The day after the Riverfront Times and the day the Post-Dispatch both reviewed Central Table Food Hall was when I last visited there. This usually proves to be a bad idea, given the glowing words that both publications had for the newest resident of South Euclid. But plans had been made. There was a reservation, of course, and it's a very large restaurant, so onward, curious to see how it went.
The outside tables were booming - it was one of those incredibly benign nights we've been luxuriating in lately. Inside, perhaps fewer than half the tables were occupied, although the number grew as it passed 7:30, and the low level of noise was the hum of a well-oiled machine.
As with many of the new places around town, this is a menu that lends itself to nibbling here and there rather than the 3-course meal. There were, on our visit, five main courses, chicken, steak, salmon, scallops and pork, but that's on a large two-sided menu that doesn't include beverages or desserts.
The second side of the menu is all about the sushi bar. While my pal muttered about being unfaithful to his favorite sushi chef, we did succumb to the magic mushroom maki, a string of mushroom caps stuffed with seafood, avocado, pickled burdock root, more mushrooms and a little chili mayonnaise before being popped into a hot oven for just a bit to glaze the mayo and warm things very slightly. Amazingly good, and as a side note, one of the few good uses of the now-ubiquitous mayonnaise found in sushi on both sides of the Pacific.
This isn't a case of a kitchen that does sushi and pizza - there are several kitchens working besides the sushi chef, one devoted to the pizza and pasta workings of two chefs from Brooklyn, plenty of floor show for those who care to watch. Thus the pizze are New York-style, medium crust, nicely chewy. The diavolo was not quite as devilish as it could have been, the spicy tomatoes just pleasantly cranked up, a good amount of roasted garlic, and sausage here and there. More unusual was the gooseberry and lamb. Lamb bacon, goat cheese, honey and black pepper we understood. But these gooseberries were orange. Well, they're not exactly gooseberries the way at least Midwesterners know gooseberries. They're physalis, or ground cherries, but occasionally known as Cape gooseberries, thus the usage - apparently they were known to the Pilgrims. They're egg-yolk orange, not as tart as their green-pink name twin, and they surely work on the pizza with the other ingredients bringing tart-salty-spicy-sweet all to the pleasure of the diner.
Two different seafood options, both somewhat unusual, excelled. Spanish octopus, in the form of a single, grilled tentacle, lay gracefully surrounded by grilled peaches, shiso, which is sort of minty, and a couple of paper-thin slices of lardo. (If you haven't had it, no, it's not lard, it's cured back fat from a hog.) Far from rubbery, it was tender, a little chewy where the grill had really browned it, the octopus was excellent, the lardo adding a little richness to things and the shiso and peach a zinginess. And then there was the cuttlefish. This surely is their first appearance on a St. Louis menu. Think smaller rings of the tenderest imaginable calimari in a see-through veil of breading, probably with a little lime zest in it. The sauce was more assertively lime, a mayonnaise with lime juice rather than lemon and a light hit of cayenne to punch it up even a bit more. Superb.
Tempura vegetables had a batter only slightly more dense and arrived bone-dry of oil, shimmering hot with things like haricots and slices of beet as well as the more expected vegetables. Only an order of mussels fell short. Ordinarily, they would have been quite good, but the rest of the meal had shown high standards and these guys lacked the promised chorizo in their broth. We missed the chorizo, it left not even a message to say farewell....
Popcorn panna cotta and browned butter ice cream with housemade caramel corn? Fascinating, richly flavored, and something I'll order again, but not until the temperature is below freezing. This is a dessert for a cold night with a fireplace, so autumnal is the feeling.
Great service, no surprise; regular restaurant-goers of the area should see several familiar faces moving quickly and checking tables. Lunch here is more casual; order and pay at the various counters. And now they're doing brunch. More to come, for sure.
23 S. Euclid
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly, Brunch Sun.
Wheelchair access: Good