Review: Prasino in St. Charles
1520 S. Fifth St., St. Charles, 636.277.0202, prasino.com
At Prasino, the new mini-chain restaurant in St. Charles, the employees say PRÄH-suh-no. The translation app on my phone says PRÄH-see-no. Tomato or tomahto, prasino is Greek for “green,” as in “environmentally sound.” The St. Charles spot is one of four locations for the 4-year-old family of restaurants self-billed as eco-friendly. It’s also the chain’s first foray outside of Chicagoland.
Prasino’s business plan is driven by eco-friendly kitchen practices, energy and water-saving appliances, and as many locally sourced raw ingredients as possible. Your server will spend a good two minutes explaining just how environmentally conscious Prasino is, to the point that you’ll look around for the Greenpeace seal of approval. Among the eco-friendly features: natural cleaning products, webbed bar chairs made from recycled seatbelts, reclaimed Missouri wood through Forest Stewardship Council, wine bottles refashioned into water glasses and recycled cardboard boxes laser-cut into lighting fixtures. Even the paints and sealants used in the building are enviro-friendly.
Your server will then spend another two minutes explaining that as much as 75 percent of the produce is sourced within 30 miles, the meat is antibiotic- and hormone-free, the seafood is sustainable and wild-caught, and the water is filtered. It’s a lot to take in.
The menu also is a bit overwhelming, being a culinary mash-up (more like a paintball fight) of everything from trendy tacos to sushi rolls. There are small plates, flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, sides and entrees, while the vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian dishes are labeled accordingly. For a chain restaurant of this size that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is located off a major interstate in a suburban area, low expectations would not be out of the question. However, Prasino has figured out how to make a large restaurant ecologically responsible and vibrant, while paying attention to what matters most: distinctive food and drink.
The best way to begin a meal is with a drink. While the bottled beer is heavy on national craft brews, all 14 beers on tap are Missouri-bred, including a rotating selection from Bat Creek brewery in Bowling Green, a Prasino exclusive. The cocktail list is solid and extensive, replete with small-batch spirits and house-made syrups and bitters. The wine list is equally impressive, with a broad selection of organic, sustainable, charitable and bio-dynamic wines from small, family-owned wineries. There also are offerings rarely seen around here, including wines from Greece and Austria. Even more impressive – and lacking in many St. Louis restaurants – is the inclusion of rosés (France and Portugal) and Missouri wines (Cave Vineyard 2009 norton, Chaumette 2012 chardonel) by the glass. Of all the beverage menus I’ve ordered from this year, Prasino’s is the most varied, exciting and affordable.
The menu boasts “farm-to-table ingredients,” a familiar term to executive chef Tony Marchetto, given his time in Bill Cardwell’s kitchens (Cardwell’s at the Plaza, BC’s Kitchen). A perfect example: the gorgeous house salad comprised of mixed greens, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, red onions, orange segments and juicy ripe strawberries (it was still the season) lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. The menu allows for sharing or assembling a meal from myriad components. Salad plus flatbread makes for a good combo, especially if the flatbread is topped with bacon, caramelized onions and white cheddar, fragrant with a hint of fresh thyme. The wood-fired wheat crust is thin and crisp, sliced eight ways and served on a wood plank.
Entrees are listed under the rubric “big” and range from wood-fired tofu to strip steak. I love the simplicity of bricked chicken, a traditional Italian technique that blisters the skin until shatteringly crisp but keeps the meat juicy. The airline-cut breast was made bright with a good douse of white wine, lemon butter, parsley and shallots. Prasino sources its chicken from Amish farms in Illinois. These birds aren’t pumped up; they taste like chicken. Served on a bed of sauteed kale with halved, roasted potatoes sprinkled with smoked paprika, the meal hit that sweet spot of comfort.
A dish of pappardelle noodles, cooked to the proper chew, provided a Jackson Pollack palette of color, showcasing the season: yellow squash, verdant arugula, ruby cherry tomatoes and fragrant herbs. Where the chicken was comforting and satisfying, the pasta was fulfilling but light. The Chicago-based restaurant gives a nod to its new city with St. Louis pork steak, a thick, boneless cut that is rubbed, smoked, cooked sous vide in a Fitz’s root beer barbecue sauce and finished on the grill. More tender than anything from my backyard grill, it was a sticky-sweet mess with a hint of heat. On the side, a jalapeño corn biscuit and a mound of cooling shredded jicama and Granny Smith apple slaw. Tacos are all the rage, and Prasino’s didn’t disappoint. Four double-wrapped corn tortillas were held together by one long skewer, with fillings from a pork belly-scallop combination to vegetarian chorizo seitan. My short rib taco was stuffed with meltingly tender pulled meat and topped with Mexican cotija cheese, avocado and pico de gallo.
During my visits, servers were gung-ho about the place and well-versed about the dishes. But sometimes confidence superseded fact: The tortillas are from La Tropicana in south St. Louis, not Companion; brut is not wine; and rosé is not red wine (To be fair, the last two were more likely miscommunication between server and bar.). And it’s odd that the coffee served at Prasino is from Chicago and not from a St. Louis roaster.
At 8,500 square feet with seating for 280 inside and 100 outside, Prasino is as eco-normous as it is eco-chic. On packed weekend nights, the volume in the bar and dining area is as loud as the ceiling is high. The space feels inviting though, with massive floor-to-ceiling, gleaming, custom-made glass wine coolers (energy efficient, of course) and dark wood flooring (reclaimed, of course).
While the newcomer sits on a banal location: the former site of Noah’s Ark, now known as The Streets of St. Charles at Interstate 70 and Fifth Street, Prasino defies the expected trappings of size and location with a scratch kitchen, an environmental focus and above average food. No translation needed.
Don’t Miss Dishes
bricked chicken, short rib taco
polished yet comfortable, rustic yet contemporary, loud and louder
$16 to $29. Smaller plates run $7 to $16.
1520 S. Fifth St., St. Charles, 636.277.0202, prasino.com
Mon. to Thu. – 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 8 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Sun. – 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.