I recently had the opportunity to dine with Home in Maplewood on a Monday, when they have no menu and dinner is chef's choice.
If you haven't been to Home, I find it to be a cozy and rustic room with a long bar down one end and banquets down the other. The color palette is earth tones and the walls are clad in raw lumber. For being a Monday, the place was pretty much full of diners, which was a good sign. In fact, they had to squeeze people in at the bar.
Reservations and check-in were both pretty smooth, including a call from the restaurant in advance. I settled in and ordered a glass of rose, given the unseasonable warmth. The wine itself was light, perhaps too light, but it was my choice for Spring.
"No Menu" at Home is slightly tailored -- you can tell the waitstaff what you can't or won't eat and that is relayed to the kitchen. I have few illusions that you're getting a true tasting menu, as I saw others eating what I ate, but I trust that the kitchen would've accommodated any requests that I made. Cost is $30 and $12 for a matching wine flight. Given that "Wine Kitchen" is two thirds of the name, I got the wine flight, thinking that I might find a kindred soul who'd do well in matching wines with food.
The first course was a simple arugula and walnut salad served with two chevre-date croquettes, which came with a Cotes du Rhone. The salad itself was simple but effective: the argula was tough, probably reflecting the early season, and walnuts nice. The croquettes, however, were overpowering. Nothing wrong with strong flavors, but one bite and I couldn't taste the salad or even the wine. They were sweeter than dessert, in fact, and I could still taste the croquettes about 3 or 4 bites into my main course. I like all parts of this dish (the salad, the croquettes and the wine), but they simply failed together to create a unified whole. Grade: C+
The second course was a really large plate of rainbow trout and, IIRC, green beans. No skimping here, as the chef really laid out a lot of meat and vegetables, especially for a set menu. The fish was simply prepared, but there was not much ambitious about it either. It was paired with a Pays d'Oc French Chardonnay. Although not as outmatched as the previous course, this wine also had a difficult time being noticed over the fish; after about five bites, the wine tasted like water, frankly, and it was kind of a loss. The ingredients and preparation were good, but the dish overall lacked much ambition, perhaps expected on a Monday, and the wine pairing did not succeed. Grade: B-
Dessert was a pannacotta served with honey and berries, paired with a Sauterne. Although I'm not a pannacotta fan, this dish finally was well paired: the honey on the dessert and the honey tones in the Sauterne worked very nicely together. It was the combination that I had been searching for all night. Pannacotta is a pretty simple dish to pull off, but it worked with the wine and was well done. Grade: B+
As said, the room is comfortable and the staff seemed to work pretty hard to make sure everything went well. I noticed that somewhere in the middle, I went from being helped by a young man to a young woman. The latter seemed to know her stuff and was talkative about the food and experience. Grade: B+
Overall, I did not agree with the pounding this place sometimes takes on these boards. It's a fine addition to St. Louis, and better than some beloved warhorses. It's more "neighborhood gem" rather than "fine dining" -- think "dinner with friends" rather than "10 year anniversary." It uses nice ingredients and tries to put together a fine meal with an occasional interesting twist or two. I would happily go back to No Menu Monday (or another night), and think it's brunch is one of the two best I've had in town, along with Cafe Osage.
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