The "347" in Shula's 347 Grill refers to the number of victories Don Shula accumulated in his Hall of Fame career as a head coach in the NFL. If you don't know this, your server will tell you. If you do know this, your server will still tell you. Your server will want to tell you all about this new downtown restaurant. If you're short on time — or just plain hungry — when your server asks if this is your first visit to Shula's 347, say no, even if that's a lie.
Shula notched precisely none of his victories for Big Red or the Rams, but his fame has allowed him to build a successful second career as a restaurateur. His main venture is Shula's, a high-end steak house with sixteen locations nationwide. Additionally, there are three locations of Shula's 2, a more casual bar and grill, as well as a one-off eatery in Fort Lauderdale called Shula's on the Beach. (Other concepts, including — inevitably — Shula Burger, are planned.)
St. Louis is the eleventh outpost for Shula's 347 Grill, an establishment neither as upscale as Shula's steak house or as laidback as Shula's 2. What it is, though, is difficult to say.
Shula's 347 opened in May at the base of the Roberts Tower. A spacious bar with tables for dining is to your right as you enter; the dining room proper is to the left. The look is modern, metal and glass, with dark-wood floors and leather booths adding a touch of sophistication. The décor features framed photos of Shula with various notables. There are also placards with words of Shula wisdom, the sort of motivational quips that business types seem to like. And yes, of course, there are several flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports.
Though Shula's 347 Grill isn't a steak house, it does feature Shula's steaks — or, rather, the Shula Cut®. What is the Shula Cut®? The Shula Cut® is Black Angus beef raised in a manner that, quoting the Shula's website, "is more discriminating or selective than USDA prime or choice." A heady claim, to be sure. At Shula's 347, you can order a Shula Cut® filet mignon, strip steak or "Cowboy" steak (a rib eye, essentially). There is also the steak "Diane," which is named for Shula's wife and brings two six-ounce filet mignons with a special sauce.
I opted for the "Cowboy" cut, medium-rare, which comes with your choice of two sides (fries, a vegetable du jour, cole slaw and the like).
The Shula Cut® concept, not to mention the price ($30 and up), suggests that while Shula's 347 isn't a steak house, per se, it is capable of delivering a steak house-quality steak. Even before my steak arrived, however, I was wary — and not only because I generally dislike ordering anything with an ® attached. Our server, during his introductory spiel, had said that Shula's wet-ages its steaks. While better than no aging at all, wet aging is a cut below dry aging.
More problematic, Shula's 347 doesn't cook its steaks at a sufficiently high temperature. While my Cowboy was cooked as ordered, medium-rare, warm and red on the inside, the exterior hadn't developed the charred crust that a good steak demands. Instead it bore the telltale crosshatching of a conventionally grilled steak. The meat was tender and had the rich, unsubtle flavor for which corn-fed American beef is so cherished. Let me be clear: This was a good steak. It just wasn't a great steak or even a very good one. Certainly, it didn't live up to the Shula's ®.
Indeed, if you ignore the name and tune out your server's introductory spiel, you would be hard-pressed to say what distinguishes Shula's 347 from any other upscale grill concept. The non-steak entrées are designed not to offend. Wild mushroom ravioli brings four plump ravioli stuffed with...mushrooms. If there is anything more to their flavor than this, I didn't notice it. The ravioli are paired with beef short ribs braised in red wine, the meat pulled apart and piled in the center of the plate, and grilled asparagus — though by paired with I mean only that they share a plate and their flavors go together in the most generic way.
A perfectly adequate piece of pecan- encrusted salmon is laid low by a jarringly tart sauce. Likewise, a nicely chewy, medium-rare flatiron steak — listed with the other entrées, not the Shula Cut® steaks and thus, I imagine, from a less-than-® cow — is swamped by a generically savory brown sauce.
Appetizers tend toward bar food. "Sweet Chili Shrimp" are fried shrimp with a lightly sweet, moderately spicy, vaguely Southeast Asian chile seasoning — not bad. "Crispy Ravioli" are filled with melted mozzarella, which makes them more akin to cheese sticks than to St. Louis-style T-ravs. Avoid the spinach-artichoke dip.
I had the best luck with the sandwiches. The burgers are good: well seasoned and cooked to your desired temperature. There's a basic burger, a cheeseburger and the "Hickory Burger," which comes with pepper-jack cheese, bacon and a tangy barbecue sauce. The braised beef sandwich brings thick slices of tender, flavorful meat topped with caramelized onions.
The service follows a script that begins when you ask for a table. The host takes your last name, and the server assigned to your table greets you as Mr. or Ms. X. As long as nothing disrupts this script, the service is fine. If something goes awry, though, odd moments occur. When a glass of wine took longer than usual to arrive, our server admitted, "We can't find the wine." On another occasion a server confessed that she'd placed our appetizer and entrée orders too close together. No big deal, I assured her, but she came back to the table a minute later with the (unintentionally) ominous news that "the chef is fixing it."
I understand why the servers want to stick to a script — and why Shula's 347 Grill makes such a big deal out of its brand®. It isn't a bad restaurant by any stretch, but without those carefully calculated touches, it wouldn't have any reason to exist.
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