The 801 Restaurant Group, based out of Iowa, recently opened its latest steakhouse concept location, 801 Chophouse, at The Crescent in Clayton in the former Araka space. Those who bemoan the opening of yet another out-of-town chain—or another Clayton steakhouse for that matter—should take pause, because 801 definitely is a cut or two above the rest.
The interior of 801 bears little resemblance to its Araka days. Gone is the sleek, modern decor, replaced by sumptuous dark wood, green leather upholstery and a massive oval bar in the middle of the main dining room. Servers and bartenders all wear ties and matching green jackets, hearkening back to a time when these positions were more afforded the respect due professionals than is oftentimes the case nowadays. The overall effect is both elegant and inviting, as well as indicative of the fine-dining experience about to commence.
The 801 menu is full of all of the expected steakhouse favorites, from prime cuts to all manner of fresh seafood, and options like pork and lamb chops. Several cuts are brought out table-side for inspection before ordering, always a nice touch. To start, we actually bypassed the 'official' starters (though the Roasted Marrow Bones were hard to resist) in favor of the Petite Shellfish Platter ($40) on the Fresh List, an absolutely glorious assortment of jumbo shrimp, oysters and king crab, artfully arranged on crushed ice. Sometimes it's easy to forget just how delicious truly fresh seafood can be on the day it arrives. The crab especially was so tender and sweet, no additional condiments were needed.
Of course, we ordered meat, specifically the 12-oz New York Strip Steak ($42) and the Filet Medallions ($38). In true steakhouse style, sides are ordered separately and served family-style. At 801, they're also offered in half-sized portions for those wanting to try a few. We went with the smaller sizes of the Green Beans ($6)--crisp and fresh, accented with bits of bacon-- and the Pan Roasted Mushrooms ($7), then splurged with the One Pound Baked Potato ($8), one of the only items that can't be halved. Both the steak and the filets were cooked to absolute perfection, medium-rare and rare respectively. Often sauces can overwhelm the meat, but the filets came with a tarragon burgundy sauce that was dark and bold, with notes of char and chocolate that provided a rich accent to the filets. These big flavors require a hearty wine for company, and both dishes paired most excellently with a glass of 2011 Napa Slingshot Cabernet Sauvignon ($13).
When visiting 801, dessert is an imperative, so save a bit of room for The Gran Marnier Souffle ($13), the restaurant's signature sweet. Kudos to the 801 pastry chef for this delight, served with a selection of vanilla anglaise, chocolate sauce and berry compote on the side. A successful souffle is hard to master, and this one is a study in how it should be done. Sweet, warm and delicately puffed.
The restaurant also has a three-course Sunday Prix Fixe option, served from 4 to 9 p.m., that offers a nice selection of salads, entrees and desserts for $33. If you have a taste for prime cuts—or just desire a top-flight fine dining experience—801 Chophouse should be on your list.
-- 137 Carondelet Plaza, 875-9900, 801restaurantgroup.com