Paradise Lust

Ian takes little bites of Heaven in Maplewood.

Polenta with one of four ragus can be ordered as an entrée, as a separate course or as a side dish to share. Your waiter brings the polenta and the ragu to your table in separate bowls. He spreads the polenta across the marble slab, spoons the ragu on top and sprinkles it with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's an impressive presentation, though it presents a practical problem. The marble slab is cool, and the polenta loses heat very quickly. It doesn't become cold, or even room temperature, but if you like your food piping hot, you might be unpleasantly surprised.

I had the polenta with braised Missouri lamb ragu as an entrée. Temperature issues aside, the polenta was very good, not too creamy, not too firm. The ragu was fantastic, the lamb braised nearly to a puddle, with a gentle roasted sweetness, an earthy savor and just the right note of lamb's tang. Fair warning: While the pasta dishes come in portions sized for a multicourse meal, the entrées I tried were substantial — after appetizers and pasta, a bit daunting, even.

If after three courses you still have room for dessert, you might find one of the housemade sorbets or gelatos refreshing. Blueberry gelato was certainly flavorful, if not as creamy as I'd have liked. Semifreddo in strawberry syrup was an indulgence, its texture sometimes like ice cream, sometimes like cheesecake.

In all its casual elegance, Acero is an excellent addition to Maplewood.
Jennifer Silverberg
In all its casual elegance, Acero is an excellent addition to Maplewood.

Location Info

Map

Acero Ristorante

7266 Manchester Road
Maplewood, MO 63143

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Maplewood

Details

Acero
7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-644-1790. Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. (Closed Sun.)

Salumi platter $7 per person
Mushroom ravioli $8
Egg raviolo $9
Polenta with lamb ragu $20

However much you decide to eat, be sure to take advantage of the well-annotated and exclusively Italian wine list. There are about 30 bottles available, with as many in the $75-to-$125 range as in the $25-to-$40. You might instead try a few wines by the quartino, a carafe that holds roughly a third of a bottle. Not only is this is an excellent value relative to wine by-the-glass, but at Acero it offers the chance to try wines you might hesitate to splurge for. A 2003 Righetti Amarone, for example, is a stunning wine, rich and earthy — a perfect pair for that lamb ragu. You might not spend $60 on a bottle, but at $20 for a quartino to share with your companion, it's hard not to treat yourself. If you're on a budget, try the 2004 Valle Dell'Acate Cerasuolo. For $11 you get a lovely taste of fresh cherries and a supple body.

I might not have tried that Amarone without the urging of our waiter, and on all my visits I found the service very knowledgeable about the menu — if tough to flag down when needed, considering how busy the restaurant was. There were a few missteps: a waiter who wanted to pour red wine directly into the glasses we'd used for a white; nearby tables that weren't cleared throughout a nearly two-hour meal.

So Acero isn't perfect. And it lacks the explosive creativity in the kitchen that would push it into the elite upper echelon of St. Louis restaurants. Still, in its celebration of artisanal foods and the sheer joy of good food and wine, it's an incredibly important new fixture on the St. Louis dining scene.

It ain't Heaven, but we're getting closer.

Have a suggestion for a restaurant the Riverfront Times should review? E-mail ian.froeb@riverfronttimes.com.

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