Where Fashion Sits

The Ritz is, well, puttin' on the Ritz

We spent more than we should have on a bottle of wine to accompany this wintry meal. The Ritz's extensive list contains so few wines under $30 that diners inevitably feel like skinflints when ordering an affordable bottle. It is ungracious for the restaurant to put diners in such a position. Even a customer traveling on business might have trouble explaining the $60 bottle of Syrah on next month's expense report.

The appetizer section of the menu is usually a chef's sandbox, the place where he brings new ingredients and techniques out to play. But the Ritz's conservative ambience and clientele limit Whitehead's experimentation. The gentrified fox-and-hound paintings in the dining room have been mothballed in favor of less fusty compositions. Nevertheless, the Grill retains the gloomy opulence of Statuary Hall, with fossilized patrons standing in for the marble and bronze busts. Whitehead must cater to elderly diners' notoriously dull palates while ravishing the thrill-seeking taste buds of the prime movers in the cigar bar next door. It's a tall order, but Whitehead pulls it off by building from a foundation of classics. In his hot-and-cold asparagus salad, peeled stalks were rolled in panko -- flaky Japanese breadcrumbs -- and then deep-fried. Chilled stalks slicked with mustard vinaigrette were a perfect temperature foil. As a means of unifying the dish, a thyme-tomato sauce was spooned over the plate. A retro shrimp-and-avocado cocktail, layered like a trifle into a funnel-shaped beer glass with a salted rim, was a surprise hit. A salad of roasted beets was strewn with chevrons of subtly smoky trout and julienned apples, the woodsy undertone of the beets lifted by the tingle of horseradish oil.

A few dishes never got to the point. Diners can select from a list of finfish and shellfish with a choice of sauces, including ponzu, beurre blanc, white wine-cream sauce and tomato-red pepper coulis. We chose a mango-mustard mojo to accompany pan-seared Maine diver scallops. Mojo is a bold vinaigrette made with herbs, garlic, lime juice and, in this case, mango purée. This emulsion was intended to complement the scallops' umami, the fifth primary taste (after sweet, salty, sour and bitter), which is said to derive from the same flavor molecule found in MSG. But the emulsion was no more than a neutral glaze, and the scallops had barely taken on any color in the pan. Thai lobster soup had the right stuff: reduced lobster stock, cream, red and green curry pastes, lemongrass, ginger and hunks of lobster meat. But the spices failed to announce their presence, and the soup tasted like the timid lobster bisques we've eaten in a dozen lesser restaurants.

Server Russ Atkisson presents the Ritz-Carlton Grill's strawberry shortcake with strawberry-infused sauce.
Jennifer Silverberg
Server Russ Atkisson presents the Ritz-Carlton Grill's strawberry shortcake with strawberry-infused sauce.

Location Info

Map

The Grill at the Ritz-Carlton

100 Carondelet Plaza
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > Continental

Region: Clayton

Details

Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee $9
Rabbit two ways $28
Breast of pheasant saltimbocca $32
Pan-seared Maine diver scallops $28
Hot-and-cold asparagus salad $9
Poached pear (and all other desserts) $8.50

314-863-6300; hours: 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. daily

100 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton

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The waiters at the Ritz perform a sort of confectionery lap dance to seduce diners into ordering dessert. Three or four servers sidle up to the table and waggle the tawdry eye-candy just out of reach. With chocolate domes glistening and curvaceous pears undulating before you, the only bauble missing is a pair of spangled tassels. The head waiter smartly snaps his little flashlight on and off, training the beam on each luscious morsel in turn. Who could resist this chorus line? We chose a strawberry shortcake with alternating layers of génoise and white-chocolate mousse; raspberry soufflé with a head of frothy sabayon; and a pear poached in Zinfandel, scented with cassis and piped full of sweetened mascarpone cheese and whipped cream. If only we'd had a nice pastrami on rye and a television set stashed under the table, the fantasy would have been complete.

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