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The bread has been eaten and the ballots are in. Here are our picks for the 15 most amazing new eateries in the city
By Dave Lowry. Photographs by Katherine Bish
[This article appeared in the October 2005 issue of St. Louis Magazine. Please contact restaurants directly before assuming the below information is current.]
New restaurants? St. Louis has 'em. They're as common here as tribal-armband tattoos in the Loop. But how about new restaurants with a lifespan longer than a Muny season? And how about those that manage not just to survive but also to flourish because of their remarkable food, outstanding presentations, atmosphere and service? Those are harder to find than weeds on a South City lawn. But finding them is why we get paid the big bucks. And here they are--not the bucks, the best new restaurants in St. Louis:
An American Place
800 Washington, 314-418-5800
One of the few restaurants with sufficient space overhead to warrant its own air traffic control booth--the waitstaff here could skydive to your table from the soaring ceiling. An American Place is a recent luxurious addition to the already sumptuous Renaissance Grand Hotel downtown. From the grand floral displays to the elegant and comfortable seating (including a pleasant lounge right in the middle of the dining area), all here seems designed to flatter and cater to diners. The menu is relatively brief, yet displays an embarrassment of choices. One of the most experienced chefs in St. Louis has gone to great lengths to assemble ingredients--local when possible and always from top-rated growers or gatherers. From Oregon truffles to Maine scallops, it's tough to go wrong with any selection. Roasted oysters served hot on the half shell. A rack of grass-fed Missouri lamb. A fillet of elk, roasted on the surface but juicy and pink inside. Chicken breast lightly marinated in Chardonnel. Sides such as a pungent blue-cheese dumpling, a tart poached-rhubarb salad, and a series of ragouts with mushrooms and greens, broccoli rabe and pearl-size white beans, all stewed in meat broths, are wonderful. The cheese platter is unparalleled. Specials such as a silky lobster soup and a stew chunky with plump oysters are consistently praiseworthy. This restaurant has been rightfully criticized for its meager portions, a flaw that must be corrected if An American Place is to move from the Best New category to join St. Louis' favorites. But there are few faults with the atmosphere here. No matter how crowded the restaurant--and invariably it is crowded--noises seem to recede, as do cares when one is dining in such happy surroundings. DON'T MISS: Two words: pear flan. Enough said.
7266 Manchester, 314-645-0300
What do we get in St. Louis? Humidity, bad pronunciation of French names and a MetroLink expansion that's now a decade behind schedule and is going to be more expensive than paving the canals of Mars. What do we want? More pleasant, civilized eateries with kitchens skilled at innovation yet loath to go hog-wild in an attempt to be unique. In other words, we want more places like Arthur Clay's. A suave setting in the middle of Maplewood's urban renaissance, this restaurant has become a destination. The foie gras accompanied by an apple-onion tart is an almost mandatory starter. After that, move on to lamb shanks braised in their own juices until they're so gloriously tender that the dish is almost like a cassoulet, served with cumin-scented buds of gnocchi. Or golf ball-sized sweet peppers stuffed with a tomato-and-fennel risotto. Or a meaty leg of duck confit. Provencal-style tian are a specialty: layered vegetable casseroles slowly roasted after a quick saute in olive oil, delicious enough to compete with the beef tenderloin they accompany. Almond macaroons are held in place with a daub of chocolate ganache. Arthur Clay's is a small storefront place, brick-walled and lively, and its presentations are always entertaining. FORTUNE SMILES: If on the menu is the garlic soup, redolent with the taste of the stinking lily, skillfully complemented with some spicy, peppery mizuna greens and a luscious drizzle of truffle oil.
Eleven Eleven Mississippi
1111 Mississippi, 314-241-9999,
Well, sure, there was the yellow fever, fetid water supply, and coal soot dusting anything that stood still too long. But aside from that, early-20th century St. Louis was a rather nice place to live, as is exemplified by the magnificent Lafayette Park neighborhood, still chockablock with meticulously maintained mansions of the era. A stroll here is restorative and rewarding; much the same can be said for its best restaurant. Multiple dining levels, a spacious bar, exposed brick and beam--the interior, once a shoe factory, is distinctive; the menu is similarly so. The kitchen has a flair for matching foods in combinations that leave your fork hovering over the plate, tempted to move in every direction. A saddle of braised rabbit arrives with a dollop of luscious golden polenta spiked with rosemary and porcini mushrooms. Salmon with a horseradish crust comes with a salad of wilted spinach, tiny dried cherries and pine nuts. A tomato-basil risotto is perfect with a roasted chicken redolent with sage, glistening with its own juices. Five-course meals paired with five different wines are held in the private wine room for parties of up to 12. The wine list is proof that quality vintages can be assembled and priced at less than a round-trip ticket to London. A patio surrounded by potted herbs and flowers makes for leisurely dining in warm weather. DON'T TELL US YOU PASSED ON: The desserts. White-chocolate truffle cake with a blueberry-and-vodka compote or a creme custard with caramelized bananas and chocolate shavings are among the meal-ending delights that strike a balance, both rich and delicate.
