Esprit de Course: Little Country Gentleman's grand tasting menu lays down the gauntlet

Slideshow: Photos from Little Country Gentleman

On the other hand, you could end up with a meal that progresses from the brilliant tartare to a scallop dish to the dish called "Cow." (The scallop dish was the sunchoke soup on one visit; for the grand tasting, it brought scallops over a sunchoke purée with both braised and flash-fried kale and dots of apricot syrup; if not as otherworldly as the soup, it's still excellent.) "Cow" consisted of two beef preparations: one a thumb-size piece of medium-rare prime strip steak, the other tender strands of braised beef cheek meat, served with roasted root vegetables, pearl onions and Maytag blue cheese over a parsnip-miso sauce. The dish brings to mind a Sunday pot roast amped up with the funk of the cheese and the umami of the parsnip-miso sauce. The six-course meal doesn't make the disappointing dishes better, but it does balance them out with much better courses, and it concludes with a simple, pleasant dessert of buttermilk panna cotta in a citrusy Campari sauce.

The grand tasting isn't for everyone. For one, obviously, it's a lot of food. It's also very expensive. Dinner for two, with tax and tip, will set you back well over $200 before you order a single beverage. And it suffers from the same inconsistency as the smaller menus. The pickled "Relish Tray" precedes the amazing tartare and a solid course of country-fried chicken liver with roasted apples, which are followed by the lobster dud. Two pasta courses — garganelli with Brussels sprouts, lemons and mushrooms, and housemade pappardelle with king trumpet mushrooms, shallots and Parmigiano-Reggiano — are perfunctory, there only because the kitchen felt it needed to include pasta.

The grand tasting wisely splits the pork course over two dishes, a fun little pairing of pork belly and a tiny piece of French toast with a quail egg (a homage to Half & Half's breakfast menu, according to our server) and the pork-cheek croquettes with radishes, mushrooms and a delicate sweet-sour sauce. The savory run finishes with the "Cow." The meal ends with a thud, though: the two cheese courses rather than one cheese and a dessert. The courses themselves (Appenzeller with honey, orange and celery; blue cheese with caramelized beets) aren't bad, but doubling up on them is too heavy (and too stinky) this late in the game.

Location Info

Map

Little Country Gentleman

8135 Maryland Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63105

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Clayton

Details

8135 Maryland Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0719. Hours: 6-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
(Bar opens at 5 p.m. Tue.-Fri.)

See more photos from Little Country Gentleman.

I can't help but think that cutting down the grand tasting menu to nine or ten courses would benefit Little Country Gentleman immensely. It would allow Randolph, Beauchamp and staff not simply to cut the less-successful dishes but also to give the menu a more distinctive flow — to let it represent their culinary vision rather than overburdening that vision with what they think a tasting menu must have.

Aside from the space, which in terms of ambiance and comfort still feels like a lesser restaurant playing dress-up, Little Country Gentleman has the pieces in place to be a major player on the St. Louis scene. Service is friendly and very efficient — essential when they're swapping out your silverware after each course. The wine list, overseen by Dan Parseliti, formerly a wine buyer in New York City, features an eclectic mix of Old World selections with an emphasis on lesser-known regions and varietals. Parseliti is an enthusiastic sommelier, guiding diners to smart and often unexpected pairings while T.S. Ferguson presides over a list of classy old-school cocktails.

Little Country Gentleman is far from perfect. The grand tasting will leave you reeling and a few hundred dollars poorer. But after several years of recession dining, of minor-key restaurants and comfort-food safety, it's an exhilarating and often delicious tightrope walk.

Slideshow: Photos from Little Country Gentleman

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7 comments
gillnoero
gillnoero

I will never set foot in Little Country Gentlemen again, no matter what:They may cook brilliantly inventive and innovative dishes wonderfully well; it doesn't erase the  taste of a dinner we had during their previous incarnation when we were successively: overlooked, ignored, talked-down to and otherwise made to feel that our interest in understanding the menu was a total faux-pas. So God help anybody who tries to understand innovative lobster + faux ice-cream. Plus, I may not be the only one who was given the message that "your presence here is some sort of mysterious oversight on the part of the universe" because every time I go to the totally fully packed-with-people new-ish burger joint two shop-fronts over, I see all the staff of the Little Country Gentlemen sitting in solitary splendour. Good luck and good night is all I have to say to them..

cheesedude10
cheesedude10

@ianfroeb can't open it. Even from the website. It's probably me

NedDirlik
NedDirlik

@ianfroeb Nice! "Esprit de Course" is one of the better leads I've seen for a restaurant review.

ianfroeb
ianfroeb

@cheesedude10 not you. Site down apparently. Sorry.

t_fin
t_fin

@NedDirlik @ianfroeb blind squirrel here, always in search of nuts.

ianfroeb
ianfroeb

@NedDirlik thanks, Ned. credit for the headline goes to my editor/boss, @t_fin

 
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