Dining FeaturesJun 01, 2013
The Hot List 2013: Dining
Story: Amy De La Hunt
Photos: Jennifer Silverberg
CORRECTION: In the June issue of ALIVE, the Hot List category of Best New Menu, awarded to Eau Bistro, was mistakenly omitted. ALIVE deeply regrets this error.
Best New Restaurant: Pastaria
Living up to sky-high expectations didn’t faze Pastaria’s chef and owner Gerard Craft. His simple pizzas and pastas—though quite a departure from the haute cuisine next door at niche or the French fare at his CWE bistro Brasserie—are worth lining up for. It’s no accident craft recently earned a spot among the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Midwest nominees for the fourth year. In his hands, magical things happen with just a few ingredients, like the pecorino and grana padano cheeses and pepper that season the Canestri Cacio e Pepe to perfection. And let’s not forget about the house-made gelato. Clayton, 314.862.6603.
Best New Menu: Eau Bistro
It’s always fun to explore a new menu at a longtime favorite restaurant—and when that menu is seasonal, it never actually becomes an "old menu." Such is the case at Eau Bistro. Swapping pomegranates for berries or root vegetables for summer ones can change the whole character of a dish. And focusing on a handful of house-made pastas and large plates lets Executive Chef Kyle Lipetzky and Chef de Cuisine Jason Paterno concentrate on local produce raised with sustainable practices. Central West End, 314.454.9000.
Best Fine Dining: Cielo
The location—on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown—certainly doesn’t hurt. But you can’t eat a view, so at the end of the day, Cielo has to deliver the goods to the table. And it does, thanks to executive Chef Fabrizio Schenardi. As at many St. Louis fine dining establishments, modern Italian is the dominant influence here. Schenardi, Italian by birth, has an advantage. He capitalizes on it with dishes like veal shoulder ravioli with spinach and ricotta or tuna caponata and saba, using locally sourced meats and produce whenever possible and accenting entrees with house-made pastas, breads, gelato and sorbetto. Cielo recently upped the ante with its new Gaja Wine Room, overseen by Michael Pechlof, a sommelier certified in the US and Europe. Downtown, 314.881.5800.
Best Ambiance: Bar Les Freres
Order the blini with caviar, take a look around, and voila—Paris. Transforming a former shoe store into a French-style bistro takes confidence and aplomb, both of which owner Zoe Robinson demonstrates in all three of her restaurants. With longtime design collaborator David Richardson, Robinson spent more than a year gathering decor for Bar les Freres. Her favorites? The hand-scouted portraits—a true “labor of love”—and the antlers behind the bar, a signature element that reigns amidst the femininity of the chairs, settee and gilded flourishes. Robinson is already stockpiling new finds for an adjoining event space, set to open next winter and intended to evoke a grand hall in a chic Parisian hotel. Clayton, 314.725.8880.
Best Cafe: Winslow's Home
By definition, a cafe is “a usually small and informal establishment serving various refreshments (such as coffee).” Winslow’s Home is the quintessential example. The dining area does double duty as a general store, with kitchen gadgets, books, home decor and things you never even knew you couldn’t live without. One wall is a refrigerator case featuring to-go items from the kitchen. Next to it, a small counter is the place to order refreshments—coffee, yes, but also breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring farm-fresh fare from Executive Chef Cary McDowell. Small batches of pastries and desserts appear all day long; savvy shoppers nab their favorites pronto. University City, 314.725.7559.
Best Chef: Kevin Nashan
Being an award-winning chef is all well and good, but mentoring others as they rise in the industry is truly something special. An example: Pastry Chef Robert Zugmaier, a contender in Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Pastry chef competition, works under Nashan’s tutelage at Sidney Street Cafe. Nashan takes the same approach to the local food community, striving to support and elevate independent restaurants and producers across St. Louis. Nashan—who earned his second straight James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest semifinalist ranking earlier this year—is perfectly at home concocting a four-step cooking process for octopus or talking about the herb-and-veggie garden behind his restaurant. it’s no surprise, then, that 10 years into his ownership, Sidney Street is a dining destination where everyone feels at home. Benton Park, 314.771.5777.
