As soon as you step into the ‘new’ Kemoll’s, it’s obvious why the landmark restaurant moved from the lobby to its new digs on the 40th floor of One Metropolitan Square. The two large dining rooms offer panoramic vistas of twinkling night lights, the winding Mississippi River, the Arch and more.
The new space has low grey ceilings, plum walls, dark woods and a few well-placed mirrors and oil paintings. As you’d expect from a pricey, upscale restaurant, the tables are spaced for privacy and the service is top-notch without being fussy. Every item is brought personally by your waiter, who seems to anticipate your every whim even before you realize it. I had some of the best service here I’ve ever experienced in St. Louis.
The menu is upscale Italian, specifically Sicilian, the specialty of the Kemoll and Cusumano families who built what started in 1927 as a neighborhood eatery into one of the premier places in town. The appetizer menu offers a tantalizing array of mostly seafood starters, all costing over $10. There is a nice pasta column, with things like tenderloin tips risotto, fettuccine with smoked salmon, and cannelloni or manicotti made with house-rolled pasta. These are in the $20 range.
We started with the specialty of the house, carciofi fritti (fried artichokes, $15) and another menu item denoted as ‘specially recommended,’ steamed clams Sicilian ($10). The artichokes were very well done: slivers cut to resemble clam strips and fried in a flour-based batter. They were served with an aioli-style dipping sauce, and a fresh orchid adorned the plate, a touch that will be appreciated by diners who enjoy the crisp texture of this edible flower.
The clams were also good, yielding about 10 bivalves in a garlic-olive oil broth with excellent seasoning. There were bits of parsley to add an herbal quality and the perfect amount of salt and pepper, something we noticed with each dish throughout dinner. Also worth mentioning is the colorful table service, floral small plates on top of burgundy-rimmed chargers, at a time when so many restaurants have opted for a minimalist look.
A Kemoll’s salad ($7.50) was enough for two, with romaine lettuce, hearty garbanzo beans, roasted peppers, hard-cooked eggs, grated asiago cheese, and a tasty house vinaigrette. About this time, we were served crusty Italian bread that had been topped with garlic and cheddar and broiled.
The entrées include a wide selection of steak and tenderloin dishes with specialty sauces like cognac cream, vermouth cream, cream with green peppercorns and some mushroom sauces. There are also some chicken and seafood dishes, with cream sauces amply represented as well. Prices are high, averaging about $30 per meat/fish entrée.
We had the strip steak, $35 for a large piece of choice meat, and shrimp and artichoke moutarde ($34). The steak was done perfectly as ordered and had just the right amount of char. It came simply adorned by a long stem of fresh rosemary and served with a side of pasta crema, penne noodles with a creamy sauce.
The shrimp dish was also delicious, with six very large crustaceans attractively butterflied and sitting around a half-lemon in a light cream sauce flavored by tarragon and mustard. Achieving a balance of flavors is not easy when working with those two ingredients, each ready to overpower everything else on the plate, but the proportion was good.
Servings at Kemoll’s are on the generous side, but there’s always room for dessert. The offerings include the most popular Italian dishes (cannolli, tiramisu, spumoni), as well as ice cream pies, bananas Foster and Italian cream cake, most costing $6.25.
We had the cream cake and Oreo ice cream pie, each a treat. The cake was moist, with a very sweet white icing laced with coconut and pecan chips, very tasty. The pie was an embarrassingly huge wedge of vanilla ice cream split by a layer of caramel and pecans in the middle, sitting on an Oreo crust good, but not as noteworthy as the cream cake.
It’s easy to see why Kemoll’s has endured all these years. Even at a time when people are cutting back, this place was packing ‘em in at prices many other restaurants have scrambled to lower. But people enjoy good food and elegant service, both of which are available here in abundance.