seemed to draw most of the attention, lots of bacon that stayed crisp rather than steam-table limp, moist sausage patties, scrambled eggs that didn't fare as well, and fabulous biscuits with a decent gravy. No Benedicts, but pancakes and the toughest French toast I've ever come across.
Waffles? No waffles? Oh, yes. But they were down in the desserts. Blueberry waffles, in fact. A number of mini-desserts, little apple crumbles and parfaits. Regular-sized slices of pie. A selection of sugar-free desserts. Skip the loaf cake, but look for the chocolate thingy that resembles a large Ding Dong, a thin layer of ganache covering chocolate cake topped with chocolate mousse, moist and chocolatey. Lots of kinds of ice cream scooped to order. But the don't-miss is warm bread pudding, tender and eggy and not overcooked, with a light caramel sauce. Also enough whipped cream to float a canoe, for any dessert you choose.
It's $20 for adults - but if you have their My Choice card (which is available elsewhere in the casino and can be used the day you get it), they take $2 off. Champagne or mimosas included. For kids 4-10 years old, it's $15. They do brunch both Saturday and Sunday, starting on Saturday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m., a nice touch.
River City Casino
777 River City Casino Blvd., Lemay
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Smoking: I saw no one smoking in the restaurant, but....
Buffet: $20 adults, $15 children
Sometimes I forget there are certain things that some people need to hear over and over. One of them is that there are lots of different ways to make pizza. The stuff that appeared in college dorms is not the only kind of pizza out there, and to go to a pizza place expecting what you've had before is, frequently these days, to set oneself up for a surprise.
There's a certain irony in the fact that across the street from A Pizza Story is a franchise pizza spot. You've probably gathered that I'm going to say that APS pizza is not the mass-produced stuff. It's Neapolitan style, the soft, thin crust with charred bubbles on the edge, one size, maybe 11 inches across. The double storefront on Manchester Avenue in Maplewood is simple, casual enough to be family-friendly and yet showing some style.
Why? Because they're pretty amazing. Forget the little leg-tassels you've had. As shown in the photo, these fellows are as big as onion rings. Twice as interesting, though. Part of it is that they're more tender than the rubber-band-y texture those tassels have. The other charm is their seasoned breading, slightly peppery, notes of garlic and perhaps onion, very satisfying. The puttanesca sauce with them is tasty but superfluous. One visit, the daily special was a caprese salad, tomato and mozzarella with just a touch of balsamic vinegar. Nothing innovative, certainly, but tasty despite the use of Roma tomatoes, which are not among the most flavorful of the breed.
The pizzas begin with the basic margarita, tomato, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Three of the six pizzas are vegetarian, by the way, and this is a kitchen that likes eggplant a lot, at least at this time of year. The Thriller adds oregano and Spanish chorizo to that. Spanish chorizo differs from its Mexican cousin in that it's rather like salami, a cured sausage that's sliced before its served. It's a spicy, less greasy change from pepperoni, and it worked wonderfully as a pizza topping.
A Space Opera - no, I don't know the exact origins of the name - was a take on the classic smoked salmon pizza from Wolfgang Puck. No caviar here, and ricotta instead of creme fraiche, topped with slivers of red onion, fronds of fresh dill and some salt-cured capers. A note to non-fanciers of capers: Their counterpoint of tartness and a little salt are perfect punctuation marks in the paragraph of the pizza. Tasty hot, equally good at room temperature, too.
Yes, dessert, tiramisu and housemade gelato, for instance, and bomboloni, often described as Italian doughnuts. Not quite - they're made here with the pizza dough, a little larger than shooter marbles, deep-fried, of course. They're chewy, a little sweet from the swoosh of powdered sugar across them and served with a light syrup flavored with orange. The syrup is what saves this from being an unremarkable dish, its almost flower-like orange flavor givng a smile to the dish.
Pleasant, attentive service, at table and bar, lots of different sorts of diners. Don't dress up.
A Pizza Story
Lunch & Dinner Tues.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Yesterday afternoon I had the honor and pleasure of presenting this year's Joe Pollack Memorial Scholarships to two great young adults, Amber Lloyd, who wants to eventually do pharmaceutical research, and Edward Thirdkill II, who's aiming for his own business with computer engineering. The Scholarship Foundation is our vehicle for doing this for the St. Louis Media History Foundation, the folks who came up with the great idea.
