His smile is as wide, his English as fractured. His hair is grayer, his cooking skills as comforting and refined. Marcel Keraval is in the kitchen at Chez Leon, which means the joy of classic French cuisine has returned to St. Louis and a great weight has been lifted from the shoulders of owner Leon Bierbaum.
Keraval and his late brother-in-law, Jean-Claude Guillossou, brought classic French styles to St. Louis with L'Auberge Bretonne in 1976, and Keraval moved downtown to Cafe de France in the early 1980's. His wife, Monique, ran the front of the house.
Keraval is expert with the classic sauces--lots of butter and garlic--for everything from scallops to sweetbreads, but as we noted in a book a few years ago, he seems happiest when he is baking. Dessert souffles, which crowned many a meal at Cafe de France, are not yet on the menu at Chez Leon, but we'll wager they will be there soon. In the meantime, tartes and gateaux will certainly substitute handily. We had a first-rate meal over the weekend at Chez Leon, but we wonder when the espresso machine will be operating. It's been on the disabled list longer than Brad Penny.