Lafayette Square has its share of fine pubs, bistros and assorted eateries. Most of these, though, are situated on the north side of Lafayette Park, leaving the area to the south a bit desolate from a restaurant point of view. But Element is well on its way to changing that vibe. Located in what was the former power plant building for City Hospital, it's definitely raising the culinary stakes.

Element is split into two levels: the main dining room on the second floor and the lounge one floor up. The dining room is sleek and spacious, with a glorious open kitchen as its centerpiece. There are a handful of tables that line up right next to it, and provide a superb view into just how those delicious dishes come to be. The upstairs lounge is a cross between upscale watering hole and cozy drawing room, with a plethora of soft seating available.

But Element isn't just a pretty face. The splendid space serves as a classy backdrop for the fine food that's currently being crafted by Element's coterie of chefs.

Even the most pedestrian of dishes get treated with seriousness and respect. Take the Fried Oysters, for example. Instead of relegating them to filling a po' boy, they're spread across a board on stripes of tomatillo aioli. Perhaps the best fried oysters we've had, they melted across our tongues as soon as we breached the lightly breaded exterior. Likewise, the Fish Stew ($20), is like no seafood stew you've ever had. No rustic bowl of mystery chunks here. Rather, a delectable, flaky piece of fish (wild striped bass was the market choice during our visit) on a bed of cabbage with pieces of tender kielbasa and encircled by lightly briny broth. The Polenta ($16) was almost akin to pastry, crisp, and filled with creamy goat cheese.

It should be noted that everything we had was plated to perfection. The kitchen staff knows full well the value of the visual element of their food and they present each dish to be as enticing as possible. The deconstructed Payday bar, peanut butter nougat adrift amid caramel sauce and crumbs of toffee, almost was too pretty to eat—almost.

Along with its food, Element has a tasty beverage program, as well, boasting some good beer and wine selections. There also are custom cocktails like the El Flora Sinner ($11), made with Four Roses bourbon, El Dorado Five Year rum, lemon, egg white and honey; and the London Rose ($10), featuring Yahara Bay aged gin, port, elderflower liqueur, lime and topped with cava. There are lunch and lounge-specific menus, as well, plus plenty of dedicated parking and proximity to all the major highways.

Hopefully, along with new developments like the Fields Foods just across Lafayette Avenue, Element will be a cornerstone of the renaissance of the 'other' half of Lafayette Square. It definitely deserves to be at the top of everyone's must-try list.

-- 1419 Carroll St., 241-1674, elementstl.com.

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