That's a photo of Joe, my favorite, taken by my fabulous daughter-in-law, Jane, with Harry, the cat, on his lap. I brought it along for a little Show and Tell.
And, yes, the fund is still happily accepting donations! You can find out more about the organization here. Congratulations to Amber and Edward! The pleasure is ours.
"Quills" is about the Marquis de Sade. And if there's anyone out there who doesn't know who he is, sufficient to say that he's the person who gave his name to sadism. A film with Geoffrey Rush and based on this play came out several years ago but - I am told - is considerably different.
De Sade is held in what at the time would have been called an insane asylum or the French equivalent. It's the very early 1800's and de Sade's behavior, both on and off the printed page, has finally permanently put him away. But he lives a comfortable life, allowed furnishings, his own clothes and, oh, yes, paper, ink and quill pens. He's writing, writing, ahem, like mad, living his fantasy life vicariously. The sizzling stories are smuggled out by a young seamstress, but all is discovered when his cell is searched after a complaint - and some judiciously placed money - from the marquis' long-suffering wife.
The new head of the hospital orders his second in command, a priest with the newer theories of treating the patients with kindness, to stop the writing. And the battle begins.
This play is often viewed as a question of artistic freedom. We're not talking about Nelson Mandela writing from Robbin Island or Eldridge Cleaver's "Soul On Ice" here, though. There are, early on quotations from what he's writing, and they are deeply, frighteningly lewd. (The easily disturbed may be very uncomfortable.) Is this shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater?
But what comes far more immediately to my mind is a portrait of compulsive disorder and how it can destroy a person. Ted Gregory, not seen on local stages for many years, hypnotizing as a snake, stalks and seduces and spews his mania in all sorts of ways. One can argue there's a whole lotta flouncing going on, but French aristocrats seem not to have been known for their rugged manliness - despite all those Scots visiting the French court pre-revolution. It's a gripping performance.
The administration of the asylum is in a power struggle over the best way to cure their residents. The old style, advocated by the new boss, Doctor Royer-Collard, David Wassilak, is physical punishment, yea, torture - the rack will stretch those delusions out of them, right? Antonio Rodriguez, as the Abbe de Coulmier, second in command and the guy who seems to do all the actual work, has put into place more humane methods scorned by the medical establishment. Wassilak, cold as ice but secretly uxorious, is in danger of losing his job because of the marquis' stories becoming public. Rodriguez' priest, a man in very strong control of himself (although we see glimpses of rather human impulses), does as he's ordered but not without arguments. The two men are each as proper and reserved as their antagonist is raucous and inflammatory. Excellent work by both actors.
Kudos, too, to Stacie Knock playing the marquis' wife, who has gone back to her, uh, maiden name, and Caitlin Mickey as the seamstress and, briefly, as the doctor's wife. That wife, by the way, is having a lovely new chateau built for her by her desperate husband, and there's this architect, played by Charlie Barron...but that's another story line. Great costumes, including a spectacular decolletage, from Cyndi Lohrmann, and a very nice set from Dunsi Dai.
The Doug Wright script under the watchful eye of director Brooke Edwards can be, despite the subject matter, quite funny, ranging from broad to sly. At one point the abbe says to the doctor, "It's bedlam out there." The word bedlam is the London mispronunciation of Bethlem Royal Hospital, an asylum where on Sundays, the curious would pay a small fee to enter and be amused by the poor souls. An inside gag, it slips by unnoticed. The script lags a bit in the late second act, but for the most part keeps us drawn in, far in. De Sade's anticlericalism does strike a very contemporary note, by the way.
Not for the easily or even semi-easily offended, but very worthwhile theater.
through August 17
Max & Louie Productions
Wool Studio Theatre
Jewish Community Center
"And who carries around an egg salad sandwich in their pocket?"
That's a sample of dialogue from "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll". It's Joe Hanrahan, our own Man In Black and leading local purveyor of author Eric Bogosian's works, in the opening monologue of this 75-minute spree. This particular fellow is a street person who collects bottles "and cans! - mustn't forget, cans, too!"; nine other individuals follow the bottleman's appearance, all in the form of Hanrahan.
