Review: Salt + Smoke Distinguishes Itself in the Crowd of New St. Louis Barbecue

Chef Haley Riley and owner Tom Schmidt. | Jennifer Silverberg

Salt + Smoke
(6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-0200)
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tues.-Sun. (Closed Mon.)

Sipping on a stiff bourbon cocktail at Salt + Smoke, I glanced out of the window and did a double take. A fire truck had stopped in the middle of Delmar Boulevard and its crew seemed to be surveying the scene. "Does someone think this place is on fire?" I asked my friend, only half joking. The new barbecue restaurant's Ole Hickory smoker can sometimes turn the air in the Loop a bit hazy.

With the number of new barbecue restaurants popping up around town, one has to wonder if the smoke cloud over St. Louis is visible from space. If a new place is going to throw its hat into the barbecue ring, it has to find a way to distinguish itself from the pack. Salt + Smoke has done just that.

See also: Tom Schmidt Talks Transforming Nico Into a Barbecue Restaurant

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Review: Death in the Afternoon Makes Lunch the Most Important Meal of the Day

Tonkotsu ramen with pork belly and loin, soft boiled egg, black garlic oil and mushroom. | Jennifer Silverberg

Death in the Afternoon
(808 Chestnut Street; 314-621-3236)
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (Closed Sat. and Sun.)

Sitting on the patio at Death in the Afternoon, located in the northeast corner of downtown's Citygarden, the dominant sound is children happily playing in a nearby fountain. But don't be misled - this restaurant is not geared toward kids. There are no chicken fingers or high chairs, and it looks like the changing table was removed from the restroom during the remodel from the building's previous tenant, Joe's Chili Bowl. The restaurant, which is only open weekdays for lunch, makes no attempt to be a mere amenity for the families and tourists that flock to the garden. It aspires to be a destination unto itself.

See also: Death in the Afternoon, New Citygarden Restaurant, Will Complement Blood & Sand

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Pizzeria Mia's Pies Are More Jersey Shore than Amalfi Coast -- and That's Just Fine: Review

Chef Ivan Malinov making a pizza at Pizzeria Mia. | Jennifer Silverberg

Pizzeria Mia
(4501 Maryland Avenue)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun.-Sat.

"I keep forgetting we're in St. Louis," my friend said as she bit into a slice of Pizzeria Mia's pepperoni pie. "Everything about this place -- the food, the furnishings, it's like I'm home."

The home to which she refers isn't Naples, Rome or any other exotic Italian locale. It's New Jersey. And as soon as she made the connection, it clicked. Up to that point, I didn't know what to make of Pizzeria Mia -- nothing about the place is Italian. The restaurant occupies a storefront that used to be a travel agency on the corner of Maryland and Taylor avenues in the Central West End, and it doesn't seem like much has changed in the way of décor since then. The yellow walls, painted with an antiqued effect, are dotted with conference-room art, and the seating is shiny black tables and red leather chairs. It's a little cheesy, a little tacky and a little, well, Jersey.

But tacky isn't necessarily a bad thing.

See also: Siam Aims to Be a Place to Eat, Drink and Be Bear-y: Review

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Siam Aims to Be a Place to Eat, Drink and Be Bear-y: Review

Onigiri: Tea smoked salmon, teriyaki sauce, fried rice ball, spring onion. | Jennifer Silverberg

(4121 Manchester Avenue; 314-533-7426)
Hours: 4 p.m.-3 a.m. Wed.-Sat., 1 p.m.-3 a.m. Sun. (Closed Mon. and Tues.)

It was an early Friday night at Siam, and the place was filled with its usual suspects: young professionals bidding farewell to the week over martinis, a gaggle of beautiful people in their nightclub best and a large group of puppies. Not the adorable, furry kind — the fetish kind. The leather-clad-men-on-leashes kind.

Indeed, the scene at Siam doesn't exactly scream "restaurant" (unless that's the safe word), but owners Steven Preston and Ron Bray are challenging diners to think differently. When the two acquired the former Novak's space, they had a choice — either reopen as just another Grove gay bar or try something new. They created Siam to be equal parts restaurant, bar and nightclub, inviting diners to partake of its "elevated comfort food."

See also: Giovanni's Kitchen Has Quality of the Hill without the Bill: Review

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Giovanni's Kitchen Has Quality of the Hill without the Bill: Review

Lasagnette a.k.a. an individually baked lasagna. | Jennifer Silverberg

Giovanni's Kitchen
(8831 Ladue Road, Ladue; 314-721-4100)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Closed Sun.)

Several years ago, my friend and I got all gussied up and treated ourselves to dinner at Giovanni's on the Hill. Clad in semi-formal attire, we wined and dined in exquisite style as tuxedoed waiters prepared our dinners tableside, flambéed our desserts and served us warmed cognac. Don King was at the bar. It was fabulous.

