Review - Scape
A destination bistro in the CWE? Seems like old times
Photograph by Katherine Bish
The difference is in how you say it. Call it "brick-squished chicken," and the average diner will pass; "chicken mattone," though, sounds classy. And it is: a delectable scaloppini of chicken breast pan-fried with a weight on top, producing a light golden filigree of crust, the meat glistening and fork-tender. Just for good measure, there's a creamy potato purée alongside and a garlicky, pine nut–studded gremolata of the sort normally accompanying osso buco that makes a savory dipping sauce for the chicken. You will be hard-pressed to find many chicken presentations that top this one.
It's worth mentioning Scape's logo treatment (the sign out front and the menu show it as ~scape) because it is one of those places the crabbier among us might ignore because we hate cutesy, gimmicky restaurant monikers. Don't. It's worth a visit. Or two. The atmosphere is hip, contemporary and comfortable. The space is roomy and modern, with globular Chihuly-ish chandeliers and wide-spaced tables. The presence of several larger groups does not intrude on couples dining; it's a nice balance, a good spot for a party or private tête-à-tête. There is a large bar separate from the dining area, a dramatically lit lower floor and a private room above with an open kitchen.
Like the chicken mattone, offerings on the small menu here are attractive, appetizingly presented and put together with a feel for rewarding flavor and texture combinations. Another chicken dish, an unusual take on schnitzel, was nearly as good as the mattone version. Pounded into a thin fan, a large breast was rolled in a very light breading, then pan-fried. The crust, a deep brown, was crunchy; the meat was moist. A ramekin of house-made applesauce and a dollop of chunky, lightly seasoned potato salad gave this meal an elegant picnic quality.
Slices of yellowfin tuna got a brief searing on the grill, their interior a rich, meaty purple, and were served on a bed of roasted peppers, thimble-sized tomatoes and caper sprinkles, all brought together with a kalamata olive vinaigrette. Another fish dish, mahi-mahi, was roasted after being landed, says the menu, on the "Brenda G by Captain Brandon." Of course, we never eat Brenda G mahi-mahi unless it's landed by Trevor the first mate, but you may find Brandon's catch worthwhile. We don't know who hooks the king salmon, but the kitchen here does an expert job with it. With no more seasoning than salt, pepper and olive oil, a careful grilling brought out all the robust salmon flavor. A cushion of fennel-potato hash was the right herby starch to complement the fish.
A double-cut Berkshire swine chop was served with squash purée. Brussels sprouts were paired with a duck confit. Nubbins of gnocchi were tossed with Emmenthaler, brown butter, tomatoes and other vegetables, in an offbeat take on a niçoise salad of Provence. And Scape is approachable to the steak-tolerant. Three are offered, each with its own accompanying enticement. With a filet mignon, it's a gratinée of luscious marrow. A strip steak came with a cognac–and–green peppercorn sauce. It was a dip of vinegary, garlic-and-pepper–spiked chimichurri sauce that enlivened a skirt steak.
Appetizers are worthwhile and more. Gloppy, chewy melted Gruyère-topped croutons were loaded into a beautifully rich onion soup, the onions caramelized and sweet, all presented imaginatively in a scooped-out onion. Grits veined with cheddar made a respectable match for the large shrimp just touched with a mild barbecue sauce. An oven-roasted artichoke arrived tender and ready to be picked apart, each bulging leaf savory, fragrant with brie and a restrained mustard sauce. Fried olives, a classic of Italy's Ascoli Piceno province, have become a trademark starter at Scape. They're almost walnut-sized, stuffed with Gorgonzola and deep-fried with a rough cornmeal crust that gives them a lacy crunchiness. The trick here is to brine the olives so delicately that the salt or vinegar doesn't overwhelm. One Scape side is a noteworthy must-try: Potatoes aligote were mashed, then kneaded with a mild cheese that tasted like Cantal until the mixture was half spuds, half cheese. The consistency was like firm Play-Doh. The taste was—and as your kindergarten teacher can attest, you can make a valid comparison—a whole lot better.
Desserts include a crepe-swaddled version of bananas Foster big enough for a party of four and a meltingly wonderful wedge of "chocolate pâté." Or you may wish to 'scape to the creperie next door (a separate but attached restaurant, Crepes, Etc.), which offers a variety of sweet crepes that make a happy finish to your meal.
The wine list is good, though the print is too small and there are few bargains. An '05 Joseph Carr Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon rolls strawberries over your tongue, then departs the scene with a snappy mineral finish. The '06 La Crema Sonoma Coast chardonnay tastes like daffodils smell. If you're eating steak or the pork, go with the '06 Carmel Road Monterey pinot noir, still one of the most underappreciated wines of the past decade.
Service at Scape is inexcusably slow, particularly at peak hours, but still pleasant— and fun. Responding to an offer of bottled water when we were seated, we upped the ante by requesting a local domestic tap water of recent vintage—and our waiter upped us by returning with a pitcher with a hastily scrawled "Mississippi River '08" label taped on it. It is loud here at busier moments, though it's a convivial, upscale loud and not a "there's a fight about to break out" loud. Get a seat near the windows, looking out onto the bustling CWE street scene and its signature fountain, or request a table in the hushed and hidden rear patio, a different but equally pleasing alternative. And speaking of the Central West End, it appears to be reclaiming its once-proud restaurant destination status. Places like Scape are contributing much to the effort.
Address: 48 Maryland Plaza
Average Plate: $22
Reservations: Heavens to Betsy, yes
Dress: Chic, sophisticated, with understated elegance. You know, like us
Bottom Line: Best Suffix-Named Restaurant in St. Louis, with a beautiful interior, an inviting atmosphere and a compact, bistro-type menu that delivers good food