The St. Louis J. Gilbert’s opened late last year at West County Center. Despite being located right next to two other higher-end casual eateries on the west side of the mall, the restaurant already has carved out its own niche.

This J. Gilbert’s location is the fifth one in a small chain of restaurants owned by Houlihan’s Restaurants. Despite being part of a group, this Des Peres eatery had individuality to spare. The interior was spacious, about 10,000 square feet or so, and complemented by fun animal sculptures, gorgeous light fixtures and a walllength fire place. The space had the feel of a quirky, uber-comfortable hunting lodge.

Menu-wise, one thing that immediately stood out at J. Gilbert’s was the extensive beverage program: Spirits and cocktails were listed on the ‘label’ of a liquor bottle placed on the table, and the offerings went way beyond the usual ‘happy hour’ fare. In addition to some interesting craft cocktails, the restaurant also offered two barrel-aged libations, a Manhattan ($10) and a Negroni ($10), both of which we highly recommend. To make sampling easier, there were five wine flights available. We chose to indulge in the Seeing Red flight, which included 2-ounce pours of Gascon Malbec, MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir and Rosenblum Zinfandel ($9).

We started our dinner with a basket of Maytag Potato Chips ($9), a huge mound of hand-cut chips covered in savory Maytag bleu cheese sauce. These were delicious and definitely made to share. We then split the Caesar Salad ($7), a tasty take on the classic that featured parmigiano reggiano, garlic croutons and anchovies, with an asiago cheese crisp alongside. We especially liked the addition of the anchovies.

We delved into both the surf and turf options for our entrees. We ordered the 6- ounce Filet Combo ($35) which came with a choice of one of three seafood items and two sides. We paired our steak—cooked beautifully pink and rare—with seared Georges Bank scallops, lobster mac ‘n cheese ($3 up-charge) and garlic broccolini. We also opted for an order of roasted mushrooms ($5) from the Extras section, which really complemented the steak well. Scallops are one of those dishes that are deceptively simple. Our scallops were buttery and seared just enough to bring out their mild flavors without making them tough and chewy. The Char Crusted Ahi Tuna ($32), was a beautiful chunk of fish, paired with asparagus, roasted Yukon gold potatoes and foyot sauce.

We capped off our experience with the Frozen Flavors ($6), a selection of housemade ice creams and sorbets. For our flight, we ordered the pear, mango and lime-mint sorbets, which proved to be a nice light finishing touch.

We found the J. Gilbert’s experience to be on par with the best area steakhouses. With top-notch food, a central location and inviting space, we think it’ll prove to be a go-to destination for food fans in West County and beyond.

J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood, 828 West County Center, 965-4600,

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