Best Wine List: Annie Gunn's
“Best wine tome” might be a better name for this category, considering that the winning entry is a hefty binder full of flavor notes and facts about 700 wines. it represents nearly every wine-producing region—including 30 wines from Missouri, a passion of longtime wine guru glenn Bardgett. Wondering where to start? Bardgett points out that the list offers 40 wines by the glass and includes a large selection of inexpensive wines in all categories. Or you can place your trust in the staff, whose recommendations for food-wine pairings are spot on. Chesterfield, 636.532.7684.
Best Business Lunch: Eleven Eleven Mississippi
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Downtown lies Eleven Eleven. The Tuscan-New World fusion menu is unpredictable enough to be interesting but not daunting. The wild boar ravioli are a perennial-favorite appetizer, as are the oven-baked pizzas. Even hard-to-please colleagues will find a dish they like, whether it’s a lunch plate like the roasted "airline" chicken breast with honey-goat cheese polenta, chili glazed Brussels sprouts and citrus-beet relish or the 8-oz. grass-fed burger with Tillamook Cheddar and grilled onions. For visitors from out of town looking for a unique St. Louis experience, might we suggest the gooey butter cake? Lafayette Square, 314.241.9999.
Best Pizzeria: Pi Pizzeria
With its latest outpost at the MX Building Downtown, Pi spreads its unique cornmeal-crusted style of pizza to a fifth grateful STL neighborhood. By catering to non-traditional pizza customers with gluten-free and vegan options, and emphasizing its commitment to sustainability, Pi has built a loyal following whose primary disagreement is over deep dish versus thin crust. Extra points for effort go to the seasonal Chef’s Picks like the Sportsman's Park (mozzarella, white bean, chicken, chorizo and arugula) and the Art Hill (mozzarella, asparagus, wild mushrooms, goat cheese and garlic). Multiple locations, restaurantpi.com.
Most Innovative Concept: Elaia and Olio
A wine bar in an old gas station and a fine-dining establishment in a two-story house...connected together? "Hmm," you might say with a raised eyebrow. "Interesting." Chef and owner Ben Poremba makes it work—and in a neighborhood where few foodies would ever have ventured previously. Now they come in droves for Elaia’s dishes like pulled pork and braised kale stem lasagna or bruschetta with ricotta, braised beet stems and pecorino sardo. At Olio, a more casual approach leads to intriguing salads, sandwiches and spreads while giving Poremba the chance to spotlight his South City salume endeavor, whose products appear on Olio’s charcuterie platters. Botanical Heights, 314.932.1088.
Best Brunch: The Restaurant at the Cheshire
Velvety scones. Steel-cut oats with poached fruit and spiced nuts. Pecan sticky buns. Buttermilk pancakes. Prime rib hash. These are just a few of the ways this newcomer has taken the brunch scene by storm—and it’s no wonder. Reading the menu is incentive enough to hop out of bed on a lazy Sunday morning. And we haven’t even gotten to the beignets, grapefruit brulee or house-smoked salmon with poached eggs, potato cake and dill hollandaise. Executive Chef Rex Hale’s philosophy of sourcing ingredients from local and environmentally responsible producers shows in dishes like the Ozark Forest mushroom-spinach omelet with Baetje Farms goat cheese. Clayton, 314.932.7818.
Best Coffeehouse: Sump
At this shrine to the beloved elixir of caffeine delivery, the craftsmanship is similar to what one finds at a microbrewery or artisan food producer. Scott Carey and his staff might brew with a French press, cloth drip filter, siphon filter or cold-drip. For the true aficionado, it’s a thrill when the top-of-the-line Slayer espresso machine is put into action. But be patient. As Carey explains, handmade coffees are best enjoyed without an expectation of immediacy. There are occasional guest brunches, but no set menu—allowing Carey to keep his sole focus just where he wants it. One sip, and you’ll be glad he did. South City, 314.412.5670.
