I can't recall if it was last winter or the winter before it when I first encountered Kitchen Kulture, but I remember it like it was yesterday: I was at the Tower Grove Winter Farmers Market, contemplating if I should attempt to eat the Rebel Roots caramel apples I had just purchased on my drive home, when I turned and saw their booth. I'd followed them on social media and seen their Sump lunch menus, but I'd never managed to actually eat their food. I wandered over and perused the menu, when chef/co-owner Mike Miller and co-owner Chris Meyer offered me a sample of their Mofu Tofu Saag Paneer. I'm pretty sure my response was something along the lines of, "Why is this so good?" I sampled everything they had to offer and left with pounds and pounds of Kitchen Kulture food. Soba noodle salad, Khao Soi curry, vinaigrettes, whatever. If they were selling it, I was buying it. Weekly Kitchen Kulture purchases became part of my life.
Flash forward to summer of 2016, and Kitchen Kulture (the restaurant is known as Kounter Kulture) has moved into the former Pint Size Bakery shop off Watson. You can still find them at the weekly TG Farmers Market, of course, but the take-out only restaurant, open Monday-Friday, 4:30-9:30pm, offers a totally different menu of food cooked to order.
If I'm passionate about any type of food, it's Asian food—a cuisine that continues to disappoint here in St. Louis. I've tried to explain it before, but there's this whole wide world of Asian food, ingredients, flavors, cooking techniques, etc. that just aren't being tapped into here. Mike Miller gets it. Seriously, no other chef in St. Louis has been able to grasp modern Asian flavors—particularly Southeast Asian and Japanese—like he has. And he's doing it using locally sourced produce.
On the lighter end of the spectrum, there are dishes like the White Peach and Pepper salad with a creamy miso vinaigrette and crunch coming from a sesame-togarashi brittle that shatters like sugary glass. The seasonal greens spring rolls, packed with rice noodles, cilantro, mint, and mango, come with a carrot-ginger sauce, and remind me of a meal I had just outside of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia.
A Mofu tofu green curry with summer vegetables and ramen noodles gives Reeds American Table a run for their money as far as authentic curry goes—a pungent curry paste, made from scratch, mixed with coconut milk, fish sauce, and all those other funky Thai flavors delivers a Muay Thai elbow to your tongue.
On the heartier side of the menu, there's a Korean BBQ chicken rice bowl that makes your Chipotle burrito bowl look like it's child-sized. Crunchy, spicy, and sweet, the bulgogi chicken combined with heirloom tomatoes, fresh avocado, and a lime-cilantro dressing doesn't disappoint.
People typically generalize Japanese food as healthy, but believe me, the Japanese love fried food just as much—if not more—than Americans. They just don't eat buckets of it. The ping-pong ball-sized shrimp and pork gyoza tossed in tsume—a sweet, seafoody sauce—are perfect. The braised beef gyudon bowl is equally delicious.
I could write a book on my love of okonomiyaki. These Japanese pancakes are tied with takoyaki (basically grenades made of pancake dough and octopus) for my favorite Japanese food. Kounter Kulture's is kind of like if an okonomiyaki knocked up a Korean jeon pancake. Or maybe a frittata. Possibly a Dutch Baby? It's basically a puffed up egg-based pancake stuffed with your choice of kimchi, bacon, squid, and/or mushrooms, then topped with a sweet bbq sauce and mayo. It will feed you for days.
But their buns...their buns are out of this world. If Kounter Kulture only sold buns, I'd still tell you it's one of my favorite places in St. Louis. Do you go for the pork with smoked onions, chile-mustard sauce, and jalapeno slaw? Or the tofu bun with sesame cabbage, homemade kewpie mayo, and Japanese BBQ sauce? It doesn't matter, as long as you also get the catfish bun.
If I make a "Top 10 Dishes of 2016" list, there's a 95% chance this will be own it. Togarashi-spiced catfish is fried until as crunchy as possible (without overcooking the fish!), then tucked into a bun with a shishito pepper and cherry tomato remoulade. This is one of those bites where if you don't like it, you're wrong.