2019 Best New Restaurants // No. 2 Elmwood
From its shadowy, obsidian space and open, windowed kitchen to its spirited neon signs and superbly curated plates and glasses, everything at Elmwood feels extremely deliberate.
Hip-hop instrumentals flow at a low volume from hidden speakers; concrete floors bolster the industrial feel. The vibe is cool in multiple senses of the word – it’s a hip and distant space that keeps you at arm’s length so you can admire all it has to offer.
The centerpiece of Elmwood’s concept is a rare Josper charcoal oven and grill, which evokes a staggering depth of flavor from every dish it touches: grilled broccoli Caesar, wagyu short rib beef jerky skewers, even the spectacular, show-stealing charred lemon tart.
There’s fire in the DNA of the magical sweet potato baba ghanoush, which doubles up on Old World charm with the seared lavash served alongside. Grilled vegetable bolognese couples with impressive mafalda noodles to create an extraordinary pasta dish, while the smoky Bangs Island mussels soar due to a powerful combination of Sichuan spice and crispy shoestring potatoes. Chef and co-owner Adam Altnether’s menu is a tour-de-force marriage of rustic, ancient cooking methods with modern European and Asian ideas.
The bar program reflects this ethos with a focus on bold wines, unique foreign and domestic beers and dazzling cocktails incorporating pisco, fernet, byrrh and cocchi doppo teatro. Any drinker can count on a new list of unexpected delights on each visit. If nothing sparks your interest, bar director David Greteman or another skilled bartender will fix you a classic cocktail, or, if you ask nicely, something they’re workshopping.
Tying it together is Elmwood’s service, which is among the best in town. Knowledgeable waiters miraculously show up right before you need them, listen intently, make smart recommendations, always end up being right and exit at just the right moment. They appear, phantomlike, to fold your napkin if you get up, displaying a tacit attentiveness rather than a domineering performance of good service.
Overseeing it all is co-owner Chris Kelling, whose focused energy makes him perfect for this environment; his vigilant professionalism is reflected in every corner of the space.
In everything Elmwood does, it blends the natural with the metropolitan, the familiar with the adventurous. We don’t know if that’s what Kelling and Altnether had in mind when designing Elmwood, but they have succeeded in creating an experience unlike any other in St. Louis.
Adam Rothbarth is a staff writer at Sauce Magazine.
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