Who would've thought that an abandoned gas station and former drug house in one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods would transform into St. Louis' mecca of gastronomy? In just a little under a year, Elaia and Olio, the fraternal twins of Botanical Heights, has done just that, turning the bleak corner of Tower Grove and McRee into a palace of food, wine and wonder. Self-described as "Middleterranean," chef Ben Poremba brings his mastery of everything from Moroccan to Spanish (and all that is in between) to Elaia and Olio and has received well-deserved national acclaim in doing so. The dual concept of Elaia and Olio gives diners the opportunity to experience unparalleled elegance or rustic refinement, depending on the occasion. For those looking to be dazzled by Poremba's culinary genius, the chic sister Elaia serves up tasting menus with artistry typically reserved for a gallery setting: These multicourse extravaganzas oscillate between decadence and rustic finesse. Foie gras, a dish that best represents high-end dining, is followed by a dish of humble green beans. However, don't let this false humility fool you — these are not your grandmother's green beans, as anchovies, preserved lemon, mint and ricotta elevate the dish to state-dinner status. The food is not the only star of the show. Beverage director and advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov painstakingly pairs wines from the restaurant's comprehensive cellar each night with Pormeba's dishes. Adding his touch makes a dining experience that is already otherworldly into an ecstasy-inducing consciousness shift. Olio, the earthier free spirit of the two, offers a more casual experience than its extravagant sister, with a menu based around small plates, a daily rotisserie and hot plate selections. The 1930s refurbished gas station setting provides a whimsical setting to enjoy a glass of wine with cheese and charcuterie, and gives diners the chance to experience gastronomical joy on a more casual basis. Elaia and Olio is undoubtedly on course to become a St. Louis, if not a national, institution.
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