11631 Olive, 314-994-1080
There's a waterfall wall. How much cooler can you get? How about another wall that's floor-to-ceiling wine racks? And still another that's a screen with projected images of rustic (is there any other kind?) Italian villages? In appearance alone, Cafe Bellagio has to be one of the classiest new restaurants around. Broad arcs of cloth decorate the ceiling. Just off the main dining area are more private alcoves, and there's a big circular booth in the corner where you can play like Frank entertaining his entourage. (Videos of Rat Pack performances on the aforementioned screen add to the effect.) The food here is as stunning as the decor. Go with the veal cannelloni as an appetizer; then you're on your own. You can't make a mistake. Oversized ravioli are stuffed with hunks of sea bass, spinach and mushrooms, then drizzled with a satiny sauce hinting of sherry. A mushroom-studded risotto explodes on the palate with the pungency of Gorgonzola. A rack of lamb is roasted to pink perfection and aromatic with rosemary. The calamari Livornese is unparalleled, rings of tender squid cooked in oil with capers, black olives, tomato and garlic and tossed with papardelle. Service here is thoughtful, professional and well-timed, so you will never feel you're being hurried through dinner. DON'T MISS: The torta cioccolata, an alchemical dessert combination of chocolate cake, fudge and mousse.
1928 S. 12th, 314-621-9195
Subtle it isn't. The building, on the corner of South 12th and Allen in Soulard, is a shade of red intense enough to frighten small children. Walls inside are hazmat yellow. There are the exposed brick walls that are required, apparently, by law for all restaurants in the Soulard neighborhood, as well as handsome tile and wood floors. The table linens and settings give this place a decidedly upscale atmosphere, and the menu is splendidly diverse. Almost everything is reliably pleasing; some presentations are outstanding. A flank steak comes off the saute pan blackened and juicy inside, smothered in a luxurious bearnaise sauce. Along with sweet potatoes mashed and spiked with a dollop of bourbon comes an entire young hen, layered in bacon and roasted. Reports of patrons' swooning over the crab cakes are not exaggerated. Hefty hunks of crab are kept in cake shape with just enough breadcrumbs, and nothing about their crabby perfection is compromised by silly sauces. Luxuriant saffron and down-home red pepper combine for a rich, slightly spicy crawfish bisque. It's smoked jalapenos giving a whang to the aioli crisscrossing a grilled pork tenderloin. Green peppercorns, apple and corn relish, wild mushrooms--ingredients here seem to coax the best out of whatever meat or vegetable appears on the plate. Portions are way past ample, and prices are among the best in St. Louis for a restaurant of this caliber. DON'T MISS: The steak strudel, with the meat and sauteed mushrooms wrapped and baked in phyllo, then perched in a pool of Gorgonzola cream sauce with a side of chipotle-spiked mashed potatoes.
7307 Watson, 314-752-8300
If you're as tired as we are of that tedious drive to Cuzco every time you're in the mood for a decent Peruvian meal, take heart. Ceviche is as Peruvian as those irritating street-corner pipe-flute bands, and Mango's versions are completely credible, the tilapia and mussels and shrimp all "cooked" in a basting of lemon juice along with big slices of red onion. The side of cancha, a fried hominy, is essential for ceviche; the cold sweet potatoes and corn-on-the-cob slices refreshingly authentic. Seco de carne, flank steak marinated in herbs and fried, is bright with the tang of cilantro and a hint of chile. Shredded pork, chopped olives and sweet onions offer a distinctive Peruvian take on masa tamales, steamed in banana leaves. Pan-fried yuca and plantain chips are delicious sides. You'll be disappointed that Peru's guinea pig isn't on the menu. And it's chicken breast instead of the traditional tripe in cau-cau, a rice stew flavored with mint and saffron. But the meat-stuffed potato dumpling papas rellenas taste as if you're in the Andes rather than a Shrewsbury strip mall. DO TRY: The "tiger milk" liquid left at the bottom of the ceviche plate, perfect for slurping with a dash of pisco (a distilled grape liqueur, the national drink of Peru, that's the culprit in the notorious pisco sour cocktail).
