It's wonderful enough to have the luxury of walking to dinner. Out in the county, they're not so lucky. They have to drive to get to their Olive Gardens. But here, at the invisible border between Benton Park and Soulard, when the pangs arrive, we needn't drive.
And we've got a new option, to boot. We've worn out Frazer's, piddled away McGurk's and are too crusty for the Sidney Street Café. Sure, we can grab bar food at any of the tired Soulard bars, but what's the point when, a mere six blocks away, the Juniper Grill has sprouted? On a Monday night, the restaurant is quiet. The smell of fresh cornbread greets us as the stereo offers one of the great pop songs of the '70s: Shuggie Otis' "Strawberry Letter 23," as interpreted by the brothers Johnson.
A wine flight, honestly, isn't our first choice. At a place called the Juniper Grill, only gin could suffice. Unfortunately, Juniper doesn't stock Hendrick's gin, the glories of which we will expound upon next week, so we brainstorm a substitute.
The Ghost Gum flight sounds like a pretty good deal: three Australian wines for eight bucks. The continent has been known to produce some solid, if seldom dynamic, wines. Coupled with a semi-light dinner, this vino ménage à trois seems like a decent choice. Alas, the wines arrive in clunky little glasses that are placed on a laminated primer more suited for the Old Spaghetti Factory than a nice little corner bistro. We prefer half-glasses from real stems, not Kmart-quality mini-nothings. Oh well.
Ghost Gum comes from the Blue Pyrenees Estate Winery in Australia's southeastern Victoria region. The brand is named for the soft dust that coats the bark of the continent's eucalyptus leaves.
On the laminate, dictatorial tasting notes are spelled out beneath each glass -- we try to ignore them, preferring to arrive at our own conclusions. The 1999 chardonnay is oaky, and a touch buttery. As the laminate suggests, there's some peach. It's not a great wine, but who cares? It works as a teaser. The 2000 shiraz is big, spicy, fruity -- and relatively boring. It lacks the whoa factor that separates a drinkable wine from an orgasmic one. The 1999 cabernet is the best of the bunch: Deep and rich, it perfectly complements the exquisite roast duck and berry salad we're consuming.
Admittedly, our lukewarm response to the flight has as much to do with the presentation as with the wines themselves. Had we not felt patronized by the laminated notes and the glasses, the experience may have been different. Nor were we bummed with Juniper -- on the contrary, the place is now at the top of our walk-for-food list. And given the Neanderthals that often populate Soulard establishments, a little hand-holding into the world of wine is perhaps necessary. But we've got opposable thumbs, and when we walk to dinner from our shelter in Benton Park, we do it upright. Perhaps a little too upright.