Cielo in the Four Seasons

The elegant restaurant at the Four Seasons St. Louis, Cielo, has a new chef: Fabrizio Schenardi. The Turin native came here after serving as executive chef at the four-diamond Renaissance International Plaza Tampa Hotel. After testing the St. Louis waters for a few months, he has developed his own menu, one that shows off his Italian heritage.

In addition to the usual high-end meats, there is an impressive array of moderately priced pasta offerings. There are gnocchi, veal ravioli, a daily risotto special and even five gourmet pizzas. While you may never have thought of pizza and the Four Seasons in the same breath, GM Alper Oztok says it’s all part of an effort to make Cielo more accessible.

The space is, as expected, elegant, with panoramic views that make you feel like you’re on top of the world. Situated on the highest floor of the hotel, the restaurant and adjoining bar have a solid wall of windows above the Mississippi River. Numerous historic bridges and miles of sky (‘cielo’ is Italian for sky) lend a serenity to the Cielo dining experience that, combined with formal service and well-spaced tables, make it one of the most relaxing dinners in town.

First to come to the table was a delightful bread basket with chewy Italian bread and parchment-thin carta de musica, airy ‘sheets’ of salty, cheesey crispbread. A divided ramekin with black olive tapenade and olive oil was served for dipping.

We wanted to try the pizza, so our appetizer was pizze ortolana ($10), with tomato sauce, fontina cheese and grilled veggies. The crust was thin, light and delicious. And the toppings were well balanced, which meant they didn’t have to battle each other. The main attraction was the veggie topping, which was nothing like the usual. Squash, eggplant, red onion, peppers and portabella mushrooms in bite-size pieces had been heavily grilled beforehand, lending a very distinct smoky flavor to the dish. The pizza could be shared by four as an appetizer.

The entrees we sampled were Zuppa de Pesce ($28), Capesante al Pane ($29) and Gnocchi al Formaggio ($18). The first two were seafood: fish soup and scallops with bean ragout, respectively. The ‘soup’ was actually an array of very fine quality seafood—shrimp, clams, mussels and a scallop—sitting in a deep bowl with thick sauce that wasn’t liquidy at all. Chunky and red wine-based, it was very good, if a bit of a surprise when you’re expecting soup. The flavors were meaty and hearty, appropriate for the cold season, if a little strong for some of the seafood.

The scallop dish was excellent, with about a half-dozen large sea scallops coarsely seasoned and seared to a beautiful brown on both sides. It came over a generous serving of savory cannellini beans cooked with bacon, tomato and spinach and tossed with vinegary lime-basil dressing.

The gnocchi also were memorable. Cooked soft, but not at all ‘mushy,’ the potato dumplings and cubes of butternut squash were covered in a sauce that balanced four cheeses with pesto, two ingredients that can overwhelm. But the creamy richness of the cheese was cut by the savory, herby pesto.

A menu of seven desserts included chocolate mousse, apple tart, white chocolate cheesecake, pistachio semifreddo, biscotti and lemon cake, each $9. The lemon cake was rather unusual: It was a nearly flourless cake heavily infused with not only lemon, but lemon rind, making it fairly bitter. To offset that bitterness were accompanying berry coulis and sorbet.

The biscotti were amazing, an assortment of nearly paper-thin bars in vanilla, almond and chocolate dipped. Crisp and barely sweet, they were, to my mind, the quintessential incarnation of this cookie.

An evening at the Four Seasons is a treat, no matter what you order. The calming ambience, the attentive service, and the always-interesting food together make for a special night out. Now you can have all that without the hefty price tag, if you choose to.  LN

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