Sometimes we all need a little help when it comes time to impress a date. Certain restaurants may please the tongue and fill the belly but don’t tug on our emotions. The selections we have gathered here have that certain something—perhaps a light-speckled patio, or a roving musician, or inspirational garden—that can really impress a date. Presented in alphabetical order, here are the top ten romantic restaurants in St. Louis.
1. Annie Gunn’s: The vast network of local farmers and quality international suppliers chef Lou Rook III has assembled makes every dish a feast. An example is the toasted cheese sandwich, which oozes melty goodness from Hungary, Denmark and Wisconsin, and it’s served with tomato jam from a producer just down the road. Serious steak eaters can’t do better than the giant, hand-cut rib-eye, whether it’s plain or smoked. It’s a good idea to call ahead — even for lunch. And if you’re lucky you may snag one of the walled-off, private alcoves where you can indulge in highly addictive potato chips or house-smoked shrimp. For dessert, try the ever-changing sorbets or a cheese plate with a little more wine; the list is expensive but wide-ranging, with a penchant for top California and European labels. For those interested in something different, experiment with cellar master Glenn Bardgett’s Missouri offerings.
2. Aya Sofia: The warm, red-accented dining room and gauzily draped booths may not have been designed with engagements in mind, but they do make the perfect backdrop for the most romantic of evenings. And the mezze platters — hummus and tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves and fried feta — are ideal for intimate sharing, topped off with baklava for dessert. Or, if a ring isn’t in the works, they’re all good for enjoying with the happy hour crew from work. A more than acceptable beef-and-lamb döner appears across the menu, from salads to platters. The iskender, döner on a bed of pita with tomato and yogurt sauces, is better now that the authentic touch of a butter sauce has been added. Other Turkish classics — dolma, imam bayildi (baked eggplant), whole roasted lamb — are likewise authentically cooked and served. This is a family operation, with the husband-and-wife team of chef Mehmet Yildiz and general manager Alicia Aboussie plus sommelier Jill Aboussie overseeing the wine list.
3. Brasserie: Brunch may be an American institution, but it’s the perfect meal to show off the French touches at Gerard Craft’s Brasserie by Niche — expect the likes of such classics as beignets, quiche and eggs en cocotte. Meanwhile, the dinner menu offers spot-on renditions of bistro-style steak frites, onion soup and croque madame. The menus stays approachable by avoiding French terms unless there’s not an English translation (for example, in the case of cassoulet with duck confit, tomato, sausage and white beans) or the French name just sounds better (tender, wild Burgundy escargots). Early diners sometimes snap up all the day’s specials on the menu du jour, which is where the kitchen’s creativity edges out the traditional approach. Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition, as the dessert menu proves with its profiteroles and crème brûlée. Wines tend to be French, though North American selections that pair well with the cuisine are available, too. The European-influenced cocktails include seasonal specials well worth sampling.
4. Cielo: Perched eight floors over the riverfront, Cielo isn’t the highest restaurant in St. Louis, but the wide-open feel created by the floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive rooftop deck certainly gives diners the sense of having transcended the earth for awhile. The fare is Mediterranean on the Mississippi, with Italian-trained chef Fabrizio Schenardi incorporating pastas and a selection of shellfish into the menu. Step back from the truffle-Parmesan chips and the sautéed rapini, however, and the dishes—anchored by a massive rib-eye—adhere less strictly to Italian interpretation. Eager, attentive servers look to please, though on busy nights they may be swamped. Although Cielo is in a hotel, it draws plenty of local curiosity seekers for the view over the Gateway Arch, especially after dark. The wine list has evolved in the right direction, though a few service glitches remain.
5. The Crossing: French and Italian influences are trending upward, and The Crossing is poised to capitalize — just as it was back in 1998 when owner Jim Fiala opened this mainstay of the Clayton dining scene. You may well see limos parked out front and the city’s movers and shakers tucked into the creamy dining room. Despite that, service is unpretentious and friendly. Beware the blue cheese soufflé placed on your table shortly after arrival; it’s addictive and filling. Start with amberjack crudo with caviar, pan-seared foie gras with greens and berries, or lamb sweetbreads. Then discover egg raviolo, a farm-fresh egg inside a ricotta ravioli. Beef tenderloin and bison loin are both local and grass-fed. All three tasting menus are a steal, and happily they all include the signature warm chocolate torte. An expansive, European-leaning wine list offers a good number of quartinos, perfect for discovering new styles and regions.
