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Is Clayton, Mo becoming a steak and potatoes town? One could make a case for it...
On the heels of the two-month old Brazikat Brazilian Steak & Seafood House comes word that ARAKA will close and be converted into 801 Chophouse, the fifth unit of the 20-year old Iowa-based company. Clayton is already home to a Ruth's Chris and a Morton's, so this brings the city's steakhouse tally to four, especially unusual in that two of them, Brazikat and soon-to-be 801 are located within 50 yards of each other on Carondelet Plaza, Brazikat claiming the space of the former Luciano's Trattoria.
ARAKA's final day will be Saturday, March 9, marking a five and a half year run for Brad Beracha's 12,000 SF visual masterpiece, located on a scenic roundabout in a development otherwise known as "The Crescent." NYC's David Shefer Design tag-teamed with local architects Tao+Lee to create the multi-million dollar space, introducing Clayton and St. Louis to features heretofore unseen--like a soaring, empty-bottle wine wall and miles of shimmering "ball chain" dangling from the ceiling. ARAKA was lauded as a favorite place To See and Be Seen, as Favorite New Restaurant, and for Best Decor. The recessed patio (below) remains one of the most inviting outdoor dining spaces in town. The restaurant saw a succession of head chefs in Marc Curran, Eric Emaheiser, Steve Caravelli, and for the last year and a half, Michael Burnau. ARAKA's food varied somewhat from chef to chef, and over the years morphed from Beracha's original intention of items representative of the "Mediterranean crescent" to simply "market fresh cuisine."
ARAKA was supposed to lie smack in the middle of a burgeoning development along Carondelet Ave, "East Clayton," as Beracha referred to it in a Q&A from July 2007. But East Clayton never materialized, with the real estate bust taking its toll on a high-end, high-rise residential development (Trianon) as well as movie theater complex and a gaggle of new restaurants that were supposed to surround it.
801 Chophouse was founded in 1993 by Jimmy Lynch in Des Moines, Iowa, the website calling it "a late 1920's New York City steak house interior with signature leather booths, cherry wood furnishings, wooden floors, granite counter tops and high ceilings." To us, "Chophouse" is a misnomer: in addition to a substantial menu of USDA Prime steaks and Duroc pork chops, the menu mix also includes appetizers like roasted marrow bones and lobster corn dogs, osso buco, potatoes served eight different ways, plus an entire page of fresh seafood offerings--dubbed "Chef's Fresh Sheet"--as well as a Lobster Special (a 2-pounder for $35) every Friday and Saturday night.
Six months ago, the 801 group announced two more concepts: 801 Fish, a seafood-based spinoff that will open in Leawood, KS by mid-year; and Pig & Finch, a less expensive, gastropub-style restaurant. The first Pig & Finch opened next to the Leawood 801 Chophouse last December.
Relish first caught wind of the possible changes at ARAKA in early December when Lynch was discussing the new venture at a local restaurant. Hillary Stark, 801's marketing representative, said that Lynch would like to introduce the same three concepts in every market. St. Louis, with its paucity of seafood restaurants, is surely a candidate for an 801 Fish.
Lynch and company will take over ARAKA's space on April 1. A complete re-do of the restaurant is planned so no firm opening date has been announced.
Beracha closed his other restaurant, Miso, by disseminating the unfortunate news, then closing the joint with a big thank-you party for friends and staffers. He has similar plans for ARAKA: the farewell party will begin at 9 PM on March 9. ARAKA will continue to accept reservations through that evening.
When asked what will happen after that, Beracha replied "I just want to close ARAKA as gracefully as I did Miso. I'm working on placing ARAKA's employees and selling off all the FF&E. Honestly, I have not thought any further than that."
Don't rule out the possibility, though, of Beracha doing some forward-thinking concept in St. Louis in the future...he also said that "distance will bring clarity, and I believe the best is yet to come."