Just Ducky

Clayton's newest restaurant has style to burn — and the substance to back it up.

The entrée was messy when it arrived at the table, though. Juice from the duck was spilled across the plate. This occurred with the veal chop, too: The meat's juices had already soaked the creamy polenta on which the chop sat. The dish as a whole was good, but blunt, lots of brown and off-white: veal, pancetta, cipollini onions and a sweetbread. I wanted a contrasting flavor — the polenta, perhaps, if it hadn't been soaked.

The messy plates stood out especially because the kitchen shows so much attention to detail: the precise presentation of the foie gras or another terrific appetizer, prawns à la plancha. This has a definite Spanish flair: succulent prawn, elegant saffron risotto, spicy chorizo and tangy romesco sauce; Marcona almonds provide delightful textural contrast.

Little details abound: Sunflower seeds are a surprising, lovely touch at the bottom of a bowl of butternut squash and apple soup. A simple salad of bibb lettuce has a richly flavored but very light avocado dressing. The service, too, is full of those fine touches that set a restaurant apart. Utensils are swapped out with each course; a bucket of ice is brought out with a bottle of white wine. My only complaint is that drinks, especially wines by the glass, take a while to arrive.

Only one aspect of dining at Araka can top the gorgeous interior: Chef Mark Curran's superb work in the kitchen.
Jennifer Silverberg
Only one aspect of dining at Araka can top the gorgeous interior: Chef Mark Curran's superb work in the kitchen.

Location Info

Map

Araka

131 Carondelet Plaza
Clayton, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Clayton

Details

Araka
Butternut squash soup...$7
Foie gras...$15
Big-eye tuna...$26
Duck breast and leg confit...$28
131 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton; 314-725-6777. Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Brunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sun.

The wine list is as impressive as the tower that holds it, not just broad but — unusual for a new St. Louis restaurant — deep, with vintages from the 1990s as well as the 2000s. The selection isn't especially budget-friendly, but the by-the-glass list is good and not terribly overpriced. Also, a few exclusive wines (a Caymus cabernet, for example) are available by the quartino, letting you try a fantastic wine at a reasonable (though not cheap) cost.

The only consistent disappointment on my visits was dessert. Vanilla crème brûlee was pleasant but not memorable. Cheesecake was on the dry side, and an apple tart lacked much apple flavor, though the buttermilk ice cream accompanying it was excellent.

The dessert list and, really, the menu as a whole seeks to satisfy our expectations rather than challenge them. Still, there is considerable talent in Araka's kitchen and tremendous potential for the future. I'll certainly be back. Unless, of course, I'm hired to walk the foie gras beat in Chicago.

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

For more about food and St. Louis restaurants, visit Gut Check: blogs.riverfronttimes.com/gutcheck.

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