Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Washington, Mo., Restaurant Import the Blue Duck Struggles to Find Its Identity

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Washington, Mo., Restaurant Import the Blue Duck Struggles to Find Its Identity

Article excerpt

If you dine at a restaurant named the Blue Duck, and the eponymous duck isn't the owners' beloved pet, you should probably order the duck. Specifically, at the Blue Duck in Maplewood, the new second location of a Washington, Mo., restaurant, you should order the DLT ($12).

The DLT sounds like a riff on a classic BLT. It's not. A great BLT is a tomato sandwich with bacon, eaten only when summer has ripened the tomatoes to bursting lusciousness. The tomato on the DLT doesn't burst. It steps aside with a mumbled apology for being there to begin with.

It doesn't matter. You've ordered the DLT for its cured, smoked duck breast, slices of meat as tender as a proper cut of fatty beef brisket and nearly as rich. Don't worry about that "nearly as," though. A fried egg tops the duck, lettuce and tomato, the sourdough bread is slathered with honey-chipotle mayonnaise, and the DLT waddles up to the edge of being too much.

If you own a restaurant called the Blue Duck, you should probably expect diners to order the duck. Which makes the ginger-braised duck quarter ($20) here as inexplicable as it is unpleasant.

A duck leg and thigh are nestled in a turnip puree, which in turn is encircled by a moat of the pale braising liquid. On one edge of the plate not quite incorporated into the dish as a whole, but not quite a side dish are some snow peas. Braised pistachios and cubes of pickled turnip are scattered over the plate.

My duck was crisp-skinned but underseasoned, no match for the pungency of the pickled turnips and no antidote to the astringent turnip puree. The braising liquid lacked ginger or any other flavor. The braised pistachios were soft mush. The snow peas were fine.

This tale of two ducks as well as two cities begins in 2010, when Chris and Karmen Rayburn took over Washington's Gourmet Cafe. They had never operated a restaurant before. Karmen worked in the corporate-finance department of the Post-Dispatch; she left after Lee Enterprises bought the paper. Chris' background was in IT. They rechristened the restaurant the Blue Duck, and a few years later they moved it to its current riverfront address.

"We've always wanted to look for an opportunity to do what we do (in St. Louis)," Chris told me in a phone interview. "We started looking a couple years ago."

The address the Rayburns decided was too good to pass up was one part of what had been the late, great Monarch, a restaurant so sprawling that the Blue Duck's share of the now-subdivided space still allows for a large dining room with high ceilings. Multicolored windowframes hung on one wall are the main dcor element, though Chris said a major redecoration is imminent.

The menu from executive chef Jordan Knight occupies that very of-the-moment middle ground between comfort food and chef-driven contemporary fare, with influences from around the world. …

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