For a special series on unique dining experiences in St. Louis, contributor Andrew Mark Veety turns himself over to chefs around town to give you a taste of what it’s like to dine on limited menus – or skip ordering altogether.
Home Wine Kitchen’s No Menu Mondays
“If the chef were a magic genie, what would you wish her to make?”
It is the third question on a small white index card, the introduction to a menu-less Monday night at Maplewood’s Home Wine Kitchen, where dining out takes a playful twist on an evening when many St. Louis restaurants take the night off.
Of the five questions chef and owner Cassy Vires asks of her patrons at this once-a-week event, it’s this question about what would you eat if you could just wish it out of the ether that stuck with me.
When you think about it, it’s a variation on the “last meal” question, where every dish you can think of gets equal footing - steak for two from Peter Lugar, a slice of your mom’s apple pie with cheddar cheese melted on top of it, freshly baked bread with strawberry jam - it’s all game. It is a question that has no wrong answer, although there is some pressure to have a good answer as the question is bantered around the table with folks you’re dining with.
The answers to the next questions came a little easier. Dietary issues? I answered “ryegrass,” if only because I’ve been answering questions about allergies the same exact way for decades. When asked, “When you cook at home, what do you make?” I was quick to answer with a dish I’ve been working on recently - carnitas - because I was thinking about making them again the following weekend for taco night with friends. However, in hindsight, the question is a bit of a head fake; I focused on the “what” because I’m always cooking at home, however, the “when” is just as important. After all, for some, the answer can simply be, well, “never.”
With “ordering” over, you have just enough time for a drink (I made mine the Black Maple Hill) before plates start to make their way to your table, each dish for each course different from your neighbor’s, based on the answers you provided the kitchen earlier. After a bite or two, we passed our plates across the table to offer a taste to our companions, meaning that the three-course meal quickly became a tasting menu of 12 dishes for our table of four.
I recall not wanting to offer up a plate of beef cheeks, tender and shredding easily with slight pressure from a fork. Pulled pork appeared, a nod to the carnitas, perhaps. I’m positive I swiped more than my fair share from a plate of scallops, caramelized golden brown and richness cut with a bit of welcome acid. Then there was a head-sized rib eye with mashed potatoes: simple, well-prepared, exactly what you’d be looking for at home, what you’d make for yourself and your family if you had the time, which I think is the point of the whole affair.
Around mid-meal I looked around - at the people sitting a table over, at the dishes making their way out of the kitchen – and realized that Vires isn’t only specially feeding our table but every table. It prompted me to ask her how she could plan and buy for a night like this. She smiled and said she buys “everything.” I believe her when she says that.
Finally, back to the question of what I’d have if the chef were a genie. What did I answer? Beef on weck, rare roast beef and horseradish with au jus dripping from inside a salt-encrusted kummelweck roll. Fair? Maybe if we were in western New York, but probably not in Missouri. However, if I was to find beef on weck anywhere in St. Louis, my best bet would probably be at Home Wine Kitchen on a random Monday night.
Home Wine Kitchen, 7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.802.7676, homewinekitchen.com
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