A brave new world awaits at Josh Gallianos Clayton restaurant.
“Approachable” is a cue for adventurous eaters that the menu is going to be right up their alley. At The Libertine, Executive Chef Josh Galliano follows that keyword with a balance: dishes with plenty of innovative ingredients to satisfy novelty-seekers, but with a comforting simplicity at their core.
Back in March, when his team was crafting dishes like harissa and goat terrine, chicken-fried foie gras and pan-flashed candlefish with Indian-spiced mayo, Galliano said he was setting out “to defy convention in terms of what is commonly found on menus throughout the US in what many would call ‘neighborhood eateries.'” He has certainly achieved that early goal.
But alongside the exotic-sounding fare is quintessential comfort food like cheesy grits that are lick-the-plate good. Not that anyone would, of course, in a restaurant where the design aesthetic is reminiscent of a historic French salon with a dash of English-style club.
Structuring the menu into three categories—vegetable, meat and seafood—gives the chefs room to play around with all kinds of inspiration, rather than figuring out what falls under appetizers or entrées. The culinary creativity is especially bold in the vegetables. A few examples: asparagus with caviar; potato balls and boiled egg; ash-roasted carrots with pea cavatelli and miso-carrot puree; and grilled mushrooms with sunchokes, lardo-cocoa puree and radish.
Crispy pig tails with traditional East African barbecue sauce, gorgonzola cheese and brown-butter polenta lead off the meat category. With a spicy flavor and toothsome texture, they’re surprisingly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite bar snack. Anchoring the meats are more familiar flavors in dishes like hanger steak surrounded by bacon-cheese grits and fried potato skins.
Galliano’s New Orleans roots give him extra clout when it comes to the seafood, which ranges far and wide to include octopus, hake, crab, candlefish, shrimp, squid and frog legs.
Among the convention-defying desserts is a candy bar-inspired dacquoise (a layered dessert) with salted caramel semifreddo, hazelnuts, ganache and chocolate. When in doubt, ask the servers—they’re well-versed in the details.
The cocktail menu is a collaborative effort of co-proprietor Nick Luedde and GM Nate Weber. Their palettes include ingredients sourced from local farmers and distillers like the new St. Louis micro-distillery Still 630, along with a fascinatingly diverse variety of house-made cordials, bitters, tinctures and sodas. Szechwan bitters are just the tip of the iceberg here.
Another of Galliano’s goals is to offer “a very, very high quality of food and beverage, but keep the offerings at everyman prices.” The wine list, curated by GM Victoria Mitchell, is the perfect example. It’s affordable, yet eclectic enough to stand up to all sorts of pairing possibilities—which is no easy task when the dinner menu runs the gamut from ramp to truffle aioli. The Libertine’s focused beer program highlights St. Louis’ local breweries while showcasing a range of styles.
The kind of neighborhood establishment the owners set out to achieve typically has a great bar staff and a steady clientele of regulars. They’ll have to come early, though, if they want to stake out the turf as their own. Galliano’s return to the helm of a local kitchen has been highly anticipated by fans who remember the Maplewood restaurant Monarch and his multiple nominations for the James Beard Best Chef–Midwest award.
The team surrounding him is not as familiar (yet) to St. Louisans, but the collective experience of proprietors Nick and Audra Luedde and general managers Mitchell and Weber hints at the restaurant’s potential as more than a neighborhood destination.
7927 Forsyth Blvd., 314.862.2999 Entrées: $11-$22
Kitchen: Tue.-Thu. and Sun. 5-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 5pm-midnight
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg