Review - F15teen
Jim Edmonds may be gone, but his restaurant continues to score
Photograph by Katherine Bish
It’s usually fun right up until the fire department gets called. It was at F15teen, the enjoyable, atmospheric new restaurant opened downtown by some guy who used to play for the Cardinals and wore a No. 15 on his back. Actually, it was fun even after. The staff handled a couple of near-simultaneous emergencies—a man fainted in the attached lounge; a woman tumbled on a stair—with such professionalism and aplomb that the only patrons in the dining room even aware of the incidents were at our table, with a view of the firetruck that pulled up.
The same cool professionalism is on display in the kitchen here, viewed through windows in the lobby leading to the lounge; it’s worth a peek. This is how a well-organized and well-run kitchen looks. There isn’t a lot of shouting or frantic buzz, but everyone there is immersed in his or her tasks. Just a glance, and you know you are in for an above-average meal. This is a beautiful, first-rate kitchen with a staff that’s confident and on the ball.
The menu is compact. Steak is spoken fluently at F15teen, though other dishes are worthy. A strip steak, 16 ounces and dry aged and tasting like it, is a dinner choice you won’t regret. The difference between wet and dry aging is similar to that between chocolate sauce and hot fudge: Nobody’s going to turn down the former, but come on, given a choice, who doesn’t go with the latter? An 8-ounce filet was thick, juicy, tender, the surface caramelized and sizzling. F15teen passed the Crafty Critic’s Steak Test easily: We order one steak medium, another medium rare. The difference here is visually noticeable, as it should be, demonstrating the unerring sign of a master at the grill. Rib-eyes, sirloins and skirt steaks are available, along with a big bone-in pork chop. Steaks are plated with a choice of condiments. Pass on the too-sweet house-made steak sauce. The roasted garlic purée is your most flavorful bet, the bleu cheese fondue lip-smackingly pungent, the pepper purée lively and interesting. (Or don’t trust us, and ask for a dollop of each on your plate.)
A fillet of salmon was good, though undercooked in the center. Pink’s one thing; gelatinous is another. The salmon arrived on a bed of cooked beets (maybe the restaurant was trying to sell off some overstock that night; they came with the steaks as well) that didn’t do much for the fish. Fat, chewy noodles added much to a hunk of short rib braised to flaky tenderness, however. And if you’re just not into the carnivore thing, a big swirl of angel-hair pasta with a light tomato sauce, shredded basil and Parmesan was delectable, though you will also want a side or two to make a full meal.
Those sides are all worthwhile. Whipped potatoes were creamy and rich. F15teen’s mac ’n’ cheese is already gaining a rep, and deservedly so. The cheese is smooth and luscious, enrobing tubes of penne and baked in a metal pan so the edges have that crunchiness beloved by mac ’n’ cheese devotees. Corn is creamed without becoming mushy; asparagus spears are given a happily delectable turn on the grill and dressed with salt and pepper.
Quarter-sized cheeseburgers, with their nibble of pickle, were an imaginative, delightful amuse-bouche. F15teen borrows a trick made famous by the Léon de Lyon restaurant in France, pouring steaming broth over soup ingredients. It works nicely with an unusual chicken-and-vegetable soup studded with some unexpected zucchini slices and chunks of avocado and finished with a refreshing spritz of lime. Adding the broth tableside to an onion soup provides even better results. The luxurious beef broth and crispy leaf of Parmesan work well with delicate slivers of roasted onion.
A satiny, warm shallot vinaigrette lightly glazed bibb lettuce leaves that, along with tiny crumbles of bleu cheese and walnuts, made for a refreshing and lively salad. Fragrant blobs of horseradish and truffle oil added a luscious richness to tissue-thin medallions of carpaccio topped with snowflakes of pecorino. A big raviolo stuffed with ground wild mushrooms, drizzled with truffle oil and an unctuous oregano cream and topped with wilted arugula is a must-try appetizer.
Desserts, like gooey butter cake, chocolate-chunk ice cream sandwiches and milk shakes with Cocoa Puffs are nonserious flights of fancy. Grown-ups should treat themselves to an after-dinner drink instead.
Bargains are scarce on the wine list. An ’04 Fitch Mountain Cabernet has a bang of green pepper and tannins that open in the glass and make a great first date with your steak. A River’s Edge Barrel Select ’05 is almost too good to be a pinot noir, overcoming its notoriously fickle disposition to produce a woody earthiness you wouldn’t want to marry to your chicken or salmon, but which is worth a flirt when it’s offered affordably, as it is here.
Note: Soup bowls at F15teen are inexplicably square, making it impossible to wield the spoon correctly—“Like little ships cast out to sea, I tilt my spoon away from me”—and plates for some main courses are more like giant, broad-lipped bowls. Considering that sides arrive on their own plates, the table can rapidly become cluttered. On the plus side, F15teen appears to have responded to a couple of early complaints. Boisterous soirées in the attached bar area have been relocated to the lounge, making for much quieter dining. And service, originally slower than spring’s coming, has improved. There was one lag, as apparently our wine had to be shipped from California; otherwise, service was timely and friendly.
Don’t expect any Jim Edmonds/Cardinals/sports bar memorabilia. F15teen is among the more upscale restaurants downtown, with nary a nod to baseball or Edmonds. Aged brick outside; dark, cranberry walls within, along with a beautiful old wooden floor and the original pressed-tin ceiling, all work to give this place an air of class and distinction. It’s a pleasant addition to downtown and to the local dining scene.
And service from the fire department is quick to arrive.
Address: 1900 Locust
Average Main Course: $20
Reservations: A necessity
Bottom Line: Steaks and related fare, far above average, in a romantically lit eatery that's the perfect setting for a night-on-the-town experience