Tidbits from St. Louis' restaurant community

Restaurant life cycles and economics have always been affected by weird seasonal and political factors, one of which is a tendency to open just in time for the big holiday eating-out rush. This year has seen an exceptional number of year-end openings, several of which we'll be visiting over the next few weeks.

It's also been interesting to watch the relative struggles involved in realizing some of the more elaborate visions of the high-end places. Stories started circulating about Truffles (9202 Clayton Rd.) more than a year ago; in the interim, there was a scuffle over liquor licenses (a favorite spectator sport in Ladue), and the building that now houses the restaurant was taken to the foundation and essentially rebuilt.

Speaking of our local version of Rodeo Drive (Clayton Road in Ladue), also new to the area is the Kitchen (9906 Clayton Rd.), which is entering the space vacated by RFT readers' 1998's Best Restaurant selection, Montage. Now, one would think that a top spot in a readers' poll and an ideal location in the midst of disposable-income-land would presage a long life. But no! Montage closed just a few months after its win, first downsizing to a bar-and-sandwich place and then dissolving amid lots of PR blather about how the space would generate more income as a spa. Now here it is, barely a year later, and it's a restaurant again.

Confused? Well, scuttlebutt has it that the issue of liquor licenses is again a key factor, because the address still holds one of those precious commodities in the duchy of Ladue. And despite the recent radical overhaul of the Bogey Club to admit 20 or so more members under the age of 70, there are still actually underprivileged citizens out that way who don't have a private club to which they can escape.

Another interesting property is the one now occupied by a place called the Gallery, on Clarkson just south of Clayton Road, way out west. Once again, the location seems primo -- a fireplace-enhanced 200-seater smack-dab in the middle of suburban affluence. Yet in just more than a year it has morphed from one of the Patrick's restaurants to a Wilbur & Gil's and now to the Gallery.

Something similar has happened in South County, where Turtles first became the Note Bar and is now another branch of the rapidly expanding Bandana's barbecue empire.

And down in the Central West End, Chez Leon is yet another example of the "real soon now" school of opening dates, with gossip having heated up many months ago but the doors finally opening in midfall. Nonetheless, it's great to see Leon Bierbaum -- wine megatwink, expert concierge, hospitaliteer nonpareil and all-around cool guy -- finally get his shot in the spotlight.

Other newbies include J. Buck's at 101 S. Hanley Rd. in Clayton and Bond's of Chesterfield, 280 Long Rd. We're sure there are others, but we can't be omniscient, so please be sure to send announcements, tips and other insights to Joe Bonwich and Jill Posey-Smith, c/o The Riverfront Times, 6358 Delmar Blvd., Suite 200, St. Louis, MO 63130.