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
Ever since an astonishing initial visit some three years ago, one of my constant recommendations for people in search of new, fabulous restaurant experiences in St. Louis has been for them to try The Crossing. Not only would they be able to sample dishes dreamed up by a couple of apprentices of the world-renowned Daniel Boulud, but the whole experience, I assured them, would include service and ambience at a level found at a very small handful of restaurants in this town.
7823 Forsyth Blvd.
Clayton, MO 63105
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314-721-7375. Hours: lunch, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; dinner, 5-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
And although I'd eaten lunch and dinner at The Crossing several times since that first review, the question gnawed at me: Are these guys really as good as I've been telling people?
Judging from two "on-duty" return trips, absolutely -- maybe even better.
To reset the stage, "these guys" are Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell -- Fiala a native St. Louisan -- who met at Daniel, now the flagship and the most upscale of a three-restaurant Boulud empire in New York City. Fiala also worked at Spiaggia in Chicago and McDowell for the former head chef of another New York legend, Lutèce. That combined experience led them to develop a contemporary American menu based on a "crossing" of French and Italian influences -- a style that the restaurant's menu claims comes from "home cooking," which I take to be more of a metaphor for simplicity than for any illusion that everyday French and Italians regularly dine at home on elaborate beet-and-goat-cheese salads, foie gras and sweetbreads in Banyuls sauce.
One major discovery of this round of visits was one of the best pamper-yourself splurge values around: the $50 "tasting menu," comprising three starter courses, two entrées and dessert, all chef-chosen but with substitutions possible, and with a requirement that the entire table order the sampler. To really put the restaurant to the test, we challenged the wine manager, Tim Bishop, to create a tasting menu to complement each course.
First up was a chilled avocado-and-green-chile soup, whose smooth green surface was dotted near the edges with tiny slicks of olive oil and mounded in the center with a miniature pillow of lump crabmeat, with slivers of darker green marking the presence of relatively mild chiles. A subtle curry flavor provided a long finish to the dish, and Bishop paired it with Sokol Blosser Winery's Evolution No. 9, an unusual Oregon white meritage whose flowery nose and off-dry flavor were bold enough to match the pronounced and equally complex flavors of the soup.
This was followed by what has become, for better or for worse, The Crossing's signature dish, the roasted-beet salad, a mixture of roasted, cubed beets and creamy goat cheese flavored with Jerez sherry vinegar, accented with pine nuts and served under fresh field greens with dots of beet purée and pesto surrounding it. It's a "for better" dish because, in no uncertain terms, this is the highest calling to which a beet can aspire; it's "for worse" because McDowell's and Fiala's talents are diminished when the chefs are identified so closely with what's basically a supporting dish when, in fact, they're wizards all across the menu. The wine for this course was a 1999 Rapet Père et Fils Aligoté white burgundy -- light, crisp and fairly simple but not at all in conflict with the sherry vinegar in the salad.
Next up was a disarmingly simple pasta course, long and flat fresh tagliatelle dressed only in butter and a very light dusting of Parmesan, mixed with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, cooked ever so lightly as to retain a springy texture and with a color that matched their description as "golden." With such a simple food base, Bishop was free to pick a slightly more complicated wine and went with a 1999 Landmark Overlook chardonnay, combining a range of fruit and spice flavors with a nose that started out as toasted oak and ended up closer to spruce, although there certainly were no resiny flavors to match that scent.
The first main course was tilapia, a primarily farm-raised, mild-flavored fish that has infested local menus in bland, un-thoughtful executions. Here, though, it bordered on daring, especially given a last-minute substitution of the port-wine reduction usually served with a tuna dish for the menu listing of a wild-mushroom beurre blanc. As a steam or a sautée, I think, the fish would have been overwhelmed by the rich wine sauce, but in this preparation, the outer layer had been seared to a fine crispness, concentrating the flavor at the edges, with the pieces of fish served over steaming spinach. Perhaps also because of the full-bodied sauce, Bishop chose a 1998 Marc Colin St. Aubin Premier Cru, a medium-bodied, elegant red with hints of cherry and nuts.
Finally came an off-menu nightly special: roasted loin of lamb served in a natural jus with potatoes and thinly sliced tips and stalk pieces of lightly cooked asparagus. Cut into eighth-inch-thick slices, the meat had a firmer texture than beef and a rosy interior, with the silky translucent juices providing the main additional flavoring. The final wine -- we thought -- was a 1998 Beaulieu Vineyards cabernet: It was dark, full-bodied enough to stand up to lamb, not overly tannic and probably a tad young, but it's rare to find even moderately aged California reds on a restaurant wine list.
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