Review: The Bellwether in St. Louis
You would be forgiven for taking the elevator to the second floor, as I did on a recent evening. Expecting to step into The Bellwether, the new American restaurant from the culinary crew behind Polite Society in Lafayette Square, I inadvertently crashed a private party. The last time I was here for dinner, the second floor was occupied by Element, which closed in October 2018 after five years.
The Bellwether also occupies the top two levels of the three-story building, but owners Jonathan Schoen and Brian Schmitz flip-flopped the configuration to consolidate the bar and restaurant on the top floor, which housed Element’s clubby lounge, and devote the second to The Reference Room, the beautiful book- and bottle-lined event space I happened upon.
Finally entering The Bellwether upstairs, I was immersed in a poetic mashup of lush design influences. Gone was the masculine, industrial chic of its predecessor. Instead, rich hues, silky brocade drapes, inlaid bar tiles and elevated booths decked out in plush red velvet conveyed a sensual opulence, while the starry canopy of beaded chandeliers and Moroccan-style hanging lamps exuded an amber ambiance.
Chef Thomas Futrell’s polyglot menu likewise draws inspiration from many sources. The dishes may at first seem predictable, even inevitable, for another upscale, trend-driven restaurant serving “modern American cuisine,” but Futrell (who is still executive chef at Polite Society) steers us in new directions without losing the itinerary. This is grand luxe dining with a decidedly unfussy attitude.
Take steak as an example. There is filet mignon, should you prefer, but the Butcher’s Steak, a rarely offered teres major shoulder cut, provided so much more flavor and interest – and not just because it was rubbed with cinnamon and coffee before being chargrilled. Served on a bed of apple butter and paired with roasted root vegetables, heady herbs and puffed wild rice, it encapsulated everything good about fall on one plate. The only flaw: It arrived more rare than the medium-rare ordered.
Futrell’s untraditional take on humble Hungarian chicken paprikash rendered something lighter but no less comforting. He forwent simmering the leg quarter in the customary sour cream- and paprika-based sauce in favor of braising it with the sweet, vermillion-hued spice and serving it atop a bed of aromatic, nutmeg-infused spaetzle with a few dollops of lemon crema for citrusy tang, all crowned with shaved broccoli.
The selection of house-made pastas was wonderful. Marrying two of the best comfort foods, the standout short rib stroganoff should be required eating in winter. Perfectly al dente rigatoni met sauteed spinach and mushrooms, and caramelized fennel and onion in a hearty meat sauce bolstered by sour cream.
English pea ravioli was another highlight: ricotta-filled, pillowy pouches ladled with wine-braised shredded chicken, carrots and sweet, verdant peas then finished with a luscious au jus. Pieces of crispy chicken skin provided the exclamation point.
As at Polite Society, the bar is gorgeous and is helmed by beverage director Travis Hebrank. At Bellwether, he put together a rotating wine list ranging from $9 to $19 glasses (a sparkling moscato and brut Champagne, respectively), as well as an impressive lineup of literary-themed cocktails, many incorporating house-made infusions.
It’s a great spot to nosh on a small plate of savory mushroom and ginger dumplings, chewy pillows braised in tamari that harmonized well with the citrusy sharpness of Paradise Lost (Basil Hayden bourbon, dry vermouth, Madeira, fig leaf syrup, lime juice). Or sip on a sharp, balanced Catcher in the Rye (High West double rye, Cynar, Rinomato Aperitivo, simple syrup, chive tincture, lime juice) with some French onion toasted ravioli that tasted like deep-fried pockets of the best cheesy French onion soup you’ve ever had.
With a sumptuous setting, a focus on balancing fine dining with approachability and a team that pays attention to the details, The Bellwether is living up to its name. If Polite Society is the neighborhood bistro you selfishly want to keep to yourself, The Bellwether is the restaurant you want to show off and share.
Where // 1419 Carroll St., St. Louis, 314.380.3086, thebellwetherstl.com
Don’t-Miss Dishes // Mushroom and ginger dumplings, English pea ravioli, Butcher’s Steak
Vibe // Subtle opulence without the opulent attitude
Entree Prices // $15 to $44
When // Sun. to Thu. – 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. – 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Sun. – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Michael Renner is a longtime critic for Sauce Magazine.
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