Review: The Tavern CWE

This popular spot in the CWE took an abrupt turn in late summer when it changed over from the Italian-themed Cucina Pazzo to The Tavern Kitchen & Bar. The owners run a highly regarded restaurant of that name in West County, and they wanted to bring that concept to their urban eatery.

The focus is upscale comfort food, most with strong Asian flavors. They do some interesting presentations called tasting boards that allow you to sample three dishes at once for about $30. And there’s a ‘fish market’ section where diners can customize their fish with one of six sauces and sides. Fish is flown in daily.

The appetizer list offers a glimpse of what’s to come: flavor-packed dishes like Hawaiian tuna tartare, hoisin-glazed ribs and our choice, Lobster Potstickers in ginger-soy sauce ($15 for five). These were delicious, with an appealing sticky-dough texture. The lobster added some textural relevance, but its flavor got lost amid everything else going on, in particular the distinctive sweet and savory dipping sauce.

Another good example of strong flavors was Char-Siu Pork ($23), redolent with five-spice scents like star anise, clove and Szechwan pepper. The pork was sweet-glazed on the outside and delicious. Its accompanying bacon-fried rice made for a good complement, as did a sweet and spicy salsa with pineapple and habanero peppers.

A dish of the ever-popular Braised Shortribs ($30) was among the handful that retain more classic Western flavors. The meat, fork-tender and deliciously fat-flavored, came with Maytag blue cheese polenta, Brussels sprouts and a gremolata flavor-enhancer of tangy lemon peel with pungent rosemary and pecans.

On the fish side, we had the Sesame Seared preparation on ahi tuna ($36). Very flavorful, the Thai curry sauce had the rich taste and texture of coconut milk that goes so well with fish and Jasmine rice, its accompaniment here. Also excellent was the Pacific Rim Peanut Crust we sampled on salmon ($29). The fish was perfectly cooked to just firm, with a crust of crushed peanuts and a sauce called ‘orange-togarashi beurre blanc.’ Togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice blend that elicits the range of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Everything just fell into place how it should, including the sides of bok choy and Asian slaw.

Desserts of the day are posted on chalkboards along the wall. We chose the Lemon Financier, a classic French dessert of light sponge cake made with ground almonds, butter and egg whites. It derives its name from its shape, which resembles bank gold bars. The one here had the correct buttery, slightly crusty exterior and light interior and was infused with lemon. It came with a massive scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Ambiance-wise, The Tavern has an appealing and cool vibe. The wait staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and the manager came by to check on how our meal was going. All that adds an important element to the dining experience, especially when it’s ‘fine dining’ like here.

amuse bouche
the scene | Bustling, upscale bistro
the chef | Harry Sexauer
The-Tavern_Sexauer_15the prices | $12 to $21 starters, $21 to $42 entrees ($12 burger)
the favorites | Pacific Rim Peanut Crust Salmon, Braised Short Ribs, Char-Siu Pork, Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna

chef chat » harry sexauer
pedigree | Johnson County Community College, Kansas
favorite ingredient | Pig
favorite restaurant | Carl’s Drive-In
favorite cookbook | Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg
most memorable dining experience | In Manarola, Italy. I had just gotten off the train and went to a small bakery, where I had Puccia bread with pesto and really fresh sea bass. It was the best thing ever.
guilty pleasure food | Duck crackling

392 n. euclid ave. | 314.696.8400

Photos: Bill Barrett