By Tara Mahadevan
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Gut Check
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Gut Check Guides
With the emergence of the spring menu at Harvest, we first thought a brief update would be in order, but it quickly became apparent that there was no way to reduce the consistent brilliance of chef Steve Gontram and his staff to the few tablespoons that would fit into two or three paragraphs. No, nothing less than a lusty celebration was in order, so we supplemented our initial drop-in with a second visit and came away, in short, astounded.
1059 S. Big Bend Blvd.
Richmond Heights, MO 63117
Region: Richmond Heights
We'll get to the near-rapturous drooling about the food in just a minute. First, however, some praise for many of the little things that went right, such as our being shifted over a couple of tables because the hostess knew that one table tended to get a draft when adjoining tables weren't occupied. Or the meticulous attention to visuals, both environmentally and on the plate: a striking dried-flower arrangement on the mantel in the center of the dining room; modern tapestries hanging alongside eclectic mobiles that blur the line between two and three dimensions in the rafters of the front seating area; a multilayered sculpture of three-sided figures -- plate, fruit, pastry -- in one of the desserts. The food alone at Harvest puts the restaurant on a fairly rarefied level, but these little extras elevate it to an entirely different plane.
It's been a little more than three years since Harvest first charmed local reviewers and everyday diners alike and subsequently grabbed top honors in the 1997 "Best New Restaurant" category of the RFT readers' poll. Almost since day one, Harvest has been -- and continues to be -- the kind of restaurant that deserves and has received national renown. If you have foodie guests in from Chicago or New York or San Fran or D.C., take them here and ask them how it stacks up against the stuff they get back home. I'd wager that the quality and innovation are every bit the equal of the food capitals', and the prices are tangibly lower.
As with the overall experience, it's the little things that make the food at Harvest so special. Gontram seems to have a fundamental intuition about flavor combinations that takes the basic enjoyment of a dish -- for example, two double chops and one triple in a rack-of-lamb presentation, ultimately succulent and juicy, a quintessential carnivore's dish -- and turns it into an epic romance. In this case, he grafts the gentle fire and fruitiness of poblano chile onto the expected classic pairing of mint with the lamb, producing additional little tingles in odd corners of the mouth. But he doesn't stop there -- as background support for the forward flavors of the lamb and sauce, he sides with the relatively neutral garden taste of wilted spinach, then wraps the whole thing together with common grits made much less common by the addition of a smooth, ever-so-slightly tangy goat cheese.
Then there's the appetizer of mussels steamed in a coconut-lemongrass broth. One of the recurring dishes on Harvest's rotating menu is mussels roasted in an iron skillet, and with the selection of unusual fresh oysters, shellfish can probably be considered a specialty of the house. This seasonal treatment again highlights Gontram's affinity for subtleties of flavor combination -- the lemoned-scallion flavor and crunch (not to mention the five-steps-before-it-got-to-the-table aroma) of the lemongrass, gently sweetening the coconut flavoring, with the soapy bite of cilantro, a mild fire of chile and additional island sweetness of pineapple pitching in from an accompanying salsa.
Are you worried that this might be too weird for your palate? The interesting thing is that none of the more exotic-sounding combinations was overwhelmed by any one individual flavor. But if the involved descriptions scare you off, there are, in fact, several almost-straight items, such as a hanger steak with grilled fresh asparagus and Yukon Gold potato fries. This cut, which we relearned a few months ago during an encounter at Eddie's Steak and Chop, is called onglet in France and features a full-bodied texture something like a cross between a London broil and a flank steak. At Harvest, it once again reminded me most of flank steak in terms of the texture at first bite, but it also was much more tender than a flank steak. The grilling (as opposed to steaming) made the asparagus crisp and concentrated the flavor; with the fries, even the ketchup (actually three different housemade styles) was something special -- one with the fire of chipotle; a less tangy yellow-tomato-based version with mango fruitiness; and a third with a barbecue-sauce taste.
Or does your culinary spirit of adventure have relatively limitless boundaries? Then perhaps you'd enjoy the veal-sweetbread terrine. There's an occasional misperception that sweetbreads are a calf's nasty bits, but it's not nearly that bad -- they're actually the thymus, an obscure gland between the throat and the heart. Even so, organ meats aren't everyone's cup of tea, but if you swing that way, sweetbreads are much less intrusive than liver, kidney and the like. Rather, they tend to form a textural foundation for other flavors -- in this case, the earthy concentration of truffle oil, the sweet-tart of pomegranate syrup and the mellow tang of aged balsamic vinegar, all served along with a garden base of spring greens and chestnuts.
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