Well, my wife and I have had our first two dinners in our "out without the kids" series to try to explore our town's mid-range fine dining. So far, it's been Chez Leon and Paul Manno's.
We quite enjoyed Chez Leon. The atmosphere and service were very enjoyable. They had an electronic "player" (CD?) piano going in the background. We each had the 3-course prix fixe. My scallops were swimming in a bit too much butter and cream (though that was the preparation disclosed on the menu), but they were a solid "good" nonetheless. My wife really enjoyed her soup, but I don't remember which soup it was. Entrees were both very good - sweetbreads for me and a filet for her. The sweetbreads had a nice texture and were not dried out and overcooked as they often are, though the dish did taste more like the sauce than anything else (luckily it was a good sauce). Desserts were a rasberry souffle that was the best fruit souffle we've had in a long time, if not ever, and a flourless chocolate cake that was quite good but not spectacular. Including corkage for one bottle of wine, tab was something like $105 out the door - a bit more than I'm aiming to average on these dinners, but certainly fair. Wine glasses were average. We will definitely be back.
Paul Manno's was a nice night out as well, but not quite up to Chez Leon. The room is crowded and loud, not enough to be off-putting but less than ideal. We felt like splitting everything we ordered, and I was very pleased that they volunteered to split it all for us. So we each had our own half order of lobster ravioli (excellent), followed by our own half order of a tomato-eggplant-fresh mozz salad (good), and then we each had our own presentation of an entree plate with half a veal chop and half a piece of lasagna. I give them very high marks on the presentations of the split orders. The lasagna was good, but should've been spicer for my taste (more fennel in the sausage maybe?). The veal chop was very good. For dessert, we split a piece of chocolate layer cake, served warm with some vanilla ice cream. The cake was decent, but nothing special. The ice cream was better.
I took a peek at the wine list after we ate which gave rise to a quibble in my mind. The list is loaded with top Italian wines (and major props for featuring Bartolo Mascarello Barolo - a rarity anywhere, especially in STL), though almost all from young vintages, and the prices aren't obnoxious for a restaurant. But what got me was the notation at the bottom that Riedel stems are offered on bottles costing $65 or more. Given that that's most of the list, and given that the bottle we brought was in the same league as wines they had at $60-70, only it was 10 years older, it would have been nice if they'd have offered Riedels to us. The stems we had were mediocre and had bowls that were much to short and wide for the wine we were drinking (a 1990 CCR). Had I known, I'd've asked, but they should have been offered.
In any event, it was about $110 out the door. All in all certainly a nice meal but not a standout. We may be back. I would rank them up a notch if I was planning on ordering wine off the list instead of bringing my own and was looking to impress clients with some top (but young) Italian bottles.
I think we'll need to hit Four Seasons and the Maplewood Tap Room next to bring the average tab down a bit...
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