Review: Eau Bistro in St. Louis
Eau Bistro, The Chase Park Plaza Hotel, 212 N. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.633.3000, chaseparkplaza.com
A couple of issues ago, in a review of Nora’s at the Renaissance Hotel near the airport, I pointed out that many hotels have fine restaurants. Among them, I mentioned The Chase Park Plaza’s Eau Bistro, based on my 2004 review of the restaurant for another publication. That was back when the restaurant was searching for a new identity, when placing a hot rock in a bowl of dried spices and spritzing your mouth with fruit essence was the height of culinary showmanship and dining “experience.”
There have been other chefs since, and with turnovers came different approaches, from Gilbert’s cutting-edge sensory playfulness to Brian Hale’s straightforward American fare infused with Asian and European inspirations. With those different approaches often came confusion. This is a hotel restaurant after all; cooking too far outside the lines causes identity problems.
But that was then; this is now.
In May, Kyle Lipetzky was brought in as executive chef to oversee the hotel’s catering and restaurant divisions, including Eau Bistro and its trendy little brother, Café Eau. Lipetzky is comfortable in large operations, having spent many years at Scottsdale, Ariz.’s Camelback Inn and as chef de cuisine for The Phoenician, a highly rated hotel also in Scottsdale. Jason Paterno, who worked with Lipetzky at The Phoenician, is the bistro’s new chef de cuisine and, in July, the pair introduced new menus for both Eau eateries.
With only six “large plates,” three pastas and eight “small plates,” the bistro menu is smaller and more focused. There’s an emphasis on local ingredients, predominately produce. The arugula salad – singing with candied pecans, sliced peaches, chewy bacon lardons, and smooth and mild goat cheese – came with light and fluffy triangles of peach tart, like a little taste of dessert on your salad plate. A small plate presented beets with red, golden and striped varieties alternately stacked and topped with burrata. A stripe of chestnut emulsion and a bit of lemon zest punctured the earthy flavors of the beets and mildness of the cheese with tangy brightness. Carrot bisque was thick and poured warm by the server from a pitcher into a bowl redolent of crème fraîche, ginger, fines herbes and chopped dates.
The kitchen still rolls out its own pasta dough, and the gnocchi didn’t suffer from over boiling, as is often the risk with these little doughy potato darlings. The basic comfort factor of the dish was further elevated by a light, creamy ricotta sauce that didn’t overpower the chunks of fresh Maine lobster, sweet and tender English peas, or sweet cipollini onions. Agnolotti consisted of six plump pillows stuffed with ricotta and topped with roasted corn. One bite in and you realize there is a lot of satisfaction going on with this dish: the crunchy pop of the sweet corn, the creamy texture of the cheese, the chewiness of the pasta and the spicy, salty, savory meld of black pepper and chive.
Of the six large plates, half are fish (It is Eau Bistro after all.). It’s good to see branzino sea bass on the menu (no relation to the endangered Chilean sea bass), whose texture and mild flavor take well to grilling. Here, a large, extremely fresh fillet gets the Provençal treatment, with artichoke barigoule (stewed artichoke hearts) and a ratatouille of vegetables including pattypan squash, green beans, potatoes and black olives. A smattering of curried black mussels provided a deep tone of flavor and contrast. A large bone-in, well-seasoned Berkshire pork chop is the way to go when feeling primal. This was another dish with a lot going on and, like most dishes at Eau Bistro, it was worth pausing a moment to take it all in before picking up your fork. The long rib bone was cut out and planted like a stake in a bed of peppery, chewy farro on which the chop rested – perfect for gnawing on later. A schmear of mustard with pearl onions atop, a few slices of grilled peaches, and the succulent juices of the meat blending with the farro all made for belly-patting satisfaction. My only complaint: Though it was suggested, and I requested, my chop medium, it arrived closer to the well side of the temperature range, lacking the blushing pinkness I love about good pork.
Of the three sides under the To Share section of the menu, it’s odd that two are carb bombs like polenta (very good creamy, stone-ground polenta with mascarpone and Parmigiano-Reggiano) and Yukon potato purèe. Mushrooms roasted with garlic and thyme round out the selection.
Desserts are rather standard, but when it comes to crème brûlée, I rarely resist. And when a serving boasts three flavors, well, the decision was easy. Three hollow eggshells positioned in a martini glass half-filled with sugar each contain vanilla-, lavender- or butterscotch-flavored custards. While it was a fun and whimsical presentation – and the custard was dense and creamy – the flavors were uniform: They all tasted like vanilla.
The dining room is seductive and sensual with lofty, airy ceilings; parchment-covered light fixtures; and capacious C-shaped booths made for intimate sidling. The décor hasn’t changed since it was revamped in 2000, when Eau Bistro replaced the stodgy Hunt Room, but it still looks fresh. The soundtrack of classic jazz – Bird, Miles, Coltrane – lends an air of sophistication.
Eau Bistro’s menu reflects changing dining trends: a simplified menu, emphasis on “plates,” less oh’s and ah’s (You won’t find foams or essence of fruit spritzers here.). But some things have remained – most notably Sunday Brunch, the chef’s table and an internationally-focused wine list – proving that while the only constant is change, there’s nothing wrong with a little constancy.
Eau Bistro, The Chase Park Plaza Hotel, 212 N. Kingshigway Blvd., St. Louis, 314.633.3000, chaseparkplaza.com
Don’t Miss Dishes
Ricotta gnocchi, branzino sea bass, Berkshire pork chop
Casual but not like its trendy brother across the hall. Think relaxed with a touch of subdued elegance.
Small plates and pastas: $8 to $16; large plates: $25 to $34
Breakfast: Mon. to Sat. – 6 to 10:30 a.m. Brunch: Sun. – 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner: Mon. to Thu. – 5 to 10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. – 5 to 11 p.m.