Sunday, July 26, 2015

Small Batch

Small Batch
3001 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO 63103
QISA (4.5, 4, 4.5, 4), $8-17, Vegetarian

This past weekend, I treated my wife to a weekend in St. Louis sans enfants. We left our boys with my mother-in-law, who promptly dumped the boys onto my sister-in-law's weekend family vacation. I suppose she assumed that two relatively well-behaved young lads couldn't make too much of a dent in the already existing chaos of my sister-in-law's family. Or perhaps she figured this was an easy way of getting out of preparing any meals. Frankly, I didn't care. For the length of the weekend, this was not my problem.

In fact, the only thing that was my problem was setting up a fun-filled grown-up's weekend for two, complete with Friday-night Shabbat services in an unknown Temple, a visit to the Gateway Arch complete with a tram ride to the top, plenty of time to browse through two large antique shops with no whiny kids (or husband) pulling on her leg, and a couple of really bad movies on the Syfy channel at the hotel. In addition, I felt the need to introduce her to the many wonderful vegetarian restaurants in St. Louis. To showcase my skills as a culinary traveler, any restaurant I picked had to be fancy, but not snooty. It had to be exotic enough to create a sense of adventure, but familiar enough to keep her within proximity of her comfort zone.

In other words, it had to be Small Batch, my favorite vegetarian restaurant in St. Louis. Correction, this is my favorite restaurant in St. Louis period.

Small Batch is a whiskey lounge and restaurant, “focusing on fine American Whiskeys, Bourbons, and Ryes.” Read their Website, and you will learn about their fresh handmade pastas, breads baked fresh daily, and their delicious, unique, eclectic dishes. You will learn about their nearly 100 whiskeys, all listed in what can only be described as a codex, complete with name, U.S. state of origin, proof, grain profile, and a brief evocative description.

What you will not find is any mention of them being vegetarian.

David Bailey, the award winning restaurateur and owner of Bailey Restaurants, must have wanted to see what he could do with an ovo-lacto format, possibly to find out if anyone would notice the lack of charred flesh. He had already explored burgers at Bailey’s Range, chocolate at Bailey’s Chocolate Bar, fine beers and wines at Bridge, and every other kind of meat at Rooster, Range, and the Fifth Wheel. What’s left for a budding culinary entrepreneur? Obviously pairing haute vegetarian cuisine with an expertise in fine whiskeys.

The waiters at Small Batch are either all very well trained or carefully selected for their knowledge of the fine nuances of rye, bourbon, Irish, and malt whiskeys. They are polite and friendly, helping unsophisticated patrons such as myself navigate the complex world of fine spirits and mixed drinks.

I can not stress enough how seriously the restaurant takes its whiskeys. Whiskeys are served in 0.75 or 2 fl.oz. glasses as well as in flights. Each glass of whiskey comes with a small bowl of ice to serve your drink on the rocks and/or a small eye dropper bottle “to open it up” with a couple drops of water. I felt quite the sophisticate dropping water and swirling my Michter’s Single Barrel Rye. See? I can even name-drop the staff’s favorite bourbon.

But then, there is the food. Ah, the food. Everything from the artful plating to the ample portions to the appetizing palate tells you this is a restaurant for epicureans serious about the entire culinary experience. I would definitely define this as an EPICUREAN-focused restaurant plain and simple.

I have visited the establishment three times so far, and I am working my way through the menu. On their Small Fare page, I have tried both the potstickers and the Tomato Explosion. Although the potstickers are tasty but not necessary extraordinary, the Tomato Explosion reminded me of what real food is supposed to taste like. Local red and yellow heirloom tomatoes are drizzled with basil truffle oil, pine nuts, pesto, and a blueberry balsamic vinegar, all served with a runny fresh mozzarella. Sweet tomatoes with flavor but little acidity, nutty pesto dancing with the tang of a fruity balsamic, bang zoom pow.

Of the main courses, I have so far tried the stuffed shells (stuffed with lemon ricotta, fontina, pecorino, fennel pine nuts, angel hair zucchini, and spinach tomato cream sauce), rigatoni (a spicy dish served with blackened cremini mushrooms, asparagus, red pepper, spinach, and Cajun cream), carbonara (a smoky linguini dish with smoked mushrooms, snap peas, onions, roasted cauliflower, and pecorino cheese), BBQ portabella mushrooms (served on toasted beer bread, covered with bourbon BBQ sauce, onion straws, dill kettle chips, bread and butter pickles, and broccoli slaw), and the soft shell artisanal tacos (with crisped avocado, grilled corn, napa slaw, chipotle, Chihuahua cheese, and black bean salsa). All of these were wonderful, but I was most partial to the BBQ mushrooms and tacos, both of which put me in a quiet meditative state.

Their desserts are equally as decadent. Be sure to try the chocolate brownie with a scoop of raspberry sorbet, chocolate sauce, and fresh fruit. Or perhaps their bourbon soaked bread pudding. Other than being restoratives for the soul, these are definitely not “wellness” foods.

And amazingly, all of these dishes are ovo-lacto vegetarian, even if they won’t admit to it in print.

Would I recommend visiting this place as often as possible? Definitely. Would I walk two miles each way, traversing downtown St. Louis at night, just so I could drink what I wanted and not have to drive home? Sure. Would I purposefully select a hotel within walking distance during a business trip? I plead the fifth.

But I would definitely bring my wife to Small Batch to show myself off as a highbrow urban sophisticate with a keen sense of taste, a cosmopolitan world traveler, and a committed and informed vegetarian.

Because, Lord knows I need all the help I can get.

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