"Classically European...comfortably American," says The Shaved Duck’s website. That’s one of the few mistakes we’ve seen from this South Side bistro, an offspring of the Scottish Arms, a Highlands Tweed pub-style bar and restaurant between Midtown and the Central West End. The Duck veers way off the classic European track. And thank goodness for that, if it means goodies like rabbit cassoulet and french fries cooked in duck fat. By the way, St. Louisan Brendan Noonan is the chef at both spots, and displays great creative versatility.
On a quiet street corner between Grand and Jefferson, once home to Pestalozzi Place, it’s only one dining room and a bar, and, like most storefront restaurants, has a noise problem when things get busy. The bar is more than a perfunctory gesture; there’s a cocktail menu that offers, for instance, a ginger-laced gimlet that’s a real zinger.
The dinner menu is geared more toward grazing than to what may be becoming an archaic custom, that of the appetizer-salad-entree-dessert routine of a formal meal. Three entrees, yes, but appetizers, soups, salads, charcuterie and cheeses form the bulk of the menu, and there’s an inviting wine list of mostly domestic wines that displays some intriguing flavors and heritages at moderate prices, both by the glass and by the bottle.
Leading the way into an evening of pleasure should be the frites, long, spiral strings of potatoes, cooked in the rich duck fat to a chewy, slightly crisp consistency, lightly seasoned and offered with mayonnaise and ketchup both made in house and improved by a slightly more pungent flavor in the ketchup and a tang of lemon in the mayo. Both are delicious, though given the exquisite flavor of the frites, they may be gilding the lily. The only difficulty is that overdosing on potatoes may quell the appetite for other things to come.
But take a deep breath and press on; the contents of the paper-lined wire cone is more than enough to share. Scallops wrapped in bacon please with their sweet-salty notes, and a salad with arugula, figs and smoked duck breast, topped with a light vinaigrette, was perfect for a spring night.
"Un-meat," said the menu, and out came a square of tofu crisply fried but soft and smoothinside, its bland flavor heightened by a fine chutney. Tofu is a lot about texture, and this was delightful. The rabbit cassoulet was a leg quarter placed over green lentils, the rabbit as pale as a pork loin but more flavorful. Duck confit, its skin perfectly crisp and the flesh meltingly soft, came with a little grilled apple and some fresh thyme. A selection from the charcuterie section included a fine, very mild duck liver pate and a pork terrine centered with fig.
Our single foray into an entree was the pork tenderloin (shown right) sauced with orange and bourbon. It’s not easy keeping tenderloin moist when it’s ordered medium-well, but the kitchen pulled it off, the unexpected flavor combination working well with the pork. The vegetable with the pork was crisply sauteed leeks, with a little fennel stalk thrown in for fun.
The Duck’s desserts are presented under the title of a sweet board, and they’re meant to be shared by two. Three dishes are on each board. We’ve had truffles, a fruit crisp, shortbread, fresh berries solo and a berry shortcake showing off berries seasoned with fresh basil, one of those startling ideas that end up making the palate surprisingly happy.
Noonan certainly keeps busy in the kitchen. Even the breads and the outstanding orange marmalade that comes with them are done in-house; another spread, varying from day to day, is alongside. Service is mostly quite good, but we’d remind the servers that when a table orders a round of appetizers, even as hearty as these are, don’t assume it’s then time for dessert.
Added later: And please check Noonan's comments to this blog sharing the credit for the Duck's success.
The Shaved Duck
2900 Virginia Ave.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Fair
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