January 5, 2007
St. Louis, MO 63109
Appetizer I: Fresh baked bread served with hummus (complimentary)
Appetizer II: Home-Made Toasted Ravioli – Slow Braised Seasoned Beef filled Ravioli, made the old fashioned way, by hand, lightly breaded and toasted, served with Tomato Sauce ($8.99)
Entree: Grilled duck breast served with sauteed wild mushrooms and farro risotto with butternut squash ($17.50)
Contorni I: Freshly made whole wheat pasta with white sauce ($5.99)
Contorni II: Baby greens, candied pecans, goat cheese, and beets with a balsamic dressing ($7.50)
Growing up in St. Louis, my love of pasta and Italian food in general had not yet fully developed, so I failed to take advantage of many of the city’s wonderful Italian restaurants. Upon returning to visit, I was therefore excited to try some of the best that St. Louis had to offer. The heart of the city’s Italian community lives in a neighborhood called The Hill, but we finally chose a restaurant called Trattoria Marcella located several blocks away. It was an excellent decision–the Gastronomer is a genius at finding good restaurant advice on the message boards. The food was subtly flavored and ridiculously delicious, comparable to meals we’ve had in Philadelphia for twice the price. We’re still trying to figure out how St. Louis restaurants manage to make such classy food so affordable. Alabama should take notes. Anyway, we enjoyed it thoroughly while we were there.
While we waited for our food at Trattoria Marcella, we snacked on fresh bread with hummus. I’m normally not a big fan of hummus, but Trattoria Marcella’s was spectacular. The Gastronomer and I quickly consumed all of our bread and asked for more.
As a child in St. Louis, my favorite food was toasted ravioli. Legend has it that this local delicacy was invented when a cook at a restaurant on The Hill accidentally dropped some normal beef ravioli into a pile of bread crumbs. Inspiration struck, and instead of discarding the sullied ravioli he decided to deep-fry it, thereby initiating one of the great breakthroughs in culinary history. Trattoria Marcella had homemade toasted ravioli on the menu as an appetizer, so of course we had to order some. They were larger and more delicately constructed than the standard store-bought variety, but I couldn’t decide for sure whether I liked them better. In any case, it was an ideal start to the meal.
Things only got better from there. The Gastronomer and I spent quite a while deciding what to order; we felt we ought to try one of the special homemade pasta offerings, but the Gastronomer was having difficulty finding the perfect dish. Fortunately, the pasta side dishes came to the rescue. Every restaurant should offer this menu option–I believe that a good meat dish could almost always be improved by the addition of pasta. We ordered the homemade whole wheat fettucine with white sauce. It was excellent; the pasta tasted quite wheaty (in a good way), and I always appreciate a creamy white sauce. To supplement the pasta, the Gastronomer ordered a salad with beets, pecans, and goat cheese, thus initiating a beet-eating streak that would continue for three consecutive days. I passed on the beets, as I disagree with her assessment that they are “pleasant.” However, I did find the candied pecans, greens, and goat cheese to be delicious.
For my entree, I chose the grilled duck breast served on farro risotto with butternut squash. The dish came with a generous helping of mushrooms that I cheerfully handed over to the Gastronomer. The duck itself was awesome. It was incredibly tender and wonderfully flavored, and the risotto complemented it well. I loved the sweetness of the squash mixed in with the other flavors. It all came together to create one of my favorite meals in recent memory. Both of us were stuffed from gorging on bread, so we didn’t order desert.
In summary, Trattoria Marcella lived up to its billing as one of the top restaurants in St. Louis, offering possibly the most bang-for-buck that we have ever experienced at a restaurant. We enthusiastically recommended it to my family when they came to visit St. Louis the following weekend, and they had a similarly delightful experience.