The view from inside Saint Louis Art Museums new showcase dining room.
Up until August, I had never eaten lunch inside the Saint Louis Art Museum. Sure, I’d picnicked on the rim of the Grand Basin dozens of times, often with takeout from the museum’s eateries. But sit indoors and pass up that glorious view?
My first visit to Panorama, located inside the newly added East Building, happened on a picture-perfect day for a picnic, and I had a few second thoughts about indoor dining. Then we took our seats next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the stark interior—black seats, white walls, gray tablecloths—fell away in sharp contrast to the radiant Technicolor view from atop Art Hill. Maybe eating indoors was a good idea after all.
The challenge of plating dishes equal to the view falls to Bon Appétit Management Company, which operates Panorama and 500 other cafés nationwide, including dining services at Washington University in St. Louis and the recently opened The Docket at SLU Law School’s new Downtown location. For Panorama, the company invited Executive Chef Edward Farrow to relocate from Arizona and use the menu as a blank canvas for his passion: ingredients from local artisan producers and sustainable growers.
Panorama’s July opening coincided with the height of summer harvest—peppers, tomatoes, berries, watermelon, corn—and Farrow surrounded the season’s bounty with a cornucopia of local cheeses, breads, meats and sausages that will anchor the menu year-round.
Dinner For artistry on the plate, Friday dinner— the sole evening meal offered—is the time to visit. Corn flour-encrusted chicken livers atop columns of watermelon not only are a visual treat, but also have the flavor potential to win over those who would never willingly taste organ meat. Beef skirt steak fanned out within circles of horseradishpotato puree and wine-braised greens is one of the simpler dishes on the menu.
Though the restaurant’s creed is simplicity, Farrow excels at layering flavors. The bigger his palette, the better. Look for dishes like game hen roasted with berries and served with corn succotash, black-eyed peas and zinfandel-blackberry jus. Or, for dessert, try the warm Missouri apple and pecan bread pudding, with roasted beet-agave sauce, caramel and crunchy-sweet pecan brittle.
Reservations are a good idea for any meal at Panorama; on Friday evenings, they’re imperative, thanks to the intersection of the art and foodie scenes.
Lunch and brunch Because the restaurant is open only during museum hours, visitors typically will be looking for a midday meal. Aside from the burger, a couple of salads and the “soup of the moment,” few dishes cross over between lunch and Sunday brunch. Tuesday through Saturday, lunch dishes are elevated by Farrow’s interesting twists, like horseradish-potato cakes served alongside meatloaf or fennel, tomato and fresh herbs topping a roasted trout sandwich, and a pavé of quinoa and avocado piled with piquillo pepper, oaxaca cheese and greens.
Brunch is more breakfast-like and a tad less adventurous than lunch. The exception is the apple and yogurt pancakes, served with rosemary-agave syrup, grilled bacon and cardamom-perfumed sweet cream. Still, after a mimosa or bloody mary, it’s all good. (Note that there’s no bar, no hard alcohol and thus no other cocktails.)
Situated off the beaten path, Panorama isn’t a business lunch sort of place, and no one looks askance at those who indulge in a glass from the wine list. Farrow stays true to his “buy local” mantra by including several Missouri vintages. It’s just one more excuse to stay indoors for fortification before an afternoon of strolling the postwar German and American works on display in the new wing.
Photo by Jennifer Silverberg