This is surely an actor's eqivalent of a couple of hours of cardio exercise, no breaks except to throw on a jacket or remove a hat, no one to bounce lines off, just the actor, the lights and the audience. It's intimate, as all Hanrahan's one-man shows are. He's using the cellar at Herbie's Vintage 72, and that makes it easy for the audience to bring a glass of wine or a cocktail down with them. In fact, one thoughtful guy brought his female companion an order of the chocolate fritters, a signature dish of the restaurant - they did, however, manage to finish them before the performance began, and thank you very much for that, sir.
If you aren't familiar with Bogosian, the title should give you some clue that strong subject matter is at hand. He has little sympathy for few of his characters except the bottleman. Despite the play's being more than twenty years old, it's held up well, with a few minor changes - I'm pretty sure Bogosian's original script didn't refer to Schnuck's. Whacks at religion, greed, self-aggrandizing self-help, celebrity, all pass under his gimlet eye.
It's rough going, not very cheerful, although quite funny much of the time. And anyone who can get humor out of some of these situations deserves plaudits. Hanrahan doens't miss a beat. At times one has to remind oneself that this is the same guy that a few minutes ago was being the divorced father talking to his therapist. Voices change, facies change, Hanrahan remains.
Funny, yes, but like much satire - because that's what this is, essentially - it's tough stuff. No intermission; just head upstairs for a good stiff drink and avoid looking at the baseball scores.
Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
through August 17
Herbie's Vintage 72
405 N. Euclid Ave.
There's been lots of discussion about the proliferation of barbeque restaurants around town in the past year or so. But under the radar, there's another kind of restaurant that's absolutely mushrooming up. We've seen a near-explosion of Indian spots hereabouts, and I, for one, intend to pay attention to them. I'm missing the Curry Mate, alas, but sometimes eating alone can give opportunity for interesting and instructive conversations.
Just as I began to realize this increase, I came across Peshwa. Subtitled The Royal Indian Cuisine and located on Page between I-170 and Lindbergh, it's where the original Gokul was. (Parking at the side and back of the building.) Lunch buffet, like most of the local South Asian restaurants, is $9, very reasonable. It's not an immense buffet, but it's certainly an interesting one. And the diners, early in the period the buffet runs (it opens at 11.30 a.m.), certainly appeared to be people who'd know what they were eating. Even better, when I looked at the buffet, there were dishes that weren't the standard ones found all over town. Some classics, yes, but others - well, read on.
A particularly gracious note is that on the sneeze guards over the buffet, the name of each dish was written. Primarily vegetarian options; the three chicken items were on another buffet from the vege ones. And since the real strength of the various cuisines of India is, at least to me, in their vegetables, here was where the interest level went up. Because the first thing I noticed was cabbage. I've never seen it on an Indian menu, and I admit that, cooked, it's not one of my favorite vegetables. But this could woo almost anyone, not spicy-hot but deeply savory, mixed with cooked mung beans, it was delicious. Vegetable korma, creamy and lightly sweet, as it should be, charmed, and so did a thicker, slightly spicier chickpea chana masala.
Also a surprise were hara bhara, vegetable kebabs - not on skewers, mind you, but dark chunks that were emerald green inside, a little chewy, a really subtle but complex flavor. I'm sure there was spinach in there and chickpea flour, or gram. They must have been deep-fried, but they weren't at all greasy. Dal, the lentils always found on such buffets, were described as "fried". The flavor was sort of sweet-spicy with a little sour note in it, and the frying refers to the cooking of seasonings. Another new dish was sprouted matki, or moth, beans, rather small, like alfalfa sprouts in terms of size - not a particularly handsome dish, but an interesting one.
Three chicken dishes, tandoori, nice and smoky, butter chicken, a curry we don't see much of but deserving of applause, very creamy and rich, and what they called malvani chicken, "malvani" referring to a part of Goa and an adjacent province. Coconut, common in that southern cooking, but lots of other things, and a little sweet. All the chicken dishes except the malvani were barely warm, unlike the vegetarian options.
