Review of my second trip to Niche on Monday's prix fixe...
Summation: ambitious, but ultimately un-satisfying.
I read about Niche's Monday prix fixe and thought I'd take advantage. The menu is limited to the prix fixe only, nothing a la carte, so you're sort of hemmed into the menu. For whatever reason, they have one app, choice of two entrees, and choice of three desserts -- (1) Caesar salad, (2) chicken a la brick or beef in a broth, and (3) ice cream sundae, cheese plate or upside down cake.
The salad was good. Lemony and peppery with anchovies and Parmesan. Nothing very daring, but serviceable. I would've liked a choice since I happened to have Cesar salad for lunch, but it was better of course than my office-catered salad. Well executed, if easy. Grade: B
The beef was a decent-sized chunk and was fatty. I happened to like fatty beef (e.g., brisket), but it wasn't very flavorful, so if that's your thing it wasn't so great. The broth had white beans, kale and turnips. Unfortunately, the broth and vegetables had little flavor except salt. Frankly, my CSA vegetables have substantially more verve than these. More adventurous, but only fair. Grade: B-
I chose the cake, which wasn't bad at all. Too little diversity in texture -- i.e, not enough crust or cream, but I could take. Nice, but not good enough. Grade: B+
The service was mixed. The hostess was, again, welcoming and attentive. They know how to train them. The waitress, however, was pretty bad. She could barely explain the meal and was fairly ignorant about wine or ability to pair. I've had more involvement from waitresses at diners. At good restaurants, I expect the wait staff to be into food, to like it, to have opinions, to be my agent for ordering. Here, she was a black-clad robot with a fake smile.
My wine experience -- when the beef came, I told her I'd like a recommendation. She said "Everyone likes the Bordeaux." Follow-up exchange: "How's the wine?" "Unfortunately, not so good. I chose the Bordeaux when I saw the beef was light, but it was lighter than expected and I should've got the Pinot." "Glad it worked for you." Huh? It didn't work, actually.
Ultimately, I suspect St. Louis is just a middling town. It shoots for the middle-register and sometimes strikes it and often serves very fine low-level food (e.g., pizza). But there's not enough culture to move a good restaurant into the very good category. Niche reflects what the town is and the town will not force it to be better. Alas.