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Noto Sits Atop St. Louis-Area Food Scene with Stunning Italian Fare 

Made-from-scratch dishes help set Noto apart.

MABEL SUEN

Made-from-scratch dishes help set Noto apart.

Kendele Sieve knew the time had come, but she just couldn't muster the courage to tell her dad the news that would break his heart: She would not be taking over the family bakery, as he expected her to do, and would instead be forging her own path.

Her decision did not come lightly. Ever since she was ten years old she was a fixture at his shop, J Noto Bakery, apprenticing underneath him after school and on weekends all through her childhood and into her young-adult years, when she became a bona fide pastry chef in her own right. It seemed that she was on track to carry forth the legacy of what he'd created, but she could not shake the feeling that she and her husband, Wayne Sieve, were being called to do something different.

See all of RFT food critic Cheryl Baehr's restaurant reviews

That something different was an authentic Italian eatery — the kind of place that would serve the food she and Wayne fell in love with on their many trips to Italy's Amalfi Coast. For a year, Kendele dropped hints to her dad about their decision; often, a casual mention would lead to a heated, five-minute conversation that ended with her changing the subject. Finally, in 2019, she made her case, setting the plans in motion for her and Wayne to turn the bakery into what would become one of the most thrilling Italian restaurants in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

click to enlarge Co-owners Wayne Sieve and Kendele Noto Sieve. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Co-owners Wayne Sieve and Kendele Noto Sieve.

Kendele and Wayne can trace the moment they decided to open Noto back to their first trip to the Amalfi Coast a handful of years ago. There, Wayne — a chef who had gotten out of the business for a few years — fell in love with Neapolitan pizza and came home determined to recreate the classic dish. It became an obsession, and, not long after the trip, he bought a special countertop home oven that would get to the temperature he needed to mimic the classic Italian wood-fired ovens.

Wayne's pizzas were so good, and his passion so deep, he decided to jump back into the industry by opening a food truck. It was a scary prospect, but with Kendele still working at the bakery, it seemed like one they could manage. It didn't take long for the truck to become a hit, and before they knew it, they were catching serious buzz as one of the best Neapolitan pizzas in town. The success excited them, but it also gave them the itch to do more. Having met while cooking together at a country club, the Sieves were used to a massive kitchen that would allow them to explore a variety of dishes. In the tiny truck and commissary they used for the Noto pizza truck, they were limited in what they could do. They longed for a larger space that would allow them to make more than just pizza, so when Kendele's dad told them he was ready to retire, they saw it as the perfect opportunity, one that would honor what her dad had created, albeit in a different, more expanded way.

The Sieves opened Noto in the former J Noto Bakery just off Highway 94 in St. Peters in January 2020, and were blown away by the response. Though they had expected there to be a learning curve in a city where Italian cuisine so often means sweet red sauce covered in cheese, they were pleasantly surprised by just how receptive the community was to their fiercely traditional southern Italian dishes. In fact, they were so blown away that they started to feel like a freight train that was going off the rails. The business was so overwhelming that they worried they might not be able to keep up with their current way of doing things, but they had no idea how to stop.

The world would stop it for them a little over two months after they opened. Though the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge challenge and shift for their business, they took the time to reassess how they were doing things and where they needed help. Carryout business sustained them, but when they reopened their dining room that summer, they knew they wanted to tweak things. Part of that was bringing in the talented Josh Poletti, who joined the team as executive chef this past spring. With his talent for Italian cuisine and charcuterie, he has helped the Sieves bring to life the vision for Noto they have always had while allowing them the headspace to think about the bigger picture of where they want to go.

click to enlarge Noto offers dishes to remember. Pictured: beet insalata, cannoli, salsiccia and lentils, margherita pizza and mushroom mezzaluna. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Noto offers dishes to remember. Pictured: beet insalata, cannoli, salsiccia and lentils, margherita pizza and mushroom mezzaluna.

Where they are currently is at the top of the city's dining scene. Noto is thrilling from start to finish, a stunning portrait of southern Italian cuisine as authentic as you'd get if you were sitting on a veranda overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Arancini are fried to a gorgeous golden color, their crispy exterior yielding to a creamy risotto interior. Rich Bolognese and pecorino Romano cheese adorn this perfect appetizer.

Noto's version of fritto misto includes sweet potatoes, broccolini and mushrooms coated in a breading that is delicate and airy like tempura. The dipping sauce was the dish's standout, an aioli that was both rich and creamy but also refreshing thanks to the addition of mint — a thoughtful, seemingly small detail that had a major impact.

Poletti has been perfecting his charcuterie craft for years, and when you bite into the ciccioli, you get the feeling he has mastered the art. For this rustic, terrine-like dish, he combines braised pork shoulder and belly with roasted thyme and black pepper for a shockingly rich, fatty slab of meat that pairs beautifully with apple mostarda (a condiment that takes him three days to make). As someone who has shed actual tears of joy over prosciutto, I was so mesmerized by the ciccioli that I barely noticed the outrageously good Parma ham on the board.

Poletti also shows off his charcuterie skills on the bucatini amatriciana, a quintessential Roman pasta dish made with homemade noodles that are like hollowed-out spaghetti on steroids. The mildly spiced tomato sauce is laden with his housemade guanciale (pork jowl) that adds a rich, luxurious texture to the zesty tomato base.

click to enlarge The former bakery has become a must-try place for Italian. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • The former bakery has become a must-try place for Italian.

Another pasta, the lobster ravioli, is equally brilliant. From the firm texture of the pasta to the shockingly fresh lobster and shrimp tucked inside to the decadent mascarpone that rounds out the filling and the subtly sweet and tangy lobster cream sauce that gilds this lily, the dish is flawless.

The moment you bite into one of Noto's pizzas, you understand why Wayne's truck was such a hit. The crust is perfect. Absolutely, spot-on, exactly the way it's done in Naples, down to the leopard spotted crust's pillow-soft pull and chew. It's an outstanding base for the quattro formaggi, which features funky blue cheese, mozzarella, ricotta and pecorino Romano. With just a simple brush of olive oil instead of red sauce, the crust and cheeses are allowed to stand front and center.

However, if you only try one pizza at Noto, you must get the Margherita. Cheaper than a flight to Naples but no less transportative, this pie is a light-bulb moment for anyone who wants to know why Neapolitan pizza is so beloved. Simple crushed San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, Sicilian sea salt, molten fresh mozzarella and zesty basil leaves combine for the Platonic form of this classic dish. Without a doubt, it could go head to head with the best pizzas in Naples itself.

Noto's entrees are not to be missed either, including a braised short rib, flecked with razor-thin garlic chips, that is so tender you could butter your bread with it. And you cannot complete your Noto experience without being dazzled by Kendele's pastry chops in the form of her outstanding desserts, such as an apple crisp with sweet-potato ice cream, magnificent amaretto-scented cannoli and a creative take on tiramisu that will make you rethink the classic dish.

Noshing on these sweet treats, you feel Kendele's background at her dad's bakery making itself known in this absolutely stunning restaurant. And she knows he feels it too. Though he was initially disappointed that she chose not to take over the bakery, Kendele says that the second he walked into the restaurant on its first day of business, he got it. That she and Wayne have created such a masterpiece in its footprint is the greatest legacy he could have ever hoped for.

Noto
5105 Westwood Drive, St. Peters; 636-317-1143.
Wed.-Thurs. 5-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 4-9 p.m. (Closed Sunday-Tuesday.)
Margherita pizza $14.
Bucatini amatriciana $20.
Arancini $12

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