Several months ago, L’école Culinaire grads Josh Striplin and Benjamin McNabb opened a delicious little restaurant at the corner of Olive and Woods Mill roads in Chesterfield. The young men took over the spot that once housed Simon’s (an offshoot of Saleem’s), and one of their dads manages the front of the restaurant, adding another layer of local color to the mix.
Notable, I think, is that these guys are among the first graduates of this hometown cooking school to open their own spot. And they’ve chosen an interesting place to do it: an area known more for its chain restaurants than for boutique eateries with a dedication to local and seasonal foods. When you think of it, most ‘farm-to-table’ restaurants have settled somewhere east of West County, and most of their chefs have trained outside St. Louis.
The place is small, with a bar room on the left and a dining room to the right. There are a few booths and tables, as well as several tables out front. Unfortunately, this is not among the most scenic of settings, fronting Olive Boulevard on one side and a parking lot on the other. But the owners have placed planter boxes and pretty railing to create some privacy. The menu is small, reflecting seasonal foodstuffs, with attention paid to each item on the plate.
There were five appetizers and five soups/salads, all $5 to $8. We started with the soups, minestrone and ‘au pistou.’ These were flavorful and very fresh-tasting. The pistou, another word for ‘pesto,’ was a white bean soup dotted with slivers of pungent fennel and a few pieces of zucchini and carrot, interestingly cut into balls. The creamy bean flavor was concentrated and brought out by a good salting. A bit of pesto came on top.
The minestrone was loaded with veggies and had the characteristic red tinge of this tomato-based broth. It, too, had good flavor. Both soups were made from vegetable stock, which is rare in St. Louis restaurants and offers a nice opportunity for vegetarian diners.
An appetizer of ‘blistered white corn risotto,’ though it sounded interesting, was less exciting. It came piled into a bowl, which yields more of a clump than serving it on platter would. And although the white corn imparted a nice sweetness, the entire dish was simply too pale, robbing it of eye appeal. And while the scallions mentioned on the menu might have helped, they weren’t on the dish!
But that was a minor blip, as we realized when our entrees arrived. Of the half-dozen dishes, a couple of steaks, a daily game bird (squab that night), seafood Provencal (salmon that night) we chose shrimp scampi ($20) and smoked BBQ pork tenderloin ($17). Each came attractively placed on the plate with sides. Five nicely-sized pieces of shrimp were arranged around a mound of house-made linguine, with thick balsamic ‘gastrique’ (syrup) drizzled around the rim of the plate. The shrimp had good texture and flavor; the noodles, marvelously homemade, had a concentrated white wine/garlic coating.
The pork was as delicious as it was attractive. It came fanned out atop polenta, with a hefty serving of roasted tomatoes on the side. The meat had been cold-smoked, which means brined and slow-roasted over hardwood chips, giving it a delicate, tender texture that helps retain natural juices. The exterior had a spicy rub with a nice bite to it. The roasted tomatoes were noteworthy, as tomatoes are rarely used as a stand-alone veggie, but these were excellent: hot and full of the peak flavor of the season.
Desserts are also made in-house, and while the list was tiny, it was clearly mighty. Our peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream ($5) was outstanding and very generous. A plateful of local peaches had been lightly baked with a streusel topping, not too sweet or buttery, yielding fruit that retained some firmness and made thick, natural syrup. The small scoop of ice cream was among the best I’ve tasted. The summer sorbet martini ($5) had balls of cantaloupe, watermelon and champagne sorbet, each intensely flavorful and refreshing.
The team at Seasons is ambitious, clearly having high standards for its food, yet offering that quality at very fair prices. And there is something about this venture that has a special appeal: They are local guys who were locally trained, so I’m rooting just a little bit harder for them to succeed.