Posted On: 10/01/2011
The lavish service, glamorous clientele and clubby setting of St. Louis’ long-standing fine dining establishment, Tony’s, transport you to a different era – one in which people got dressed up to fly the friendly skies and couldn’t fathom wearing a pair of sweats outside of the bedroom. Oh, how times have changed.
Yet, since the chefs of the mid-20th century believed fine cuisine meant covering everything in aspic – oh, how times have changed for the better. Fortunately, Tony’s offers the best of both worlds: a dapper setting and impressive service, with food that’s classic yet current.
There are tried-and-true takes on pastas, steaks, chops and seafood in the likes of shrimp scampi, cannelloni and filet mignon. Many have been on the menu for decades, but the kitchen also makes an effort to insert the season’s pick of fresh fruits and vegetables into regular dishes and seasonal specials. For example, an ambrosial Eckert’s peach ice cream accompanied by more sweet rum-macerated peaches was summer in a dish. An appetizer special of squash blossoms stuffed with Gorgonzola, battered, fried and served on a bed of wilted endive, gave delicious due credit to this often overlooked flower.
No matter which dishes you choose, they will all be warmed, poured, spooned or flambéed right before your eyes, as the otherwise lost art of tableside service is proudly upheld here, as evidenced by the bevy of servers at your table’s beck and call. Owner Vince J. Bommarito will drop by your table as well to ensure that everything’s up to snuff.
Meanwhile, chef Vince Bommarito Jr. will be making sure everything is up to snuff in the kitchen. The talent required to create balanced dishes using delicately flavored ingredients like veal and lobster is a lofty task – one Bommarito Jr. proves he’s up for most of the time. Take, for example, the Lobster Albanello, a Tony’s favorite: Tender morsels of sautéed lobster are warmed tableside in a silken cream sauce of wine and mushrooms. The first bite is lush – the lobster tender and perfectly cooked, the mushrooms earthy, and the sauce slightly sweet with just enough acid. The flavor of the fish may get a bit muffled by the sauce, but it’s a rich and pleasing plate nonetheless.
A huge bowl of linguini with clams and pancetta in a lightly creamy white wine sauce is outstanding. The perfect amount of salt, lemon, wine and clam juices allow the al dente pasta to absorb and take on the briny flavor of the plump bi-valves and rendered meat. This dish is beautifully balanced, bold in flavor and texturally pleasing with juicy chunks of clams and delightfully chewy pancetta.
The Ziti Amatriciana isn’t so balanced. Traditionally a spicy tomato sauce with onions and bacon, pancetta or guanciale, Tony’s rendition was so spicy it masked the other elements of the sauce. Likewise, the Veal Cutlet Milanese was pounded so thin, you could barely discern any veal flavor. Far superior was a plate of transparently thin slices of prosciutto with fresh figs and chunky slivers of melon: Bright, juicy, salty and silky. A plate of carpaccio drizzled with truffle oil and dressed with arugula, capers and shaved Parmigiano, was also just right: earthy, aromatic and memorable.
Once you’ve gotten through the antipasti, primi piatti and secondi piatti, dessert is a must – specifically, the browned butter and almond tart, served with praline ice cream. In my book, it’s the best in town: The warmed shell is a tad crispy and quite tender. The center is gooey, nutty, rich, buttery and sweet. The slightly salty ice cream melts into a puddle of caramel. All else fades as you watch it disappear, little by little, until the plate is completely clean. Then you look up and realize your evening in dreamland is drawing to a close; time to go home and put on those sweats.
410 Market St., St. Louis. 314.231.7007
Entrée prices: $21 to $43
Signature Dish: Lobster Albanello
The first bite of this restaurant favorite is lush – tender morsels of sautéed lobster are perfectly cooked, the mushrooms earthy and the sauce slightly sweet with just enough acid. Warmed tableside in silken white wine-cream sauce, it’s a rich and pleasing plate.
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