On the Table: Cobalt Smoke & Sea

first impression »
The decor is very appealing, with fish imagery everywhere (and a few pictures of cattle, too). After all, it’s part barbecue joint, albeit a dressed-up one. What’s unique here is that the kitchen takes an interesting, smoke-centric approach to just about everything, including pasta. And you get a lot of bang for your buck with generous portions and moderate prices.

tempura green beans ▶ $9
These crunchy, delicious treats are barely fried and dipped in spicy sesame syrup—unusual and outstanding.

white clam pizza ▶ $13
This really hit the spot as a starter—but you have to like garlic! Littleneck clams dotted the thin, crisped crust caked with pecorino cheese.

burnt ends ▶ $19
Served over soba noodles with leeks and baby bok choy, this was an interesting attempt to add Asian flair to American ’cue. It certainly was tasty, but I’m afraid the thin Japanese sauce was bland against the smokiness of the burnt ends.

risotto ▶ $28
Creamy and flavored with saffron, tarragon and shiitake mushrooms, the dish featured prawns and scallops and was thoroughly satisfying.

bouillabaisse ▶ $21

It was a plateful of nice seafood, but the broth (more of a puree) could have used more flavor. Plus, it came lukewarm— never appetizing.

smoked tomato pasta ▶ $15
Imagine creste di gallo (rooster’s crest) noodles tossed with a heavy, smoky tomato pesto, and that pretty well describes the dish. The hearty meal had unique flavors that worked well together. It was flecked with grilled asparagus, English peas and lemon zest and topped with shaved Grana Padano.

apple tart ▶ $8
Don’t pass on dessert, especially this one. A buttery, dense crust was piled with firm apple chunks, brown sugar and oat crumbles, and caramel sauce. Not overly sweet and totally shareable.

overall »
I’m impressed with this place. Its attractive decor (especially the ginkgo trees with twinkle lights) offers a place where you can kick back for a nice night out without the ‘special occasion’ prices. And even if you’re not particularly into barbecue, there’s plenty else to order, like baked chicken or seared scallops. It does get noisy at peak times, but there’s an inviting outdoor patio (also with twinkle lights).

wash it down:
The cocktail menu shines with about a dozen tempting signature concoctions. While the Cobalt Affaire (a periwinkle tumbler of Bombay Sapphire gin and blue ice cubes) called to me, the Berry Basil Smash ($10) was my ultimate choice. There is something irresistible about a blend of basil, berries, whiskey and Grand Marnier. It was noticeably boozy, but also deliciously sweet and savory.

Pictured at top: Burnt Ends with Yakiniku BBQ sauce, braised leeks and baby bok choy on sesame soba noodles

12643 Olive Blvd. | 314.548.6220

Photos: Bill Barrett