512 N. Euclid, 314-361-8883
This new addition to the Central West End dining scene defines its name in advertisements as: "Ma-lanj: (adj) 1. Eat. 2. Drink. 3. Be Yourself." This demonstrates that its owners did not major in English. Melange is a noun, of course, a mixture of often incongruous elements. Presentations here are lively and inventive and reflect the matching of disparate ingredients. Instead of grape leaves, it's a sheath of Savoy cabbage surrounding leeks and wild rice with roasted parsnips in an odd and satisfying take on dolmades. How about tarting up a beurre blanc with red curry sauce, then pouring it over ginger-crusted tuna that's hit the fire just long enough to get a good sunburn, still sashimi-red in the center? We'd sell our autographed Sammy Sosa Superball bat for good spaetzle, so imagine what we'd give for Melange's house-made version, scented with truffles. Though Lord knows we've tried, not enough can be said about the importance of a bone left in meat. It's right here in a center-cut pork chop, grilled and served without any further ado than a side of roasted-corn spoonbread. Melange also offers an ever-changing array of farm-raised game meats and a similarly changing variety of house-made pastas. The veal liver and onions draws raves, as does the soft-shell crab when it's on the menu. The view of the Central West End from this attractive and comfortable dining spot is excellent; pop for one of the affordable wines and raise a toast. CONSIDER, ESPECIALLY IF SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING: The Sunday brunch, highlighted in our April issue and among the best in town.
1500 St. Charles, 314-436-9700
Decide whether you're a Shark or a Jet before heading down the West Side Story alley of St. Charles, the street just off Washington that's perfect for a rumble between feuding ballet gangs. With appointments and a menu unabashedly stylish, this place bounded onto the local dining scene, almost instantly becoming a favorite for the trendarista. Admittedly, that's a crowd that is to good food what TiVo is to a trout. Red Moon is exceptional, though, managing to be popular with both the Beemer-and-mojito crowd and serious gourmets. Further, the kitchen here pulls off the extraordinary trick of matching Asian ingredients with Western foods (and, in some cases, vice versa) and creating unique and superb dishes. The red snapper, deep-fried whole and presented upright and "swimming" across the platter, is a triumph on the table; the crispy skin and meaty flesh is even better. A chunky lamb shank, big enough to feed two, is braised with carrots and dusted with cumin; the meat is flavored with a lemon essence. The osso buco is similarly huge and also braised, slathered with a tamarind sauce. A pad thai is a credible recreation of this classic, but a red-curry dish with egg noodles and crabmeat is spiked with andouille sausage no Thai chef ever dreamed of. Sides such as fried plantains, a slaw of ginger-smacked shredded beets and fried sweet potatoes with a ginger-orange aioli contribute to make dinner here a bright, frequently dazzling adventure. GIVE SERIOUS CONSIDERATION TO: The side of light chocolate ice cream that comes with the bittersweet chocolate tart, sparked with just a hint of black pepper. Surprisingly delicious.
630 North and South, 314-863-3511
Few dining experiences are more irritating than sitting near one of those obnoxious jackanapes who shouts "Opa!" in a Greek restaurant every time a plate of saganaki goes up in flames. Good Greek food, though, is worth some discomfort, and, in the case of Momo's, the food is far better than just good. Mezedakia have been called Greek-style tapas, and the description is apt. Main courses include pita-stuffed gyros, hefty with lamb, slivers of red onion, freshly chopped tomato and creamy tzatziki sauce. Fragrant skewers of shish kebab come with potatoes roasted with oregano and lemon. Savvy diners, however, will share a succession of small plates of hot and cold meze. A house-made yogurt goes into grape-leaf dolmades. Char-grilled octopus is tender, and the lemon seasoning accompanying it demands to be sopped up with bread. It's the myzithra cheese--along with kalamata olives, artichokes and caramelized onions--that makes the flatbread pizza splendid. Try the spreads that make meze dining so wonderful: Skordalia, a puree of olive oil, garlic and potatoes; and taramosalata, a bright, salty puree of salmon roe bearing a tang of lemon, are both perfect for crispy slivers of fried eggplant or rounds of chewy pita. The interior at Momo's is happy and suitably folkloric, with orangey-red walls and comfortable seating. And the restaurant has become a hot spot for the nightclub crowd, with a rotating crew of DJs spinning swing, soul, lounge and dance music. FORGET ABOUT: The Euro-stupid "Deitinis" and "Hemlocktails," mixed with ingredients such as apple juice and amaretto, more suitable for sorority girls than Greek gods and scholars. Stick with ouzo and retsina.
