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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My review of St. Louis, three months removed

Today would have been three months since I had seen St. Louis in person, since I left the city on Christmas day of last year. And while I'm back in New Orleans on that anniversary, we will go ahead and call it a true three month hiatus from visiting the city that smites me so.

Most of my time was spent with family, on whom I was reliant for transportation (Metro doesn't exactly have a makeshift St. Louis architectural tour route, so I needed the family car for my exploration!).

But I did get around in my brief stay, and, as usual, did fall in love with the city even more in my absence from it, where its deep, even solemn red bricks seem to contrast ever more starkly upon each successive visit with the playfulness of the painter's palette of Creole cottages here in the Crescent City.

I made it to a couple spots I've been wanting to try out:

I had been to Everest Cafe before (at its Washington Avenue iteration in a long forlorn section of Downtown West just across from the under-renovation "Tudor Building"), but its move to a smaller, sleeker storefront in the Grove (Forest Park Southeast for the change-resistant among us) along Manchester made Everest seem like an altogether new and exciting place for me. I finally made my way to their 4145 Manchester location. I was blown away by the crowds on both days I visited (yes--I went twice--it's that good!). At the previous location, one could hear the soothing sounds of Nepal, which sound to me like the low humming of Tibetan monks, over the din of the always less-than-half-full restaurant. Not so anymore. The slightly smaller space and different acoustics make the Grove location appear hopping. The food, of course, is amazing. While known as Everest Cafe, the husband and wife duo that run the restaurant are actually Nepalese and Korean, respectively, and so, owners Devi and Connie States market their offerings as follows:

Welcome to Everest Café
“The Only Restaurant Serving Nepalese & Korean Cuisine in St. Louis”

Nepalese food is known as cuisine of the Himalayas. It has its own identity with influence from Indian spicy curries to momo (dumplings) from Tibet. Nepalese food is famous for its nutrition level and tempting taste, with the use of spices and flavorings such as ginger, garlic, coriander, pepper, cumin, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, chilies, cilantro, turmeric, and Himalayan herbs.

Korean food is a wonderful combination of Chinese and Japanese mixed with its own distinctive elements. The food has a full-flavored taste that defies the winter ice and snow, most notably in the national dish, kim chi, a spicy pickle served at every meal. Korean meals are made up of many small, tempting dishes, flavored with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, bean paste, and toasted sesame seeds.

The decor has remained mostly the same, but the lighter, airier, and more open plan of Washington Avenue has given way to Manchester's darker colors and multitude of "rooms". The result is an excellent addition to the continually improving Grove commercial strip (while After Diner across the street from Everest has closed, the Gramophone music venue has opened up in the 4200 block), with a healthy alternative to the offerings of Agave and Atomic Cowboy.

I also went to Buffalo Brew House, one of the Locust Business District's latest offerings in a stretch of St. Louis that I never really expected to see a boom take place. Olive Street east of Compton has been attacked by demolitions, recladdings, crime, but most importantly, emptiness for a long time. Once a major east-west thoroughfare through the city, lately it has served as an abandoned (and overly wide and pedestrian unfriendly) highway from the environs of St. Louis University to downtown. So to see nightclub Lush and now Buffalo Brew House call Olive Street home (along with a spate of other announced tenants) was quite the surprise.

(By the way, the Locust Business District has really shown up the Grove in the e-arena. The LBD's website is revamped, attractive, and user-friendly. Where is the Grove's?)

My experience was mostly pleasant. I opted to try to burger (yeah, I know, exciting choice--get over it), which was as good as any I've had in St. Louis. There was live music. The size of the space and its acoustics seemed a bit prohibitive of loud music, but nevertheless, the band played on--and played loudly. I found it extremely difficult to talk to someone from across the table, but, in all fairness, I was there for a fairly late dinner. I'm just happy that SLU students have an off-campus choice for dining given the dismal state of on-campus offerings (unless something's radically changed since my graduation from SLU in May 2007).

The Fountain on Locust was particularly surprising. The Art Deco motif is entirely successful, and the place is a delightful addition to St. Louis's already superb ice cream "scene" (Crown Candy and Ted Drewes, of course).

I had two scoops of Coconut Almond the first visit, and a Coke float the second--both amazing (I know, another double visit--I'm obsessed).

The Fountain was a much needed addition to St. Louis. It will most likely jumpstart the movement to revive St. Louis's historic "Automotive Row" on Locust Street (that is, if SLU doesn't get in the way...). Further, it ups the ante for local businesses for creativity, as the Fountain simply went above and beyond in the design department. New Orleans coffeeshops, for example, seem in competition to distinguish themselves as more than a room with baristas and for-sale paintings on the wall. One features a British telephone booth circa 1950s for cell phone users, while the next features outlandish paintings that line every square inch of walls that connect to a 15-foot ceiling. St. Louis needs this creative entrepreneurship as well, the kind that truly differentiates the local business from the corporate chain and therefore more likely returns dollars to the local economy and offers up unique, local flair to boot.

I will probably do another post on my short stay in St. Louis. I didn't actually get up to Baden's business district to take some photos, but I may send a captive photographer up to get some shots on my behalf. We shall see.


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