Fuzzy Numbers: Despite great food and service, Eleven65 doesn't quite add up

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Eleven65's seafood stew includes fish, clams, shrimp and more in a tomato saffron broth. See more photos: Despite Great Food and Service, Eleven65 Doesn’t Quite Add Up
Eleven65's seafood stew includes fish, clams, shrimp and more in a tomato saffron broth.

See more photos: Despite Great Food and Service, Eleven65 Doesn’t Quite Add Up

Jennifer Silverberg

Fuzzy Numbers: Despite great food and service, Eleven65 doesn't quite add up

1165 Technology Drive, O'Fallon; 636-329-0065.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.

Bibb salad...$11.50
Mushroom ravioli...$16
Cornish hen...$18

When I saw the menus in the hostess' hand, I wasn't ready to believe it. "Maybe they are to-go menus, and she forgot to put them down," I thought to myself. But after we were seated at the table and handed the dog-eared, trifolded sheets of 8.5-by-11-inch paper, Eleven65 no longer had the benefit of the doubt.

The restaurant, which bills itself as a "modernistic interpretation of home grown dishes and an educated service staff," opened this October in O'Fallon. It's an upscale establishment, offering Dom Pérignon on its wine list and truffles in its butter. Yet its menu is presented like a school-play program. And the dessert menu? It's an index-card-sized piece of paper as well, probably printed six to a sheet from that same office ink-jet. Granted, a menu does not make or break a place. It does, however, call into serious question the proprietors' judgment for putting so little thought into a diner's first impression.

Like the menus, Eleven65's atmosphere does not befit fine dining. Occupying the bar-and-grill-style space of a former J. Buck's, the new owners did little to alter the restaurant for their more upscale concept. It looks as though they simply dusted off the tables, took down the sports memorabilia and changed the signage, as if this is enough to exorcise the ghost of its former occupant.

I take that back: The owners did hang some nice artwork on the beige walls and painted the area around the booths hunter green (a sad color reminiscent of mallard-duck decoys). But the most off-putting thing about the space is how small the cold, cavernous dining room makes one feel. At 8,000 square feet, it's enormous, begging for a design aesthetic to break up the room. Large, low-hanging lights and warmer colors would have done something to prevent diners from feeling so teensy. Instead, Eleven65 looks like a pop-up eatery in an office building. From 1995.

This is all such a shame, because there are some things that Eleven65 gets right. The erratic menu offers a mix of pizzas and bar food interspersed with sophisticated salads, upscale entrées and a dessert selection that rivals the pastry programs of some of the chicest spots in town. How Cornish game hen and pepperoni pizza ended up on the same menu, I have no idea; however, the food is quite good. That's probably the thing that makes Eleven65 seem so odd — there is such a disconnect between the food and the vibe. It's a bit like wearing a Chanel jacket over a Van Halen T-shirt — it's just not right.

Focusing strictly on the food, the dishes are nicely conceptualized and, for the most part, well-executed. Jerk chicken wings seem out of place on an upscale menu, but they were a delightful blend of citrusy sweetness with daringly hot Caribbean spice. Eleven65 smokes the wings before they are dressed, giving depth to the front-of-palate spice, and the sticky jerk glaze left our lips tingling long after the last bite.

The grilled romaine salad was an attempt at elevating a classic Caesar, but the char on the romaine was too light, if even there at all. Instead of adding a pleasant smoke, the grilling made the lettuce mushy, exacerbated by the salad being totally overdressed. The bibb salad, on the other hand, is a delicious, Mediterranean-inspired dish. Chickpeas, cucumbers, black beans, tomatoes and feta were tossed in what was called ranch dressing (although it seemed more like a delicate tzatziki) and placed in the center of a fan of lettuce leaves. A few drizzles of chile oil around the lettuce gave some heat to a refreshing salad.

See more photos: Despite Great Food and Service, Eleven65 Doesn’t Quite Add Up

The mushroom ravioli was full of earthy flavor while remaining light in body. The ravioli was stuffed with duxelles and served in a delicate mushroom broth, sweetened with a hint of Madeira. A variety of sliced mushrooms and fried leeks finished the plate. For lovers of fungus, this is a real treat.

I was nervous when our waitress didn't take a temperature on the salmon, but it came out a perfect medium. The menu said that the fish was marinated with green harissa, although this was barely noticeable. The salmon rested atop a medley of chickpeas, carrots and snap peas, which tasted minted. I wouldn't say that this plate was life-changing, but it was certainly done right.

A rub of garam masala gave a warm, baking-spice touch to the Cornish game hen. The hen itself was tender and juicy and served with a sweet curried corn sauce that paired well with the spices. Blistered tomatoes, haricot verts and perfectly roasted caraway potatoes served as ideal accompaniments for the rustic dish. This was a delicious and creative alternative to the ubiquitous chicken option.

The pork chop was massive — it looked like the size of a turkey leg at the state fair — and because of its size had some problems with the temperature and texture. It wasn't overcooked (the middle was bright pink), but the outer parts were dry, and it was a little tough throughout. Berry gastrique added sweetness to the pork chop's smoke, and a simple sweet-potato puree gave the plate a warm fall undertone. In Eleven65's defense, the server noticed that my guest did not eat most of her pork and alerted a manager, who then came to the table and was earnest in his desire to make up for the shortcoming. I was impressed that our server was paying enough attention and equally impressed that the manager tried to fix it.

We chose the dulce de leche mousse from an impressive dessert menu and were not disappointed. The Nutella ganache, chocolate sable dough and dehydrated caramelized sugar cake were served deconstructed and gave the plate layers of flavor and texture. The star of the show was the pretzel ice cream, nutty and savory with just a hint of sweet.

Eleven65 delivered, for the most part, good food and attentive service. Yet when asked if I would go back, I could not easily answer. I left feeling strangely dissatisfied, and it's apparent that there is something lacking — a mysterious X factor — that is necessary to pull everything together. I'm not sure how Eleven65 can get there, but nixing the paper menus would be a good start. 

See more photos: Despite Great Food and Service, Eleven65 Doesn’t Quite Add Up

About The Author

Cheryl Baehr

Cheryl Baehr is the dining editor and restaurant critic for the Riverfront Times and an international woman of mystery. Follow her on the socials at @cherylabaehr
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