Review: The Garden on Grand

This new spot on Grand at Shenandoah has a lot of visual appeal. There’s a homey aesthetic in its brick walls, tree slab tabletops and ‘living wall’ plantings. The menu is tiny, about eight starters and the same number of entrees. Chef Kore Wilbert is locally trained at L’Ecole Culinaire and won the Chef Battle Royale at this year’s Taste of St. Louis, which tested his skills at transforming mandatory ingredients into innovative dishes.

And innovation there is on this tiny menu, as well as some misses. Wilbert’s strength seems to be in adding delightful touches to his food, like the tiny peppadew peppers in a creamy pasta dish called The Ground Score ($17). The name doesn’t do justice to the plateful of house-made pasta with local mushrooms and white wine cream sauce. It was sprinkled with ground black walnuts, another nice touch. The noodles themselves, similar to fettucine, were thick and clunky, but the flavor was excellent, so I overlooked that.

Another fabulous dish was Coconut Fried Rice ($12), a sweet Thai coconut milk dish with bits of fried egg, slivered green onion and wild-caught shrimp; it was excellent in flavor and generous in portion size, all at a fabulous price. Another winner was the Roasted Salmon ($19), which came correctly cooked—medium rare—and was creatively done with a meaty pistachio crust that gave it a slightly Mediterranean flavor. Also on the plate was asparagus puree with intense flavor and an earthy rice described as “whipped feta lemon herb truffle risotto.”

A special appetizer, Seared Scallops on Beet Puree ($10), had many good qualities too, but also illustrated what can happen when creativity goes too far. Two massive scallops were cooked perfectly and had excellent flavor. The sweet, purple beet puree made a beautiful bed for them, and a few pickled red onion rings added a subtle sour element. But other things in there were too strong and interrupted the simple enjoyment of good seafood. There were puckered black olives (too salty and sour) and radish microgreens (too bitter) for delicate scallop meat.

Our visits exposed a few bigger misses as well. In particular the fried foods, which retained more oil than they should. That was true of the Crispy Shrimp Rolls ($11), tail-on shrimp wrapped in wonton skins and deep fried. And less so of the Pan Seared Duck Dumplings ($10), which had very thick skins and tasted like they had been reheated in the pan, rather than cooked-to-order.

And I can’t recommend the Lamb Chops ($24), which were not correctly grilled. Instead of achieving a crisp exterior, which burns off much of the fat, they were soft in texture, which allows the fat to release and coat the chops in an unpleasant way. Additionally, they were served with a finishing ‘sauce’ of browned butter—lamb chops are fatty enough without adding more! On the plus side, the dish came with a celery root puree that helped cut the fat, and a generous serving of broccolini, wisely served rather plain.

The wait staff is warm and friendly, although not particularly knowledgeable. (When will restaurateurs accept that an ounce of training pays off in a pound of customer satisfaction?) For dessert, the Decadent Chocolate Cake ($6) was good, with rich chocolate flavor, and the accompanying ice cream and macerated strawberries were both very good.

dining-garden-on-grand_wilbert_1amuse bouche
the scene | Funky bistro-like eatery
the chef | Kore Wilbert
the prices | $8-$12 starters, $12-$36 entrees
the favorites | Roasted Salmon, Seared Scallops with Beet Puree, Coconut Fried Rice, the Ground Score

chef chat » kore wilbert
culinary pedigree | L’Ecole Culinaire in St. Louis and then I worked in restaurants in Italy.
favorite ingredient | salt
favorite cookbook | The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
favorite st. louis restaurant | Imo’s Pizza
most memorable dining experience | On the island of St. John, when my family ate conch from a street vendor—so fresh and delicious.
guilty pleasure | cheese

Photos by Bill Barrett