4584 Laclede, 314-361-4848
"Bistro" is more misused than anthropomorphism at a PETA conference. Used properly, it denotes an informal, cheap eating establishment. Only inverse snobbery labels a place with linen napkins a bistro. However, even if it is considerably more upscale than French versions, Moxy comes as close to the spirit of a true bistro as any local restaurant so designated. The interior is clean and minimalist--wooden floors, dark blue and black tables and chairs, seating for barely 50 and a cozy bar. The owner/chef here plays the same position next door at the justly acclaimed Chez Leon, with its more traditional fare. At Moxy, he riffs. But though selections are often inspired, they never become baroque or too complex, always staying comfortably within the range of true bistro food. A slab of meaty white halibut is simply sauteed and served with a Champagne-infused risotto and asparagus spears. Duck breast couldn't be less pretentious, pan-seared and still pink and juicy, presented with wild rice flecked with truffles in a syrupy grape reduction. Unique dishes such as the Champagne risotto, sage polenta and lobster potstickers make dining here fun, and the coconut-cream-and-Key-lime-curd Napoleon dessert is enormously seductive. GO FOR: The stozzapreti, "priest-choker" pasta, so named because a gluttonous prelate allegedly expired after a mountainous meal of it. Here the pasta is tossed with portobello and porcini mushrooms in an unctuous Madeira cream sauce.
17417 Chesterfield Airport Road, 636-519-0048
If you had to move GQ or Elle to get to this magazine on your coffee table, you'll find this hard to believe--but there'll come a time in life when a "big" Friday night will be catching the paper-plate sale at Sam's Club or the two-for-one Underoos special at Wal-Mart. Just because some priorities change, though, doesn't mean they all do. You'll still enjoy a good meal. So when you're out in the Chesterfield Valley at a shopping mecca that covers every consumer need imaginable, you don't have to settle for fast or mediocre food. Villa Farotto is an oasis of moderately priced contemporary Italian fare in a cool, appealing setting. Osso buco draws raves here; the shank is just dunked in hot oil to give it a crispy crust, then slow-braised with vegetables until it nearly falls from the bone. A dollop of Gorgonzola and a red-wine reduction elevate the grilled "Bentley" tenderloin into a steakhouse-quality meal. Mushrooms, wild and domestic, are sauteed in butter and garlic and topped with gooey mozzarella, a terrific appetizer. All pastas are more than worthwhile, from veal-stuffed ravioli to a pesto sauce with linguini and seared scallops. The interior is quiet and comfortably formal, with bright yellows and oranges to accent the whole Tuscany motif. A separate cafe, serving soups and sandwiches, along with a small delicatessen and wine selection, combine with the formal dining here to make Villa Farotto one of the hottest places in Chesterfield, apres-Wal-Mart or otherwise. TAKE NOTE: The wine list here, with lots of medium-range Chianti and other drinkable vintages, is an underrated bargain.
1101 Lucas, 314-621-6001
Washington Avenue and its Loft District has as many hip restaurants as there are plaid shirts at a Melissa Etheridge concert. This street has done more to rejuvenate downtown St. Louis than the next three stadiums will. Mosaic, open just a few months off Washington on Lucas and currently packing in the local trendissimo element, is a good example. Gas jets, along with multicolored spotlights, play a weird pattern on the tile mosaic along the wall that gives the place its name. Space is defined by a freestanding bar that makes a long island in the center of the room; there's a little lounge and a fireplace and a lot of tables, closely spaced. The menu centers around a loose interpretation of tapas--which is a metaphor for Mosaic in general. It's kind of a lounge, kind of a bar and meeting place, kind of a restaurant. The whole affair's pretty loose, and it all works well. Anyway, to call them tapas is to understate the talent in the open kitchen here. Offerings are dramatic and elaborate in many cases. Fat sea scallops are roasted and served with braised leeks and a spicy, garlicky Argentinean chimichurri sauce. A bed of rough kosher salt tinged blue with curacao holds oysters on the half-shell, sprinkled with dark-green fueru wakame, a briny, lacy seaweed that lends as much flavor to the bivalves as the accompanying dipping sauces. Potstickers are stuffed with crisp roasted pig and slivers of celery and served with a Parmesan broth. A frisee salad with warm goat-cheese crumbles and toasted walnuts is worthy; so is the California-dominated wine list.
