clockwise from left, poke bowl, wu tang clams, shoyu salmon and charred carrots photo by carmen troesser

2018 Best New Restaurants // No. 3 Yellowbelly

Yellowbelly’s bright logo is the opposite of a mirage, beckoning you in from the cold of winter to a sunny space filled with warmth, light and pops of white, yellow and aqua.

Drinks and dishes are equally exceptional at the sea and spirits concept – no surprise, considering its seriously stacked kitchen and bar. Co-owners Travis Howard and Tim Wiggins snagged their dream chef when Richard Blais (restaurateur, author and winner of “Top Chef All-Stars”) agreed to come on as a consultant, bringing executive sous chef Kate Wagoner from Atlanta to run the kitchen. And with Wiggins involved, you know the cocktails are unrivaled.

from left, lion's share and snap pea daiquiri // photo by carmen troesser

The Yellowbelly, for example, is worthy of its namesake with vacation notes of pineapple, ginger, mellow coconut and earthy turmeric. But this is no cruise ship bar – unexpected ingredients and flavors bring tropical sophistication rather than sugar bombs. 

The Millennial Pink, with peach and rum, is sweet upfront with a dry finish from Contratto bitter and blanc vermouth, and the snap pea daiquiri, made with snap pea simple syrup, is verdant and tart with a sweet, vegetal twist.

the dining room at yellowbelly // photo by carmen troesser

Fans of Blais and his love of liquid nitrogen should order the oysters and pearls (raw oysters with spherified kimchi “Dippin’ Dots” still smoking from the liquid nitrogen) or the popular avocado toast (simple grilled bread with smashed avocado, raw salmon and an orb of pureed mango thickened with agar to resemble an egg yolk). 

But seafood is the star on the menu, flown in daily for dishes like the showstopping whole branzino, stuffed with mint, Thai basil and cilantro, topped with salsa verde and sporting a crisp, charred skin from its time on a hot plancha. It’s meant to be shared, but you won’t want to.

Yellowbelly brings something new to St. Louis’ short supply of seafood restaurants. It’s tropical; it’s trendy; it’s fun. And above all, the bar and the kitchen are equally yoked. Escape the St. Louis winter to this island-themed dream.

Meera Nagarajan is art director at Sauce Magazine.