A stack of very crisp and fresh pappadums awaited, with the sweet tamarind and the spicy cilantro chutneys. Raita, the cooling yogurt sauce, had more than just a few cucumber bits in it, too. The naan was fresh, buttery and absolutely addictive, the best I've had in a long time. There was dessert, too, a pan that looked liked mashed sweet potatoes but was marked pineapple sheera. It's a semolina pudding, seasoned with cardamom, whose somewhat citrus-y flavor plays nicely with the crushed pineapple.
The evening menu, too, is different - fewer of the appetizers are deep-fried, there are seven different kinds of chaat, the savory snack-y dishes and lots of vegetarian entrees.
As I was paying my bill, I remarked to the woman at the cash register who seemed to be the manager that it was nice to see different foods. "So many dishes from all parts of India," she explained. "Why keep putting out the same things?" Wise woman. Good food.
10633 Page Avenue
Lunch and Dinner Wed.-Mon.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Lunch Buffet: $9
Is it really 16 years that The Crossing has been feeding us? Hard to believe the spot that New York's Restaurant Daniel (as in Bolud) begat is that far into middle-age-for-a-restaurant. Over the years, they haven't blunted the food, dumbed it down, in any appreciable way. When asked ten years ago or so if he would add outside dining to his flagship, his response was, "Nope. This isn't outside food."
And indeed it is not the casual sort of chow that doesn't keep the attention of the diner. They continue to deliver food for those who want something to ponder over. There are still some of the see-and-be-seen crowd there, to be sure, but it's the opposite of the Restaurant Of the Moment, people who appreciate what they're eating and the smooth service that delivers it. The dress (particularly, one suspects, at this time of year) is more casual than it once was, and there is none of that "hallowed ground" feeling in the air, though.
Not surprisingly, the menu reflects what's available at any given time, but some things are a constant. The first example is more than constant, it's a tradition, the crock of onion-cheese souffle that arrives warm at each table with crostini for dipping or spreading. Addictive, that's the only word. One could spent far too much time at the small bar with wine and this.
Another example is the goat cheese and beet salad. Was The Crossing the first in St. Louis with it? Layered and topped with a small tangle of watercress, it still charms, the earthy deep notes of the beets a classic contrast with the delicate tang of the cheese, and a little pesto to swoop bites of the combination through. Our soup du jour (or soir) was a cold corn soup, seemingly very simple, so that its rich flavor of pure sweet corn was a surprise. Local tomatoes and a supporting cast of roasted peppers, red onions, blue cheese and some lemon-touched greens stood out.
The Crossing's common ownership with Acero in Maplewood is evident with a single bite of a pasta offering - plus the fact that Acero's signature egg raviolo is on the menu. A bite of stracci, "ragged" pasta, with a fine classic Bolognese sauce, tomato mellowed with a little cream, proved it, the sauce nubbly with bits of beef and vegetable, the pasta properly al dente. A crab cake, creamy interior and crisp exterior, rode a pool of nicely tangy remoulade sauce, with a few leaves of arugula to wipe up its last drops.
From the main courses, tilapia, normally a snoozer of a fish, came sauced with a killer mushroom beurre blanc sauce, absolutely singing on the plate, and accompanied by flash-sauteed baby spinach, a particularly remarkable dish. Slices of lamb loin, spiced in the Moroccan style with cinnamon and cumin and a little pepper, lean, tender and moist, excelled. A strip steak, carefully trimmed, had a wild mushroom sauce that enhanced the meat's already first-rate flavor.
The menu offers two tasting meals, at $32 or $45 per person, four courses. Many items from the regular menu are on the tasting menus, and those that aren't can be swapped out for what seems like a relatively minor upcharge. The steak was an extra $5, but like all the courses in the tasting menu, it was smaller than the stand-alone dish would have been - this was perhaps a 5- or 6-ounce serving. It's a nice opportunity to try many things and not waddle out feeling like you've had Thanksgiving dinner.
Dessert? Peach upside down cake, more delicate than what my aunts used to make by far, and some good peaches, tart-sweet as the early ones are. Mixed berry cobbler, an individual ramekin, with a streusel-ish topping, and some lemon mascarpone gelato. A deeply chocolate single-layer gateau, served warm. And a cheese plate.