280 Long Road, 636-532-9262
Yeah, yeah, we get it. Kubla Khan, stately pleasure dome, blah, blah, blah. What's the food like? Great. Ambience? Just as good. The Chesterfield Valley, which has proved more fertile for growing restaurants than Maui is for cultivating Wowie, is the site of this hot new steakhouse. It's been accurately described as a retro kind of restaurant, the sort of place your parents went to on their anniversary, leaving you home with the sitter and a TV dinner: Waiters attired in dinner jackets handing out menus decorated with gilt. A fireplace in the lounge. Chairs and booths padded with crushed velvet; the entire color scheme bold golds, reds and black. Fan-cee. If you're a male and have a diamond pinky ring, this is the place to wear it. Most important: Steaks. Steaks petite as an 8-ounce filet mignon, hefty as a 24-ounce porterhouse. Seared, still sizzling on the platter, as good as those at any steakhouse in town. It's an unabashed celebration of protein. Veal selections feature a stupendous 14-ounce veal porterhouse, surely the ultimate in carnivorous dining. Several fish dishes and pastas are offered as well. Appetizers are particularly lavish here: Lobster and crabmeat are rolled into cakes and smothered in Mornay sauce; asparagus and artichokes crusted with fried corn make an excellent starter, as does the broiled duck breast with wild-rice pancakes. And it's all served with panache, overseen by an owner who gracefully schmoozes as if he was born to do so. The comparison to the late steakhouse paradise of St. Louis, Al Baker's, is inevitable--and justified. DON'T MISS: A pleasant echo of dining's past, the dessert platter, wheeled out for those still conscious after the meal.
St. Louis Gast Haus
1740 Chouteau, 314-621-4567
We've never gotten it. So much of St. Louis culture and history is as German as umlauts and grown men in funny leather shorts. Nevertheless, there's been a dearth of German restaurants here for decades. Acting on the assumption that a day without schnitzel is like a day without sunshine, an intrepid family of entrepreneurs has opened the Gast Haus. The atmosphere is gemuetlichkeit--friendly and inviting, though happily much more formal than the raucous beer hall we unfortunately now associate with German dining in the Midwest. Those who know their haehnchenschnitzel from their liebfraumilch will appreciate numerous authentic dishes on the menu here: Beefy pinwheels of rouladen, the meat delicately browned before a long simmer. Scallopines of veal or pork schnitzel, pan-fried with a crisp golden crust. The allegedly edible sauerkraut, served here with pork as a dinner or alone as a side. Speaking of sides, several are splendid: Carmine-red Rotkohl cabbage simmered with apples and onions, fragrant with bay leaves. Peppery, vinegary potato salad. The beautifully simple Bavarian approach to dumplings of potato and breadcrumbs. The Gast Haus offers three kinds of pretzels, including the Bavarian twists that go so well with mustard dips, all perfect for a light snack. Cheese and apple and cherry strudels make for sweet, flaky desserts. With any luck, this fine new restaurant will inspire a renaissance of German food in a city that surely can appreciate it. WORTH THE TRIP ALONE: The spaetzle, magnificent little dumplings that are Germany's most significant nonviolent contribution to Western civilization.
Restaurant Of The Year
4356 Lindell, 314-531-0220
Utterly urban, innovative, and with an unerring eye for what's fashionable in food and atmosphere, Savor seems to have soared right past the awkward adolescence suffered by many new restaurants, maturing into St. Louis' best new restaurant of the year. Aside from an unfortunately situated bar at the entrance, diners here are in for an evening of exceptional, even extraordinary food and attentive and professional service in a halcyon setting. The menu is a mix-and-match offering of world cuisine. But as your waiter reminds, the point here isn't to re-create ethnic dishes but to play off them with exquisite, often local ingredients. The chef here has culinary tricks up his sleeve: A saffron-yellow Oaxacan mole poured over a plump chicken breast with oozy asadero-cheese dumplings on the side. Smoked trout is an exquisite dish; here it's complemented with a side of wilted spinach and a smoky bacon dressing that brings out all the flavor of the fish. Lamb comes from a ceramic tagine cooker accompanied by pearl couscous and a house-made, just-spicy-enough chile harissa sauce. An ostrich tostada just like Mom used to make is enlivened with smoky chipotle peppers and a salsa verde of fava beans. Attention to detail is nearly incessant here. Dates stuffed with foie gras arrive with a peppery sauce that manages to bring together the buttery richness of the liver with the sweetness of the dates. Tender, crunchy tendrils of fiddlehead ferns are dusted with cinnamon, cardamom and anise to accentuate their texture. The tableware is tasteful, as is the artwork--a rare achievement for a St. Louis restaurant. Tables are situated in several connected rooms that allow for a private conviviality. This is a place that will appeal to a couple on their first date, another celebrating their 30th and another hosting a family reunion--and for larger groups there is a splendid private room, one with a hand-painted ceiling, next to the wine cellar. Savor is not only the best new restaurant in St. Louis, it's one of the best, period.