Best Localvore Menu: Local Harvest Cafe
Ninety percent is a key number for Local Harvest co-owner Maddie Earnest. The cafe's seasonal dinner menus feature 90 percent locally grown or produced products, and 90 percent of the meat is from farmers who are raising their animals in a sustainable way with no hormones or antibiotics. Consumers are responding, to the point that the Tower Grove location recently started taking dinner reservations, and the more recent Downtown and Kirkwood locations remain bustling. Among the favorite locavore dishes is the stuffed meatball: grass-fed beef with house-made ginger ricotta, topped with a fried egg and served over sauteed greens with Missouri whiskey glaze. Multiple locations, localharvestcafe.com.
Best Bakery: Pint-Size Bakery
This tiny shop packs a wallop when it comes to selection. There are endless variations of cakes by the slice, iced sugar cookies, tarts, galettes, bread pudding, macaroons, scones, cupcakes, pies and brownies. The salted caramel croissants, available only on weekends, are both addictive and elusive. All of owner and Pastry Chef christy Augustin’s goodies use pure butter, free-range eggs, unbleached flours and (when possible) local, seasonal fruit. Her deep ties to the restaurant community extend to a stint at Sidney Street cafe, but happily for sugar addicts everywhere, her wares are now available without reservations. South City, 314.645.7142.
Best Mexican: La Vallesana
This taco shop went from a tiny shack barely large enough for a grill and cash register to a newly constructed sit-down restaurant—the American dream in bricks and mortar. In Mexico, owner Hilario Vargas specialized in ice cream and frozen fruit treats (too delicioso to be lumped together with Popsicles), which he still offers at the expanded eatery. But it’s the tacos and tortas that really pack the seats—washed down with horchata, a traditional drink of ground almonds. The corner patio is a great place to watch the Cherokee streetscape and, occasionally, hear live Mexican music. Cherokee, 314.776.4223.
Best Steakhouse: Ruth's Chris
This steakhouse experience—USDA Prime steak seared at 1,800 degrees and served on a 500-degree plate—is second to none, from the meltingly tender filet to the flavorful New York strip, plus all your favorite sides. But Ruth’s Chris recognizes that other experiences matter, too. Like the wine experience, where a diverse selection in both vintage years and wines by the glass is crucial. And the bar, at which the RBar menu offers smaller, seasonal plates for more casual dining and cocktails to match—like the house-made sangrias that sing of summer. Multiple locations, ruthschris.com.
Best Sushi: Kampai Sushi Bar
Kampai has long been an under-the-radar favorite, quietly building a reputation for reasonably priced, high-quality sashimi and nigiri. But some secrets are meant to be shared, especially when that means more sushi-lovers will taste rolls like the Futo (egg, sweet pumpkin, fish flake, cucumber, avocado and crab stick) or the Dynamite (spicy tuna inside, seared albacore tuna and ponzu sauce on top). Sushi bowl specials include the unazu, roasted freshwater eel on a bed of white rice, for those who prefer things deconstructed. For the best learning experience, ask for a floor seat and order omakase—then sit back and let the chefs work their magic. Central West End, 314.367.2020.
Best Deli: Snarf's
With locations in The Loop and the MX District—and a third on the way—owners Jodi and Maty Aronson are fueling serious cravings for Snarf’s signature toasted sandwiches with toppings like prime rib, barbecue brisket, eggplant parmesan, meatballs and provolone—not to mention the signature mix of jalapenos, carrots, olives and cauliflower in olive oil. The environmentally friendly stores use sustainable products and keep their carbon footprints small by getting bread from a bakery on The Hill and produce from the University City Farmers’ Market. Multiple locations, eatsnarfs.com.
Best Vegan Menu: Frida's Vegetarian Deli
In just under a year, this health food restaurant has made its mark with vegan, raw, low glycemic, gluten- and oil-free offerings—without compromising taste or satisfaction. customers can choose from menu options ranging from a dehydrated mushroom-walnut burger to a tempeh BLT to a sandwich of house- made seitan with steak seasoning. “We can accommodate many healthy dietary lifestyles,” says owner Natasha Kwan. Frida’s doesn’t fry, microwave or sweeten with sugar. It does compost, recycle and use paper straws. And it’s currently in growth mode, doubling its seating and expanding a hydroponic urban farm. University City, 314.727.6500.