The usual pleasant, knowledgeable service, patient with a rather gabby group of guests at our table and not removing plates before every one was finished with a course - one shouldn't have to mention this, but it's come up recently at a spot that should know better.
7823 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Fair
Entrees: $33-$38 (but see tasting menu discussion above)
There's a lot to like in Stray Dog Theatre's production of "Funny Girl". Lindsey Jones, playing Fannie Brice, who became a Ziegfield and then radio star, sounds fabulous. Brice's husband (her second, a fact omitted in the show), Nicky Arnstein, is Jeffrey Wright, properly swainish and swinish by turns and showing a real gift for physical comedy in a seduction scene. Fanny's mother's poker-playing friends are a delight as a Greek chorus of worries and general yentas. (One of them in the original Broadway show was Jean Stapleton, who, of course, went on to become Edith Bunker.) And the small-but-mighty house band is a pleasure.
Jones after a while even manages to make us forget that this Jule Styne score virtually belongs to Barbara Streisand, who created the role on Broadway and in the film. That's pretty impressive. But here the Brice character is played like a middle-aged woman, sharp in her vocation but deeply naive in her personal life, all the way through the show, which spans the time from her late teens until her divorce from Arnstein, which in real life happened when she was around 36. It's disconcerting. She and Wright/Arnstein never seem to really smolder. Perhaps that's a deliberate decision to make us question Arnstein's motives from the start.
The Ziegfield chorus girls and boys display Zachary Stefaniak's choreography well. The costumes, from director Gary Bell doing double duty, fit the era well, although this wasn't a period of remarkable beauty to the modern eye - nevertheless, they're fun, especially the Ziegfield wedding scene. Florenz Ziegfield, Michael Monsey, is another watchable character, less tyrant-like than folklore would have him.
"Funny Girl" is another of those mid-60's musicals that we're just starting to appreciate, and here's a chance to find out why.
through August 9
Stray Dog Theatre
Tower Grove Abbey
2336 Tennessee Ave.
Time marches on. It says something when one of the hot Broadway shows of one's youth now is a period piece. "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying", currently at Stages St. Louis, is just that. The last time I saw it, the whole sexist thing in it was just embarrassing. Now, it just seems a product of the times, like Berkeley Busby's chunky-by-today's-standards chorus girls.
That makes it easier to just sit back and enjoy the office antics of this comedy that satirizes the whole Man In The Grey Flannel Suit world. (And if you get that reference,the you'll also get one of the early jokes in the show that references Metrecal - canned diet shakes, they were, and perfectly ghastly.) But it's not necessary to even be a fan of "Mad Men" to have a good time. Machiavellian comedy is timeless, and the Frank Loesser score maintains its immense zip.
Here we have Ben Nordstrom as J. Pierrepont Finch, whose particularly angelic smile covers maniacal drive, and Betsey Dilellio, a newcomer to Stages, as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who's instantly smitten with Finch. Nordstrom, who turns out to be more of a hoofer than we realized, has the impishness that the role demands, although it takes us a while to figure out just how intent he really is on corporate success. Dilellio makes Rosemary stronger than is often seen, which may make her seeming docility puzzling until one accepts that her goal in life is indeed marrying into the rose-covered suburban home. There's nothing demure about her voice, though; she grabs these melodies and owns them.
The ever-watchable Whit Reichert has fun as boss J. B. Biggley. Nevertheless, it's the exquisitely blowsy Hedy LaRue, played by Heather Ayers that creates constant giggles. She's also the cause for the outbreak of the song, "A Secretary Is Not a Toy", another reminder of what era this is.
Costumes by Jeff Shearer and Lou Bird are from the intersection of Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy, including an hysterical "Paris Original", a dress causing another song. The set, though, is distracting, a series of plastic panels and aluminum strips, the backlit plastic changing colors often, the effect, sans color changes, reminiscent of some post-WW II office buildings in New York but just about as impressive.
Overall, though, a fun evening with some good performances, a certain amount of bawdiness, and fine songs.
