Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Average Main Course: $20
Reservations: Not the worst idea
Dress: The Summer Gala’s in The Hamptons this month. Look like you attended.
There’s no bread. Dinner is surrounded by wine, with vintages more numerous than the thread count of Oprah’s bedsheets. And nary a crumb comes to the table. We mention this lapse because what follows is a happy paean that might otherwise be mistaken for an uncritically fawning puff piece—and our kickback isn’t nearly enough for that. (Kidding, of course.)
Walk into Veritas, and you fear it’s another of those cutesy, gift-foody boutiques opened by an idiopathically bored former housewife, where a small kitchen and smaller menu have been added as an afterthought. Then, seated at a table among the wine racks, you scan that menu. As with your stock picks, you are wrong again. This is serious food.
That food appears to be a showcase of whatever’s caught the kitchen’s fancy. Scallops are seared and plated with house-made bacon, spiced apples, and celery purée. Roasted chicken breast is paired with fried jasmine rice. A calzone is packed with sausage, bacon, and spinach. Share dinner with a group in most places, and there’s usually a consensus while sampling one another’s meals as to which was the best. Good luck with that here. Nearly every choice is worthy.
Start the discussion over a towering cone of pommes frites, prepared to mahogany perfection and sent over the edge with a creamy, mild aioli for dipping. The serving is generous, but you’ll still mourn that last lonely fry. A splendid “baby burger” arrives, an impressive stack of sliced tomatoes, onion—both grilled and piquantly pickled—and arugula atop a fat patty of beef, vibrant with the mineral tang of grass-fed meat. The only complaint here is that this sandwich is too large for an appetizer, but too skimpy for even a light meal. Similarly so is an inspired salad of butter lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and crispy bacon that’s studded with juicy fried oysters and dressed with Tabasco sauce and crème fraîche. In a more modest, though thoroughly wonderful salad, the house dressing on a meadow of dark, pleasantly bitter greens is spritely and light; the addition of a halved hard-boiled egg gives just enough substance to prepare one’s palate for what’s to follow. (On the other hand, the misbegotten idea of a “Kobe beef hot dog” appetizer is a reminder that even enormously talented kitchens like this have their Lindsay Lohan Goes Shopping moments.)
While only about half a dozen, frequently changing main courses are offered, not a single one disappointed on a recent visit. Some highlights: Few fish emerge from a sauté pan more beautifully than red snapper. The meaty white flesh glistens; the skin crisps delectably. Veritas poses a thick fillet of sautéed snapper on a fluffy mound of puréed turmeric root, then tosses in some cubed potatoes, sweet mussels, and sautéed bok choy greens. A ladle of buttery, lemony sauce energizes this exceptional dish.
A tumble of house-made fettuccine is tossed with a rich, velvety pesto of peanut paste and spinach with red pepper. Again, Veritas ups the excitement with slices of wild boar rib meat. (It tastes like a very fragrant pot roast.)
Napoleons, dessert or otherwise, can be a gimmicky disappointment. Here, the kitchen’s got it right, constructing a multistory monument to vegetables: Green beans, spinach, slices of fennel, and grilled onions are piled, enlivened with roasted garlic and crumbles of feta and drizzled with a silky spinach-and-peanut cream sauce.
A rib-eye is grilled after a massage with coffee and bitter chocolate that lend a—whoa there. Chocolate? With steak? A mime version of Cats sounds appetizing by comparison. Along with the coffee, though, chocolate imparts a smoky dimension to the meat. Paired with the rib-eye is a section of beef short ribs, all of it served with a celery-root purée and green beans, probably Veritas’ heartiest dish.
Unlike too many presumably “upscale” toasted-cheese sandwiches, the version here goes back to the basics. Four cheeses melt into a crusty, toasted panini. It’s gooey, crunchy, buttery, exquisite. But the truth, Veritas (heh), is that the accompanying potato chips, though locally made, are all wrong. This superb sandwich deserves better.
A stroll through the retail racks of wine is a pleasant alternative to a wine list; otherwise, this is one place you’ll want to rely on the oenophile owner. One problem: Veritas offers a wine sampler with dinner, but it’s confusing—especially when your waitress tells you to hie yourself to the tasting room to pick up your wine; the whole thing needs to be made easier. That said, there are some good wines at reasonable prices. We found a lovely Bandol Bastide Blanche, the first Bandol that made a run to contest the august supremacy of the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape territory. Powerful and full-bodied, it should be ordered as soon as you sit down. It needs a while to air; it’s perfect for the wild-boar pasta or the steak–and–short rib dish. A 2008 Saintsbury Carneros chardonnay is golden and limpid, just faintly oaken, and delightfully layered, perfect for the chicken and fish offerings.
Service is universally amiable, occasionally slow, usually ept. The brocante atmosphere of hutches laden with “gourmet” foodstuffs and kitchen-related items, along with the unprepossessing strip-mall location, can lead to a wrong first impression. The food here represents a talent to be reckoned with. This is easily among the top tier of St. Louis restaurant kitchens.
You will, however, miss that bread.
The Bottom Line: An unusual setting for inventive cuisine with an emphasis on food-friendly wines.