The best table in the house: We’ve all heard that movies stars, rock stars, and business moguls demand special seating when they approach the maître d in a fine restaurant. It’s a table where they can see and be seen, but discreet enough to do whatever business is at hand.
The best table in the house doesn’t apply to me. I’m neither angling to have the paparazzi snap a photo of me having dinner with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon nor brokering deals that will change the course of American commerce. I’m just a gal with a blog and column, I make reservations at good-to-great restaurants, and I’m happy wherever I’m seated.
Really, I’m there for the food.
But boy, oh boy, did I ever get a taste of the sweet life. I may be ruined for good!
My friend and colleague, Sherma Mather, was visiting St. Louis from Richmond, Virginia, and I wanted to introduce her to one of the best fine-dining experiences in St. Louis, Cielo at Four Seasons Hotel*. Rather than call for a reservation, I facebooked** Stephen Wancha – the fab food and beverage director – to ask whether I needed a late reservation for a Wednesday night.
He facebooked me back and said that my reservation was set.
I thought to myself, “Wow, how cool is that?” Even after all of the years I’ve known this wonderful staff, I’m honored by the way they take care of me. And let’s face facts: I was being lazy by not calling. (Yup, I own it.)
You simply can’t imagine my reaction when I received a reservation confirmation phone call that told me that Sherma and I would be sitting at the Chef’s Table***. Yes, I got weak in the knees. Yes, I felt a little woozie. Yes, I got flushed. It’s a big deal, and I couldn’t stop giggling.
I kept asking myself, “Have I arrived?”
It certainly felt that way when Sherma and I checked in for our reservation and were ushered to our lovely table for two, which was set up in Cielo’s state-of-the-art kitchen. Upon taking our seats, Michael Pechlof, the food and beverage manager, glided up to our table and poured us each a beautiful glass of champagne to welcome us to dinner.
And then began a gastronomic extravaganza prepared by Sous Chef Marc Kusche.
The first course was a beautiful presentation of grilled octopus with micro basil, red onion marmalade and saba, which is a balsamic reduction. Michael paired the octopus with a lovely Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna.
Sous Chef Marc then presented us with pan seared branzino (holy cow … such crispy, crunchy skin), with a cannellini bean ragout, radicchio, and oven roasted tomatoes. Let’s not forget a touch of pork belly for that little extra kick of flavor. It was divine. And rich. Blair Schrautemeier – the assistant food and beverage manager – paired the branzino with an earthy, light 2009 Panther Creek Pinot Noir. The result was heavenly.
Did I mention what we had the full attention of the staff? I don’t know how they do it. Sherma and I were far from their only guests – the dining room and bar were buzzing – yet no detail was left to chance. Every need was anticipated. And we were far from over!
Of course there was a third course, and it was meat: beautiful, grilled beef tenderloin. The center was a perfect medium rare, all pink and warm, and every bite was enhanced by porcini reduction and the truffled mashed potatoes, which were like silk. I also loved the pretty, bright orange baby carrots. Michael paired this modern take on traditional meat-and-potatoes with what he described as a traditional – not jammy – cabernet sauvignon from Heitz Cellars. Our experience simply kept getting better and better.
But of course, we ended our evening in the pastry kitchen! This space smells of fresh-baked cookies and the ovens are always warm. It’s comforting enough just to be there and breathe deeply. But our hosts, Michael and Blair, had just a little more in mind for us: lemon truffle cake with amaretto hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows;
and an ice cream truffle with rum-infused ganache.
Oh, yeah … and a selection of Executive Chef Fabrizio Schenardi’s homemade liqueurs: Basil, Mint, Limoncello, Limoncello Crema, and Honey.
I’m still full.
I’m still overwhelmed.
I’m still just a gal with a blog and column.
And they still made me feel like a big deal.
When I have any big accomplishment or simply want to feel as though I am the center of the universe, you know where you’ll be able to find me. I’ll be making my Cielo reservations**** to Eat It, St. Louis!
*My insane love affair with the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis began – pretty much – from the day I learned that the esteemed hotelier would be bringing its distinctive luxury brand to St. Louis. I have worked with the brilliant Trisha Dieckmann to produce signature events, and I have covered Cielo and Executive Chef Fabrizio Schenardi several times for FEAST Magazine and DELUX Magazine. My husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary with a mini staycation at the Four Seasons, and when we need a little shot of luxury in our lives, we’ll have cocktails in the bar.
** Yes … I just used Facebook as a verb. I know it’s wrong.
***Anyone can book a Chef’s Table event. There are two tables, one that seats up to four and another that seats up to 12. It’s a special experience. Do it!
**** I’ll call next time, I promise.
A Note: This dinner at Cielo was complimentary for my guest and me. At no time did they ask me to cover the dinner or my experience in Eat It, St. Louis! Nor did I ask for my dinner to be comp’d in exchange for coverage. It’s simply a synergy that works. I was prepared to pay and was startled by my hosts’ generosity. My affection for the Four Seasons St. Louis & Cielo is long documented, and I’m thrilled to be covering both in my own space.