If first impressions can be trusted, this new spot by Chef Ben Anderson is going to be a winner on all fronts. It has the whole package: warm, homey ambience, fair prices and food that is not only good, but also interesting.
Culinary inventiveness is a key element in the dining experience, and inventive is the kind of place I can see this being. The menu is seasonal, so it will evolve along with the provisions available. The nights we visited, squash, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage made appearances, and each was prepared to delight, and usually surprise, the diner.
A pork chop is so much more interesting when it is served with a ramekin of cheesy mashed cauliflower, sweet red cabbage and apple-mustard compote. Identified as Deppe Farms heritage Duroc pork ($19), the chop was flavorful and moist in its own right. But serve it with three exciting sides, and it’s like winning the Lotto. The cauliflower came baked with melted cheese and ham, lightly ‘smashed,’ like potatoes often are. The cabbage was cooked soft, very sweet and slightly sour, and was blurred into the apple mustard compote. Together, it was a great plate of food.
Same for the Texas Gulf Shrimp ($25), which is among the best dishes I’ve tasted. The five crustaceans, maple glazed, had a peppery rub and were expertly grilled to have the slightest crustiness at the edges, thanks to their burnt maple sugar. They sat on a delicious sweet potato puree and chunky corn relish with bacon.
The 5-Spice Encrusted Salmon ($20) was identified as wild-caught, amazing at this price—and amazing in both taste and presentation. The Asian spicing was good, but the pairing with pineapple-tamarind sauce and slaw with chili vinaigrette was inspired. The sweet elements in the fruits and slaw played beautifully with the Asian 5-spice rub. It is a challenge to make such an omnipresent fish outstanding, but Grapeseed did it.
Similarly, flat-iron steak ($18), a not-particularly tender piece of meat, is usually served in prosaic dishes like steak frites. But not here. The medium rare slices came beautifully fanned out and sitting on potatoes mashed with sautéed kale—buttery and satisfying. A dense steak sauce, tangy and hearty, was mounded on each slice of the meat. Additionally, delicately sautéed whole baby carrots and a few buttered wax beans were on the plate.
Our Gnocchi with Brown Butter starter ($9), too, was memorable. A handful of chewy potato-dough balls came drizzled with brown butter and surrounded by shaved Brussels sprouts and pecans. The only dish I tasted here that was ‘ordinary’ was the Buttonwood Farm butternut squash soup ($5): It was good, just not ‘wow.’
A dessert of ‘apple pie’ $5) was actually a crostade filled with cinnamon-y apples. It was flavorful, not overly sweet and very fresh-tasting. While they say a great meal is priceless, it’s nice to know you can get one here for a decent price.
the scene | Lively neighborhood bistro
the chef | Ben Anderson
the prices | $6 to $12 starters; $9 sandwiches; $18 to $25 entrees
the favorites | Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Gulf Shrimp with Maple Glaze, Duroc Pork Chop, Flat Iron Steak, 5-Spice Encrusted Salmon, Smoked Shrimp Flatbread
[chef chat] >> ben anderson
pedigree | CIA-trained and worked in restaurants in New York and Maine
favorite ingredient | Pork
favorite st. louis restaurant | Quincy Street Bistro
favorite cookbook | The Flavor Bible
most memorable dining experience | Primo in Rockland, Maine. The restaurant sits on a farm beside the ocean, so everything is very fresh.
guilty pleasure | French fries
5400 nottingham ave. | 314.925.8525