My Culinary Quest: The Grill at The Ritz Carlton St. Louis

Goat Cheese Nest

Nearly a perfect meal.

When a meal starts off with a couple of complimentary flutes of bubbly, you know it's going to be a great meal. Granted; first, it was my wife's birthday, and second, she is close friends with the manager. But despite these advantages, every foodie and restaurant-frequenter knows that the most important factor to a great meal is execution. And this meal was perfectly executed.

Not including the trio of breads delivered shortly after the sparkling wine, we began with an appetizer of scallops and butternut squash risotto. These were the best scallops I have ever eaten. They were perfectly seared; well-browned and crisp on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. Perfectly seasoned as well. The risotto was wonderfully cooked also, redolent with rich butternut squash. In the area of execution, this was an outstanding way to start our celebratory meal.

While enjoying our respective wines (the wine always tastes much better when the food is so good) and some good conversation with the staff, we dived into the Caesar salad. I admit I was a little perplexed that my wife would order the Caesar with so many options on the menu. We can get a Caesar anywhere. I was hoping for some kind of eye-opening salad nirvana that would never allow me to think of the ubiquitous salad the same again. But alas, although good, it was just a ....Caesar.

But then the entrees arrived and the common salad was forgotten. My wife enjoyed the mesquite-smoked salmon with pineapple chutney. I could tell by the smile on her face at first bite that it was as good as my choice. That choice would be the beef filet with Bearnaise. This is where I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. True, we could have gotten a Caesar anywhere, but I could also have gotten a filet just about anywhere. But not one this good. Whereas the salad was mediocre, the steak was fabulous. Served alongside caramelized onions, the well-seasoned beef and floral Bearnaise nearly brought tears to my eyes. We also split a loaded baked potato and grilled asparagus with hollandaise. The two egg yolk-based sauces ensure that I got my fat and caloric intakes for the week.

Heads swimming, and bellies full, our friend simultaneously blessed and cursed us with not one, not two, but three desserts. Three of the best desserts we have ever had. What an amazing way to finish an amazing meal. The first was goat cheese shaped into a chicken egg, surrounded by wonton strips, nuts and figs to resemble a nest, and smothered in rich honey. The presentation of this dish was beyond description. The second was red velvet cheesecake. Very rich and a wonderful dish for any chocolate lover. The third, and my favorite, was the lemon panna cotta with lemon curd and fresh whipped cream. This is like an explosion of citrus in the mouth. The texture and consistency of the custard is amazing. Also a very nice presentation.

Again, we were spoiled by knowing the manager and the fact that she was friends with the Birthday Girl, but the execution of our meal was exceptional and made for a wonderful experience. We had difficulties rising from our seats and navigating our way to the lounge, where we nearly lapsed into comas. This was a night we will be talking about for years to come.

Scallops with risotto

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