My internal “restaurant radar” never fails to alert me when a new restaurant is about to debut, so after months of driving by a construction site on McCausland Avenue in Maplewood, my nose twitched to signal “Aha! A new restaurant” and one whiff signaled “And a steak place at that!”
FIRST VISIT: DINNER FOR THREE, PASTA AND STEAK
Upon entering, I was immediately impressed by the personal warm greeting, the entry’s rich, warm colors, the subdued lighting, the soft, rhythmic music, and the elegant coat closet.
Too bad the spell of the first impression was broken by the smell of cigarette smoke (gross!) from the adjoining Onyx Bar. I considered leaving (who wants a delicious dinner whose subtle flavors and tastes are clouded by a known carcinogen?) but luckily, there was no trace of smoke on the restaurant side.
FOODIE PATOOTIE SOUND-OFF
I must state here and now that I totally resent having to smell - and even walk through - smoke on my way into a dining room. (Restaurateurs take note - restaurants are joining “Tobacco-Free Missouri” in droves. Do you own a Missouri restaurant? You can join too.) And after dinner, though we were tempted to hang out for awhile at The Onyx bar next door with an after-dinner drink and listen to the live music, the heavy smoke doused all desire to remain.
After requesting a booth when making reservations, we were led instead to a table in the middle of the room. Hmm – why weren’t they honoring my request? One booth was still available even though next to a large party enjoying a business dinner… I stuck to my guns, insisted on the booth, and it turned out to be terrific – we barely heard the table nearby thanks to the booth’s floor-to-ceiling glass inserts and the ceiling’s acoustic tiles. (For the past few years all restaurant mantras have been: the noisier, the better.) Finally someone considered the importance of audible conversation to a delightful dining experience. Another touch: the napkins were black instead of the standard white that always leave a snowstorm on my black slacks. How thoughtful is that?
On to the food: the menu was Mediterranean/Greek and appetizers ranged from Mihalis Tzatziki ($5.95) and Mihalis Hummus ($6.50) to Chipotle Encrusted Calamari ($8.95) and Lobster Risotto ($15.95). We skipped these and the three soups: a Bouillabaisse, a French Onion, and the Soup du jour -- we wanted meat, ma’am, meat. To start, we shared a Caesar Salad: really green romaine lettuce, but with a weak and lackluster dressing, and rosemary-flecked dinner rolls that were only so-so... not a great beginning.
Our companion selected Shrimp and Scallop Carbonara ($21.95): al dente linguini with thin slices of pancetta, shiitake mushrooms, plenty of shrimp and scallops. One taste and I was convinced: this meat restaurant sure cooks pasta beautifully. The shrimp and scallops were tender; the pancetta added just the right amount of salty/peppery flavor; the sauce was perfect. When I asked our waiter about its ingredients, he returned to say, “The chef told me it was a simple béchamel sauce.” I sincerely doubted the “simple” part, and almost jumped for joy when my companion offered the remaining half to me to take home.
And now that meat, ma’am meat. My husband ordered the 8-ounce Mihalis Filet ($25.95; $29.95 for the 10-ounce) and it arrived perfectly done to his liking. It was tender, cut like warm butter, and was juicy and delicious – and accompanied by one of the largest baked potatoes I have ever seen.
My choice: Telicherry Tenderloin of Beef ($24.95), encrusted with Indian Telicherry and pink peppercorns and served with a Cognac and Madeira sauce - it was truly sublime. The meat was tender not mushy, and the fine pepper crust did not overpower the beef’s savory flavor. My generous side of shallot whipped potatoes (no garlic for a change!!!) tasted as though thinned with skinny, healthy, calorie-free broth instead of cream… yippee! Guilt-free!
Both beef dishes came with a tasty mélange of vegetables: squash, eggplant, peppers, and onions. Somehow, I managed to save some of my meal to take home – and enjoyed a déjà vu fabulous meal the very next night.
May I add a word about side dishes? Mihalis doesn’t charge for side dishes, a practice I hope other upscale steak places will adopt. We chose from sautéed spinach, fried spinach, asparagus, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, rice pilaf, and shallot whipped potatoes – be sure someone orders this last one!
We sampled a glass of a Malbec blend and a terrific Cabernet: both reasonably priced and perfect with our beef entrees.
My husband had room for dessert: the warm chocolate molten cake with vanilla ice cream was warm and cozy and arrived with three spoons - a perfect ending.
SECOND VISIT: STEAK, SEAFOOD, & LAMB
Four of us arrived on a Friday night and were immediately seated in a booth as requested. My husband and I shared a Greek Salad this time with the most delicious dressing – I sopped up all remaining traces with the warm ciabatta.
Entrees ordered were the salmon special ($23.95), the 8 oz. Filet ($25.95), the Grilled Lamb Chops ($26.95), and the Roasted Rack of Lamb ($34.95). Our companion declared the salmon “delicious” and my husband found the filet as wonderful as on the first visit.
My two double lamb chops with a divine currant rosemary sauce came prepared medium as ordered, but still, tough and difficult to cut with a steak knife. Our other companion’s rack of lamb looked oddly similar to my lamb chops – and for $34.95, should’ve looked and tasted extra special. It was good, but not worth the hefty price.
The first visit’s Malbec was no longer on the wine menu but we were thoroughly delighted with our choice of a half bottle of Clos du Val for $20.00. This quantity – about three glasses total - was just the right amount for my husband and me. Its taste was nicely rounded, not too full-bodied, and lingered nicely with each bite of meat. Wow.
We were too full for dessert so the Ginger Crème Brulee, cheese cake, and other delectable sweets will have to sit on someone else’s hips.
Mihalis is bigger than it appears. There is a second dining room downstairs in the wine cellar that’s open on Friday and Saturday nights. It seats around 60, isn’t nearly as intimate as the upstairs, and is available for private parties. Unfortunately to get there, one has to walk through the smoky bar – this night someone was smoking a stinky CIGAR and I don’t have to tell you how I feel about that! – and then down a long flight of stairs.
I plan to return soon for a taste of three appetizers I’m still salivating over: Chipotle Encrusted Calamari ($8.95), Feta Garldes ($11.95) – sesame crusted feta topped with grilled shrimp and roasted tomato vinaigrette; and Lobster Risotto ($15.95) a lobster tail, corn, baby spinach, parmesan cheese and saffron aioli.
In fact, I think that’ll be my entire meal – now if they would just get rid of the cigarette smoke.
The Foodie Patootie lives, cooks and sounds off at home in St. Louis County with her husband. She has been on and off Weight Watchers for years, counts Points in her sleep, and works hard to eat healthfully both at home and off restaurant menus.
The Foodie Patootie previously reviewed Sofia Bistro and Brio's Tuscan Grille.
1603 McCausland Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63117
(south of Highway 40)
Monday – Thursday 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Onyx Bar open nightly until 1:30 am
Private parking lot, valet service Thursday - Saturday
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