Yes, it's part of a chain, but its lineage is so good we had to try J. Gilbert's. There may be a few folks around who remember Gilbert-Robinson, the folks who gave us Fedora in Union Station, one of the first Modern American menus in St. Louis, and brought us Bill Cardwell as well. J. is for Joe, as in Joe Gilbert; he and Paul Robinson built the excellent, Kansas City-based operation that also created Bristol, Houlihan's, Annie's Santa Fe and others.
It's a steakhouse; the full name is J. Gilbert's Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood and it follows in the finest footsteps of G-R. Dark-ish inside, although sufficiently lit to allow reading menus sans flashlight, and there's a good-sized bar, of course. The dining room noise levels were not unreasonable on a fairly busy night. (Although if the bar crowd gets excited, all bets are off.)
This is not, of course, your father's steakhouse. Onion rings are pretzel-crusted, pork chops are from Berkshire pigs. Crab cakes? Well, sure. But these fat guys are the best we've had in years, big guys full of lump crab, scarcely enough filler to hold them together, lightly seasoned and totally satisfying. Not cheap, $17 for two as an appetizer, but they arrive with a scoop of tropical salsa, pineapple and mango with cilantro and a little heat, particularly tasty. The mustard aioli alongside is superfluous. The cakes also are available as an entree, three plus sides for $30.
Keeping to the crab theme, a bowl of crab bisque, considerably crabbier in flavor than most of its ilk, very creamy and – oh, thank you – served hot enough. It charmed, especially on a cold, windy night.
Having taken care of some seafood, it was on to the steaks. The 16-ounce, bone-in rib eye is referred to as a cowboy cut, the reference being to cowboys using the bone as a handle. A knife and fork is easier, considering the size of this handsome hunk, which arrived perfectly rare, tender and absolutely delicious. The most marbled of all the usual steak cuts, it may require a little knife work to remove the larger fat streaks, but it's worth it. The smaller strip steak was also first-rate, deftly seasoned and cooked, with the same smokiness, even more apparent in the leftovers the next day. We happily argued over whose steak tasted better. The strip, ordered medium-rare, showed its difference from the rare rib eye, rating a compliment to the kitchen.
On the side, poblano gratin potatoes carried just a little heat, but plenty of garlic, very tasty, although the center layer of potatoes was not quite done. Wild mushroom risotto excelled, creamy and full-flavored from the mushrooms. Spinach, quickly sauteed and not overcooked, was exceedingly tasty and lent an air of virtue to an evening of comparative indulgence. Only the broccolini failed, stringy and unredeemed by chips of fried garlic that looked like sliced almonds.
Apple croustade equals, more or less, an apple tart. The pastry was flaky, and the apples particularly apple-flavored, not necessarily an easy thing to find. There could have been a great deal more cinnamon flavor in the cinnamon ice cream, but the croustade itself was worth the purchase. Chocolate is represented on the menu by a triple chocolate cake, moist but firm layers that were almost bittersweet, a milk chocolate mousse filling and mirror-shiny chocolate glaze atop the towering piece. Raspberry ice cream a lovely pink resting alongside, not so tart as a sorbet would be, but good taken on its own merits. Both good choices, but no arguing over which was best.
The wine list was mostly in a medium-price range, through it could have used a few more hearty reds to accompany the beef. The by-the-glass selection was above adequate and offered some good choices.
Service was attentive and chatty, which we also noted at other tables. However, our view is that it is unnecessary, bordering on patronizing, for servers to repeatedly endorse our choices, happily complimenting our wisdom. A smile and a simple "thank you" would be a better response, in our opinion.
Located on the west side of West County Mall, with an outside entrance (and valet parking for a fee), J. Gilbert's does not serve lunch.
J. Gilbert's Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood
17A West County Center, Des Peres
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good