THE INN CROWD

The Seven Gables Inn welcomes chef David Slay back to his hometown

At Seven Gables Inn, a shot of Booker's costs 15 bucks. The bar is crowded with tailored, pink-faced captains of industry demonstrating how to cut loose after work, Clayton-style. And the food, at least in theory, is exceptional.

Yet within the Seven Gables kitchen I suspect there smolder two conflicting schools of thought. Depending on the dish, one is liable to encounter either celestial choirs singing songs of balanced harmony or miserable, cacophonous odes to banality. I base this hypothesis on two visits made within a week's time. It is possible, given that the eminent David Slay has been installed as executive chef since September and that all examples of cacophonous odes manifested themselves during the first visit, that this situation is not the norm. After all, I look back on the second dinner with loving thoughts and urges to commission commemorative symphonic works.

Be that as it may, my first encounter with Seven Gables commenced inauspiciously and plunged southward from there.

Seven Gables Inn: A shot of Booker's costs 15 bucks, the bar is crowded with pink-faced captains of industry and the food, at least in theory, is exceptional.
Mark Gilliland
Seven Gables Inn: A shot of Booker's costs 15 bucks, the bar is crowded with pink-faced captains of industry and the food, at least in theory, is exceptional.

Location Info

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Seven Gables Inn

26 N. Meramec Ave.
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Clayton

My deputy for the evening was my old chum Rotten, who counts among her flaws a fetish for impaired British automobiles. She chauffeured us in a persnickety Jag that her mechanic had allowed out on a weekend furlough. Right off the bat something went wrong with the inconspiculator, and we were on the verge of succumbing to gas fumes when we pulled up at what would have been a very nice valet stand, had there been a valet anywhere near it. The minutes ticked by. We waited, we watched. No valet. A menacing queue of Beemers began inching toward us from behind. The fumes ate away at our manly appetites.

I popped inside to let them know we had, in theory, arrived, while Rotten nosed around for a parking space. When I returned, she had finally cornered the truant car-parker. The boy had apparently run out of those numbered tickets that valets traditionally give you in exchange for your car. Her senses dulled by hunger, Rotten tossed him the keys anyway, calling over her shoulder, "You do work here, right?" I optimistically pointed out that even if the kid were a thieving impostor, the toxic miasma inside the car would likely kill him before he got too far.

Our dinner would teeter melodramatically on this same precipice of disaster. Straight away the Posey-Smith spirits were dealt a crushing blow by a miserly ration of Cabernet. The climate was arctic. When the bread turned out to be a dense cheese bun so greasy that a napkin had to be deployed after every bite, I positively drooped.

We were temporarily cheered by the arrival of the first course, a Caesar salad that deviated from the norm only in its very tart dressing. Rotten's shrimp appetizer, on the other hand, was cause for alarm. Not that it was technically awful or anything; the seared shellfish were swell -- plump, fragrant and not overcooked the way shrimp nearly always are. The snag was that they sat on a puff of potato puree that had been infested with pesto. Still rattled by the lurid specter of those viridescent tubers, I summon two-and-a-half thoughts: (1) With this dish, the mashed-potato craze sinks officially into mannerist decline; apparently no sacred culinary tradition is safe from these insufferable trendoid infusions of basil paste. (2) Pink and green may be a boffo color scheme (especially on preppies and Sex Pistols albums), but texturally the juxtaposition of shrimp and potatoes is a bust.

Solace would have to wait until my return the following week, when the aforementioned celestial choirs turned out in spades. Until then, I had to contend with the steak au poivre, a dish I yearned to love but with which everything had gone wrong. Though ordered medium-rare, our giant hunk of beef was nearly raw (I even brought home a piece to check against the chart in the Larousse Gastronomique) and so chewy that it sneered at both the medieval-looking steak knife and the Posey-Smith mandibles. Compounding this indignity were an inedible sauce that tasted chiefly of Wyler's beef-bouillon cubes and a side of disappointingly starchy potato gratin. You understand why I was cranky when the waiter informed me that they were out of lemon tart. I had to eat a bizarre "napoleon" instead: loosely stacked phyllo, soupy custard and a few berries. This was one of those dishes that makes you feel like a chump; at the slightest pressure of the fork, all the custard squeezes out the other side, and you end up using both hands and hoping that nobody notices you're a guileless philistine.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have ordered the banana tart instead. Several days later, when I returned with Bobbo, Sherri and Woofer (this time in a '67 Caddy with no heat -- it's always something), this handsome, well-bred confection revealed itself as the pinnacle of the banana-tart-maker's art. It came fully loaded: graham-cracker husk, luminous caramel sauce, a pouf of satiny custard and caramelized bananas gleaming like doubloons. This was the sort of dessert that evokes involuntary gurgles of contentment with eyes reverently closed. I was fortunate to inherit the treasure from Woofer, who was too stuffed on salmon and onion soup to finish it.

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