One area of St. Louis that's been seeing a real resurgence of its dining scene is Clayton. New and exciting eateries like 5 Star Burgers, Little Country Gentleman and Pastaria have been attracting diners like us by the score. The latest restaurant to add to this mini-renaissance is The Libertine.
Occupying the space that most recently housed Chez Leon, The Libertine is run by Nick and Audra Luedde and chef Josh Galliano. It's Galliano's first ‘official’ restaurant since the closing of Monarch last year. We're here to say it was more than worth the wait.
The menu is broken down into the basics: Vegetable, Fish and Meat. But what Galliano and his talented kitchen do within these simple confines is a real testament to their skill and passion. First up was She-Crab Soup ($7), an absolutely gorgeous deep-orange broth surrounding three delicate blue crab spring rolls. It had a depth of flavor and a luscious consistency that we rarely experience with a soup.
The Sunflower Seed Risotto ($16) was a perfect example of taking a simple dish and turning it into something that's much more than the sum of its parts. To think that just sunflower could replicate the consistency of risotto with nary a grain of rice to be found was revelatory. The flavor was earthy and subtle, owing to a combo of spring onions, snow peas and a bit of charred onion oil; and it had a lovely, creamy consistency.
The Crispy Octopus ($13) was coated with a batter reminiscent of the best fried chicken—crispy and peppery and very unexpected for those of us used to a heavy tempura-style batter on octopus dishes. It was served with a mild broccoli-stem kimchi that reinforces our belief that kimchi should be on every plate.
The Three Little Birds ($18) featured a juicy cube comprised of layers of roasted game hen, chicken and quail served on a bed of rice grits that just may be the best grits we've had in this city—ultra-creamy with just the right balance of sweet and salt.
To round things out, we tried the Libertine Candy Bar ($7), a hearty and decadent confection of salted caramel semifreddo, hazelnuts, ganache and chocolate dacquoise. It's almost a disservice to place this in the realm of the common candy bar.
Beverage-wise, the Libertine also proved to be a cut above. There's an extensive craft beer selection heavy on products from local breweries and a wine list that focuses on smaller producers who practice sustainable farming techniques. The bar program at Libertine is helmed by Nate Weber, who's put together a creative and tasty collection of cocktails that start with the classics and then go their own way. Take the Elvis Costello Lost In Missouri ($10), a riff on the venerable Pimm's Cup that combines Pimm's No. 1, Pinkney Bend Gin, house-made ingredients like citrus soda and a mint tincture and ice rods of frozen cucumber juice.
Needless to say, service was spot-on. It's a great spot for everything from popping in for a quick drink or bite after work to celebrating a big event, or really any time superior food and drink is required. Truly a fine addition to the neighborhood.
--The Libertine, 7927 Forsyth Blvd., 862-2999, libertinestl.com.
The Libertine’s She Crab Soup
- 6 T olive oil
- 2 lbs. gumbo crabs
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 T tomato paste
- 4 T all-purpose flour
- 1/3 c sherry
- 2 qts. half-and-half
- 2 qts. shrimp stock
- 1 t salt, plus more to adjust seasoning
- 1/2 t black pepper
- 1/4 t marash chili flakes (crushed red pepper can be substituted at 1/8 t)
1. In a rondeau, heat the blended olive oil over high heat until smoking. Cut the crabs in half and quickly start searing the crab pieces in the rondeau. Continue cooking until bright red.
2. Add the shallot and the garlic and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for two minutes, then glaze with sherry. Stir in the flour and tomato paste.
3. Add in the half-and-half and shrimp stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Use a stick blender to puree the crab shells as much as possible. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and marash chili.
5. Pass the soup through a chinois and adjust for seasoning.
We pass the soup through a chinois at least twice to make sure we remove all possible grit. The soup is garnished with a crab spring roll, marash chili powder and sherry pearls. Right before serving, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with marash chili flakes, black pepper and/or salt. To help brighten the flavor of the soup, stir in roughly 1 T of sherry wine.