The superior food and service came at quite a price, though, and no matter how strong a hankering I get for "Pappardelle alla Bella Oprah," I can't fork over that kind of cash on a regular basis.

Frank and Carmelo Gabriele seem to understand this sentiment. Their father, Giovanni's on the Hill patriarch Giovanni Gabriele, taught the brothers all about fine Italian dining. He also taught them business savvy, and the duo saw a market for a dressed-down version of their dad's upscale flagship. The result is the comfortably elegant Giovanni's Kitchen.

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Critic's Notebook: How Lauren "Lulu" Loomis Turned a Successful Food Truck Into Restaurant

Lauren "Lulu" Loomis in her garden. | Jennifer Silverberg

When Lauren "Lulu" Loomis and her husband Robert Tucker arrived on an organic farm in New Zealand, they were asked an important question: What do you want to learn?

"Everything," Loomis answered without hesitation. "We want to learn everything."

Loomis and Tucker got what they asked for. During their time working in Kiwi country as part of the WWOOF program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) the pair learned everything from beekeeping to homesteading to how to brew beer. The education inspired them to bring back what they learned to the U.S.

See Also: Lulu's Local Eatery Puts Down Roots and Flourishes on South Grand: Review

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Lulu's Local Eatery Puts Down Roots and Flourishes on South Grand: Review

Order up. | Jennifer Silverberg

Since 2012 Lauren "Lulu" Loomis and her husband, Robert Tucker, have built a loyal following of herbivores and omnivores alike with their vegan food truck, Lulu's Local Eatery. This May they built on that success by opening a brick-and-mortar, fast-casual restaurant of the same name. The new Lulu's Local Eatery (3201 South Grand Boulevard; 314-357-7717) features many of the truck's offerings, as well as an expanded menu made possible by a full-size, permanent kitchen.

Lulu's carries its eco-friendly philosophy throughout the restaurant; Loomis and Tucker incorporated environmentally friendly materials into the build out of the restaurant, resulting in a rustic, organic feel to the space. The focal point of the room is a large mural made out of moss (handcrafted by Loomis) that makes the wall look like a living, vertical garden.

See also: Bishop's Post Serves "Classic Comfort" Food - But for Whom?: Review

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Bishop's Post Serves "Classic Comfort" Food - But for Whom?: Review

The revamped Bishop's Post in Chesterfield. | Caroline Yoo

Following the dissolution of his business partnership with Amer Abouwardah, the owner of Oceano Bistro in Clayton, Ben Bishop Jr. sought to transform the Chesterfield location of the upscale seafood spot into a more laid-back, meat-and-potatoes eatery. The result is Bishop's Post (16125 Chesterfield Parkway West, Chesterfield; 636-536-9404), named after Bishop and the founder of Chesterfield, Justus Post.

Read the restaurant's website, and one gets the impression that this is a down-home Americana joint where the fried chicken sizzles and the meatloaf is Mom's secret recipe. Walk into Bishop's Post, however, and it still looks very similar to the sleek Oceano.

See also: Bocci Bar Still Struggles with Its Identity: Review

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Critic's Notebook: Rosé Increases in Popularity in the St. Louis Summer Heat

Olio's private label rosé. | Image courtesy of Olio

For this week's review, I visited Bocci Bar (16 North Central Avenue, Clayton; 314-932-1040) in Clayton, the latest concept from Frank Schmitz, whose other restaurants include Coastal Bistro & Bar and BARcelona. Though I was underwhelmed with Bocci's menu revamp, the wine bar's extensive selection of quality rosé wines was impressive. Soon after dining at Bocci, it seemed like the pink-hued stuff was everywhere, popping up on some of the city's best wine lists. It got me wondering: Is rosé making a comeback?

"Actually, it's always been around," says Andrey Ivanov, sommelier at Elaia and Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-932-1088). "It's just that our market is starting to be willing to try new things. People are more educated about wine now." Ivanov acknowledges that increased awareness of rosé has led to increased demand. "I can't think of a reputable restaurant in town that doesn't have at least one [rosé] by the glass."

See Also: Bocci Bar Still Struggles with Its Identity

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Bocci Bar Still Struggles with Its Identity: Review

Jennifer Silverberg
Bocci's flight of soups features vichyssoise, gazpacho, and watermelon and mint.

Restaurateur Frank Schmitz owns two places just a block from one another in Clayton. While BARcelona Tapas restaurant hustles and bustles, the other, Bocci Wine Bar, has floundered as a moderately upscale Italian bistro. Schmitz decided to temporarily shutter Bocci for remodeling and retooled it as a small-plates restaurant and wine bar. His logic makes sense: BARcelona clicked; Bocci did not. BARcelona is casual, small-plates-style dining, and Bocci was more formal with traditional, coursed offerings. So it seemed simple enough: Take a successful business model and replicate it.

See also: Review: Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall

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