Review: Vin de Set Rooftop Bar & Bistro in St. Louis

It’s a little confusing, so I am just going to get this out of the way: Vin de Set Rooftop Bar & Bistro – the new restaurant by Paul and Wendy Hamilton, owners of Eleven Eleven
Mississippi – is the phonetic spelling of vingt dix-sept, which is (according to Yahoo! Babel Fish) French for twenty-seventeen, the restaurant’s address on Chouteau. So, if you mapped this from the French Hooked-on-Phonics Web site, Vin de Set is located at Vin de Set Showtoe, at the corner of Mrs. Sipee.

Inside, the space is all dark wood, exposed brick and white
tablecloths – you know, a bistro. The jewel though, is the enormous rooftop deck, where views of Downtown, the expanding Lafayette Square neighborhood and (coolest of all) the infamous Praxair facility make it too easy to “set” and partake of de “vin.” OK, that’s a little corny, but the 150-plus-selection wine list is deadly serious. There are plenty of good French wines and similar varietals and styles from the world over, most of which are in the $30 to $50 range. Although I can’t speak for anyone else, these factors combined encouraged me to linger at my table on the first-come-first-served rooftop deck, so arriving early is not a horrible idea.

Armed with bubbly to refract the setting sun into even prettier colors, we waded into the menu, which teased with a graphic of an absinthe spoon we knew couldn’t be used (stupid anti-absinthe laws). How could I ever get over my disappoi … oooooh foie gras! In a perfect world, the two lobes of savory, buttery liver would have been a touch thicker, but junkies can’t be choosers and this was a good fix. Maple-parsnip purée offered fantastic sweet, syrupy companionship. Should you find yourself stuck on the fact that it is fattened goose liver, I offer you some sage advice a friend gave me (albeit more colorfully): “Dude, it’s meat … that tastes like butter! What does it matter what part of the animal it is? Eat it.”

There are also fried frogs’ legs with saffron aïoli and seared tenderloin tartare with truffle oil. Arriving on a bed of greens, the crispy, moist and tender frog legs’ had a delicate flavor that came through nicely with a dusting of salt and pepper and an erratic and lazy drizzle of the tangy, golden aioli. A nice patty of steak tartare, ringed with a cucumber peel, had all the traditional elements: good lean steak, salty capers, red onions, pepper and a slight bite from Worcestershire sauce (if the raw egg yolk was included, it was incorporated in the dish, not riding proudly atop the patty) – and the truffle oil provided a superb aromatic element.

And for the less adventurous diners, the cheese selections are solid and served alongside olives, baguettes and criminally delicious pickled garlic. Another option would be the huge, crispy toasted ravioli filled with lobster that played quite nicely with the creamy, smooth (not sharp) goat cheese dipping sauce.

A bistro classic, onion soup, featured a big, fat crouton, tons of cheese, sweet caramel notes, good color and, most importantly, just the right amount of salt. The lobster bisque was luxuriously rich and creamy while allowing the sweet lobster the starring role in every spoonful.

The smoked ham sandwich with béchamel and Gruyére is served croque monsieur-style. Basically, this means the sandwich is constructed thusly: bread, cheese, sauce, meat, cheese, sauce, bread and cheese (roughly) then baked until it is all one mass of bubbling deliciosity. You will need the knife and fork it comes with. The garlic-parsley buttered fries served alongside taste wonderful but have no structural integrity. They are just kind of one big gloompy mess.

On one visit, my mother had the incredibly good sense to venture off the menu and order the perfectly medium-rare beef tenderloin medallions over an earthy concoction of barley and mushrooms that resembled a thick risotto. The mild, buttery flavor of the sunburst squash topping the medallions and the sweet drizzle of white balsamic syrup made it a five-taste-zone dish. The slightly sweet, acidic and tart roasted red pepper concassé served with the monkfish had a vibrant taste but couldn’t save the overly chewy fish.

The roasted chicken’s excellently crisped skin and moist, tender meat rubbed in herbs de Provence carried an unbelievable aroma with it. Salons get top dollar for aromatherapy that doesn’t smell this good. On the side, caramelized onion, Gruyére and (what’s the magic word?) bacon imparted a faintly sweet, rich and creamy counterpoint to tangy tomato. Savory duck breast and a moist and tender, but not quite succulent, duck confit had a symbiotic relationship with the piquant but subdued chive-hazelnut pesto vinaigrette. Tri-color lentils acted as a balancing taste and textural element. The veal chop topped with red onions, salty capers and cornichons with sweet apple brandy-caper-butter pan sauce and sunchokes absolutely did make it to succulent.

Boy. I’m now fat and happy, the sun has set, there’s a nice breeze, the Arch is lit up and there are still well over 140 wines to try. Yup, just as I thought, the server is going to need a crowbar to pry me off this table.