by Cheryl Baehr
Gut Check is counting down the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now.
Start with a drink at Element's (1419 Carroll Street; 314-241-1674) third floor lounge, and you'd think that your night has peaked. After all, what could be better than gazing out of the windows at a sweeping view of the arch while sipping a craft cocktail from an overstuffed leather chair?
A short elevator ride down one floor to Element's dining room, however, proves that the best seat in the house isn't the one with the skyline view -- it's in front of a plate of pork belly.
Executive chef Brian Hardesty and his team of chefs make it difficult to pick favorites from their menu of impeccably executed American cuisine, but the pork belly is a standout. Plums and French prunes form a sweet and sticky glaze for the salty pork, walnuts provide some crunch, and creamy blue cheese mousse rounds things out with an earthy finish. This complex mix of flavors doesn't cover up the star of the show, however. The thick, triangular slices of pork belly are seared, slightly caramelizing the meat. The slightest prodding from a fork breaks through this crispy exterior and reveals pork belly that is so creamy, it's almost spreadable. It's like butter.