Update: Niche has closed.
The last time I took my girlfriend out for a celebratory dinner, we went to JAAN in Singapore, which was ranked #22 in Asia at the time. The dishes were complex, creative, delicious and overall mind blowing. How could I top it? For similar haute cuisine, there were two main options in St. Louis: Sidney Street Cafe or Niche. I opted for Niche with its constantly changing and oft praised menu. If you follow my reviews, you know I am obsessed with Chef Gerard Craft's Pastaria and very much enjoyed Brasserie, so my hopes for Niche were sky high.
Niche's menu is set up in a manner that allows you to pick a la carte, a four-course meal ($65) or the chef's tasting menu ($95). Our waitress, Laura, guided us through the menu like a Sherpa and patiently explained each dish to us. She was great.
The Coxhina kicked off the meal with a bang. The coxhina I've had in the past were almost like samosas, but these were bite-sized balls of hot and gooey Brazilian cream cheese and chicken skin on top of a tangy bed of sorrel aioli. If there were such a thing as mozzarella cheese sticks for adults, these would be them. If they served these at Pastaria (which is connected to Niche), I would get them every. single. time.
Following on the theme of tiny fried balls of deliciousness came the Smoked Trout Beignets. While each beignet was tres petite, they packed in a huge amount of flavor. It was almost like the essence of perfectly smoked trout inside, served with a sweet sorghum butter and chives. Cafe du Monde beignets got nothin' on these.
Perhaps the most unusual course of the whole evening was the Tea. Toasted oak tea was poured over a paper thin slice of lemon and a nearly invisible sheet of smoked and rendered pork fat. I have never had anything like this before. If you've ever used a BBQ smoker, then you know that you have to put a water shelf inside to help regulate temperature and to collect some of the drippings. This tea tastes like you imagine that smoker water would taste (if it tasted good). Sort of like drinking a whole wood fired BBQ.
Dia's Cheese Bread & Chartcuterie platter graced our table next. Prosciutto on one side, pickled vegetables on the other. Licorice pickled white asparagus, dill pickled green tomatoes and strawberry pickled fennel: all good, all things I'd never had before. It's funny how each course, no matter how big or small, swayed our conversation. By this point we were making plans to go home and pickle anything we could find. Chocolate milk pickled daikon maybe?! It was like a sketch out of Portlandia.
The prosciutto was good, but the dish's namesake was the star. Dia's Cheese Bread was holy shit amazing. I've eaten a lot of cheesy breads in my life, but none have even gotten close to this. It came out warm with crispy bits of cheese on the outside and an interior so gooey, so cheesy, so incredible that I reached nirvana. I don't care if you don't like charcuterie or pickles. Get this dish just for the bread. Give your table neighbors the other stuff. I would be morbidly obese if I worked at Niche, since I would asked be paid in cheese bread. I wish I had taken a picture of the gooeyness, but I was too busy shoving food in my face to take any. Sorry.
Another memorable dish is a Niche standard: the Egg. Oddly enough, JAAN also had an egg as their signature dish. Niche's egg was filled with a lemon maple custard at the bottom, then a layer of sauteed mushrooms, and finally topped by dashi "caviar". It was like a really good version of a Japanese chawanmushi.
My next course was the Asparagus Soup. A bowl was brought to the table with chive blossoms, buckwheat, garlic whipped cream and some sort of sweet jelly, then the soup was poured in on top. Like most of the main dishes, it just made me think of springtime. The soup itself was rich and undoubtedly asparagus, but the random spoonfuls with the crunchy buckwheat or the sweet jelly made it something special.
My girlfriend went with the Fava Beans. It was the smaller of the two dishes, so I was a gentleman and only tried a small bite of it. The pretty little dish was comprised of fava beans, new potatoes, chives, ricotta creme fraiche, dehydrated potato skins and candied lemons.
Berger Bluff Carrots with quinoa, buttermilk, herbs and carrot-bushi shavings were out next. The carrot-bushi is a take on a Japanese technique. It was smoked and dried, resulting in a little intense stick of carrot goodness. Genius.
By this point we were getting pretty full, but we still had a ways to go...
I got the Chicken Liver layered between thin slices of brioche with crunchy peanuts and strawberry preserves and topped with celery leaves. Undoubtedly the best chicken liver dish I've ever had. This was a childhood favorite revamped for classy adults. My girlfriend went with the Smoked Pork Shoulder. Once again, I only took a small bite of her dish, but it had tender, smokey pork shoulder, brussel sprout leaves, hickory ice cream, popcorn and pecans. She devoured it, so I guess it was pretty good.
Before our final non-dessert dishes came out, we were given another childhood flashback: ice pops. Granted, these were filled with kombucha and 4 Roses Bourbon, so the flavors were a bit more adult than your normal ice pop. Great presentation.
We finished the meal with the Akaushi Ribeye and the Quail. The ribeye came with a ramp puree, fingerling potatoes, onion, chicharrons, and honey. The quail was accompanied by turnips, orange, tarragon yogurt and sourdough. While the ribeye was very good, I would easily pick the quail over it.
Somewhere around this time, I began wishing I had worn sweatpants to dinner. I wasn't sure I could even feel my legs anymore. Still, I wanted more cheese bread.
Our dessert duo were the Green Strawberry and the Rhubarb. The Green Strawberry was our favorite of the two, mostly because it seemed lighter and we had just eaten like 30 other courses. Green strawberry sorbet rested on a light olive oil cake and goat cheese panna cotta, topped with almonds and fresh strawberries. The rhubarb was a normandy tart, stewed rhubarb, Angelica cream, pistachio meringue and pistachio ice cream.
The meal was as memorable as any I've had. The food was impeccable and the service was outstanding. Nothing impresses me more than when a kitchen creates unique and flavorful dishes out of the simplest ingredients, and that's where Niche shines the most. My girlfriend and I also loved that while Niche is certainly a very nice, the feeling inside the restaurant was relaxed and lively. It wasn't nearly silent (like JAAN) and the staff don't talk to you like they're Bruce Wayne's butler.
Niche easily joins Sidney Street Cafe and The Libertine as my St. Louis trifecta of fine food. It's perfect for a romantic evening or a small group dinner. The menu changes almost daily, but the cheese bread is always on there. You must get it.
7734 Forsyth Blvd
Clayton, MO 63105