How fair is it to review a private club? There would be no sense in reviewing the food at, say, the St. Louis Country Club - only members and guests can eat there. Blood & Sand opened last year to a lot of fanfare and a policy that it was members only after an introductory visit. And there were reviews of it then, mostly very good indeed. Yet, somehow, I hesitated. Part of it was the timing in my personal life, but another part of me, the old denim-and-sandals Laclede Town resident, resisted.
But there I was the other night, a guest of a friend and part of a small group to try out some wine from private cellars - so there will be no report on the fabled cocktails of TJ Vylactil, co-owner and bartender, or, as the current buzzword has it, mixologist. Lots of good stuff, but my favorite was an '06 Sine Qua Non Five Shooter, smooth and elegant and complex.
The signature dish may well be listed under "snacks". Truffled tater tots are a long way from the freezer kind. Fat cylinders of potato mousseline, the silky smooth puree that tastes like it's half butter, are lightly breaded, deep fried and lightly touched with truffle oil. The cheese plate held generous slabs of blue and a triple creme cheeses, the focaccia was fresh and slightly warm, and the apple chutney alongside was sharp and interesting. There was also honeycomb, an uncommon addition but one found in Europe.
The soup of the evening was a quiet, understated bisque of heirloom squash; on the menu was a mixed seafood chowder with a creamy texture and a scent that, eyes closed, could have put you on a dock on Martha's Vineyard.
But the star of the evening was the duck confit. The confit, coarsely shredded, had been pressed into a patty topped with a handful of microgreens. Alongside were carefully rounded smoked new potatoes, all of an identical size, but it was the duck, even without the accompanying sauce, that caused gasps. Concentrated ducky-ness, it was, crisped nicely, but wonderfully un-greasy, considering the fat content of duck, the sort of flavor concentration that really first rate pulled pork can present. And the sauce - seasonal, indeed, made with Concord grapes. Yes, Concords, beloved varietal of Welch's, but this was barely sweet, a little tangy, tasting of the grape and of a deeply concentrated duck stock. Too hearty to be called exquisite, but otherwise, it'd fit that adjective nicely.
A nibble of dessert? Upside-down apple cake with black walnut brittle called, although rather faintly, not the fault of the dessert menu but that of poor restraint on the part of the diners. The texture of the cake was good, although tall enough that it was hard to get a bite of the caramelly goodness of the apples with each bite. The brittle, finely chopped, had only a trace of that distinctive black walnut flavor. (Certainly that flavor isn't for everyone. I once had a gentleman who proclaimed himself a true gourmet ask that I mail him some black walnuts. In faraway Long Island, he said, they couldn't be found - in those pre-internet days - and he was sure he'd like them. And so I did. Heard nothing. Finally a phone call. Unfortunately, said the gent, they were spoiled. I sent more. Same result. Given the supplier, I knew better. Obviously the gentleman didn't.) In retrospect, the dessert would have been perfect with a little Muscat.
Excellent service, well-paced and patient with a table of talkative guests, attentive to the needs of several bottles of outside wines. Noise level a little loud early on, but calmed down, and never was so bad that it was necessary to stop conversation - or begin shouting.
Membership? You may visit once without a membership. The "full membership", according to the website, which is $15 a month, is completely subscribed. What they term a limited membership, which allows diners/drinkers on Mondays through Thursdays. That costs $10 a month. Worth it? Could be, especially if you live or work downtown.
Blood & Sand
1500 St. Charles Ave.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Poor