6. Dominic’s Restaurant: From the tenderloin carpaccio to the double pork chop with caramelized onions, osso buco and veal saltimbocca, Dominic’s classic Italian dishes provide a culinary tour with little bursts of innovation. Between the pastas and the entrées, it’s tough to save room for dessert, but the tiramisu, flambés and wedding cake are too good to pass up. The strong wine list is regularly revised but always heavy with Italian labels. Dominic’s is upscale not only in terms of price and décor (flattering lighting from chandeliers, brocaded walls, gilt-framed landscapes), but in the way the staff handles customers. Dominic Galati himself, elegant and reserved, takes his job seriously and makes sure his employees do, too.
7. Elaia: St. Louis is fertile ground for rising culinary talent, and Ben Poremba, chef/proprietor at Elaia (and its sister wine bar Olio), has tossed his hat into the ring with an ambitious first restaurant. In a rehabbed house seating only about 30 patrons, he enthusiastically offers the tried and true — namely, charcuterie from his other business, artisanal meat curer Salume Beddu — alongside experimental dishes like charred thumb-size octopi, ceviche of opah (moonfish), spaghetti with pig ear, and pickled herring with apples, beets, blackberries and buckwheat. Keep an eye out for playful interpretations of Mediterranean classics and for vegetables that pop up in unexpected preparations. Impressively, the wine list holds its own with the unique food, thanks to general manager Andrey Ivanov, a certified advanced sommelier. Desserts, including the cloud-like chouquette from the bakery across the street, are not to be missed.
8. Giovanni’s on the Hill: Dishes like farfalline del Presidente Reagan and pappardelle alla Bella Oprah are the first clue that you’ll be in illustrious company while dining here. The clientele, largely professionals and folks celebrating special occasions, tends to dress and act the part. But underneath the chandeliers and paintings, there’s an undercurrent of welcome simplicity. Plump mussels with tomato, wine and basil, for example, evoke a seaside café in Palermo. Capellini luxuriates in only olive oil, garlic and Parmesan. Of several veal entrées, our favorite is the house specialty, with a rich white wine sauce plus Fontina and prosciutto. The traditional end to an Italian meal on the hill, tiramisu, rises above the rest. Wines are high-caliber without seeming exorbitant. Black-tie waiters can be slightly overwhelmed at times, but no one can fault owner Giovanni Gabriele as host of the elegant space or his son, Frank, in the kitchen.
9. Sidney Street Cafe: Co-owner/chef Kevin Nashan walks a well-balanced line between pleasing his longtime customers — those who come to celebrate anniversaries, get engaged and impress colleagues — and wowing foodies. His restaurant remains a fine place for steak, whether prepared traditionally, paired with egg pasta or graced with wasabi. Nashan doesn’t limit himself to any one region or cuisine, so you can find chicken-fried rabbit legs with sourdough waffles alongside a trio of Missouri lamb with lemon aïoli. Desserts take classics in new directions. Carrot cake features crispy ginger meringue, passion fruit gel, golden raisins, lemon curd and butternut squash sorbet. A distinguished wine list and well-trained servers enhance the experience.
10. Tony’s: Tony’s continues to provide the most attentive service in town, and it’s the only restaurant that finishes the meals tableside; for example, the signature dish, lobster albanello, with the chunks of sautéed shellfish heated in the creamy sauce with wine and mushrooms. The deboning of the Dover sole is still more dramatic, but it’s nothing compared to the dessert flambés. Alternatively, we can also recommend the steaks, osso buco, rack of lamb and veal trio. There’s a chef’s tasting menu for two worth mentioning, too, for its beef tenderloin with foie gras. If none of that matches your mood, order something not on the menu, and no one will bat an eye. Elegant and austere décor includes neutral walls and statues throughout the larger dining room. The dress code has relaxed a bit (though jackets are still required on Saturdays). The wine list is enviably long and broad, and it’s quite reasonably priced for the setting.
For more information on more Romantic Restaurants in St. Louis, please visit Gayot.com.