About three years ago, Maria Giamportone and Daniel Gonzalez found themselves in St. Louis and in need of a place to eat. Having come to town from Miami to visit their relatives, the husband and wife wanted to take the family to a traditional South American-style grill — the sort of place that honored their respective Ecuadorian and Uruguayan heritages. They thought it would be easy; such restaurants were common enough in south Florida that they assumed as much about their options in St. Louis. However, to their dismay, they could find nowhere that served the sort of South American feast they wanted to experience with their family.
Their disappointment quickly turned into an idea: What if they moved to St. Louis to open such a restaurant themselves?
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The thought wasn't entirely out of thin air. For a few years, Giamportone and Gonzalez had been talking about opening a restaurant together, a reentry into the industry for Giamportone, who had owned a spot in Miami twenty years prior. Though she closed up shop and worked in other industries, she often longed to get back to her true passion and found an eager partner in her husband, who loved to grill.
At first, Giamportone and Gonzalez assumed their restaurant would be in Miami and were actively scouting locations. However, that trip to St. Louis, and their casual search for storefronts here, led them to Maplewood's bustling commercial district. They fell in love with the area and the space — the former Reeds American Table — signed a lease in late 2019 and set out to realize their restaurant dreams.
The result, Asador Del Sur, opened in the heart of Maplewood in August of last year, breathing vibrant new life into the storefront that had been dark since Reeds' closure in mid-2019. Central to Giamportone and Gonzalez's vision, the restaurant, whose name translates to "southern grill," is meant to be a transportative experience, not simply a place to eat. They wanted to evoke the feeling of actually being in coastal Ecuador and Uruguay, outfitting the restaurant in serene orange, blond wood, plush tan chairs and a stunning cream-colored marble bar illuminated from underneath. On a dreary afternoon, it felt like an escape.
If Asador Del Sur's decor is bright, its food is positively luminous. Giamportone and Gonzalez are fiercely committed to offering as traditional a South American dining experience as possible, importing meat, seafood and wine that you typically do not see on St. Louis' restaurant tables. The patacones rellenos, for instance, feature shockingly fresh shrimp cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed in lime and spicy red chiles, served atop lightly salted tostones (smashed and fried plantains). Akin to shrimp ceviche, the shellfish is so fresh you wonder how it's possible to be enjoying it in such a landlocked locale.
The broiled and chopped scallops and mussels appetizer is another coastal treat. Gonzalez imports the scallops from Barcelona and the mussels from Ecuador, mixing them with a creamy cheese sauce and baking them into the large scallop shell like a twice-baked seafood feast. It's visually stunning — the sort of dish you'd expect as an appetizer if you feasted with Neptune himself — and every bit as delicious.
Asador Del Sur is not only successful with seafood. The Ecuadorian hayacas is a delicious combination of flavors not often seen together outside of that country. Similar to a hearty Thanksgiving dressing, the dish has a cornmeal base mixed with tender pulled chicken, peanut butter, egg, red and green peppers, onions, carrots and raisins. For the uninitiated, it sounds like a quizzical mix, but it's so balanced that it subtly hits every part of the palate with warm comfort.
Giamportone and Gonzalez's empanadas are some of the best you will find, not just in St. Louis but anywhere. Stuffed with a choice of fillings, the key to the dish is the flawless, golden fried crust that's like the most flaky, buttery hand pie you've ever experienced. The beef- and olive-stuffed version is particularly special, thanks to the interplay of the juicy ground beef and briny olives.
Even a simple piece of grilled Argentinian chorizo is transcendent at Asador Del Sur. The succulent pork, seasoned with garlic and paprika and wrapped up in a snappy casing, chars up on the grill so that it blisters and splits, but not so far as to dry out. Paired with verdant chimichurri, it's a masterpiece of the form.
Asador Del Sur offers a selection of grilled meats, including tender boneless chicken thighs, simply grilled with salt. Juicy and kissed with grill char, this is chicken as it was meant to be experienced — so perfect you are content enjoying it unadorned until you see the ramekin of glorious chimichurri served alongside it.
Gonzalez's children have told him that no one grills meat like he does; when you experience his skirt steak, you will concur. There is nothing fussy about this preparation — just a sprinkle of salt flakes, the best-quality meat, imported from Argentina, and a searing hot grill. The thin meat is flawlessly cooked medium rare, then furled around a small skewer like a massive, unstuffed spedini. The grass-fed beef is so hearty in flavor — the beefiest beef you will experience, ruining you for all others like a first love.
If the skirt steak makes you feel like you are at an Argentinian barbecue, the langostinos evokes an Ecuadorian beachfront cookout. The large shellfish are so tender and fresh, you wonder if they weren't swimming in the sea an hour prior to arriving on the table (Gonzales says it was a matter of days, since he has them flown in fresh from Ecuador). Infused with grill smoke, all you taste is sweet shellfish meat, smoke and sea. It's ethereal.
That feeling is a constant at Asador Del Sur. Through every last detail of this joyous place, Giamportone and Gonzalez have created much more than a restaurant; they have found a way to create an experience that makes you feel thousands of miles away the moment you walk through the door — even though there is nowhere you'd rather be.
Asador Del Sur
7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood
Patacones rellenos with shrimp $13.
Skirt steak $38.
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