Spend a few minutes talking to Mike Randolph and you’ll see he’s a guy with a million things going on in his head. Hell, in the last year or so he opened Publico, closed The Good Pie, then opened Randolfi’s as sort of a Good Pie 2.0. Just a few weeks into Randolfi’s being open, Mike mentioned to me he had something pretty fun planned—something reminiscent of his old restaurant, Little Country Gentleman.
A few weeks later, a formal announcement came: Randolfi’s would be hosting a “Diversions” dinner series, an intimate 12-person affair where Mike, his chefs, and possibly other St. Louis chefs, get together and try out new and wild things. I love crazy food experiments, so I had to go.
All 12 of us arrived, took our seats at the bar, then had the same reaction after being handed the menu: 18 courses?! I instantly regretted wearing my sexy jeans and wished I’d gone with my looser professional eater jeans.
Luckily, most of the dishes ended up being one-biters—but with 18 courses (plus drinks), no one went home hungry.
1. Chicago-style Dog: I can’t say I’ve ever had a pipette of hot dog consommé before, but I wouldn’t be against having it again. This would be perfect for the body-conscious hot dog lover. The side salad was made up of your typical Chicago dog toppings: giardiniera, tomatoes, a spicy pepper jam, and some mustard.
2. Sorrel: A cobia ceviche with lime and fish sauce, completed with fresh sorrel and a sorrel mayo. I still don’t like cobia, but that didn’t stop me from eating it. Everyone else around me loved it.
3. Beer Potato: A front-runner for my favorite dish of the night, this fingerling potato was poached with Oberon and yeast, giving it the distinct flavor of beer, then topped with creme fraiche and trout roe. I’m stealing this idea. Totally delicious.
4. Lobster Roll: No one in their right mind would dislike this—butter poached lobster was stuffed into buttered Wonder Bread with pickled peaches and mayo. It was like a gourmet version of a Pizza Roll (a one-bite wonder).
5. Fall in Forest Park: I messed up and didn’t get a shot of this, so thanks to the Randolfi’s crew for hooking me up with a couple. Duck breast and duck confit were served with a smoked blackberry puree, porcini mushrooms, and an almond dirt. The dirt was much better than the dirt I normally eat in Forest Park.
6. Lamb: Roasted lamb hearts, crunchy quinoa, and blood oranges in a coconut broth—devoured in a flash. I’m such a little slut for coconut broths.
7. Sour Patch Liver: I’m a total wuss when it comes to tart or sour flavors. I’ve never liked them or been able to deal with them. When we were younger, my brother would buy Warheads because he knew I wouldn’t steal them. Anyway, everyone around me enjoyed this take on the childhood favorite, made with a mango puree, fresh mango, citric acid, and shaved foie gras while I just sat there with a puckered face.
8. Faux: This is another one of those dishes that you can just read about and know it’s going to be tasty: bone marrow with a lemon garlic thyme butter, plus a sauce made from anise, chili, and ginger.
9. Charcuterie Sunday: The strangest, most unique dish of the night was easily the technicolor charcuterie plate. Three shattered ice creams made up the dish, with the yellow being a yeasty ‘bread’ custard, the green a dill pickle custard, and the red-brown being duck liver. It’s the charcuterie plate of the future!
10. Beef n Broccoli: Tiny veal sweetbreads were fried and dotted with a soy and shiitake sauce, then placed over a complex broccoli puree. If this was an hor d’ouvre at a wedding, I would just camp out right next to do the door the servers came through to eat them all.
11. Chicken N Waffles: I’m not a big fan of offal, but still, a fried chicken gizzard over a waffle with a little gravy? I can deal.
12. Buffalo Ears: Thinly sliced braised pig ears were fried then tossed in buffalo sauce, then paired with a bleu cheese mousse. Pork, crunchy, spicy, cheese. Sold.
13. Sri Lanka: This marked the transition between dinner and dessert—a cilantro lime marshmallow drizzled with red curry.
14. Truffle Risotto: Oh Mike, you trickster. Shaved chocolate truffles were put over a creamy, wonderful cinnamon mascarpone risotto. Plates were being scraped clean almost as soon as this hit the bar. Do you remember when Jason Segel eats cereal out of a mixing bowl in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? That’s what I wanted to do to this. Proof that the simplest things can be the best.
15. Nanners: Another one-bite spoonful, this time a caramelized white chocolate and roasted banana mash, topped with crushed ameretti cookies.
16 & 17. Duck a l’Orange/Cannoli: Duck fat cotton candy on a thin cannoli. Why don’t they sell this at Busch Stadium?
18. Red Velvet: A delicious beet cake with creme fraiche, lime juice, and chocolate ganache ‘Dippin’ Dots’. I could barely handle it after 17 other courses.
By the end, I was pleasantly full—no pain, no need for the pants to be unbuttoned in the car, no meat sweats. I would definitely go to another Diversions dinner; it wasn’t stuffy or overly fancy. It was like hanging out with some talented chefs who decided that they wanted to make some crazy food. Keep an eye out for the next one.