BUTTER UP

Indulging a taste for decadence at the elegant Chez Leon

The soups strutted some major cojones, too. One of these -- our server called it "farmer's soup," though this incarnation was of decidedly regal bearing -- was a delectable and filling convocation of carrots, celery, chunks of potato. A preponderance of bacon infused its sumptuous broth with an irresistible smokiness. Along the same rich-and-hearty lines, the soupe à l'oignon was a sterling example of the classic preparation: a slew of tender caramelized onions, a chunk of bread, a luxuriant stock, gooey cheese. An especially nice touch was the heavy, oversized soup spoon; too big for the human mouth, it was the perfect excuse to make juvenile slurping noises.

Despite the genteel surroundings, I had the impression that slurping was A-OK around here. I overheard one customer confide to Bierbaum that, were he at home, he would sop up his wonderful sauce with bread. "But you should always sop!" his host entreated. "Sop away! This is a bistro!"

Permission to sop coincided happily with the arrival of a broiled grouper swimming in a lordly garlic cream; I armed myself with bread and dug in. The fish was exactly right: crisped on the edges, succulent in the center and of excellent texture. The sauce, though rich beyond my dreams, was somehow not the least bit heavy, and the garlic quotient was perfectly attuned to the mild flesh of the grouper. Garnished simply with a circle of warm grape tomatoes, the dish was an excellent argument for traditional presentations that do not sacrifice quality for flashy foodie architecture. Who wants to wait while the plater turns your dinner into the Eiffel Tower?

Chez Leon: the most civilized addition to Euclid's foodie mecca since Bar Italia
Jennifer Silverberg
Chez Leon: the most civilized addition to Euclid's foodie mecca since Bar Italia

Location Info

Map

Chez Leon

7927 Forsyth Blvd.
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Clayton

Way Out Club

2525 S. Jefferson Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63104

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: St. Louis - Lafayette Square

The roasted chicken, fancied up with a light morel sauce, was another success. Surrounded by a passel of expertly cooked vegetables, it was nothing less than the Platonic ideal of roasted chicken. The aroma alone sent me into raptures.

The only dish I didn't love was the rabbit in mustard sauce. Perhaps I was on overload by the time I got around to tasting it, but it seemed to me that the sauce was a bit clumsy: overbearingly floury and not quite mustardy enough. The rabbit itself, however, was tender and juicy (and, yeah, it sort of tasted like chicken), and I'll try it again just to see whether it was me or the chef having the off night.

We hit another snag when we could find nothing on the menu for our vegetarian, but this was easily resolved with a quick inquiry. The resulting bounty of vegetable dishes was beautiful and tasty: ratatouille (which was refreshingly devoid of the usual gloppy tomato sauce), a melange of sautéed wild mushrooms, fragrant white rice, green beans, a tomato broiled with garlic and herbs. Arguments persist concerning the identity of one last item: Was it a creamy spaghetti squash or the loveliest, mildest sauerkraut ever? Either way, it was delicious.

After this luxurious feast, dessert seemed a ludicrous notion, but I had to order the tarte Tatin anyway. You would have done the same thing. Served à la mode, Chez Leon's house-made version of the Loire Valley's famed upside-down apple pie didn't mess around. Apples. Sugar. Butter. Lots of butter. My butter brain wouldn't have had it any other way.

CHEZ LEON, 4580 Laclede, 361-1589. Hours: Tue.-Thu. 5:30-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5:30-11 p.m.; Sun. 5-9 p.m.; closed Mon. Three-course prix-fixe: $28.

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