How does "Best New Restaurant in the Past Four Decades" strike you? When we learned last year that American-cuisine pioneer/ James Beard acolyte Larry Forgione was en route to STL to open an eatery in a corner of the spiffy but iffy Renaissance Grand Hotel downtown, our hearts went pitter-pat. Hyperbole? Hardly. Understand: a veritable star in our nation's culinary firmament setting up shop in St. Louis. Ask yourself: How many internationally recognized chefs have we got around these parts? Yep, this is a watershed event. And An American Place, which opened in late '04, did not disappoint. It's a stunningly splendid setting -- the glory of the former Statler Hotel recaptured in a soaring, two-story space, from plush-carpeted floors to barrel-vaulted ceilings, from cushy booths that dominate the room's center to towering, swag-bedecked windows that face west. And the food! Forgione and executive chef John Griffiths have accomplished the improbable (if not impossible): They've spawned a love affair between St. Louisans and our local bounty. Relationships with nearby farmers have produced a different-every-day menu heavy on local vegetables and local meat (local bobwhite quail, local grass-fed lamb), local fruits and local cheeses (made from local milk). This is not to imply that the kitchen hews slavishly to area producers; the menu is all American
, not all Missouri
. (As if to emphasize the point, summer brought a deluge of seafood from both coasts.) But in less than a year's time, An American Place has put us in closer touch with our farm roots than we've ever been. And elegantly, delectably so.