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Review: The Crossing

Better restaurants around? Name ’em.

Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts

7823 Forsyth
Clayton
314-721-7375
fialafood.com
Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner Mon–Sat

Average Main Course: $35.
Dress: Connecticut casual.
Reservations: Without reservation.
Chef: Matt Abeshouse
 

There are better restaurants. Not many, though. Anywhere. The Crossing has always been a premiere St. Louis eatery, and it remains so for good reasons. The fare is sophisticated. The setting is alluring, refreshingly formal, with dark wood, sparkling crystal, and comfortable seating at tables arranged so diners feel like they’re the sole objects of the staff’s attention. Service hits that rare balance between efficient and convivial, the fulcrum of which is always competence. The staff is invariably good-natured, knowledgeable about the food, and eager to please. The challenge for a restaurant of this caliber—which falls here to the chef de cuisine—is to maintain the standards set when it opened 14 years ago. So we returned to The Crossing, long after our initial visit, to see how things are going.

They’re going well. Some of The Crossing’s dishes have achieved legendary status—again, with good reason. The blue-cheese soufflé is a splendid smooth, custardy amuse-bouche—airy, with just a suggestion of onion—and it spreads delectably on crunchy toast points. Snowflakes of freshly shaved Parmigiano and pungent, salty white anchovy fillets add substantially to a decidedly superior Caesar salad that’s become a Crossing signature. The “pork duo” is similarly celebrated: a medallion of impossibly tender porchetta with a hint of thyme and a slab of Mangalitsa pig belly, gloriously fatty, like a mouthful of crispy, sweet butter. (It’s among the best pork plates in town, one we’ve raved about on SLM’s food blog, Relish.) The Crossing isn’t flawless, though. A splatter of spectacular, flowery-scented green olive oil and a dusting of fennel pollen are delightful, though not enough to save a disappointing appetizer of yellowfin tuna crudo. The fish is chopped into a rough paste—which costs it its wonderful texture. The crudo should have been in chunks or slices. Likewise, a starter of foie gras is bland and lacks the mouthfeel one expects from this luxurious delicacy. If those missteps eliminate The Crossing from an immediate visit, however, it’s your loss. Virtually every other bite at this wonderful restaurant is an indulgence.

Unless the cook’s a novice, it’s hard to screw up trout. It is exceedingly difficult, though, to kick a presentation of the fish to revelatory levels. The chefs manage here, with trout fillets wrapped, like sushi rolls, around spinach, bacon slivers, and chopped apples, then roasted. The results are compelling, a kind of trout roulade with the flavor of the fish uncompromised, blended subtly instead with the dish’s other components.    

A duck-breast presentation is terrific, the dark meat luscious, faintly salty, sliced into perfect rounds with crispy rinds of skin and surrounded by wild mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. The dish is glossy with a thick, purply Banyuls vin reduction that lends a faint, welcome sweetness to the bird.

Scallops are tender, finely textured, as big around as those John Hardy earrings your wife wants for her birthday, and grilled to juicy perfection, resting in a nest of emerald leeks and sliced shiitake mushrooms and paired with smashed Yukon Gold potatoes. Rarely do scallops get this level of expert love, their surface gently caramelized, the succulent interior juicy. A glistening drizzle of brown butter ups the flavor of a fillet of typically bland Atlantic flounder. The herby duxelle of chopped mushrooms lends a rich, nuanced note to taste and texture. The flounder here, though, is elevated to a must-try by the addition of what cooks are calling “melted leeks” because they fear diners won’t know the correct term, fondue de poireaux. It’s a tricky preparation, but these soft leeks do nearly melt right on the tongue, their flavor adding much to the fish.

A Grateful Dead tribute band doesn’t consume as much grass as the cow that surrenders its tenderloin here for your beef-lovin’ delectation. The grassy, mineral tang of the meat plays off of a dollop of puréed potatoes, green beans, and a bordelaise sauce that tastes of rosemary and wine. The Crossing’s hanger steak, a cut rediscovered a few years ago by adventurous nonvegans, comes from a Wagyu cow; even from such a refined bovine, the cut can be tough. Here, it is terrifically tender, arriving with a cauliflower gratin and sugar snap peas.

Pasta courses are the small, Italian size, all house-made, all outstanding. Stracci—“rags”—are among the most rustic of pastas. The stracci shreds are matched with slivers of pancetta, roasted cauliflower nibbles, and a scatter of parsley. It’s Italian country cooking at its very best. Tagliolini—the smallest of the flat pastas—appears in one of those exquisitely simple dishes where restraint results in plenty. The pasta arrives bathed in a buttery glow, perfectly al dente, with what tastes like just a splash of very good chicken stock and branches of meaty chanterelles.

Chart a course, if you’re up for it, through a degustation menu with four courses, some that are from the regular menu, others, like Texas quail or beef tenderloin, that change regularly. There’s an additional charge if you want wines with these. It’s probably worth it; the wine list is excellent. Somebody’s infatuated with chardonnays here, from a serviceable 2010 Neyers Sonoma County 304 (the designation for the finest grade of wine-tank stainless steel—as well as the type of steel cladding the Gateway Arch) to a spectacular 2005 Corton-Charlemagne from Domaine Bonneau du Martray.

While desserts aren’t nearly as inspired at The Crossing as the other courses, you won’t be disappointed. Try the lemon semifreddo or a warm, gooey, seductively rich chocolate torte.

Unusual and pleasant, the restaurant offers a dining experience where not a single amateur note is sounded. So yes, there are better restaurants. After dinner at The Crossing, though, you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with one.

The Bottom Line: Lusty and first-class presentations of Italian and French-influenced cuisine in a beautiful and pleasant atmosphere.
 

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