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
through August 17
Stages St. Louis
Kirkwood Civic Center
111 S. Geyer Rd, Kirkwood
Breakfast at Goody Goody Diner this morning, and a chance encounter with Ryan Safi, one of the two brothers who are buying the landmark restaurant. Ryan says he believes in the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thinking, which augurs well for Goody aficionados.
That said, however, the building just to the west was broke, or at least getting to that point. The Safis have bought it. It was at one time, the location of Melrose Pizzeria, and I'm carefully avoiding discussions of whether it was the original location or not - partisans exist on both sides of that argument. But it's been empty for years.
Or, rather, it was. It's been torn down, and they're going to expand the parking lot, welcome news to hungry folks who've overflowed the lot almost every day. And, in a more minor development, they've also put up a map with pins to show the range of their visitors. The VCU Lemons planted one in Richmond, VA, to mark this visit, and we've got plenty more Farflungs to drop by and pin the tale to their map.
Breakfast all day and now the chicken-fryer is turned on earlier than ever.
Connelly's Goody Goody Diner (and they're keeping the Connelly name)
5900 Natural Bridge Ave.
Breakfast and lunch Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
It really never occurred to me to ask David and Stephanie Stitt why they called part of Veritas' new location the Mustard Bar. If I'd thought about, I suppose I would have wondered if it was like a Bloody Mary bar or a taco bar, a line of garnishes spread out for ad lib usage. But mainly, at Veritas I think about the food, not the titles. The Stitt's son Mathis runs the kitchen, having pretty much grown up there.
The move last year a couple of miles south on Clarkson Road makes things seem roomier. The wine collection is now in a room toward the rear - and feel free to browse and perhaps pick out something for the meal being served, for a corkage fee of $10. There's a new cocktail menu, as well. Thursday through Saturday nights, they offer a more formal menu, varying week to week, but the lighter Mustard Bar menu is still available. All this review is looking at is the lighter food - the serious food will wait for another time.
The Mustard Bar proper is toward the front of the space, with a bar and some tables. The larger dining area faces an open kitchen. And here's why it ended up being dubbed the Mustard Bar. Three of these:
Ah, but let us talk about what's on the plates. A big pile of french fries lightly showered with parmesan and served with aioli, more lightly garlicked than it once was, could serve as a starter, or a good snack with a glass of wine. But they can also be had with the sandwiches, so for a foray in another direction, aim for the devils on horseback. The variations on the dish with this name are myriad, but Veritas has a prune stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, the whole thing fried, according to the menu. But it's so un-greasy that my guess is it's thrown briefly into a hot oven. It's a great combination of sweet/salty/smoky and chewy/crunchy/soft. Served on skewers, they're irresistible, and easy to share.
Five kinds of cheese go into the cheese panini, cheddar, Swiss, munster, feta and cream cheeses. Riding shotgun atop them are grilled onions and oven-dried tomatoes, the whole on a white artisan bread. It's absolutely killer, complex and satisfying. Egg salad may have met its perfect mate when it's served with a slice of prosciutto ham. It's comfort-food egg salad, creamy, a little chunky, the perfect mate for the salty ham, all on a croissant with some greens on the side. Speaking of sides, pay attention to the apple-beet slaw, crunchy, tangy with (aha!) mustard, and a wonderful color.
Veritas turns out to offer a remarkable hamburger, too. A large patty of good-quality beef rests under a crown of pimiento cheese, onions both pickled and in a jam, other housemade pickles, aioli and a slice of tomato. It's an excellent burger, but not for the obsessively tidy. The pork sandwich was nice enough, with slaw and pickled garlic on the shredded braised pork, but, frankly, even as fond as I am of the hog, it paled next to that burger.
Service was pleasant, although it's fair to point out that historically, it's been the weak spot in an otherwise-satisfying place to eat. I make no promises about what it might be like on the late-week nights with the bigger menu, or even at a truly busy lunch. On the other hand, when it's not packed, this is a pleasantly quiet spot, good for conversations.
If the address leaves you puzzled, they're in a large shopping plaza at the northeast corner of Clayton and Clarkson Roads. It's easy to see just after you turn in.
15860 Fountain Plaza, Ellisville
Lunch and Dinner Tues.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Mustard Bar menu: $6-$15