A little push goes a long way. Bernadette Faasen knows that as well as anyone.
The restaurateur closed Woodsmoke BBQ in 2018 after six years in Ellisville to embark on an entirely new venture in an entirely new market. Her reason? To try something new.
“Barbecue is really big in the Midwest and in Missouri, but I felt like I was just another restaurant, in a small location, with no room to expand,” she says. “I just decided it was time to step outside my box, continue with smoked meats and take it to another level.”
Faasen stepped out of the kitchen to run the show as owner and operator at Cobalt Smoke & Sea, which debuted in Creve Coeur in late spring. Through her steadiness, passion and experience, Faasen’s restaurant has generated a lot of positive interest, even with a different clientele and a new menu.
“What I was going for was a unique experience [with] ambiance, service and food that is unlike any other restaurant,” Faasen says. “We like to look at our menu and be sure that it’s not a bar and grill – that it’s something different, yet you’ve heard of it.”
Early standouts include the restaurant’s No. 1 seller, a soba dish topped with burnt ends, baby bok choy and braised leeks – not exactly what would first come to mind at an establishment helmed by someone who previously ran a barbecue spot. But just that kind of creativity sets Cobalt apart.
“It might be a dish that they’ve never had or [never] thought that they’d order burnt ends in a Japanese style, so when they try it, they love it,” Faasen says.
Another current favorite, the duck-fat burger, involves house-ground chuck blended with duck fat, a mixture that melts throughout the patty when cooked. The fat is rendered in the process but leaves behind an amazing flavor that’s somehow both familiar and unexpected.
“People are talking it up,” says Faasen of the burger, her tone resembling that of a delighted parent. “It’s kind of fun – we did not expect it to become so popular. I’m proud of it.”
All meats are smoked in-house. Seafood, meanwhile, comes fresh every day from the likes of Bridgeton’s Fabulous Fish Co. and Vinita Park’s Fortune Fish & Gourmet, both suppliers that source products from around the world.
Executive chef Joe Stamer, who designed the entire menu, incorporated many of Faasen’s Woodsmoke recipes with his own little twists on each. The resultant seasonal menu suggests global inspiration – think New England clam chowder and ginger panko shrimp from Argentina – while using locally sourced ingredients. The menu resists the conventional at every turn: Instead of baby back ribs, Cobalt serves short ribs, and pan-seared scallops top a smoked corn purée.
“He’s so good, so I’ve really just let him kind of own that menu,” Faasen says of Stamer.
The cocktail menu is just as adventurous without tumbling into overwhelming – so much so that the spirits themselves have become sufficiently popular that people return to Cobalt just to have another round.
“The drinks are flying off the shelf – people come back for them,” Faasen says. “[Smith] has a Lavender Orange Belle Cosmo cocktail, and God, it’s just so good. It’s sweet, it’s fresh, it’s spring. People just love it.”
Part of Cobalt’s wow factor comes from the interior. A full-size replica whale skeleton hangs in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by a custom-made, wrought-iron cage. It clearly indicates to first-timers that they’re in for something different.
“It piques curiosity,” says Faasen of the entire experience of visiting Cobalt. “I think that St. Louisans are a particularly adventurous food crowd.”
A menu change is coming next, with lighter fare replacing heavier dishes that patrons will likely see return this fall and winter. Besides that, Faasen and company are busily keeping their heads down and working to change the dining landscape in St. Louis County – a noble cause that, if their initial success proves any indication, may well pay off.
“So many customers say that we need this restaurant in Creve Coeur, that it’s the missing restaurant we’ve been needing so long,” Faasen says. “I just think people are bored with what’s around them, and they venture out. It’s better to keep things in your own community.”
Cobalt Smoke & Sea, 12643 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur, 314-548-6220, cobaltsmokesea.com