Earth and Fire

Terrene's on solid ground in the Central West End

There is no good way for me to tell you that the breaded, fried, rind-on lemon slices that partly comprise Terrene's "mixed fry" appetizer taste like biting down on a moist towelette with its wrapper still intact. What I mean is, there's probably no way I can convince you that this is really a good thing, that the lemons taste tart, firm, crisp and astringent, with a barely-there intimation of fruity. I'm sure I'm not helping my case by mentioning that the entire plate bears a uniform beigeness, underlined literally and figuratively by a square of matching beige butcher paper that sops up some of the grease. Or by describing the fried white anchovies that also constitute the dish as being similar in taste and texture to fried chicken livers (which I happen to love).

The sections of red onion that complete the fry-fecta, those, as you can imagine, are quite yummy. The light browning the kitchen submits the onions to coaxes out their sweetness and juiciness without clobbering the flavor. Fried onion is recognizable, yes; here, it also happens to be divine.

Pairing a little of the familiar with a lot of the foreign is how things go at Terrene, a two-month-old Central West End restaurant founded by chef Dave Owens, formerly of Cardwell's at the Plaza, and father-son business partners John E. McElwain and John P. McElwain. Though the space itself exudes an easygoing confidence, the eatery's concept eludes an easy, convenient tagline — the best the house has come up with is the catchall, ironically uninspired term "inspired cuisine." Heck, it even eludes an easy pronunciation: Though Merriam-Webster dictates that the French-derived word, meaning earthly as an adjective or terrain as a noun, be pronounced terr-enn, the restaurant prefers that it be said like tureen, as in a large serving bowl.

Terrene's Dave Owens and John P. McElwain get back to the land in style.
Jennifer Silverberg
Terrene's Dave Owens and John P. McElwain get back to the land in style.

Location Info

Map

Terrene

33 N. Sarah St.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

Details

Mixed fry $8
Tofu on a stick $6
Cobia $24
Hanger steak $19

33 North Sarah Street; 314-535-5100. Hours: Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

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Meanwhile, none of this really gets at the establishment's pulse. It is an organic-minded, vegetarian-friendly, socially conscious operation with a sense of humor and style. It doesn't mind following up tofu on a stick with a bloody-good cut of hanger steak. It's got no bones informing you, via little side notes along the menu, that the drinking and cooking water is filtered, that the kitchen's vegetable scraps are used in local farms and gardens for composting, and that the dining room's sleek, high-gloss tabletops have been constructed from 100 percent sustainable "shetka stone." At the same time, the cocktail menu lists a Harvey Wallbanger — dubbed a Sarah Street Wallbanger, and prepared with a float of Licor 43 from Spain, instead of the traditional, I-Love-the-'70s splash of Italian Galliano.

There are actually four skewers of bean curd to that tofu on a stick dish, a mild-flavored, fluffy-textured trifle of an appetizer nicely complemented by a viscous, just-piquant-enough cashew dipping sauce. On the flipside, a small plate of roasted garlic cloves and baked, lacerated-looking olives proved pungent and truly earthy, to the point where I could have used a gardening trowel to better extract the heavenly but quite pliant cloves from their brittle, uncooperative head, and then spread them upon pert pieces of bread. I had much less trouble navigating the mussels, what seemed like a whopping two dozen of them heaped into a bowl of Belgian-ale broth. Whether it was the beer bath, or just a thorough washing of the mollusks beforehand, they weren't very briny in taste, and they were crippled by a single piece of garlic toast lying on top that was ridiculously overbuttered and oversalted. Still, the mussels managed to be plump and pleasant.

As one might expect from a restaurant keen on showcasing produce, Terrene turns out robust salads. "Knife and fork romaine" was fun to eat. Fresh and snappy, whole romaine leaves provided a lot of crunch tossed with "garlic bread shards," while the Asiago-studded "Green Goddess" dressing proved a creamy delight. (Our waiter had told us beforehand that he'd eat the Green Goddess dressing if it was ladled over newspaper.) Even more intriguing was the rocket and frissee salad. In one of the menu's asides, rocket is described as a "European annual often grown as a salad crop to be harvested when young and tender." What rocket really is — which the menu admits to right after proffering that definition — is arugula. But when the bitter green was combined with mounds of roasted beet, salted sunflower seeds, thumb-thick slices of ricotta salata cheese, and an exceptional, distinctive cumin vinaigrette, I was happy to pretend it was something new and exotic to me, because it was.

Though native to open seas, Terrene's cobia is farm-raised in America, and our waiter compared its flesh to striped sea bass. I really enjoyed it, though I found it significantly less fatty than striped sea bass. The fish's lean, less pronounced flavor was paired excellently with a pomegranate barbecue sauce, little tufts of green-on-the-inside, woodsy-tasting falafel and an orange and fennel salad. That aforementioned hanger steak was right on, presented medium well with a little showing of pink but no juice running down the plate. Surprisingly, the chicken-breast dinner — something I always try to avoid out of sheer boredom — was a pan-roasted knockout, a large, appetizing Great Wall of Poultry slathered in a mustard and Knob Creek sauce. Underneath both the steak and the chicken awaited little Brussels sprouts; I love Brussels sprouts.

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