Tara and Michael Gallina will soon open Vicia in the city's Cortex district.
Michael and Tara Gallina shocked the restaurant world last year when they announced they would be leaving New York state's acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns to open a restaurant in St. Louis.
As it turns out, though, St. Louis had some surprises in store for them as well.
"We've learned a tremendous amount since we've been in town," Tara says. "When we started out doing the pop-ups, we thought it would be a fun way to meet people. It turned out it was a really smart thing to do."
Since last fall, the Gallinas have been operating under the name Rooster and the Hen, doing pop-up dinner collaborations with local chefs and purveyors around town. It started out as a way to get to know fellow industry professionals, but it turned into research and development for their upcoming restaurant, Vicia — planned to open later this year in the city's Cortex district, near the Central West End.
"Of course we came in with an open mind, but there have been some things that surprised us," Tara says. "We came here from an environment that was tasting menu only, and thought that was what we'd do [at Vicia]. We quickly realized that might not work as well here."
The reason for eschewing the tasting menu concept wasn't that the community wouldn't be on board, Tara explains. It's more about how often people go out to eat in St. Louis. "Sometimes, people go out to eat multiple times a week to the same place. It made us stop and think 'maybe we need to re-conceptualize what it is we want to do.'"
The Gallinas were also surprised with how enthusiastically St. Louisans would embrace their "vegetables first" philosophy, which is at the center of their forthcoming restaurant concept. Not vegetarian, it's a way of using meat sparingly, as an accent, while crops stay front and center.
"We've been pleasantly surprised at how excited people are about it," says Michael. "I was even called out on it at one of the pop-ups. We had two meat courses on the menu and someone said, 'Hey, I thought you said this was supposed to be veggie-centric.'"
Complaints of that sort should not be heard coming from Vicia's diners. The Gallinas describe the restaurant, which will be located inside the Cortex Innovation Community's @4260 Building, at Duncan and Boyle, as a "celebration of the bounty of the Midwest, from root to flower." The food at Vicia will be "vegetable-forward cuisine, driven by local farmers, with an emphasis on wood-fired cooking."
The Gallinas are well-known throughout in national restaurant scene, having honed their skills under renowned chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Since they announced they would be returning to Michael Gallina's native St. Louis to open a restaurant of their own last October, diners have been patiently waiting for their plans to solidify.
"It happened by accident," Tara explains. "We were introduced to Cortex by accident. When we moved here, it didn't ring a bell to us but after a meeting [about a pop-up event] we left with the sense that we didn't totally get what was going on there but we needed to keep it on our radar."
Vicia is slated to for an early fall opening, although that may change since the 2,500-square-foot space is being built entirely from the ground up. The Gallinas are not commenting on menu specifics at this time, but note that the restaurant, which takes its name from the Latin genus for vetch (a common Missouri cover crop), will be open for both lunch and dinner service and seat approximately 50 inside, with plans for an additional 1,500-square-foot outdoor dining space.
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