Review - Five
Variety seduces all of the senses at this chic bistro in the Grove
By Dave Lowry
Photograph by Katherine Bish
Côtes du Rhône wines come from the stony, original old riverbed of the Rhône. A sip is a ruby splash of liquid spice on your palate; the tannins in it grip your tongue like a pleasantly firm and leathery handshake. Côtes du Rhônes mature quickly. They are remarkably stable. As wines, they are as dependable as Cindy Preszler telling us each August to don light colors now that it’s really a little too warm for that parka we’d otherwise intended to wear. And sitting with a glass of Côtes du Rhône over a nicely grilled strip steak with a shallot-spiked vinaigrette at Five is a beautiful way to celebrate the felicitous dependabilities of life.
Five joins a growing and welcome stable of bistros here. It’s semiformal. (It’s actually informal, but if we say that, people will show up in jeans and T-shirts—because, in case you hadn’t noticed, “informal” now means appearing in public in what people once wore to weed the delphiniums.) The menu’s limited. It changes just often enough to keep diners returning throughout the year to see how mostly local and mainly seasonal ingredients are best presented. It’s nestled in a stretch of Manchester just east of Kingshighway that has recently sprouted a number of worthy eateries.
Order at least one appetizer here; they’re reasonably priced, and the criticism that Five’s entrée portions are simply too meager is largely accurate. The risotto Milanese is creamy, with the golden rice grains main-taining their distinct texture, fragrant with saffron; a spray of delicate asparagus over the mound of rice adds another worthy element. While blini and caviar go together like eye-liner and Marilyn Manson, at Five, two blini are wonderfully paired with a poached egg. The light, yeasty blini are puffed with finely grated Yukon gold potatoes. The egg gets a drizzle of honey infused with truffle oil, giving this appetizer an elegant and mouthwatering touch. The splendid stuffing of ground short rib meat and goat cheese in a couple of ravioli should not be missed. The ravioli, with just the right al dente firmness, are nearly the size of playing cards, bulging with that stuffing, creamy as a good pâté, in a shimmer of red wine reduction.
A purée of wild mushrooms—polished by a trickle of white truffle oil and topped with a big garlicky crouton cube—made for a rewarding soup. A Caesar salad was just the right size, studded with herbed croutons and generous flakes of Parmesan.
Main courses are accompanied by imaginative and thoughtful elements that add another dimension to the dishes. Last spring, a strip steak of beef was accompanied by ramps, a mild wild onion that’s hard to find. The ramp resists cultivation and must be foraged, making it an expensive item no gourmet should ignore. The steak was fine, but the ramps, along with a bouquet of asparagus in that shallot vinaigrette, made the meal special. Roughly chopped fennel bulb did the same for a fillet of skate wing. Once used as imitation “scallops” in cheaper seafood joints, skate is appearing in its own persona more often now. The meat is firm and white and takes to the sauté pan quite well. Glistening with a lemony beurre blanc dressing, the fish paired nicely with the fennel chunks and shallots.
Western chefs are finally learning the southern Japanese method of tataki with tuna: seared on the outside, warm but raw in the center. The taste—that grilled smokiness of the tuna’s surface playing off the firm, ruby meatiness of the interior—is difficult to get right. Five manages. And sides of braised and chopped portobello mushrooms and eggplant are rewarding and well chosen to complement the fish.
Pass on the chicken and dumplings, though. It’s a misbegotten effort to re-imagine this classic, and those expecting some take on that will be taken aback. Rather than a thick stew, there’s a half chicken; braised, it arrives in a thin gravy that is little more than meat juices and wine, along with “dumplings” that are actually watery gnocchi. The chicken is underseasoned, the gnocchi seasoned not at all. Go instead for an unusual pork ragout. Again, if you’re expecting the traditional version—the Portuguese pork ragout with sweet peppers—you’ll be surprised, but this time pleasantly so. Five’s version is unique and brilliant. Chunks of sausage are tossed with shallots, carrots and locally harvested, meaty wild mushroom in a nest of fresh, house-rolled fettuccine. Aromas, textures and taste are all first-rate in this dish.
Those looking for a substantial ending might be disappointed with the desserts here. The hibiscus and mint sorbets were fine. But the dessert sampler, aside from an engaging cardamom ice cream, was a lackluster and poorly attended lineup, with nary a pastry in sight. This is inexcusable since the restaurant boasts one of the area’s best pastry chefs in its kitchen. Either our visit took place on an off night or the formidable talents of Summer Wright are being tragically under-employed. A small wine list features happily affordable vintages—that ’05 Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône is a delicious example.
A couple of old storefronts have been combined and put to good use in the space at Five, allowing for two dining areas and a small bar. The interior is pleasant and relaxing, the walls painted a deep wine below the chair rail, a pale lime above. The butcher paper over linen on the tables is an authentic bistro touch—so too the plain white dinnerware that is both attractive and comfortable. Extra points for the fresh flowers at each table, but knock off a few for the contrived attempt at bistro chic with the egregious appearance of several oversized reproductions of paintings by Tamara de Lempicka, the “Deco Diva.” (Lempicka swung both ways romantically. Artistically, her “soft cubist” portraits were a campy, self-conscious strikeout even in the affected Roaring Twenties–era Paris in which she painted them.) Service at Five is accommodating and timely. As a bistro, it succeeds wonderfully and will no doubt be a destination spot for the St. Louis diner who appreciates such fare and atmosphere.
Address: 4317 Manchester
Average Main Course: $20
Dress: Country club attire, of the sort favored by Bootsie and the Old Sport
Bottom Line: Bistro dining in a convivial setting, featuring a limited menu with lots of seasonal choices