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
A crystal-embellished bottle of liqueur, kept in a locked case behind a half-moon, mirror-backed bar, is gonna get noticed. When we saw it during a round of pre-dinner cocktails at Xanadu, all other threads of conversation stopped short. The bottle bore no label, but the case's pedestal read "Louis XIII," which didn't ring a bell with any of us -- but the potion's amber-bordering-on-mahogany hue, coupled with the fact that there were a couple Maker's Mark and Crown Royal fans in our party, led us to guess that it was a whiskey.
280 Long Road
Chesterfield, MO 63005-1207
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1335 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
Frontenac, MO 63131
636-532-9262. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat.
We asked the bartender what she knew about the cryptic liquid. What she knew was that it cost $125 a shot, and when we hypothesized that it was whiskey, she agreed, though she couldn't answer any of our follow-up questions. (It must be a single-malt, yes? A Kentucky bourbon?) A few minutes later, after it appeared she'd conferred with the management, she informed us it was actually a $135-per-shot Cognac. Days later, after doing a little research, I learned a whole lot more: that it's produced by Rémy-Martin; that it's a Grande Champagne Cognac, meaning that every last one of the grapes used in its distillation was harvested from the Cognac region in western France; and that it retails for about $1,600 a bottle.
We later got a chance to talk brandy with the management one-on-one, when the lag between our soup/salad course and our entrées stretched close to an hour. Our very friendly waitress informed the owners of the situation, and they came over to give apologies -- which we readily accepted, as one of us had gone off-menu to order a time-intensive, sixteen-ounce cut of strip steak (though it still arrived a tad too brown-over-pink on the inside to qualify as "medium," as requested) -- and offered to make amends with a round of drinks on the house.
We happily ordered off the stunning martini list, three whole pages of classic and contemporary tipples, and started asking more questions about Louis XIII. We asked how often it's been called out from under its cover (once or twice, when a fat cat has ordered a round) and if the owners had ever sampled it themselves (once, when one of said fat cats bought a taste for the house). A few minutes later, our martinis arrived, and a few minutes after that, co-owner Tom Krakover reappeared with four cordial glasses, each about a third filled with Louis XIII, gratis.
The Cognac was fruity, tawny, smoky, spicy and just a bit bracing. Whether it tasted like $135-a-shot Cognac should, I can't say, though I can say I won't be ponying up $135 of my own moolah for it any time soon. But it was definitely the highlight of our meal, and a story we'll always have to rehash with one another, to whip out at parties and to bowl over any booze snobs we might ever encounter from here until time immemorial.
That, wrapped up in a cordial glass, is what seven-month-old Xanadu is. It is a fairy-tale experience as much as it's an actual restaurant. It is a bragging right. It's as much not about the food as it is about the food (which is, barring a couple unctuous missteps, solidly and satisfyingly prepared). It is exactly what the restaurant's taglines -- printed on the menus and the cocktail napkins -- say it is: "Where dreams do come true! Elegant dining -- The way it used to be...."
For Krakover and his two co-owners, wife Karin Krakover and partner Randy Waldman, the way elegant dining used to be can be summed up in the memories of bygone St. Louis restaurants Al Baker's and Coal Hole; the owners consciously modeled Xanadu -- if not in specific carpet patterns, flatware designs and menu items, then certainly in general aura -- after these two long-gone dining destinations. The latter was operated by Waldman's parents back in the day, while the former -- where the Krakovers were loyal, near-daily regulars -- closed down when Al and his wife retired in 1993.
That was right around the time when food was just starting to become the big, hot, trendy, sexy thing it is today. Xanadu, though, is retro -- not in an arch, hip way, but in a completely frank and purposeful way.
To a gal like me, born in the '70s, a lot of it feels stuck in the '80s (not just because it shares its name with the Olivia Newton-John train wreck; clearly, the owners were going for the Citizen Kane/Kubla Khan associations). Its two rooms -- the bar area up front with café-style tables, and the more lushly appointed dining area in the back, lined with C-shape banquettes -- are decked out with dark colors, maroon walls and black napkins, conveying a sense of solemn lucre, or passé luxe. Nightly live entertainment often means a man playing an electronic keyboard and crooning lots of Billy Joel in velvety vocal tones. A portion of the front room is sectioned off by a parapet of glass bricks lit from within by undulating neon colors.
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