Review: Five Bistro on the Hill

Joe Devoti is on a customer’s cell phone, calmly giving driving directions to the rest of the party that’s yet to show. His wife Bonnie stops by the women’s bathroom to tidy up things: “I hate a messy bathroom.” Nothing like having your parents around to keep order among chaos. Their son Anthony is in the kitchen – his spiffy new, renovated kitchen – doing what he does best: whipping out seasonal fare based on whatever fresh produce he’s picked up that day, fish he’s flown in or regional meat he’s butchered. Just another busy night at Five Bistro.

But if you haven’t heard, like that poor guy on the other end of the cell phone, the Devotis shuttered their rented location in The Grove in favor of buying a building on The Hill that’s housed restaurants ever since anyone who grew up there can remember. In June, Five joined that long list. For the new digs, the Devotis apparently kept the old Five’s Euro-bistro template: dark woods, maroon and sage color scheme, art deco reproduction paintings. Big, new picture windows restore the façade to its original architectural design, while inside, the front bar and dining area have been cozied up with an antique hutch and sideboard and the main dining room is at once spacious and intimate.

It’s familiar territory for fans of Five: a succinct, constantly rotating menu (OCD diners needing routine, take note) and superb, attentive service that makes dining out an experience rather than a perfunctory errand. (Without asking, a new knife shows up with each course and a dropped napkin is replaced before you even know it’s missing; I like that.) Taking its name from the quintet of human senses, Five has the taste to match its sophisticated look and feel. While there’s nothing particularly transcendent about what Anthony Devoti and chef de cuisine Cory Shupe churn out – no airy dabs of citrus foam or Dr. Seuss-like plating here – the kitchen hits its mark by playing things relatively safe but with creative streaks. Were it not for the emphasis on locally procured ingredients, the menu could come across as almost humdrum.

But there was nothing humdrum about the chilled puréed zucchini soup on a hot summer night, the drizzle of white truffle oil contrasting softly with the tang of the balsamic reduction. Simple and refreshing. As was the fresh sprout salad with baby carrots, Japanese cucumber and pine nuts dressed in Comtè and a Champagne vinaigrette. I quibble with the $8 price tag for such a small serving, however. Same for the lone $8 braised pork meatball appetizer, listed on the menu in the plural. Although deliciously juicy and accompanied with house-made capellini in a lemon, pea shoot and chive pesto, two would have would have been perfect to share.

Portion size may be my biggest issue with Five, specifically portion size compared to price point. Yes, locally procured foods cost more. Yes, the economy stinks. Yes, you gotta pay for the building. But the house-made three-cheese ravioli app commands $8 for one; the entrée-sized version of the dish offers only three ravioli – for over $20. And while those ravs were quite good, the power of the Stilton in the stuffing overpowered all, making my taste buds work harder to pick out the subtle flavors of the local chanterelles, baby leeks and dandelion greens on top. Not that I’m pushing a Midwestern stuffed-till-it-hurts mentality, but many may need to order the standard appetizer-soup/salad-entrée-dessert to be completely satisfied. Throw in a glass – or three – of wine, and it’s gonna cost.

Or just order the four-course prix-fixe menu, a relative bargain at $45 (add $15 for the wine pairing and it’s still a good deal) and which allows you to order off the entire menu, not just what the chef is pushing that night. Some incarnation of pork, beef, seafood and poultry are on the nightly menu. As is the trend with many restaurants sourcing locally, the menu incorporates the ingredient’s origins, as in “grilled Troutdale Farm trout with Rissi Farm green beans …” (excellent, by the way). While an oilier Copper River salmon would have been perfect (alas, now out of season), the grilled wild Columbia River king salmon fillet was no slouch, sitting regally atop some local green beans and roasted beets.

Devoti has a steady relationship with local pork and chicken producer Ron Benne, so count on some mighty tasty nonindustrialized meat, despite the daily menu change (one night pork steak, half a chicken another). I hope the rack of lamb from Prairie Grass Farms is around for a while so I can experience all the long-boned ribs rather than the two succulent bones I snagged from a dining partner. Before Five, Devoti spent time in New York, San Francisco and locally at David Slay’s erstwhile ZuZu’s Petals, a restaurant whose influence can be seen in his style of simple grilled, braised and roasted proteins punctuated with sides of varying textures and complementary flavors. Simple creations like the roasted poussin from Farrar Out Farm become almost flamboyant when house-cured prosciutto, roasted turnips, snap peas, dandelion greens and a good dousing of pan jus share the plate. It all makes repeated trips to Five worthwhile.

Five Bistro

Don’t-Miss Dish
The menu changes daily, so the “don’t-miss dish” of one night may be the “missed-out dish” the next. Count on at least a couple of locally procured meats, especially pork and chicken, and lots of local produce. 

Beautifully renovated smoke-free space with a distinct retro bistro vibe and an outdoor patio.

Entrée Prices
Typically $21 to $32

Five Bistro, 5100 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.773.5553

Tue. to Thu. – 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 5 to 10 p.m.