Versatility and Warmth at Wild flower

Wild Flower Restaurant is the kind of cozy place everyone wants in his or her neighborhood. It’s casual and warm with a menu that pleases. When it’s nice outside, a seat on the patio is a great spot for watching passersby, and during colder months exposed brick and a warm glow cast by retro hanging lamps create a welcoming ambiance.

The restaurant has been around for years, and last year owner Phil Czarnec brought in chef Josh Roland to tweak the menu, which offers a little of everything, from pizzas to pastas, wonderful salads to seafood. Inspiration is drawn from Asia to Italy to Greece.

When the Wild Flower menu describes something as generous, pay attention. The signature garlic chicken is said to have a “generous” stuffing of cream cheese, and boy, does it. Think of a massive crab Rangoon, but with crispy breaded chicken breast paillard standing in for the wonton wrapper. Considering it’s a signature dish, there is clearly a fan base. But for me, the chicken-to-cheese ratio was overwhelming. The accompanying linguini was tossed in more of the heavy cheese, adding to the heft. What this dish needed was a big squeeze of lemon juice to cut the lushness.

The Goat Buster is another cheesy dish, but this one is perfectly balanced. It’s a goat cheese fondue served with slices of apple, carrot, celery and crostini for your dipping and spreading pleasure. In a creative why-didn’t-I-think-of-that way, the goat cheese is blended with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes, adding flavor, body and depth. The texture is creamy, not too heavy; the flavor is tangy and rich. It’s perfect to share with friends at the beginning of dinner.

There are plenty of seafood options on the menu as well – calamari, salmon, tuna and a ceviche among them. Crab cakes and scallops were fine, if unimpressive. Crab cakes made with plain old crab meat instead of jumbo lump meat don’t look as appetizing and are texturally flat; Wild Flower uses the plain old variety, but the cakes tasted good and had a nice sear on them, and a spicy aïoli added zing. The scallops, nicely sweet and salty, seared to a golden crunch on top and silky at their centers, were served on creamy but underseasoned polenta with roasted tomato-basil compote that lacked smoky depth. The dish could have used a punch of fresh herbs to liven things up a bit.

The honey-pear salad is a delight, with all the elements of a winning composition. A whole fresh pear is cored and sliced, then reconstructed with layers of crumbled Gorgonzola. It sits on a bed of lightly dressed spinach and toasted walnuts, the whole thing drizzled with honey. The Gorgonzola, savory and salty, balanced nicely with the honey. The firm pear is crisp, sweet and slightly tart. The walnuts add crunch and the greens, dressed in a white balsamic vinaigrette, round things out.

The wild mushroom fettuccine is intoxicatingly aromatic. The mushrooms are blended into the cream sauce so each and every strand of pasta is enveloped with earthiness. The dish is rich but doesn’t seem laden with fat. A drizzle of truffle oil elevates this very simple, comforting pasta into something more dreamy.

A tray of the evening’s desserts are brought to the table for perusal. Everything looked divine, but the ultimate chocolate cake had me at hello. It was every bit as delicious as it looked, with a velvety and dense ganache blanketing tender and moist chocolate cake layers. Best chocolate cake ever.

The service is friendly and knowledgeable, with small slip-ups here and there. If the kitchen is out of ribs, announce it to the table at the beginning of service, not after someone orders it. And, if you offer delicious bread with seasoned dipping oil one evening, do so every evening.

Regardless of any mishaps regarding food and service, Wild Flower is wildly popular because it’s so versatile. It accommodates the Sunday brunch crowd as easily as the after-movie crowd. It’s where to grab lunch when it’s beautiful outside and where to duck in for a romantic date on a cold night. You can watch the game and eat a pizza or have cocktails and small plates with the girls. It’s a restaurant for everyone.

Where: Wild Flower Restaurant, 4590 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.361.8282
When: Mon., Wed. and Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat. and Sun. – 10 a.m. to
10 p.m. (Brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Don’t-Miss Dishes: Goat Buster, mushroom fettuccine, chocolate cake
Vibe: Casual and welcoming, with an approachably sophisticated feel.
Entrée prices: $13 to $28