Best Mediterranean: Aya Sofia
Credit chef and co-owner Mehmet Yildiz with popularizing his native Turkish cuisine without sacrificing authenticity. Good-for-you veggies like eggplant, roasted pepper, chickpeas and white northern beans counterbalance richly flavorful beef, lamb and buttery filo crusts. Yildiz hails from Turkey’s southern coast, so it’s not surprising that his fish of the day is always a very good choice. Regular trips back to Turkey with his wife, co-owner and Managing Director Alicia Aboussie, help Yildiz keep fresh ideas flowing for the contemporary dishes he creates. Other offerings date back to Ottoman times and the Middle Ages, like whole-roasted lamb with mediterranean spices. Aboussie is quick to point out another Mediterranean tradition Aya Sofia upholds: wine as part of the meal. The list compiled by her sister, sommelier Jill Aboussie, includes internationally renowned selections. St. Louis Hills, 314.645.9919.
Best Barbecue: Pappy's Smokehouse
Maybe it’s the pace of barbecue—four to 14 hours of slow, steady cooking—that sets it apart from ever being considered fast food. Certainly the customers at Pappy’s Smokehouse aren’t complaining about standing in long lines on their lunch breaks or grousing when the kitchen runs out of dry-rubbed, slow-smoked ribs before closing time. All that time spent with like-minded folks builds camaraderie, as customers wait for top-notch Memphis-style 'cue from the likes of legendary pit master Walter “Skip” Steele and co-owner Mike Emerson. Midtown, 314.535.4340.
Best Outdoor Dining: Scape
Scape’s Back Bar is a charming courtyard oasis protected from the sights and sounds of Maryland Plaza that offers every amenity of the indoor dining rooms. Its front patio is a bustling streetscape where passersby are part of the experience. Together, they encompass the perfect spectrum of outdoor dining options—each one touting the full dinner menu (until 9pm, when the Back Bar switches to its late-night menu), plus specialty cocktails, beers and wines. Two things that may slightly tip the scales in favor of the Back Bar—especially on gorgeous early-summer evenings—are the ability to make reservations and the occasional live band. Central West End, 314.361.7227.
Best Italian: Acero
Forget about heaping bowls of pasta dripping in heavy sauces. This is Italian-style Italian, which means several courses, manageable portions, lightly dressed salads and house-made pastas. In fact, it’s possible to sit back from chef Adam Gnau’s seven- to nine-course tasting menu without feeling as if you’ve swallowed a bowling ball. Acero’s signature dish is egg raviolo, a pocket of pasta wrapped around three cheeses and an egg yolk. Nearly as popular are the gnocco fritto and the polenta with the sauce of the day. For the protein course, try the skirt steak with garlic, cipollini onions and balsamic. Bonus points to owner Jim Fiala for including digestif pairings with the desserts. Maplewood, 314.644.1790.
Best Burger: The Tavern Kitchen and Bar
There are some very good reasons this $10 burger appears on practically every “best of” list in the region. One is the patty itself, hand-formed from a blend of three cuts of beef and perfectly cooked. Another is the sweet-and-salty bacon jam, which will have you licking your fingers and possibly even the plate. Combine those two with white Irish Cheddar on a bun that hits the perfect balance—hearty enough to handle the bacon jam yet still tender enough to bite through easily. An egg is available, too, but frankly it’s superfluous. Don’t mess with perfection. Valley Park, 636.825.0600.
Annie Gunn’s 16806 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield, 636.532.7684
Best New Restaurant
Pastaria 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.6603
Kaldi's Coffee multiple locations, kaldiscoffee.com
Blues City Deli 2438 McNair Ave., Benton Park, 314.773.8225
Benton Park Cafe 1900 Arsenal St., Benton Park, 314.771.7200
Baileys' Range 920 Olive St., Downtown, 314.241.8121
Hacienda 9748 Manchester Road, Rock Hill, 314.962.7100
Pappy's Smokehouse 3106 Olive St., Midtown, 314.535.4340
Citizen Kane's 133 West Clinton Place, Kirkwood, 314.965.9005
Best Modern Italian
Pastaria 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.6603
Rooster 1104 Locust St., Downtown, 314.241.8118
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