The beet salad consisted of fresh red and golden beets, placed on a generous spread of crème fraîche and topped with dried egg yolk. The beets, cooked to retain a semi-firm texture, were enhanced by the addition of lemon zest that brightened the dish and cut through the richness of the crème fraîche and egg yolk. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the caraway component of the dish was not in the form of its more traditional seed, but instead as slices of its anise-flavored root — a fun way to get the hint of caraway in a different form.

Switching gears completely, I was rightly tempted by the marrow plate. The primal presentation of a halved beef bone on a pillow of crusty bread was enough to satisfy anyone wanting meat in butter form. Marrow's richness can be a bit overwhelming, so the accompanying pickled shallots and peppery watercress thankfully tempered its decadence.

Noticing that there was lamb bacon to be had, we opted for the lamb and gooseberry pizza. Again, the pizza crust at Central Table is perfect, and the earthiness of the goat cheese perfectly paired with the lamb's welcome gaminess. They cure the lamb bacon in house (yes, it is really lamb belly), and I found it to be a tad salty and chewy, although there was not so much lamb on the pizza that one could be overwhelmed. The tartness of the gooseberries was necessary to such a rich and salty dish, although they featured more prominently than the lamb.

Slideshow: Inside Central Table Food Hall
Jennifer Silverberg
Slideshow: Inside Central Table Food Hall
Jennifer Silverberg

Location Info

Map

Central Table Food Hall

23 S. Euclid Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis - Central West End

Details

Central Table Food Hall
Bone marrow...$9
Margherita pizza...$11
Pork rib loin...$24
23 South Euclid Avenue; 314-932-5595.
Hours: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu. 6 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

We rounded out our tour with the dish of Missouri-raised pork, cut as a rib loin with maple-glazed apricots, braised endive and polenta. The pork was butchered with a surgeon's precision and cooked to a perfect juicy pink. The polenta was rich and creamy — think more risotto than grits — and the braising of the endive softened its texture and concentrated its flavor without breaking it down completely. Unfortunately, the apricots were not as significant of a component as I had hoped, as they were fairly thin and not yet ripe and juicy. Furthermore, I got only a scant taste of maple on the peaches, leaving me to yearn for just a little more juicy sweetness. Overall, though, it was well-executed.

I could have tagged out at this point in the meal, but seeing a dessert menu with such fanciful dishes as strawberry soup and popcorn panna cotta, I had to call on my reserve stomach to save the day. The effort was not wasted. True, Central Table showcases inspired talent across its stations, but nowhere is this demonstrated more than in its pastry selections, guided by the direction of executive chef Nick Martinkovic. The whimsy and sheer beauty that Martinkovic's pastry team brings to its craft rivals the paintings on display at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Nothing demonstrates this impressionistic loveliness more than the chilled strawberry soup with edible orchids. The dollops of frozen lime granita provided zestiness, while the miniature pillows of meringue floated on top of the soup like toasty lilly pads. As if this wasn't enough, whispers of housemade cotton candy skirted the edges of the bowl. It was like eating a Monet.

I thought it would be hard to top the strawberry soup, but alas, I have four words for you: brown butter ice cream. The perfection of this dish should be self-evident by those words, but in case you need extra convincing, let me say this: The brown butter ice cream served with the popcorn panna cotta is one of the best things, sweet or savory, that I have had in a long time. I am surprised that I am able to even recall enough of the dish, as the first bite of the ice cream induced a trance-like state in which I believe I was muttering things like "life-changing experience." The ice cream is an accompaniment to a popcorn panna cotta in which the chef purees popcorn and infuses it into the sweetened cream to preserve the flavor while getting rid of the gritty texture. The result is a smooth panna cotta with a buttery nuttiness amped up by the caramel crunchiness of crumbled Cracker Jack — yes, the "candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize" snack of childhood. In keeping with that playfulness the dish comes topped with a sprinkling of popping sugar (think Pop Rocks). And lest one think that the popping sugar was just a gimmick, I was surprised at how they ended up serving as a unique conduit of texture.

As a new culinary concept, the chefs, proprietors and staff of Central Table had the herculean feat of pulling off the opening of a new restaurant while educating patrons on how to navigate it. What could have been just a fancy food court is instead an exposition hall of culinary creativity. I look forward to seeing how the concept continues to evolve. Just please, Central Table, never take the brown butter ice cream off the menu.

Slideshow: Inside Central Table Food Hall

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