“Bistro” is just the right word for Mosaic Bistro Market. A menu that offers lamb shank, cassoulet, roasted chicken and brandade is a dead giveaway. We'll allow the luxury of a long, long bar, not part of the traditional bistro image, but this is the heart of Clayton, where the after-work crowd labors so hard to avoid dehydration. And while the cocktails are interesting, including a pal's favorite, the Dark and Stormy (ginger beer with dark rum), and the wine list has many reliable options, it's the food that makes or breaks a bistro.
Mosaic makes it.
Escargot and wild mushrooms were sauteed quickly, topped with a creamy brandy sauce that held a subtle note of tarragon, then piled on a rectangle of pastry to provide a crispy background. Sophisticated and delicious, it brought smiles. Also resting on some puff pastry was the goat cheese tart, bearing caramelized onions atop the melting cheese. The combination was extremely tasty, with a contrast from a few leaves of arugula salad so lightly dressed they almost drew the vice squad. Mixed charcuterie was fun, some sausage, some prosciutto, with the first-rate house bread. And then there was the brandade. It's made from cod and olive oil, whipped together, sometimes with the addition of potato, although that option can cause arguments along the Mediterranean coast of Europe where the dish originated. Some describe it as a dip, but we've mostly seen it served warm, as it is here, and just forked up or perhaps spread on a bit of bread. It's supposed to taste like fish, of course, unlike some wimpy renditions we've had. And this one does, delightfully so, probably the best we've had in a long while.
Cassoulet, the meat-and-bean dish, much like a casserole, and another that French cooks argue over, arrives with duck confit, rich and tender, and merguez, the spicy lamb sausage. The beans are real flageolets, small French ones seldom seen in St. Louis. They fit right in with the meat flavors, joining the chorus of deliciousness. Sea scallops, properly seared, also carried notes from the bits of fresh bacon and a sauce made from apple pressings, like cider but far more intense, all sharing space with a couple of tiny carrots and a pea puree.
A strip steak arrived pre-sliced but cooked medium-rare as ordered, alongside a first-rate gorgonzola potato gratin and some excellent brussels sprouts that had been aggressively (and happily) seasoned with bacon. The menu describes the lamb shank as “30-hour Colorado lamb shank” presumably referring to its provenance and the length of cooking. One would presume that cooking something that long would produce extreme tenderness, if not just shreds of meat. Interestingly, it did not. In fact, we were surprised to find a firm exterior on the lamb, as though it had been given a final blast in a very hot oven. While the inside was beautifully flavored, and certainly not dry, it was far from as moist as one might think.
One of our private tests for a bistro is how well it does tarte tatin, the apple tart that's cooked with the crust on top and then inverted onto a platter. The apples should be reasonably intact, and, more important, their juices nicely caramelized to the point of leaving little bits of chewiness in various places. Mosaic Bistro passes with flying colors, the crust crisp, a proper tartness to the apples and the caramel notes singing. A pine nut tart was also good, but paled in comparison. And we also were extremely happy with the double dessert, a chocolate espresso pot de crème, a sort of custard, and its plate-mate, a goat cheese pudding with a few berries. Goat cheese in a dessert a little strange to many palates, but we love it; if you understand the pleasure of a tangy cheesecake, then the flavors of sweets heightened with goat cheese may well lure you. We also enjoyed a cheese plate, although the very small serving of three cheeses for $10 was a surprise.
Happily knowledgeable service from this new outpost of the enterprising Schmitz family with sister Ellen at the helm, comfortable seating and a reasonable lighting level. The bar, not surprisingly, can contribute considerable cacophony, on busy nights. We recommend reservations.
Mosaic Bistro Market
14 N. Central Ave, Clayton
Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor