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Monday, December 19, 2011 / 10:05 AM

Celebrating Clayton's Chez Leon

A recent trip to Chez Leon was a reminder of what "dining out" should be. An escape. A joy. A rejuvenation. An experience, and one not soon forgotten.

It was a Saturday evening in the height of the holiday season. This couple's destination: a Christmas party, of course. Our intent at Chez: to get into the spirit, so to speak. Our landing spot: the intimate, 8-seat bar. The request: two glasses of wine. Carols drifted in from overhead, sung the way they should be sung, by choirs; in the front windows, decorated wreaths hang from big, red ribbons; across the street, the City of Clayton's massive holiday tree bkinked and fluttered. The city has to call it that...we don't. Getting in the Christmas spirit would be easy here.    

At Chez Leon, wines by the glass are "verbaled," which is honorable when it's done with knowledge and lack of pretense, as it is here. The selection is not long, but well thought out and balanced, French wines mostly, and a generous pour, with a taste offered first for reassurance. In the mood for Champagne? Bartender John Gransbach answers with a flute of Taittinger Brut, the sole offeringhere and filled quite full, a volume similar to what the father of the bride might be served the moment he finishes his shaky-voiced, obligatory wedding toast, those wishes he wished he'd written down.  

The appetizers at Chez Leon are far more focused. When one's selection boils down to a 4-way tie, you know the list has been well honed. This night the verdict was Coquilles St. Jacques, half-dollar size scallops, deeply-seared, in a pool of beurre blanc and a faint swirl of chili oil; and a half-dozen shrimp, shingled all in a row, with peas and cream, a bit of Gruyère, and lardons, an exquisite addition. Dare we take a picture? We tried, and the device failed, perhaps a sign from above that snapping pics in such environs is gauche, if not full-on crass.   

Even the bread service was noteworthy. Bread plates arrived first with a ramekin of butter and a pair of butter knives. Five seconds later, a second courier appeared, toting a basket of warm, crusty, knotted rolls, that when broken apart, flaked like a boulanger's baguette. Clearly, someone of pedigree is behind all this. Indeed. It's Marcel Keraval, former owner of Cafe de France and current chef de cuisine at Chez Leon, a master of onion soup, roasted chicken, the souffle...and dinner rolls.  

We were reminded that Chez waves its corkage fee on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and notified that the restaurant will be open on both December 24 & 25--and on December 31 & January 1 as well--with special prix fixe menus. On these nights, the restaurant will be illuminated by candles only, and not votive candles, mind you. Tapers. Long white tapers.

Had we more time, we would have adjourned to the sleek, jet-walled dining room pour continuer. But alas, every table was occupied. And we had another party to attend.     

Chez Leon
7927 Forsyth
Clayton
314-361-1589
chezleon.com
Lunch Tue-Fri, dinner Tue-Sun 

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