Yia Yia's Euro Café , 15601 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield, 636-537-9991

Mar 31, 2004 at 4:00 am
Kaliber is like a wood-paneled station wagon; like Strutter, the Kiss tribute band. It's like pleather, like Lee press-on nails. Kaliber is like a Victoria's Secret model donning a Groucho nose and glasses. It's a neutered Thoroughbred, a Kate Winslet blow-up doll. Kaliber is a necessary evil, a beer that's not one, but a reasonably close facsimile -- close to being a beer because it's made with your typical beer ingredients, save the one that is most important to most fans of the malt: alcohol. Kaliber is the alcohol-free ale brewed by the Guinness company outta Ireland. And don't you dare let anybody there, or anywhere in the United Kingdom, catch you drinking this stuff, because not only will they laugh in your face, they'll probably punch you in the keister, too.

You can get Kaliber at many places. One of them is a humongous Chesterfield restaurant called Yia Yia's, part of a chain of upscale-casual food troughs located throughout the Midwest. Yia Yia's, which means "Grandma's" in Italian, is to fine dining what Kaliber is to Guinness, a nice imitation of something real. To wit: The back page of the lunch menu offers a brief history of the joint and describes the establishment not as a restaurant but as a "restaurant concept." A restaurant serves food; a restaurant concept attempts to churn out profit. Walk into this concept and you'll understand: It's big, it's "rustic" in a west-county sort of way, and it features a well-designed dining room that's broken up into a number of smaller sections, easy to manage and with a homey feel but, in essence, still a model designed to serve a maximum number of patrons and replicate the experience of eating in a European bistro.

"Across the ocean," reads one of Yia Yia's ads, "there is a continent called Europe where culinary masterpieces occur daily and food is embraced as an art form." Now, without being too combative here, we can count a dozen places in St. Louis alone where culinary masterpieces occur daily and food is embraced as an art form, and it's insulting to suggest otherwise, especially by a joint that bills itself as a "restaurant concept." That off our chest, Yia Yia's turkey sandwich is delicious (and we know turkey sandwiches), its French fries exquisite and, coupled with a Kaliber near-beer, the experience is very pleasant, especially if, like us, you're dining with a thoughtful companion with an interesting worldview.

Kaliber is pretty good, actually, an amber-colored lager that, in a taste-test, you'd be hard-pressed to define as a nonalcoholic beer. It's got a poofy white head that, if you're not careful when you pour it, will explode, and you'll have to wait a few minutes for it to die down (though not nearly as long a wait as with a regular Guinness). It does, however, lack a backbone; it's thin and a bit watery. But what do you expect? It's more a concept in search of a beer than it is a beer. It lacks the very thing most aficionados look for in their beer. But if you're on the wagon, or on meds or don't feel like being drowsy after lunch, this concept is highly recommended.