Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
As Ferris Bueller said, “It’s understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself.” Such was our mantra while listening to the overenthusiastic spiel from our server about all the ways in which prasino is eco-friendly: The menu is sustainable, hormone-free, organic…
Yes, that’s all well and good. Distracting us from the explanation, however, were the surroundings. The restaurant has a light and airy, sprawling interior—the main dining area could double as a dirigible hangar. It’s broken up by a spectacular bar and two wine “cellars” that also serve as private dining spaces. The handsome floor is composed of recycled wood, and light shades are crafted from LIFE magazines. Located near the Missouri River, prasino has outdoor seating that opens directly into the bar and interior dining areas. The establishment sits on the corner of a massive new building where Noah’s Ark Restaurant once stood, sharing space with a number of other high-end eateries and shops. One suspects the clientele soon will include inhabitants of the tony condos being erected next door.
But back to the menu. Appetizers are appealing, displaying the talent inside prasino’s kitchen. (No bread is served ahead of time, though, and it’s sorely missed.) The tacos pre-
sent a challenge, with a choice of pork belly, short-rib meat, shrimp, fish, and chorizo seitan; distressingly, mixing-and-matching isn’t allowed. When in doubt, go with the pork belly. Succulent, sweet chunks of pork fat are nestled in chewy, house-made tortillas that rival any taqueria’s. (A ramekin of red wine–reduction sauce that comes alongside the tacos is tasty, but entirely unnecessary.)
Croquettes of falafel-like ground chickpeas are enlivened with superior dipping sauces: a smoky harissa and a creamy tzatziki. A whole-wheat flatbread topped with a Margherita mix of basil, rough-chopped tomatoes, and cheese is also suitable for sharing or for a light lunch. The lightly charred crust and excellent ingredients make it a creditable nonpizza pizza.
The salads are mostly disappointing. A Mediterranean was overwhelmingly bitter. A spinach salad was too gritty. The house salad, though, is entirely worthy: Greens are matched with curds of goat cheese, sunflower seeds, and a refreshing vinaigrette. The calamari salad (listed as a small plate, rather than a salad) is also delicious. The squid is chopped and grilled, topping
a slice of buttered bruschetta served with bright greens and capers.
Main courses are nicely varied. Beef comes in the form of a skirt steak and short ribs. If you’re in the mood for red meat, consider the tender, tagine-cooked lamb, served with couscous and sun-dried figs. That locally beloved piece o’ pig, the pork steak, is grilled and slathered with a pungent, somewhat sweet sauce made of Fitz’s root beer that’s well-matched to the average
St. Louis barbecue palate.
Let’s be clear, though: The black cod—marinated in miso, then broiled and served in a smoky, fragrant broth—is among St. Louis’ must-try dishes. The preparation is masterful, and the dish is perfectly understated. From the slab of miso-tinged cod to the savory tan soba noodles swirled in a magnificently delicate broth, the ingredients are exquisitely flavored and textured. And a scatter of dried bonito flakes lends a woodsy tang to an outstanding meal.
A fillet of white halibut is grilled over wood and balanced atop a mound of perfectly cooked green beans and tender nibbles of cauliflower, splashed with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon, then dusted with oregano. It’s eminently worthwhile. “Bricked” chicken, weighing the bird down on the grill, has become familiar. The presentation here avoids the often-desultory results: A half chicken arrives, the skin lip-smacking with lemon and garlic, the meat tender and juicy.
The restaurant’s burger easily ranks among the best in town. Among other “hands-on” offerings (as the menu calls them) is a splendid BLT, in which the B stands for pork belly; the cut here is far less fatty than in the tacos, which works to good effect. Guacamole, tomatoes, and arugula dress a buttered, grilled country bread to complete this lovely sandwich. No matter what you’re eating, though, don’t pass on the offered side of truffled potatoes—roasted in chunks and topped with aioli and Cotija cheese, they’re unforgettable.
The wine menu consists of mostly French and Italian wines, all well-chosen and with helpful, informative descriptions that allow diners to match food and drink. The location is also developing a reputation for its wildly inventive mixed drinks, with ingredients like elderflower foam, Velvet Falernum, and Xocolatl Mole bitters used to produce libations like Gin You Win and Summer Thyme.
Breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner, can be had at prasino. (If we know you, the words “crab-cake eggs Benedict” will have you on your way tomorrow morning.) The place also goes out of its way to cater to vegetarians and offer gluten-free options.
As Ferris would say, “Life moves pretty fast.” Take the time to enjoy some of it at a beautiful place like prasino.
The Bottom Line: Go for a variety of American fare, with some international notes and an emphasis on ingredients that are environmentally friendly.
1520 S. Fifth
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily
Average Main Course: $21
Chef: Tony Marchetto