Friday, August 12, 2005

Restaurant 62: King Louie's (St. Louis, Missouri)

RESTAURANT: King Louie’s
LOCATION: 3800 Chouteau, Saint Louis, Missouri
DATE: August 6, 2005
FOOD: Seared gnocchi with brown butter, mushrooms, and pistachio; roasted mushroom Flatbread, thyme, goat cheese; King Louie’s Salad: Dried Cherries, Pears, Toasted Walnuts, gorgonzola; Yellowfin Tuan with syrah reduction and seafood sausage; Beggar’s Purse: Chocolate-Cherry Walnut Tart with caramel ice cream
BEVERAGE: Martini, up with lime; Split a bottle of Lawson’s Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc – Marlborough; Coffee
PRICE: $190.00 (for two)

We were on our way to see the King. Libby and I, mixes of anxiety and anticipation, held hands to calm ourselves as we approached his castle. We had broached the fortress during an October night nearly a year before, but that night, then as now, was more waking fantasy than reality, a surreal entwining of personal happiness and public pleasures.

Now a visit to see the King is not something to be entered into lightly. First, and perhaps most importantly, King Louie does not share the foolishness of a certain other emperor. You will not see Louie walking around his castle naked. Consequently, this means none of the guests are allowed to sport “new clothes” either. Louie isn’t asking for suits and ties, but the man’s a King for Christ’s sake, and attire fitting his majesty is the surest way to begin and stay on his good side.

Immersed in nervous conversation so as to avoid the subject on both of our minds, we arrived at King Louie’s before we had time to second guess ourselves. The King’s, the King’s. There was no mistaking it – any thought that we had taken a wrong turn somewhere along Chouteau was quickly dispelled by the castle’s sign “King Louie’s”. We were in the right place.

Trying to summon courage from somewhere deep in the smythie of our souls, we fearlessly left the tiny Honda behind and walked towards the castle’s drawbridge, beautifully ablaze in an otherwise serene nightscape. But the bravery suddenly faded. Had we remembered the second most important thing before visiting the King? We stopped walking and listened. For moments there was nothing. Just silence, silence as black as the night around us. But then we heard it. At first softly, it grew, until there was no mistaking the joyous cacophony echoing from our bellies. We had remembered to arrive hungry! No fear, we would be able to handle a feast fit for a king.

Our last hesitancies cast aside like a worn-out court jester, we charged ahead, across the drawbridge and the perilous moat beneath. We entered the castle and relief washed over us like a wave. The dark wood, the romantically lit rooms – it was just as before. The recognition sparked a sense of safety, of coming home. I turned to Libby, and the look in her eyes was unmistakable – this was exactly where we needed to be.

But there was one more hurdle to jump before we reached the King. Inside or out, the question loomed like the threat of a foreign invader? Inside or out? Inside was familiar and peaceful, but the outside had that slick summer buzz of outdoor barbeques and fireflies. Where would we find the true King and not an imposter?

With a bold determination, I forged ahead to the outdoor patio, only to realize we would never find the King this way. While there was no doubt an enjoyable evening would have ensued, outside presented only a limited version of the King’s greatness. Libby and I had come for the real thing. So we beat a hasty retreat, lavishing apologies upon the cute and friendly courtier, who succumbed to our charms and seated us in the King’s main banquet hall, far away from the maddening crowd that had also come that evening to see royalty at work.

We settled into an uneasy calm. Would there be any more tests? Had we finally surpassed the last of the obstacles? As if a genie from a lamp, one of the King’s most trusted advisors appeared by our table. Courteous and knowledgeable, with a practiced air about him, the advisor immediately set our minds to rest. Yes, it was okay to relax. We belonged here with the King and everything was going to be alright.

From that point forward, the evening progressed without hiccup. Having remembered to pack our appetites, nothing the King threw at us was the least bit daunting. The King was clearly well traveled. Using influences from all over the world, he presented us with enough options during his banquet for meals to come ad infinitum. However, as we were concerned only about the one directly before us, we solicited the goodwill of our aide-de-camp and his recommendations were as flawless as Cleopatra’s were divisive.

The King pulled out all the stops. He began his display of marvels with a funghi exhibition of unexpected and tempting delights. His thyme flatbread, loaded with goat cheese and enough mushrooms for an entire kingdom’s harvest, was superb. The bread had the charcoaled lining of wood oven pizza and while it may have been my imagination, some incendiary bit of the fire’s heat seemed to dance amongst the bread’s surface.

Equally compelling was the mushroom gnocchi. Perhaps when you’re King, it’s easier to ignore convention than it is for the rest of us plebeians. Whatever the reason, Louie’s gnocchi was a shocking fusion of American technique with Italian heritage. Seared like a scallop, his gnocchi had the buttery richness of a sauté, but with the dense potato flavor one desires in gnocchi. The mushrooms were the ideal compliment to the gnocchi’s splendor and if Louie had forced us to leave then, we would have exited with contentment etched across our faces.

But Louie still had some tricks up his sleeve. Quite obviously, any salad officially given the name of the King is going to produce fireworks. Sweet cherries sparked our mouths when coupled with the softened pears, candied walnuts, and pungent blue cheese of the salad. The salad was an epiphany of sorts – while fruit, cheese and nut salads have become as commonplace as bad political leadership, Louie reminded us why the salads gained notoriety in the first place. His salad deserved its praised title.

During all of the food, our lips were lapped by the nectar of the gods, a personally selected and aromatic white wine from the distant land of Oceana. The wine’s intense grapefruit flavor meshed well with our food, and Louie proved himself not to be a connoisseur of food alone.

With all the devotees having flocked to the castle that Saturday evening, the one mistake during our meal was understandable, if not downright forgivable. For the same amazing yellowfin tuna I had ordered my previous visit to see his greatness, this time was a bit dry around the edges. Enhanced by seafood sausage and the brazen use of mashed potatoes with fish, Louie provided enough successful side shows to make up for the slightly overcooked nature of the tuna. With such a wide dominion to look after, I’m hopeful he attends to his ports and waterways with more care next time.

Even as Libby and I patted our stomachs, near full and entirely satisfied, Louie had one more spectacle for us to behold. The King is known for his humor, so his tongue and cheek labeling of his prized dessert as the “beggar’s purse” is an act of levity that comes from some many years of sagacious rule. Composed of a flaky, pie like dough, the “purse” enclosed a mind-blowing lava of melted dark chocolate, walnuts, and cherries, the last of which provided a tartness of scintillating proportions. Never had chocolate tasted like this, sweet and sour fused into one panoramic whole.

The King seemed to be smiling. We had graced his majesty’s presence without embarrassing ourselves, but with our acute awareness, we knew it was time to depart. Holding hands once again, this time out of joy rather than apprehension. Embracing in the moonlight, Libby and I felt, even if for that fleeting moment only, what it would be like to be King. The only way to describe that feeling is to quote Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be king.”

RATING: 8.5/10

1 comment:

Jess Toons said...

I would love more than anything to try out this restaurants kansas city mo. I used to live in Missouri, I grew up there and for a joke before we left we ate frog legs. They were surprisingly good! Does anyone know of any restaurants that would serve them?