Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cielo Restaurant Goes from Great to Greater; under a New Chef, the Kitchen Achieves Disciplined Dishes with Playful Results. Three Stars

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cielo Restaurant Goes from Great to Greater; under a New Chef, the Kitchen Achieves Disciplined Dishes with Playful Results. Three Stars

Article excerpt

Cielo is the Italian word for "heaven," and a change of chefs at the downtown restaurant of the same name has moved it even closer to its namesake.

Original chef Karen Hoffman was no slouch, installing the restaurant on a high perch, so to speak, when it opened in 2008 at the Four Seasons downtown. Personal reasons took Hoffman back to her hometown of San Francisco, and for the past two years, the kitchen has been helmed by Fabrizio Schenardi, an Italian native who got his culinary training at Istituto Alberghiero Ravizza in Turin and worked in restaurants in Italy, D.C., New York and a variety of luxury hotels.

Schenardi's approach might be described as disciplined playfulness: His recipes, in good Italian style, don't go overboard with ingredients or flavors, but he almost always tosses in subtle touches.

Grilled octopus, for example - one of a short list of $6 "small plates" served in portions of perhaps a half dozen bites - had a sweet basil element to its citrus dressing. House-cured pork belly was carved into a perfect rectangle and had a flavor somewhere between ham and bacon that took on the fruity, nutty and midsweet elements of dabs of a pistachio-peach jam and a hint of amaretto.

Starting courses are also available in more traditional appetizer sizes. Salmon and tuna crudo ($13) was a three-time repeating pattern of thin, raw tuna and salmon, with a barely truffled sweet- citrus dressing; a simple but lovely presentation of thin cucumber slices and julienne of just the red edges of radishes; and a basil- tinged crme frache.

If you've ever needed an excuse to include a pasta course before your entree, the reflecting pool and Gateway Arch view - and, if you wish, the hotel guests at the pool - are excellent reasons to draw out the length of the meal. Five pastas and a daily risotto are offered in half their entree portions (although this isn't, but should be, explicitly stated on the menu).

The pastas are house-made daily. Long, flat pappardelle were the noodle of choice for Schenardi's take on carbonara ($19/$9.50), which supplemented the expected diced, densely flavored cured pork with shelled green peas and a less expected but welcome roasted corn. …

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