White bolognese with pork, Parmigiano Reggiano and cured egg yolk at Privado. Photo by Richard Pack Richard Pack
Mike Randolph closed two restaurants last year, Público and Privado . The latter, an ambitious tasting-menu concept he opened in late 2017 in place of his Randolfi’s Italian Kitchen (the loss of which I’m also still mourning), would have been a contender for the No. 1 spot in this year’s edition of the STL 100 (coming March 3). Its food was both a summation of Randolph’s career to date and a step forward: focused, brilliant, sometimes whimsical or even humorous, always delicious.
A whole strawberry grouper served with a salad and tortillas at Publico, Friday, February 19, 2016. Photo by Roberto Rodriguez Roberto Rodriguez
Yet you could view its closing as you would the end of an art installation. Público is the great loss. The best new restaurant of 2015 displayed everyday excellence with its wood-fired, Latin American-influenced cooking: the simple arepa with liver mousse, the tacos with smoked white fish, the habanero-pineapple sweetbreads.
I promised no autopsies, but what Randolph told me in an interview when announcing Público’s closure could be this column’s theme: “If you have restaurants you like, you’ve got to support them.” Vista Ramen
Vista ramen served with pork, egg, ginger, scallion, nori and sesame at Vista Ramen, 2609 Cherokee Street. Photo by Roberto Rodriguez Roberto Rodriguez
The name suggested another entry into the ramen boomlet of recent years, but Chris Bork’s Vista Ramen showcased a chef confident enough to offer his own take on ramen broth rather than one of the classic styles, talented enough to pull that off, and smart enough to feature a selection of playful small plates like crab-caramel pork ribs to compel your return even when you weren’t in the mood for ramen. Porano Pasta
Organic semolina pasta with Smoky Sunday Sugo, beef meatballs, giardiniera and crispy garlic at Porano. Photo by Cristina Fletes, Cristina M. Fletes
Porano Pasta was James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft’s attempt to enter the booming market for fast-casual restaurants. If you’d told me two years ago over a bowl of noodles with Porano’s Smoky Sunday Sugo sauce — or even a year ago with the addition of crisp-edged Detroit-style pizza — that it wouldn’t work out, I wouldn’t have believed you. Quincy Street Bistro
Pit beef sandwich at Quincy Street Bistro. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Laurie Skrivan
Mike and Sue Enright’s Quincy Street Bistro brought acclaim and even a James Beard “Rising Star Chef of the Year” semifinalist nod for Rick Lewis to a humble corner tavern in Princeton Heights. Lewis set the template for Quincy Street’s high-quality comfort fare, which chefs Chris Tirone, Chris Ladley and Matt Birkenmeier continued after Lewis’ departure in 2015. Parigi
Svizzera, an 8-ounce patty, fontina cheese, two slabs of pork belly and a thick slice of grilled onion, at Parigi in Clayton. Photo by Michael Thomas Michael Thomas
Parigi wasn’t the most acclaimed or hippest of Ben Poremba’s restaurants, but it did offer a stage to the great Ramon Cuffie, a veteran St. Louis chef (Bar Italia, Jaboni’s, La Dolce Via). Cuffie’s take on Italian cuisine managed a rare balance of precision and soul. The Libertine and Element
Wild boar Wellington at the Libertine on Dec. 2, 2017. Photo by Christian Gooden, Christian Gooden
Neither the Libertine nor Element could recapture the magic of their inaugural kitchens, the former led by Josh Galliano, the latter a collaborative crew overseen by Brian Hardesty of Guerrilla Street Food. Still, both restaurants continued to turn out some fine dishes, and I returned to each at least once a year to see what was new. Milagro Modern Mexican, Dixon Smoke Co., Eat Sandwiches, Anthony’s Italian Eats
Carne Asada at Milagro Modern Mexican in Webster Groves. Photo by Huy Mach, Huy Mach
I’ll miss the queso fundido and Jason Tilford’s studied passion for Mexican cuisine at Milagro Modern Mexican , the burnt ends and corn rubbed with “barbecue aioli” at Dixon’s Smoke Co. , the French dip and cochinita-pibil sandwiches at Eat Sandwiches and the pizza at the much too short-lived Anthony’s Italian Eats. Big Baby Q and Smokehouse, Squatters Cafe
The brisket sandwich at Big Baby Q and Smokehouse in Maryland Heights. Photo by Huy Mach, Huy Mach
I would have written a eulogy for Ben Welch’s Maryland Heights barebcue restaurant Big Baby Q and Smokehouse , but he closed that to open the much bigger Midwestern Meat & Drink downtown this year. Likewise, I’ll skip the gone-too-soon praise for Rob Connoley’s Squatters Cafe , since he will soon open his long-awaited Bulrush. Cardwell’s at the Plaza
Bill’s Burger Meister Burger, topped with Amish bleu cheese, cheddar cheese, spiced tomato relish and applewood smoked bacon at Cardwell’s at the Plaza. Photo by Roberto Rodriguez Roberto Rodriguez
Of course, no accounting of 2018’s closures would be complete without Cardwell’s at the Plaza . Bill Cardwell is a living legend among St. Louis chefs and beloved by the diners who have crowded his Plaza Frontenac restaurant since 1994 (and, before that, the Clayton Cardwell’s). Cardwell is retiring — or as the closing announcement this fall styled it, entering “semi-retirement.” You’ve earned it, chef. Go! Sneak Peek from St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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