Prime 1000 has taken on the question of whether St. Louis needs yet another steakhouse. The market, of course, will ultimately decide, but in the meanwhile, things are roaring along at 10th and Washington. Located in a marvelous space that feels like it could be lower Manhattan with its high ceilings and huge windows, Prime 1000 is a perfect place for the sort of dining group that mixes the just-gimme-meat-and-potatoes crowd with folks who start painting picket signs at the very thought of a menu without microgreens and hand-fed beef.
Happily, those high ceilings don't mean dining room noise levels at absurd heights; whoever designed this restaurant did a fine job with acoustics. Diners range in age from late grade school to those who were visiting steakhouses in the Eisenhower Administration, and on our visit, couples were far outnumbered by larger parties.
Considerable distraction on the part of our server seemed to be the reason we got nothing more than water and menus for more than 20 minutes after we were seated, albeit on a busy Saturday night. Neither drinks nor wine list offered, just an passing remark of “something from the bar?” as he turned around and sped away. When our drink order was taken, he fled before we could discuss anything. Meanwhile, a couple next to us had been seated, ordered, received drinks and a first course, thanks to their zippy server with a spangled red tie.
Things finally settled down and when the bread arrived, two kinds, hot and crisp, it was accompanied by a saffron butter, perfect with the herbed rolls, and a butter made from goat milk, its delicate goatiness melting luxuriously into the French rolls. Nice presentation, too; we began to relax.
The purist could begin with a Caesar salad or oysters on the half shell. We reacted positively when the menu offered salt-and-pepper fried squid, something seen on many Chinese menus. We received deep-fried breaded squid, soggy instead of crisp, without hint of salt or pepper, and cooler than room temperature. The presentation was charming, but as is said in the theater, you can't go home whistling the scenery. The aioli alongside had a good shot of garlic, and the butter sauce had uni, or sea urchin, blended into it, but was so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. The most remarkable item on the plate was half a lime that had been popped under the grill, face to the fire. Amazing flavor from a little caramelization to offset the tartness.
And then there were the crispy sweetbreads. Sweetbreads have a mild flavor and go well with lots of things, and these guys, in their crispy coating, nestled in a strip of rich brown pan sauce seasoned with truffle, foam (yes, it's here!) of artichokes, and nuggets of marvelous smoky bacon. Convert a non-sweetbread fancier with a bite of this.
Yes, there's chicken and fish and dry aged pork chops, and even a couple of pasta dishes, including a vegetarian one. But we wanted steak, and there were plenty of options for that, too. American grass-fed beef, American Wagyu beef, and prime dry-aged beef. A prime 10-ounce ribeye, without a bone, was gently trimmed and expertly cooked. Our grass-fed strip steak was less successful. While its flavor was slightly deeper, it also displayed more fat than it should have, but both pieces of beef were incredibly tasty, with the excellence that induces grunts of pleasure for more than just the first mouthful. From a number of available sauces, we tried the green peppercorn and the wild mushroom and balsamic vinegar. They were okay, but totally superfluous. Meat this good needs nothing but a knife and fork.
Creamed spinach and baked potatoes come with truffle oil and as twice-baked, respectively, but we looked farther afield. A dish of charred peppers was deeply satisfying, utilizing shishito peppers, little-finger sized, bright green and a little spicy, and some baby yellow peppers. They arrived in their juices, ready to remove the stems off and pop into the mouth, a brightness of flavor that contrasted beautifully with the beef.
Sweet potatoes at Prime don't make us think of Thanksgiving dinner, just of good dinner. While we don't normally pair them with beef, a gratin with maple and chipotle pepper sounded too intriguing to pass. We were rewarded with another shockingly good dish, quite spicy and sweet-smoky, an almost buttery richness, all arriving in an iron cocotte which kept them properly hot.
The sorbets are housemade; the night of our visit, the serving was a small scoop each of cherry, chocolate and pink grapefruit. Grapefruit lovers, go no farther. Probably the best version we've had of this outside of France, it was sweet-bitter-tart, just like the fruit. The chocolate, too, was great, dark and rich without creaminess. Maybe the cherry would have been better if its platemates hadn't been so exquisite. But it also suffered from flavor that was a little too artificial and maraschino-like for us. We also saw it going by on orders of chocolate cake. And speaking of cakes, we indulged in a glorious black pepper spice cake. The pepper added a fine depth of flavor to the tanginess of the single layer, topped with a cream cheese frosting, all sauced with a generous dribble of salted caramel, some blueberries and candied peanuts. Certainly an uncommon combination, but well worth diving into.
The wine list was a major disappointment, lacking any first-rate French Burgundy or Bordeaux, and with no more than a half-dozen choices of each. Disgraceful for a fine beef restaurant. There are many wines from all over the world, with prices on the high side and labels on the low. One of the least expensive on the list, a Kenwood Zinfandel from Lodi ($32), was a satisfactory bottle. The wine list had company in a demeaning cocktail menu that included "Bourbon and Vernors" for about $8. Vernors is a Michigan-based company that makes ginger ale and other types of soda pop. Bourbon and ginger ale! A cocktail! Absurd. Might as well have a really fancy drink like Scotch and Soda.
The service did, indeed, settle down and the meal was properly paced. Since runners bring food from the kitchen, there was a who-gets-the-ribeye moment, which should not happen at restaurants where $75 per person probably will be a starting point. However, once things started to roll, all was well, and the meal was so good that we can almost forgive the errors in the early going.
1000 Washington Ave.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Difficult