By Cheryl Baehr
By Mabel Suen
By Cheryl Baehr
By Mabel Suen
By Cheryl Baehr
By Nancy Sitles
By Nancy Stiles
By Patrick Hurley
I suffered a nasty jar when the Truffles menu intimated that Babs' twice-baked potato would contain, er, truffles. On the subject of potatoes I stand firm. When augmented in the time-honored fashion with milk and too much butter, the simple whipped potato achieves an epicurean apex beyond which it is impossible to ascend. The kinky practice of infesting the dish with foreign objects such as lobster or chipotle cannot wane fast enough for me. Cooking in general, and the whipped potato in particular, rarely benefits from the misapprehension of Darwinian principle; "evolved," as the late Stephen Jay Gould maintained, is not a synonym for "better."
Fortunately, the fungal appurtenance -- so useful in a sauce Périgueux, so pointless in a potato -- was not evident in the spud in question. The filling of feather-light whipped potato was so ethereal that the thing was enjoyable in spite of itself, and my blood pressure returned to its usual 150/100.
Babs and I had descended upon the tastefully appointed Truffles for the second time in three days, forgoing our usual Super Tex platters at Nachomama's for a rare WTL (white-tablecloth lunch) in Ladue. After a four-month chefless interlude, Truffles finally has a new chef, and we had come to check the Pesto Index.
Pesto Index, you ask? Well, it's like this:
314-567-9100. Hours: lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
When Truffles first opened a couple of years ago, pestomania (like the blackened-redfish crisis before it and the "fire-roasted" craze of today) was at its peak. Never before in culinary history had so many basil leaves been plucked by so many rubes to so little avail. Chefs citywide were flinging the stuff around with wild abandon, mutating it in their labs and pestoizing everything from tacos to sorbet, until nary a plate went out without it and this writer had all but acquired a greenish glow. Pesto has its place, sure, but you and I both know that place is not an ostrich pot sticker.
It was in this atmosphere of untempered verdure that I came, somewhat ironically, to regard Truffles as the vanguard of upscale St. Louis dining. Somehow they had managed to vaccinate themselves against the romantic disease of so-called originality, preferring instead to abstain from fads and strike a sane balance between the chic and the sober. I remember I nearly wept when I was served a lobster bisque without a drop of pesto in it. In fact, there was no pesto anywhere near the place. At the time, this seemed positively groundbreaking.
The pesto craze has since receded, but I still use the Pesto Index to gauge a restaurant's faddishness, on the basis of my conviction that innovative does not automatically mean edible. Tony's, for instance, gets a 1. At the other end of the scale is the bizarre Japanese bubble tea, at a solid 10.
So anyway, when I espied good old sole meunière-- a consecrated dish from Saulnier's 1914 Le Répertoire de la Cuisine -- on the Truffles dinner menu, the purist in me turned cartwheels. It turns out that Truffles' new chef of three weeks, Mike Holmes (ex-Lynch St. Bistro, Harry's West, Greenbriar Hills Country Club), continues the noble practice of offering pretty, well-cooked southern European dishes to those brave enough to enjoy food that actually works. Pesto Index = 1.
At lunch, Babs and I discovered everything we'd hoped for in a WTL: the tinkle of iced-tea glasses; the fourtops of ladies-who-lunch; excellent service; and food such as Reuben sandwiches, tuna salad and chicken pot pie. It is the sort of menu that bolsters flagging spirits in troubled times, a welcome respite from all things Enron and Ashcroft. I had a Cobb salad, which contained no trendy surprises and was therefore flawless. Babs ordered prime rib.
Prime rib is the dowdy, decadent lunch of the American dream, recalling brunch buffets at country clubs everywhere, where hung-over guys in two-foot toques, squinting in the orange glint of heat lamps and stoned on Sterno fumes, saw off slabs of bloody beef, douse 'em with jus and shove 'em at bluehairs in church clothes. I cast no aspersions when I say that the Truffles version was refreshingly nonrevisionist. An inch thick, it was rosy in the center, with a forgiving texture and an excellent crust. On the side I found (a) the kind of deliciously over buttered, barely crisp carrots you only see in restaurants where pink-faced captains of industry dine and (b) the aforementioned truffly twice-baked potato.
At dinner a couple of nights earlier, truffle oil was more appropriate and more apparent in the signature dish, a (what else?) truffle risotto. Its refined luxe, combined with lots of Parmesan and a pleasant resistance to the teeth, gave the dish an engaging complexity and made it taste delightfully expensive. Still, mammoth though it was, I might admit to lingering reservations about advocating a $22 plate of rice.
Both of the soups I tried were charming, although neither could be accused of subtlety. I enjoyed a cream of mushroom at lunch. Like any decent mushroom soup, it stimulated a primitive yearning for a walk in the woods. Ultimately, though, its ascension to glory was hindered by what some might consider a heavy hand with the salt shaker, as well as its presentation amid an almost disturbing excess of doilies.