Critic's Notebook: Nathalie Pettus Wants the Restaurant Experience from Ratatouille

click to enlarge Nathalie Pettus, owner of Nathalie's and Overlook Farm. | Jennifer Silverberg
Nathalie Pettus, owner of Nathalie's and Overlook Farm. | Jennifer Silverberg

"You know that scene in Ratatouille, the one where they finally have their own restaurant and the critic is eating there? People are peering in the window from the outside, and the room looks so warm, inviting, convivial. There are flowers everywhere, and it just exudes warmth. That's what I am going for."

I expected to chat with Nathalie Pettus, owner of Overlook Farm and the three-month-old Nathalie's (4359 Lindell Boulevard; 314-533-1580) restaurant, about how she balances her time in the country and in the city. Instead, I was swept up by her childlike spirit as she took me on a tour of her fantasy world. It's one where people still dress for dinner, eating with fine silver off of china, and take the train for the weekend at a lovely country cottage.

See Also: A quick tour of the globe with Nathalie's Deadhead chef

"I wanted to create a place that will be around for years to come," Pettus says. "I want to be entertaining until I am 80 years old. I'm going for the kind of restaurant like the classics in New York or Chicago -- the ones that are all about hospitality and exemplary service. They may not win all of the awards, but I don't give a damn about that."

This is not Pettus' first venture at 4356 Lindell Boulevard, the 19th-century mansion she owns. From 2005 to 2008, the building housed her first restaurant, Savor. I asked her what made things different this time around. "This time, it truly represents my heart and soul," Pettus explains. Although she was technically the owner of Savor, she describes her role as more of a financier than a manager. With Nathalie's, she is more involved. "I want people to feel like they are coming into my home for a dinner party every night," she says.

As for her other home, Overlook Farm, Pettus sounded like she was rallying the troops when discussing the recent fire. "We're already moving forward with the next structure. We're going to use greywater and solar and wind energy. We're building our own wood boiler. It's so cool." I asked her how she could be so upbeat in the face of such a disaster, and she became emotional. "You go on. I don't have time to cry. You do what you have to do, every day. That's what keeps me going. It's my family." Then Pettus recites a passage from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

It's no wonder she throws one hell of a party.

Follow Cheryl Baehr on Twitter at @CherylABaehr. E-mail the author at [email protected].