Happy New Year to my friends and fellow food lovers. Things here have been spotty as life has gotten rather complicated but I'm hoping that 2013 will calm down, and that it will be better for all of us than 2012 has been.
Our old friend, the Old China Hand and the ever-delightful Mrs. Hand have had us join them for New Years Eve at the St. Louis Symphony and then at Tony's for several years, and they continued that invitation this year. I am happy to report it was one of the best meals we've had there in some time, both in terms of food and service. (Hard to imagine in these walls but on a previous visit, a glass of water remained un-refilled for the whole meal, for instance. Glad that's past.)
No photos - I really hadn't thought I'd be writing about it. But good food, like the Prince Edward Island oysters with an icy mignonette sauce, the oysters briny and exquisitely fresh, the mignonette showing more body than usual, from what I think may have been malt vinegar. And pate from duck and chicken livers with a little veal showed more style, creamy and rich but also a little heat, some sweet-tart notes and a surprising use of rosemary that worked well. The pickled red onions alongside were a good idea, too.
Grilled scampi and lobster brought three monster-sized shrimp and a lobster tail split the long way, each grilled but not overcooked. They were dressed with what the menu calls a mustard sauce, but the sauce went well beyond a nice bit of Dijon. Ruddy, the color of a very serious lobster bisque and clearly containing a reduction of seafood stock, perhaps a dab of tomato and definitely that tang of dried mustard, complex and gratifying.
Equally fit for a gala night was the slice of tenderloin grilled with some foie gras and another fine sauce, this one velvety from a fine roux, rich from the pan juice reduction and touched with a bit of a very dry port, the whole thing a rich chestnut brown, and so delectable that bread to mop up the last of it was simply mandatory. Would the house version of creamed spinach be too rich to go with this? Surprisingly, no. Hard to imagine but this is an amazingly light-on-the-tongue version, tasting like the vegetable itself melted almost into unctuousness, a light hit of nutmeg sashaying along.
And was a plate of linguini with lobster and shrimp perhaps a bit mundane on a night of festivities? Well, no, as it turned out. Not surprisingly, plenty of chunks of seafood mixed with the al dente pasta, all swathed in a sauce that was texturally light, consisting of olive oil and seafood broth, but big, big on flavor, lots of shellfishy savor with light notes of garlic and some red pepper, plus some lemon, an absolutely fabulous pasta dish and the sort of thing that lingers in the memory the rest of the year. Leftovers will make a fine fritatta.
Helen Fletcher, the gifted baker who's become the Bommarito family restaurant's in-house dessert chef, has a new book out, European Tarts, whose contents overlap with many of the newer offerings on Tony's menu. A butter tart whose filling may evoke our gooey butter cake, pairs up with a caramel ice cream, the wonderful crust a fine contrast with the slightly chewy filling and the ice cream. The combination of dark chocolate and coconut brings a chocolate-crusted tart with a chocolate ganache filling with coconut in it, and housemade coconut ice cream, again the textures playing against each other, and a good pairing of flavors. Those are both great, but I continue to have a deep soft spot for the chocolate layer cake filled with chocolate mousse and paired with banana ice cream. Both Joe and I always felt this to be one of the area's best desserts, and it continues to reign.
Service attentive, of course, with no loose ends and a little less of the hovering feeling that some folks find overwhelming. (The younger members of the family who we've brought there over the years have been taught that the way to handle this is to imagine they're a prince or princess, remembering that such grand folks are always and forever deeply polite to the people who take care of them. It's worked well, and even the generation that still wants chicken nuggets elsewhere remember happily their visits here.) And frankly, there are few places in town that are better for people watching. Near us were three string players from the symphony, having a particularly fine post-gig meal.
Not cheap and at these prices, to quote Pollack's First Law, restaurants set their standards by the way they price themselves. But a grand meal and well worth it.
410 Market St.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: via lobby of Equitable Building (entrance for sibling restaurant Anthony's Bar)