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Found: A restaurant where adults can carry on a conversation. Lots of people seem to be seeking that, and we found one in the Sunset 44 Bistro. Yes, it's on the ground floor of a retirement community – but it's also right in the middle of Kirkwood with plenty of parking. And the food is awfully good.
Dinner time brings the occasional child, but it's mostly adults of several generations, catching up on news. From the way the plates show few leftovers heading back to the kitchen, the multicultural menu makes everyone happy. Caesar salad with a creamy dressing sported fresh, crisp croutons made in house, and a frico, one of those crisp wafers of grated Parmigiano melted on a griddle. We'd have preferred a little more anchovy in the savory dressing, but that's just us. Thick gazpacho, chunky with well-diced celery, tomato and bell pepper had a small hit of spice, but not enough to intimidate, and it was served cold enough, too.
Ann acquired a taste for St. Peter's fish (t left) during a visit to Israel after the first Gulf War, and owner Bob Menendez was happy to talk about how he obtains this variety of tilapia, farmed specifically for its mild, sweet flavor. Sprinkled with black sesame seeds, it was lightly sauteed, an artful puddle of a soy glaze alongside, the fish so tasty the glaze is really unnecessary. Small green beans, haricots verts, really, snuggled underneath and nuggets of carrot finished things up. The carrots were still quite al dente, unfortunately, but they were fresh and the beans were excellent. Rice pilaf comes alongside, but we asked for potatoes au gratin, a side with the evening's special. And they were brilliant, a dish to make diners grunt with pleasure, arriving in individual casseroles topped with crumbs, the potatoes hot, tender, the cheese (and garlic) singing along happily.
The fish, like several other entrees, is offered in two portion sizes, an excellent idea.
Chicken pot pie on a menu raises hopes, but too often dashes them with soggy pastry and gluey gravy, evoking memories of Swanson's from the freezer. Forget that. Prepare for a soup plate of excellent chicken stew topped with a large piece of puff pastry that never saw a freezer (below left), and had been baked just before being placed on the chicken, ensuring crispness. One of the best examples of puff pastry we've seen in years, this is a dish to dream of on a cold winter night.
Menendez, a third-generation restaurateur, recalls busing tables in his family's Circus Tent on Hampton avenue. He's also proud of an excellent wine list, a little on the pricey side but with a fine assortment of wines and vintages.
The most distinctive dessert is the chocolate Napoleon (above right). The name evoked hope for more puff pastry. But no, it involves two kinds of chocolate mousse, layered and frozen, scooped out in balls and placed on a brownie base, the whole covered in a light layer of chocolate glaze. It arrives cut in halves and just beginning to thaw, so it's easier to eat. The textures and flavors are nothing but fun. All meals end with a chocolate cookie, small but densely chocolate.
The dark red dining room with its curved windows catches sunset light; service is excellent in that pleasant setting. There's good value for the money there, lots of other pluses, and one minus:.No more breakfast on Sundays.
Sunset 44 Bistro
118 W. Adams
Lunch Tue-Fri, dinner nightly
Photos by Kevin A. Roberts
by Joe and Ann Pollack