It has to be daunting to take over the kitchen at one of the finest hotels in the region, with the pressure to maintain standards and expectations, while also putting your own stamp on the menu. That's the challenge Melissa Lee faced when she took the wheel as executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis last year. We recently made it back to The Grill, The Ritz's high-end steakhouse concept, and found that she has more than stepped up to the challenge and has definitely made the menu her own.
First off, longtime fans of The Grill shouldn't despair. There are still plenty of the restaurant's longtime favorites on the menu, including the 8 oz. Prime Center Cut Filet, which we enjoyed ever so much on our last visit, and the 12 oz. Prime New York Strip. But there also are several interesting additions outside the realm of beef that, while not the steakhouse norm, proved to be supremely delicious.
A great example were our starters: the Carrot and Ginger Potage ($9), and the Textures of Corn ($18). The potage was a mild, creamy soup, with a nice balance of delicate sweetness and just a bit of gingery bite. This is a dish one would expect in a French bistro, not a steakhouse, but it fit in well with the other offerings. Likewise, the corn dish was a real treat: a trio of tender, seared George's Bank scallops paired with three corn-based creations--a creamy polenta, some tangy corn relish mixed with savory bits of bacon and a sweet corn nage, a stock of sorts. The pairing of the corn with the scallops was unexpected and inspired, a tasty tour of flavors that showcased both the flexibility of this humble grain and the kitchen staff's skill and creativity.
Once we saw the Braised Ox Tail Pasta ($29), there was no more thinking to be done about what would be entree No. 1. Texture-wise, the meat in question was like a pulled pork, cooked in a thick, savory sauce akin to a ragout. Served over fresh pappardelle pasta with some gouda, truffle essence and forest mushrooms, this dish was heavy and rich—and best eaten in stages with several breaks, but well worth the effort.
From the Sea selections, we had the 8 oz Florida Grouper ($34), a nice slab of fish braised just enough to form just a bit of a crust. In another unique twist, the fish was served with a chickpea panisse on the side and some micro cilantro. We added a side of the Sauteed Baby Vegetables ($7), which proved to be the only disappointment of the meal. While the carrots, broccoli and cauliflower were expertly cooked, they were much too salty for our taste.
To top off the experience, we chose a glass of Balvenie 12-year Doublewood Scotch ($18) and some Gooey Butter Cake ($9), a decidedly traditional take on this St. Louis standby.
The Grill still is a magnificent room, and the ‘new’ menu certainly does it—and the culinary history behind it--much justice.
-- 100 Carondelet Plaza, 863-6300, ritzcarlton.com.