This is Clayton Restaurant Week, (link is here) with 17 Clayton restaurants offering three-course dinners for $25 plus tax and tip through Sunday. As people who appreciate both good food and good bargains, we felt obligated to participate. It seemed like a good deal, and when we participated in St. Louis version a few years ago, we were extremely pleased. Besides, when it's going on at a number of restaurants we like, it's easy to decide to take part, though difficult to choose exactly where. The menus often are slimmed down a little for the bargain-hunters, and the same holds true with the portions, but we thought the quality and presentation held up extremely well and we were mostly very happy.
We settled on last night at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, and dutifully made our reservations. The room was busy, quite busy for a Tuesday, with diners of all ages. Staff flew by, some repeatedly and a few who roared through and perhaps disappeared into a bottomless pit, because we never saw them again. All was indicative of lots of activity in the kitchen as well as the dining room and bar. Everyone seemed in a hurry, either to serve us or to hustle us along. Our pleasant server was so determined to get things done in a flash that she zoomed off with one drink order before the other of us could form the words. And the appetizers appeared almost immediately. But already on the table was a classy, unusual and delicious bread service, two types, freshly baked. In addition to butter and olive oil, there was an absolutely marvelous warm spread that included some cheese and some olives, blended perfectly with some magical ingredients into something with a color and texture like hummus, with taste that was phenomenal.
Of the two first courses available, the truffle raviolini was definitely superior. Fresh ravioli were sauced in a truffle-laced butter and topped with a single large oyster that sported a bolero of pancetta, grilled enough to crisp the pancetta slightly but not overcook the juicy, salty oyster. Good stuff, to be sure. On the other hand, what was a promised grilled pork belly was a one-inch cube, reasonably tasty, but sitting on macaroni that had been cooked so long it fell apart when one tried to pick it up with a fork. The bread crumbs on top it were unbrowned and soggy, but the cheese and minuscule bits of lobster that appeared here and there through the pasta were at least undamaged.
Only 30 seconds after the appetizer plates were removed, someone else brought our main courses--and put them down in front of the wrong person. Tandoori-spiced sea bass, perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned, sat atop beluga lentils and posed next to a swirl of cilantro puree, with a chutney-like mix of mango and pepper topside. It looked more exotic than it tasted, nothing to offend a cautious palate, but everything in harmony. A plate of sliced, grilled flatiron steak was more assertive, the steak robust and quite tender for a flatiron, and its side, a faux-risotto made of toasted barley with gorgonzola cheese stirred in, made for some serious excitement. The texture was better than a lot of risotti we've eaten, just slightly chewy, the liquid perfectly unctuous.
At least there was an inquiry about whether we were ready for dessert. No, we explained, we weren't in a particular hurry, give us a few minutes. And they did. An individual pineapple tart and a wee scoop of coconut sorbet were made for each other, good pastry shattering everywhere with the touch of a fork. A few strawberries in a syrup that may have had a little kir in it, and a tuile cookie completed things nicely. The Mexican chocolate bread pudding resembled a muffin, but tasted better, a texture that was perhaps slightly too fork-resistant, but flavor that charmed with chocolate and cinnamon, and a dazzling caramel sauce, thick and dark. The cinnamon ice cream side was pleasant but superfluous.
Two $7 wines by the glass from Chile are available; the by-the-glass collection on the regular wine list begins at $10 and rises rapidly from there, but a large glass of Australian Shiraz was a winner, as was a California Zin. And the Cigar Club, which is right next door, has the correct ventilation so that its distinctive aromas don't waft into the dining room and its entry hall.
The check appeared unbidden, but with a smile, and we were out in an hour and five minutes with no one was waiting for a table as we left. Good food, well worth its price, but near-manic service. And for a lovely parting gift, free valet parking, a rarity in Clayton.
The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton
100 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good