This time of year, the sunlight in Parigi is a wonder. That’s not the only reason to eat there, but it’s the first thing that might strike diners, especially if they enter through the garage parking on the east side of the building. Overlooking Clayton’s Shaw Park, the tall windows make it feel almost like eating on a balcony. It’s a handsome room, done in red tones from peach and orange on to an almost lacquer red, even small accessories like trays.
Parigi is the newest restaurant from Ben Poremba, whom St. Louisans know from Olio and Elaia – although that adjective “newest” will probably disappear soon, as he apparently has a pizza spot up his sleeve. Poremba’s brought Ramon Cuffie on board to run the kitchen. Most experienced St. Louis gastronauts first found Cuffie in the kitchen at Bar Italia, so putting him in this Italian-ish steakhouse-ish spot is a logical move.
“Ish” is as far as one should go with those descriptors. There’s a fair amount on the menu that falls into neither category. But one thing that’s very Italian, happily, is the option to have pasta as a primi, a starter course, the way they do in Italy. Some recent reviews have raved about the cresta di gallo, which translates as “rooster’s comb”. Good. I’m going to rave about it too. It’s stunning, flavorful with the local mushrooms, a touch of greens that have been braised, just a wee bit of heat from a dab of chili oil, and the properly al dente pasta, not hard, but firm enough that it wasn’t sloppy and falling apart. It’s the sort of dish that it’s hard not to order on every subsequent visit to the restaurant.
Another first course didn’t fare quite so well. Grilled romaine lettuce had been left on the fire so long it became limp – perhaps larger cuts would have helped with this – and while the grilled bread and marinated anchovy were tasty, the dressing on the lettuce was pretty wan unless the cheese, seemingly real Parmigiano, showered over the lettuce got involved.
Didn’t try any of the three steaks offered. Two are $38, the third, a porterhouse served in the Florentine style (and at 32 ounces certainly shareable), is $110. The secondi, or main courses, mostly seem quite hearty, almost wintery. But two of them proved impossible to forego in favor of the possibly lighter chicken and salmon.
A braise of veal cheeks floats off the plate and into the mouth, delicate and rich at the same time, punctuated by dice of pancetta and more of those wild mushrooms. The light golden-colored mash on the side turns out to be from Japanese sweet potatoes, fluffy and a nice contrast to the richness of the veal. Lovers of lamb shank may be astounded to find that the lentils that come with Parigi’s rendition of the dish are actually the star of the plate. The lamb shank is perfectly done, not quite falling apart, but tender and moist as it should be. But those lentils – ah, those lentils! Cooked in the lamb juices, certainly, but some Madeira as well, and perhaps just a hint of ginger in them? Astonishing. They would be divine with pork or pheasant, any of the rich dark meats that we’ll see more of in the autumn.
It’s foolish to resist dessert here. They’re from Simone Faure at La Patisserie Chouquette, in which the polydigital Poremba also has a finger. A strawberry-balsamic vinegar ice cream is the most deeply strawberry-flavored I’ve ever tasted, despite its relatively pale color. There’s more going for the tirami-choux than just the pun in its name. Faure has given us the traditional dough used for cream puffs, known as choux paste, made the puff – but filled it with tiramisu-type filling, mascarpone cheese, espresso, and then put a little meringue that’s beautifully browned. It puts ladyfingers to shame.
Of note from the cocktail list is the French 75, a champagne cocktail with oomph added with gin, lemon and simple syrup. It came in a tall, narrow glass with ice cubes, way not traditional, but a lovely presentation and a pleasant change, especially here in mid-summer.
The service was good, but my pal knew the chef and was recognized by him before I arrived. Whether or not that influenced things, one never knows, but I saw no one craning their neck seeking assistance or glaring at their plate.
A couple of logistical notes: No more breakfast, just brunch. Enter through the garage whose entrance is on Bonhomme – the exit gate was up when I left – and take the elevator down a level, or on Brentwood Boulevard, but not at the corner of Brentwood and Bonhomme. The entrance is up the feet a number of yards.
8025 Bonhomme Ave., Clayton
Lunch & Dinner Mon.-Sat., Brunch Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good from garage
Entrees: $26-$110 (but see above)