Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Back to Basso

There are a few places that I love in St. Louis.  These places have a perfect combination of food, service and atmosphere.  With so many things changing in this city, St. Louis still has an issue deciding whether it wants to do things on its own or try to follow in the footsteps of East or West Coast big name cities.  Night clubs on Washington Avenue tend to try to play the music and make the feeling of New York or LA clubs but fail in doing so.  Just because it works there doesn't mean it will work here.  In the same token, I have seen restaurants with ideas which may work well in California try and fail here in the Mid West.  What has to be done for a successful restaurant here, is to work with the culture and foods that are present here. Don't try to make a bar as good as those in Las Vegas, don't try to have great food like that of New York and don't try to have impeccable service like Beirut.  What you should do, is make something unique and St. Louis.

Enter Chef Patrick Connolly, who is not only "like us" and from St. Louis, but he learned and worked and cooked and moved East where he became big, famous and earned a James Beard Award.  Then after working in more restaurants and earning more praise he came back and worked here.  Now, while all of this may sound humble and modest, let's be honest: the man comes up with some great food ideas. Basso tries to use everything seasonal and locally farmed or raised.  If Missouri beef is good enough for the high priced steak houses in Las Vegas, I'd say that it is good enough for the nice gastro-pubs here.  As I stated earlier, Basso does everything with a nod and twist of Italian flare.  While it may not seem as authentic and on the nose as other fine Italian eateries in the area, you can see the spark and the enjoy the flavors that bring just about every dish back to Italy.  

Now, the last time we had eaten at Basso, was late February and my wife and I enjoyed everything about it.  This time, we had brought two more people and they had not known that this place was here, but were ready for adventure.  The cool thing with Basso, is that they serve "Family style" and this means that you order some plates and share some plates.  This doesn't mean that there is too much food though, it is a nice and romantic enough place that a couple could order 4 plates and be full and happy without having extras.

Also, as Chef Robert Irvine or the guys behind Mystery Diners or Restaurant Stakeout know, a restaurant still counts on the service and even here at Basso, Blaise has done an awesome job as Service Manager as everything in the front of the house is run perfect.  No one waits too long for anything, the waiters and bussers are friendly and talkative.  They also know about the things on the menu and ave their favorites as well.  They don't try to sell or push things that are expensive and like to actually ask and please you, while there. So, even though I want to say and talk about the food, let me be clear that the service is perfect.   

We had ordered several things and saw that first of all, from our awesome dining location: at the kitchen bar, the menu had changed since the last time we had been there.  It is a clear sign that a menu is based on accessible items and seasonal ingredients, when you notice that the menu items change from time to time.  With just a few things still on the menu from last time, we went ahead and ordered a bunch of new things to try.


The first thing we had ordered was the Caprese Salad.  The Salad was tomatoes, basil and some cheese in the middle.  It had a nice vinegar and oil dressing and tasted fresh, clean and savory.  It wasn't too sweet from the tomatoes and it wasn't too savory from the pepper and basil.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5.


Then we got the baked lamb meatballs, which had these little meatballs, in a cast-iron skillet, with sauce, crumbled cheese on top and these balls of polenta.  The meatballs were moist and delicious and sprinkled with fresh oregano.  The polenta was perfectly cooked and great in the sauce.  The sauce was not too sweet and worked just well.  I'd say a good 4 out of 5.


So then we order the potato gnocchi which was potato gnocchi and some roasted mushrooms, tarragon, pecorino and all served in what tasted like a white wine reduction.  It was delicious and furthermore was so good that if I had stopped in for lunch, in the future, I'd get this for myself, for my meal.  So, good and so ....good.  I'd throw 4 stars at them right now.


For a pizza, we ordered the Ramper's Delight, which had ramp greens, fennel, fontina, prosciutto and some lemon.  The pizza was quite awesome.  All pizzas are cooked in their wood fire oven and unlike other places that claim to have a wood fire oven, to the back wall, next to the kitchen is a huge wall of chopped wood, which fuels the fire!  The pizza gave you the smokey flavor from the wood, the crispy-ness from the crust, and the wonderful play of the lemon sauce drizzled over the pieces of greens, fennel and meat.  It was very nice and very good.  Last time we had the Donald pizza, and this one was way better.  I'd say another 4 out of 5 on this one.


Now, for desserts: we had ordered the cookies, which were six yummy cookies.  The tiramisu, was plated in a small 8 ounce mason jar and was inhaled by the two women sitting at the bar with me. The lemon cheesecake, was also a big winner.  All good enough to get at 3 out of 5.

 So, what are my final thoughts?

If you are looking for a great lunch, go here and get a great pizza.
If you are looking for a nice and romantic night out, go here and get the kitchen bar area.
If you are looking for a place with good drinks and great food to watch the Blues, come to the bar in the center of the restaurant.
If the prices were less, so I could afford it,  I would bring my wife there every weekend.
The food is great, having been there now 2 times having had over 10 items from their menu, there has not been a bad one yet.  The service is perfect, everyone is friendly and you are likely going to get a big thank you when you leave.  Go here now!
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