Thursday, January 27, 2011

araka, clayton mo
131 carondelet plaza, clayton mo

although my real 26th birthday celebratrion is to be a trip to chicago in february for a restaurant tour including a trip to alinea, i couldn't help but take the day off on my actual birthday to try some new spots.  for lunch, i chose araka, which is located in a very nice part of clayton missouri. araka bills itself as a southern european restaurant, with dishes taking inspiration from french, spanish, italian, and greek cooking.

we had a difficult time find a place to park, and arrived a few minutes late for our 1pm reservation after an uncomfortably long and cold walk on this frigid january day. we were welcomed by a very pleasant hostess, who led us to a four top in the middle of the dining room. araka is a very sleek looking restaurant, and definitely ranks amongst st. louis's best from a visual standpoint. i would imagine the place is quite striking at night with the lights dimmed.

to kick things off right, carrie and i each started with a cocktail. we both went for the honey pear, made with eagle rare 10 bourbon, fresh pear, vanilla, honey syrup, belle brillet, and bitters. the honey pear was a great choice, with the pear and honey providing a sweet flavor that worked well to offset the strength of the bourbon.

due to the lack of choices for starters, we began our meal with the calamari. served with arrabiata sauce and a creamy citrus vinaigrette, the calamari was no better than what i remember being offered at places such as red lobster and the like. coupled with the fact that both dipping sauces were lacking any significant flavor, the calamari was definitely an underwhelming introduction to araka's cuisine. i will say, however, that there have only been one or two instances where i have been thrilled with a preparation of calamari, and am not a great fan of calamari as a whole.

next up, we each had a small cup of the smoky tomato soup. included in the soup was gorgonzola cheese and bacon. although the flavors were relatively simple, the soup fared much better than the calamari, and carrie and i both cleaned our entire bowls quickly. had bread been offered, i would have used it to sop up any remaining soup i was unable to get with my spoon!

for my main meal, i selected the italian burger. topped with provolone cheese, arugula, pancetta, and served on a wonderful ciabatta bun, the burger was cooked perfectly to my specified medium rare. the burger was terrific, with the thick ciabatta bun adding a nice bit of ommph to the bite. the only issue was the burger came out topped with some sort of mayo that was not noted on the menu. not being one to make an issue, i used a fry to scrape the majority of the sauce off, and all was well. speaking of the fries, i cannot put my finger on it, but there was something that made them incredibly tasty despite there seemingly simple preparation.

the lobster b.l.t. was carrie's choice for lunch. like my burger, her sandwich was also served on a ciabatta, and was topped with arugula and aoili. while i did not opt to sample the sandwich, carrie said that it was quite good, and had a decent portion of lobster inside.

after a a solid ten minutes of waiting after finishing our sandwiches, our server returned to clear our plates, and we asked to see the dessert menu. araka had six offerings for dessert on this day, and all of them sounded good. after some debate, i settled on the toasted almond semifreddo. this was a semi frozen mouse topped with two amaretti cookies and served with candy coated blueberries. all three componenets, of the dessert were delicous, with the semifreddo being one of the best i have encountered from the standpoint of both taste and texture.

carrie opted for the vanilla panna cotta with huckleberry, pistachio, and chocolate biscotti. i only had a small taste of the panna cotta, and deemed it enjoyable. i was offered some of the biscotti, but by that time i had already cleared my palate for the final phase of my meal...

being that it was my birthday, i decided to indulge in a luxury i would not normally be able to justify, a dram of the highland park 25year single malt scotch. this is the oldest liquor i have ever had the privilege of tasting, and it was a bit humbling to think that this dram of whisky started its life just a year after mine began. the highland park 25 is definitely the most nuanced scotch i have tasted, with layer after layer of flavor, and a finish that lasts forever. i hope that someday i am able to justify having a bottle like this in my collection at home.

after settling the bill and hitting the bathrooms (which are a must see for the incredible sinks) we made our long trek back to our car and headed back to illinois. all told, our experience at araka was a positive one, with the only real misstep from a food standpoint being the calamari. while it ws not a issue for us, i will mention that the service was lacking in a few areas. the pacing of the meal was very slow. there were long breaks inbetween courses. also our dirty plates were left to sit for some time before being cleared, and my water reached empty a few times. on a positive side, it came up through conversation that it was my birthday, and one of our desserts was on the house. overall though, we plan to try araka again in the future for dinner to try their entrees.

Araka on Urbanspoon

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