Fare St. Louis

Bistro Alexander aims to break the mold (and the Review Generator 3000).

Bistro Alexander opened in May at the Clayton address last occupied by Limoncello and, before that, Tavern 43. The menu presents bistro fare in the modern American style: rib eye steak with roasted potatoes and New York strip with fries; tuna tartare and tuna steak; lamb chops, pork loin and crab cakes. There is a dash of fusion here and there, but most dishes are the sort of hearty bistro classics certain to appeal to the average patron of the city's higher-end restaurants. Desserts are fabujjvhzhfg.

Whoa. Sorry about that. You might want to open a window till the fumes clear.

OK. Confession time. I didn't write the opening paragraph. I set my Review Generator 3000 to the "bistro" setting, typed in the restaurant's name and address and then went out to my back porch with a cold beer and the last few issues of Condé Nast Traveler. Sadly, though, my Review Generator 3000 is near the end of its life. (I bought it secondhand from a guy in a beat-up Buick; I've always suspected it might actually be a rewired Sports Column Fabricator.) It tends to sputter and smoke whenever it encounters even the smallest deviation from the norm.

Once more, with feeling: Bistro Alexander shines when it breaks free from the expected routine of bistro fare.
Jennifer Silverberg
Once more, with feeling: Bistro Alexander shines when it breaks free from the expected routine of bistro fare.

Location Info

Map

Bistro Alexander

7927 Forsyth Blvd.
Clayton-Tamm, MO 63105

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Clayton

Details

Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Appetizer sampler...$18
Rib eye...$28
Meyer lemon soufflé...$6

7927 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-725-9999.

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Case in point: Bistro Alexander doesn't serve crab cakes. It serves crab bites. These are pleasant enough. The crab filling inside the crisp breading is creamy and mildly sweet — though the tartar sauce dabbed atop them is bland and utterly unimaginative.

I tried the crab bites as part of a sampler platter, which provides smaller portions of three appetizers for $18. Also on the platter were crispy beef spring rolls served with a peanut dipping sauce and a crisp but uninteresting "Asian" slaw. I assumed "crispy" referred to the spring rolls as a whole, but it was the beef within that had been charred crisp. It was served in such thin pieces that the flavor of the meat couldn't overcome that of the char.

The third appetizer was that bistro workhorse, tuna tartare, here served as a cylinder of cubed tuna standing on a fan of cucumber slices, a dollop of wasabi atop the tuna, with pickled ginger on the side. There was nothing wrong with this besides its construction — with the first stab of the fork, the tower of tuna collapsed — but there was nothing very memorable about it, either.

(Seriously, folks: Let's retire tuna tartare.)

Chef Matt Rolens does try to broaden the standard St. Louis bistro repertoire. You still won't find veal sweetbreads — or offal of any sort — at most area bistros. As an appetizer, Rolens serves a fricassee of sweetbreads, chanterelle mushrooms and peas over polenta. Yet this dish could stand in for most of the problems I found at Bistro Alexander.

For one, the presentation was sloppy. A beautiful dish isn't necessarily a great dish, but even a great dish will lose some charm if it looks like the cafeteria lunch lady slopped it on your plate. Here, the sweetbreads, the dish's ostensible focus, were randomly scattered across the plate. It looked more like a bowl of polenta the chef had garnished willy-nilly. Second, the polenta was too salty, especially problematic because there was so much of it. Finally — most crucially — while the pairing of sweetbreads, polenta and mushrooms has rustic appeal, this dish relied too heavily on the sweetbreads' relatively mild flavor. The other ingredients were too diffuse to concentrate or contrast it.

Conceptual flaws were even more apparent with the seared tuna steak. A thumbnail sketch of this entrée would be "too salty." Yet here the problem wasn't simply a cook tossing an extra handful of salt into the pot. Rather the tuna was served with white anchovies, tapenade and Bulgarian feta. It might as well have been mounted atop a salt lick.

The New York strip steak with French fries brought another conceptual breakdown. There was nothing wrong with the steak itself, but it was buried beneath a tangle of tobacco-flavored onion straws. A few of the crisp onions might have offered textural contrast and a hint of sweetness. This was overkill.

Worse, however, was how the steak rested atop the French fries, turning many of them soggy even before I made my first cut. It was such an obvious flaw in design that I still can't quite accept it was intentional. But what other explanation could there be?

Lamb chops in a rosemary jus with a cassoulet of white beans is an elegant dish. You'll find something similar in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry cookbook. Yet here the chops (one with a single bone, the other a double) were overwhelmed by — once again — too much salt in the jus. The rosemary flavor barely flickered at the edges. A shame, as the chops themselves were a very good cut. The dish suffered from sloppiness, too. The jus spilled over into the cassoulet, swamping whatever individual qualities it might have had.

Chicken served over garlic spinach and a bacon and leek risotto was bedeviled by an overpowering — and, yes, salty — natural jus, while bourbon molasses-glazed pork loin medallions were well-done and, thus, dry. (Our server didn't ask how we wanted the pork cooked.) Only the rib eye steak, ordered medium-rare and topped with sautéed onions and a scattering of Roquefort cheese, delivered hearty flavor without fault.

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