Review: Death in the Afternoon
Editor's Note: Death in the Afternoon has closed.
Death in the Afternoon’s name, which alludes to both a Hemingway title and a cocktail, is surely one of the oddest to be found in restaurant-dom. But this lunchtime paradise, which opened in June in a corner of downtown’s Citygarden, earns high marks for its elegant glass walls and delightful bill of fare.
Swanky, yet casual
Death in the Afternoon’s glass walls – recalling Philip Johnson’s famous Glass House – bring the outside in. Citygarden’s sculptures and greenery essentially become the walls of the restaurant. The people-watching opportunities are top-notch. It would be tempting for this refined spot, which could be attached to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, to adopt a snobbish vibe, but the price point and décor ensure that diners are welcomed by an egalitarian, relaxed ambience.
I’ll just come out and say it: The Hot Pastrami sandwich at Death in the Afternoon is quite possibly the best you will ever put in your mouth. It’s crazy good, largely because the drippings from the thinly sliced pastrami are collected and mixed into a house-made mustard-mayonnaise sauce, which is slathered on a chewy pretzel bun with sauerkraut. I know what you’re thinking: Mayo and mustard shouldn’t mix. A pretzel bun isn’t rye. I didn’t care, and you won’t either.
Dive in anywhere
The rest of the menu is similarly grand, from the piquant Asian eggplant dip to the Japanese steamed buns. Those buns, by the way, come with a variety of fillings. Consider the succulent pork belly with crimson Chinese char siu barbecue sauce, served with spicy kimchee, fish-sauce pickles and shredded daikon radish and carrots. The cheeseburger is an homage to the Juicy Lucy, that Minnesotan delicacy; the stuffing of molten American cheese pours out when you bite in. The burger’s toppings – Calabrian chili aioli, lettuce, tomato, onion – made this petite patty a more filling affair. Twice-fried french fries were pleasantly crispy, but it was the house-made ketchup, punched up with extra brown sugar and vinegar, that truly hit the spot. Another dipping sauce, Fancy Sauce, is made with the house ketchup, Sriracha and Kewpie ginger mayo. The Spicy Vietnamese Grilled Beef Salad might be gilding the lily. Its ambitious mix of fried ginger, bitter greens, mint, peanuts, Korean pepper flakes and fish sauce-lime dressing made for a tasty mix with lip-tingling heat, but with such bold ingredients, the salad more resembled a collection of lead guitarists than a functional band.
Dessert in the afternoon
The dessert menu includes a yummy improvement on the factory-baked Nutter Butter cookie. The Death in the Afternoon version stars soft, chewy peanut butter cookies with a peanut butter cream icing. The dense, fudgy walnut brownie was fine, but perhaps too pat for a menu this wonderfully eclectic.
The full monty
Service was generous, knowledgeable and on point. The wait staff is happy to explain everything on the wide-ranging menu and is prompt and cheerful. The restaurant’s doggie-bag work is notable: Leftovers are laid in a paper-lined box, which is then sealed, stickered, labeled and beribboned.
On a recent visit, the stereo at Death in the Afternoon was playing a mix of New Wave: The Smiths, The Cure, Talking Heads and Depeche Mode by turns. Similarly, the cuisine here has a whiff of nostalgia and a touch of the modern. And like the classy, glassy enclosure of the restaurant itself, the food is simply divine.
Death in the Afternoon, 808 Chestnut St.,
St. Louis, 314.621.3236, deathintheafternoonstl.com
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