Review: Privado in The Delmar Loop
Miles Davis’ “All Blues” played as I took my seat at one of the four two-tops in front of Privado’s wide-open kitchen. A sophisticated aperitif of prosecco, vermouth and Aperol furthered the mood. I was finally here, along with 15 others lucky enough to buy a ticket to Mike Randolph’s latest. Latest what? Fantasy? Experiment? Gamble? No one cared. We were on Randolph’s turf, trusting that the forthcoming 12-course tasting menu would astound.
Anyone familiar with Randolph’s peripatetic spirit knows to go with the flow. In the past nine years, he has opened eight restaurants with a vast range of cuisine – from breakfast at Half & Half to inventive fine dining like Little Country Gentleman and the Diversion dinner series. That’s the thing with Randolph: If his innovative concepts don’t pan out, he moves on, doubling down on new, sometimes even riskier ventures. It’s why he garnered two James Beard nominations in 2016 for Best Chef: Midwest and Best New Restaurant for Público, his Latin American-inspired restaurant still going strong on The Loop. It’s why he closed his first restaurant, The Good Pie, to open Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen, which he shuttered in September 2017 to transform the space yet again – leading to another Beard nomination this year.
Which brings me back to Miles Davis and the allure of a restaurant open only on Friday and Saturday nights for a single seating of 16 diners. Simply put, Privado is Randolph’s greatest theater of food yet, staged with no-nonsense clarity and such confidence that its sole signage is a hand-lettered sheet of paper taped to the door. Entering is like arriving to a private dinner party without knowing fully what’s in store.
What seemed familiar didn’t always progress or resolve as expected, creating a delicious tension much like the quirky melodic structure underlying “All Blues.” A tiny ice-cream cone amuse-bouche filled with tuna ceviche and sesame ice cream startled then pleased; a dessert course teased then astonished with a foie gras mousse-filled Twinkie and an apple slice taco shell filled with pickled apple, goat milk ice cream and caramely shaved gjetost cheese.
My expectations shifted with each bite-size course as Randolph’s subtle unpredictability kept us off balance. Marrying seemingly incongruent flavors, his riff on the world’s most famous egg (the hot-cold soft-boiled egg from Alain Passard’s L’Arpege in Paris) subbed shiitake mushroom custard for Passard’s creme fraiche, a calamansi citrus sabayon sauce for maple syrup and osetra caviar for chopped chives, resulting in a unified palate pleaser of earth, cream, citrus and brine in just a few bites. The straightforward, medium-bodied sparkles of Moutard Champagne NV cleanly cut through the creamy richness.
As much as I liked Randolph’s Little Country Gentleman when I reviewed it in 2013, I sensed a bit of preciousness seeping through the quaintly named, multi-course-only concept. Privado is no less serious, creative or fun, but is more mature and focused.
Paced by Randolph’s curated soundtrack – Marley, Sinatra, Prince, Whitney – more courses arrived: A cube of sablefish in a green curry sauce funked up with nuoc cham; a trotter dumpling in a tablespoon of trotter consommé scented with lemongrass and garnished with slivers of carrot and black Périgord truffle; a slice of raw hamachi atop parsnip puree with a sweet, pungent duck liver-based sauce and more truffle flecks.
Even a simple lozenge-sized beetroot served in a tiny wooden spoon midway through the meal exploded with brilliant flavor from a licorice root vinaigrette, resetting the palate for meat. A deep breath, a sip of a gorgeous red Rhone, and I was refreshed for a bite of tender, aged duck swabbed through a sauce fragrant with star anise. Sip for sip, bite for bite, a savory Barbaresco made the charred rib-eye steak with mushrooms and bordelaise sauce even more sensual.
Time has a tendency to distort during long, multi-course events. But by the final dessert course two-and-a-half hours later – Madeira and a decadent chocolate soufflé with chocolate-porcini sauce – we had gone to the extreme and back without feeling exhausted by the process.
When faced with two options, Randolph will always choose both. Along with unpredictable pop-up nights (everything from Thai curry to a resurrection of the old Randolfi’s), every weekend the bar offers a changing a la carte menu that combines some Randolfi’s favorites with the new Privado (online reservations with a $20 deposit per diner are required).
I was delighted to find the white Bolognese on the bar menu on my visit – fat pappardelle noodles were sauced with ground pork, heavy cream and vermouth, topped with a custardy cured egg yolk. Thin slices of lamb loin wrapped around two cuts of spicy lamb merguez sausage got their smoky flavor from the wood-fired pizza oven. Three stumpy carrot pillars comically separated the two cuts, with one resting on French green lentils and the other on a veal-lamb-Madeira reduction.
With Privado, Randolph may have hit the sweet spot of cooking on his own terms without going broke. The name may mean “private” in Spanish, but I’m here to tell you Privado is actually a mashup of “private” and “bravado.” No question about it.
Where // 6665 Delmar Blvd., University City, 314.899.9221, privadostl.com
Vibe // A sense of mystery, like arriving at a small, private dinner party without knowing the menu. Count on a wildly eclectic soundtrack.
Entree Prices // Prepaid $120, plus $80 wine pairing, for the tasting menu; $18 to $30 for the a la carte bar menu (reservations required with $20 deposit per diner)
When // Fri. and Sat. – 6 to 11 p.m. The tasting menu is limited to one 7 p.m. seating each night.
Michael Renner is a longtime contributor and critic for Sauce Magazine.
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