Last year, Jim Fiala transformed the back dining room of his Central West End spot Liluma (236 North Euclid Avenue; 314-361-7771) into Liluma Side Door, a more casual, small plates-focused restaurant-within-a-restaurant. Now, Fiala is introducing something similar at The Crossing (7823 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-721-7375), remaking the upper level of his upscale Clayton restaurant as The Wine Bar at the Crossing, which features a menu of "Bites" from executive chef Matt Abeshouse and sous chef Mike Craig.
Fiala tells Gut Check the new wine bar stems from what he and his family, University City residents, thought was missing in their own dining options: "[If] we don't want to sit down for a whole meal, there's no little place to have a bite at the wine bar -- good quality, cooked food that you can be excited to eat.
"It doesn't have to be fancy."
He points to the menu's version of the Italian classic spaghetti cacao e pepe as an example of this: "One of the best dishes in the world, and it's so simple."
The wine bar's "bites" range from as little as $3 for a blue cheese soufflé to $14 for a cheese plate. All but three of the initial dozen dishes are $10 or less, and from 5-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, a limited "Happy Hour" menu prices eight dishes at $6 each.
(The wine bar's "Happy Hour" also features $6 glasses of selected Italian white wines and Mediterranean reds. The regular wine bar menu features four wine flights, two white and two red.)
Fiala says the menu is the result of his pushing Abeshouse and Craig "to do cool, little things -- just have fun."
The "Pig Toast," for example, uses some "really killer head cheese" that the kitchen prepared from a whole Swabian-Hall pig that the restaurant got from Iowa.
"No one eats cold head cheese on a plate," Fiala concedes (though he allows that he himself as well as Gut Check very well might). "Why don't you take it...heat it up, put it on some toast with some Yukon Gold potato, sauce verte, or some quail egg, some prosciutto -- do fun things."
Fiala says nothing on the wine bar's menu is meant to be permanent. When the head cheese runs out, the kitchen will turn to another part of the hog. And if an experiment doesn't pan out?
"If it doesn't work," Fiala says, "It doesn't work."