Slowly, magically, the kingdom of Khorassan is being rebuilt for the modern era.
We're not talking about the silly Veiled Prophet stuff, which, along with the Paleolithic structure of Civic Progress, provides damning evidence that St. Louis' gene pool is in desperate need of a filter. No, we're talking about the Chase Park Plaza, the once and future nexus of what's great about the city in which we live.
The newest restaurant in the Chase is called Eau, although all the publicity materials that went out at the opening called it O Eau, and the logo is in fact the letter O, as if we in the city of Louis IX somehow wouldn't know how to pronounce "Eau." Hey, we know how to pronounce "Chouteau," "DeBaliviere," "Gravois" and "Courtois," don't we?
And there are actually deux Eaux -- the Café, adjacent to the pool, and the Bistro, in the salonlike space that once housed one of the many restaurants offered to Chase guests. Despite the lack of exterior walls, the Bistro, where we ate both of our meals, is a soaring, airy space of muted reds, greens and beiges. About a third of it is divided off by paneling-and-window walls that stop short of the ceiling and a mural in the style of Degas in the back area, with mirrors providing the primary wall coverings out front. The east end of the room opens onto a display kitchen.
The menu, devised by executive chef Rob Uyemura, formerly of Yia Yia's, is best described as eclectic paragraph food, requiring lengthy descriptions like "endive, baby greens and romaine tossed in a tarragon-sherry vinaigrette with truffle-oil-infused goat cheese on a garlic-rubbed baguette" and "roasted natural chicken and lemon-sage butter with parsnip-whipped red potatoes and Madeira-peppercorn sauce." It's subdivided into "small plates" and "large plates," which, the waitstaff informs diners, can either be utilized in the classic appetizer-entrée sequence or turned into a grazing meal of many "small" plates.
Combine this menu with the physical environment and exceptionally professional service, and St. Louis has new restaurant that is, in every sense of the word, spectacular.
Although the menu descriptions go into detail, they still don't fully describe many of the selections. The "small plate" of Thai basil tuna tartare with chili-lime dressing and buttermilk flatbread arrived on one of several eccentric serving plates -- this particular version was an exaggeratedly elongated oval -- with a stack of minicubes of raw tuna atop razor-thin crosscuts of cucumber in the middle, garnished with fresh cilantro and fried slices of parsnip, giving way in each direction to julienned carrots, shredded bits of Thai "holy" basil, edible scoopers of flatbread dotted with toasted and untoasted seeds, and -- subtly, until it hit the back of the mouth -- a chopped tiny bright-red Thai pepper, whose fire gives it a rating of eight on the 10-point Scoville scale.
Then there was the goat-cheese potsticker topped with meat from two claws and about two-thirds of the tail of a medium-sized lobster. Two golden-brown potstickers were overlapped to form an asymmetric Star of David, with three very lightly cooked stalks of asparagus laid over the top and soy-glazed shiitake mushrooms arranged in an arc around the top of the plate, underscored by yellow-and-orange lines of saffron-and-red-pepper sauce.
In both cases, in addition to the highly artistic presentations, the interplay of flavors and textures was tremendously well thought-out and well executed: the cucumber slices to cut the fire of the Thai chile; the creamy base of the goat cheese against the meatiness of the lobster, followed by the crisp snap of the asparagus.
The flavor festivals continued in the entrées. Our choices included the smoky interplay of smoked shrimp, sausage and scallops atop fennel-and-red-pepper-flavored oily rice, as well as a beef fillet seared and served on a bed of lemongrass risotto, with thick cubic chunks of organic bacon from Alma Farms to add a smoky finish and a rich veal reduction with subtle hints of tarragon all around the edges.
And then there was the sea bass -- a cut more than an inch thick, crisp-seared on its faces. The elongated oval plates again made an appearance: The fish sat alone on one-third, with mildly hot dressed mustard greens in the center and a sushilike puck of rice with aftertones of horseradish to the far right. It's also possible to taste this delicacy along with two other fish selections in a rotating sampler that includes the regular-menu salmon and a fish of the day.
The desserts were equally well devised, including three homemade sorbets (pear-champagne, banana-apple and peach) on a delicate gingersnap tuile; seasonal cannoli, with the usual mascarpone inside displaced by pumpkin mousse, served with cinnamon ice cream and crumbled pistachios; and a chocolate "blackout," with differing intensities of chocolate coming from icing, cake and ganache.
Like Yia Yia's, Eau is owned by PB&J Restaurant Collection of Kansas City, and it easily gives the lie to the prejudice, most notably debunked by Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago, that corporate ownership is a minus for great cooking. In fact, PB&J assembled a dream team of chef, managers and servers, bringing in its best and brightest for the Eau launch, and this shows in the high level of enthusiasm, along with excellent knowledge of the ingredients and preparation of the menu items and the potential strengths and weaknesses of the 50-or-so wines by the glass and about 200 by the bottle. As a very nice extra touch, the generous pours of wine by the glass include display of the bottle at the table and the chance to take a sample swirl and sip before the entire glass is filled.
We stuck our heads briefly in the Café, which seems to have quickly become a major meat market, owing to unusual touches like the extensive wine selection and a martini bar with a counter of real ice.
Just about the only flaw we encountered was access: The adjacent construction, coupled with the high-volume of use at the Chase's many banquet facilities, has put nearby parking at a premium. So walk a little. The energy level in the immediate neighborhood is high-voltage, and the cityscape is the equal of any in America. And this new Eau is a perfect tonic to re-establish the Chase as the lightning rod both for great food and the chance to see and be seen.