No doubt about it, Cielo Restaurant & Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown has one of the best views in the city and provides a spectacular, one-of-a-kind rooftop dining experience. But while the vistas are stunning, the food is what makes Cielo one of the best restaurants in town.
Like many local restaurants of late, Cielo is now offering a tasting-menu option, which allows diners to sample around the various selections for an affordable $35 for four courses. It took us almost an entire Cielo Manhattan ($14), and half a glass of Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($15) to decide just what to order. Finally, for our tour de menu, we selected the Cured Shrimp, followed by Tagliolini with Shrimp, Grilled Salmon, and the piece de resistance: a Butternut Squash Budino. We supplemented this spread with two other dishes, the Grilled Octopus ($6) from the Small Plates menu, and the Sweetbreads & Escargot Trifolati ($13), from the Antipasti and Salad list.
Where to begin? Each dish we sampled was top-notch, plated beautifully and prepared precisely. Some highlights:
• The cured shrimp was served with a cauliflower puree that had a mild, earthy flavor that complemented the tender shrimp—a subtle pairing in a dish that could easily have been an afterthought in the hands of a less-creative kitchen.
• Cielo serves up its own handmade pasta, and the tagliolini truly is a testament to the skill of the chefs and cooks there. In addition to the shrimp, this tender pasta came with some sauteed spinach and a luscious cream sauce.
• Taking full advantage of the flavors of fall, the butternut squash budino is ideal for those who want something lighter and just a little bit sweet to round out their meal. This subtly flavorful Italian custard came with a dollop of quince sorbetto. Kudos to pastry chef Mary Boehne, who recently took the reigns in the pastry kitchen, for this seasonal delicacy.
• Settled on a bed of creamy polenta with a balsamic drizzle, the sweetbreads and escargot dish is the perfect introduction for cautious diners who are curious to try these two somewhat esoteric (at least to the general eating public) delights but can't quite muster up the culinary courage to take that first step. The tangy, savory sauce somewhat masks the details of the main ingredients that tend to put off first-timers, particularly the rich, almost gamey flavor of the sweet breads. However, the textures of both ingredients remained deliciously intact.
Executive chef Fabrizio Schenardi and his staff never fail to produce the highest quality fare; and as usual, we left the table fully satisfied on every level. There was a time when gastronomes headed to the best hotels in town when they were searching out the finest restaurants and bars, and Cielo certainly continues this proud tradition.
--Cielo Restaurant & Bar, Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, 999 N. Second St., 881-2105, cielostlouis.com.
Cielo's Quail with Pancetta Pear Agrodolce, Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Toasted Walnuts
7 C water
Fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
5 oz. salt
4.5 oz. brown sugar
Submerge the quails in the brine for 12 hours, then drain it from the liquid.
Yields 3 orders
8 oz. pancetta, medium diced, rendered (Save grease. Do not burn.)
12 oz. pear, cored, medium dice
1 T fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 C Marsala wine
Sauté the pears in pancetta fat (add oil if needed) until they are slightly caramelized. Re-introduce pancetta. Add Marsala wine and reduce by 75 percent, slightly wet. Season and cool, then finish with basil.
Toss walnuts lightly in oil, salt and add a touch of water, just enough to dissolve the salt. Toast in oven 350 degrees until they are nicely browned and fragrant. Crush and sift.
Fried Brussels Sprouts
Pick outside leaves of five Brussels sprouts. Deep fry for 20 seconds or until crispy, and toss lightly in salt.
1 quail, grilled to medium/medium well
5 Brussels sprout leaves-fried
1 oz. walnuts, toasted
2 oz. pear/pancetta sauce