If a hurricane hadn't sent Josh Galliano here, both An American Place and Monarch would have had very different trajectories. And if an ambitious young chef in Salt Lake City hadn't taken the time to research emerging markets to open his first restaurant, we might not have had Niche. Can you imagine our dining scene without Gerard Craft, the first St. Louis chef to be a finalist for the James Beard Foundation "Best Chef - Midwest" award, the first to be named a Food & Wine magazine "Best New Chef"? Craft raised the bar for young chefs in St. Louis. No longer could you be content as a big fish in a little pond. No, you had to want more: a bigger profile, better ingredients, more thoughtful dishes, a greater respect for diners whose tastes were evolving. You couldn't serve the same four desserts as everyone else -- you had to trust the whimsy of a Mathew Rice (now of Pi). And you couldn't rest on your laurels but constantly innovate, opening not one but two new places -- Taste and Brasserie by Niche -- in half a year. Niche isn't perfect, and not every one of Craft's creations is a masterpiece. But it's the best restaurant we have, and it is a signal to the rest of the country: St. Louis has arrived.
1831 Sidney Street; 314-773-7755; website