On the night before I turned 32 for the first time, we drove down to St. Louis for a special fine dining event presented by “Sauce Magazine” called Moveable Feast.
It’s a mysterious foodie experience with guest chefs from across the metro area, where you know nothing about who’s cooking, what you’re having or who else will be there until it happens. The only bit of information we were given in a secret, coded communique (which self-destructed after 15 seconds) was a time and a location — Philip Slein Gallery, at 6:30 p.m. in Downtown St. Louis,
We booked a hotel room at the Renaissance Grand knowing that cocktails and wine pairings were included with each course and that, such a factor, would leave none of us in a condition to travel home by headlights as the clock swung past midnight. With plenty of time to spare, we hit a few places downtown to set the mood.
The Culinaria, a classy Schnucks, invited us up to the wine loft for a quick tasting of a new wine after I searched the grocery aisles below for shoelace replacements because I don’t know my own strength and broke one of my own laces with my vice-like grip and tug. We found a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay for sale, which made me giddy because of my love for the film, “Bottle Shock” detailing the famous blind tasting in France where American Napa wine beat out the French wine. (We opened and tasted one week later and it was the best Chardonnay I’ve ever had.)
From there, onto another loft at a cool downtown spot called Bridge’s Tap House and Wine Bar where we sampled flights of different beers and wine and took suggestions about where to go next from a nice waiter named Justin.
Walking deeper into downtownon a quiet Sunday evening, a man who was talking to himself stopped and asked us for money and, not being used to that, I contemplated what to do and ended up walking on as if I couldn’t hear his request. For a moment afterwards, I felt rotten because I DID have money to spare.
A slow stroll across a few more blocks led us to Nara Café and Hookah Lounge, where we ordered a chocolate-y cocktail to share. And, yes, we fire up a hookah…you‘re darn tootin‘, as Jerry Lundegaard would say. Extreme Watermelon tobacco with a dash of some other flavor I can’t remember, burning with the help of a hot coal. We passed around the hose and smoked the cleanest-tasting, water-filtered tobacco I’ve ever had. I told my mom about it a few days later and she gave me one of those looks that moms give to grown children that says, “I disapprove, but there’s nothing I can do about it because you aren’t eleven anymore, but I’m still your mother and I can still give you this look.”
6:30 p.m. — Philip Slein Gallery.
We walked in and were immediately greeted and introduced to the chef — Chris Lee from the restaurant SANCTUARIA.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Quincy, Illinois,” we said.
“QUINCY? How’s the food at Elders?”
Funny how famous Elders is.
Displayed on the Slein Gallery’s walls was an exhibit of “Sauce Magazine’s” photographs from over the years that made me self-conscious of my own ability to take pictures. “My work sucks,” I believe was the exact phrase I said.
We were guided to a cocktail station at the back of the gallery where a mixologist turned into a mad scientist and carefully potioned two signature drinks, one of which involved oranges and fire.
Philip Slein introduced himself to us and called us young, hip people. For awhile, I followed him as he met other guests to see if he used that line with everyone. He did not and so I took the compliment.
And then it was dinner time.
About thirty people in all were sitting together at three tables. There were six courses, plus an amuse bouche and intermesso. Chef Lee introduced each course with flair.
-Fresh ricotta stuffed fig with cider reduction
-Foie gras crème brulee and caviar filled duck egg (a truly unique sight)
-Wild musroom bisque with cinnamon-scented foam and a truffle macaroon.
-Duck, lamb, and smoked salmon cut like ham accented with green tomato chow chow and lavish
-Hamachi with watercress puree and jalapeno vinaigrette, tremella and red bliss crunch
-New style carnitas with preserved Meyer lemon, orange caramel, jade ball and pepper salad
-upside down peach cake with Belgium white ale ice cream with Bitter Chocolate candy
I don’t really know what a lot of that means, yet, but I do know that I enjoyed everything. It was one of the first tastings where I did not feel uncomfortably stuffed. All the food was correctly portioned — meaning a few bites with each course. Pardon me while I go British for two statements. Presentation: brilliant. Taste: spot-on.
Tony Bommarito from “A. Bommarito Wines” introduced each wine pairing and poured at our table.
A jazz solo artist named Dawn with very red hair performed throughout the night and I wasn’t sure if I should look at her while she blew her horn and sang or if I should stare out into space as if I were REALLY paying attention to the music, which I was.
“Sauce Magazine” owner/publisher Allison, tinged her glass several times to make announcements.
I met with one of the photographers whose work was on display and we talked lighting and technique. We passed cards made indefinite plans to meet for lunch and talk more.
Philip Slein sat at our table and we discussed the decline of art-buying, as well as the food we were eating. We passed cards and made indefinite plans to see each other again soon.
St. Louis personality Gilberto Pinela was doing interviews and stand-ups for STL-TV. Philip Slein introduced us and Victoria took full advantage of the chat. Gilberto told me that I shouldn’t be ashamed of the chest hair poking out of my shirt. He passed along an invite to an invite-only party during St. Louis’s Fashion Week and we accepted. Victoria was excited at the prospect of new fashion; I was excited about the prospect of new cocktails.
The night ended when a nice St. Louis native-slash-Moveable Feast guest offered to drive us the six blocks back to our hotel and made crazy U-turns, honked and was honked at. We made it back before midnight and fell into an uncomfortable sleep on account of the terrible mattress, despite the coolness of the hotel.
I turned 32 and didn’t even know it.