Like most of restaurateur David Bailey's eateries, Small Batch combines a creative overall concept with bold design and inventive cuisine. All of these factors were on prominent display when we dropped in recently for a drink and a bite.
The idea behind Small Batch is a bit of an oddity: Pair a lengthy list of whiskies with a food menu full of vegetarian and vegan dishes. While we're fans of these categories of spirit and food separately, the two never seemed to really come together cohesively as far as the menu goes. They seemed like two distinctly separate entities. Including spirit and food-pairing suggestions on the menu may help this.
The space itself, located in an old commercial building in Midtown, is gorgeous. The decor hearkens back to the building's turn-of-the-century origins with black iron railings, white marble bar and tabletops, and an array of black and white photos on the walls. There's a narrow catwalk of a second floor with some additional seating, as well.
The whiskey menu at Small Batch is extensive, heavy on American styles with a few Irish and Scotch whiskies mixed in. Nothing particularly rare or unusual, but a good, solid roster that offers novices and aficionados alike plenty to choose from. The list of whiskies also includes helpful notes on the individual spirits' mash bills (the recipes of the grains that make up the spirit), proof and their state (or country) of origin. Whiskies are available in 2-ounce and 3/4-ounce pours, and there are several flights available to better let guests explore the variety of tastes. We tried the Multi-Grain flight ($12), which featured non-corn-based whiskies like StilL 630 Rally Point Rye, Koval Oat Whiskey and Bernheim Original.
On the food side, the smaller plates were the most successful. The Stoplight Eggs ($4), a trio of multi-colored eggs (hence, the moniker) pickled and deviled, made for great tangy bar snacks or as the prelude to dinner. The Tartine ($7), a take on a traditionally French open-faced sandwich, was a hearty slab of bread covered in goat cheese and artichoke, and in no need of any sort of meaty accompaniment. The only gripe we had about the delectable Smoked Brie ($9) was that the ratio of cheese to flatbread was off--we ended up with plenty of spare crisps.
However, the larger dishes we sampled were uneven. The Pho ($12) had an abundance of enormous, tender dumplings filled with delicious mushrooms, but the broth itself was barely there, flavor-wise. An array of condiments, such as ones you'd find on the table in a traditional pho restaurant, would have been most welcome. While the Nori ($12) was both tasty and gorgeous with its colorful mix of carrot and red cabbage, the miso soup served along with it was lukewarm and, like the pho broth, somewhat bland.
We decided to forgo the dessert offerings this time around, instead opting for a nip of Wild Turkey Forgiven bourbon ($11).
It's good to see a vegan- and vegetarian restaurant open with such an emphasis on interesting fare that's more than just the same old thing sans the meat; and of course, there's no such thing as too much whiskey! With some tweaks, Small Batch should prove a cornerstone of the evolving Midtown culinary scene.
-- 3001 Locust St., 380-2040, smallbatchstl.com.