Elaia is the heavily Mediterranean inspired upscale restaurant connected to Olio, home of the best charred eggplant dip in the world. As you probably know, these are both owned by restaurateur extraordinaire Ben Poremba, alongside Salume Beddue, La Patisserie Chouquette, the upcoming Old Standard and every other restaurant slated to open in St. Louis for the next 15 years. Housed in an old house, Elaia's interior feels romantic and intimate. Think Farmhaus, just a little sexier. The menu is set up similarly to Niche: you can order a la carte, or choose from a four-course prix fixe ($64) or tasting menu ($100). We did the four-course meal and made sure to each order different things. Like tripe, sweetbreads have never been something I cared much for. Their texture is soft and they taste vaguely of offal. When Shayn insisted that we get the Crispy Sweetbreads ($15) with Kefir-chive-dill sauce and "Old Standard" Hot Sauce, I was not particularly enthralled or interested. Lo and behold, I loved the dish. It was like a chicken nugget that didn't taste quite like chicken. The two sauces were great; the Kefir was like a fancy ranch. If that hot sauce is going to be at Old Standard, Poremba's upcoming fried chicken venture, I WILL BE THERE.
The [symple_highlight color="blue"]foie gras parfait[/symple_highlight] with strawberries, strawberry sauce and brioche bread was scarfed down nearly as quickly as the sweetbreads. I'd never had foie gras in parfait form before, but I think that may be how I demand it from now on. It was almost like a foie gras butter. I spread some on the brioche, dipped it in the strawberry sauce then floated away to Napa.
A beautiful bowl of cucumber, celtuce and tarama was presented next, then a velvety [symple_highlight color="blue"]white asparagus vichyssoise[/symple_highlight]was poured over. It was earthy, summer and tasted like, well, white asparagus. The flavors of the dish were subtle and mild. When I compared it to everything else we ate that evening, this was the least memorable for me.
I picked the [symple_highlight color="blue"]goat cheese mousse[/symple_highlight]because it seemed like the lightest first course, not expecting it to be a totally knockout dish. The goat cheese was as airy as whipped cream with a delicate and delicious flavor. It lacked the funk you get with a lot of goat cheeses. It was surrounded with melon, nectarines, apricots and pistachios. This was the kind of posh summertime dish Gwynth Paltrow lives off of.
Shayn picked the [symple_highlight color="blue"]lamb tartare[/symple_highlight]with grains, yogurt, leek flowers and this incredible black garlic chip. I'd get this dish just for that chip.
While cobia is a fish I've recently learned I don't care for, the [symple_highlight color="blue"]cobia "conserve"[/symple_highlight]with charred shishito peppers, sweet bell peppers and a citron vinaigrette was beautiful and equally tasty.
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. [symple_highlight color="blue"]Barely-steamed salmon[/symple_highlight]lighted drizzled with what tasted like a dill or chive oil and served with a potato and summer squash salad, as well as preserved lemon. It was like eating a really fantastic piece of sushi made by a chef who spent a lot of time at Jewish delis.
One of the sexiest dishes of the night was the [symple_highlight color="blue"]olive oil poached tuna[/symple_highlight] with caramelized carrots and grilled carrots. I only had a nibble, but the fish's delicate and buttery texture mixed with the smokey corn was a winner for me.
A lot of people compare Elaia and Niche because of their similar small-dish, multiple course menus with a heavy focus on mixing techniques, flavors and textures in every single dish. I think if you eat at both within a few days of each other (which I did), you'll see that they're quite different from one another. That being said, I had this [symple_highlight color="blue"]pork belly[/symple_highlight] dish and one at Niche within days of each other, so I was able to compare the two. Elaia had a crispy piece of pork belly draped with cabbage, surrounded with an umeboshi (Japanese plum) sauce. I can say that between the two restaurants, I enjoyed Niche's more, mostly because it was just so tender--but this was still very good. I love a good bit of crunch on meat.
Wow, look at this picture. That's some #foodporn, am I right? I used a secret technique to get this stunning photo in the moodily lit Elaia. So secret, in fact, I can't remember how I did it. These [symple_highlight color="blue"]sea scallops[/symple_highlight]were served with soft and lightly charred torpedo onions, grilled bread and what appeared to be a thick and creamy sauce. It was actually a light roasted garlic sauce that was almost like a garlic water or broth. Once I finished the scallops--which were huge, by the way--the whole table took their bread and sopped up all the extra sauce.
The last of the mains was the [symple_highlight color="blue"]loin of lamb[/symple_highlight]served over mashed lava beans, blistered broccoli and snap peas, with a black olive oil drizzle. It's hard to judge a dish with only a single small bite, but I enjoyed this. The lamb was cooked just as I like it and the "salad" beneath had a much deeper flavor than you might expect from the picture.
My choice of dessert was the [symple_highlight color="blue"]chouquette[/symple_highlight], the namesake dessert of La Patisserie Chouquette, and Jay's was the [symple_highlight color="blue"]chocolate tarte[/symple_highlight] with Coconut Crème and Peanut-Cocoa Nib Crumble. I've never been a big dessert eater, but I would have finished either of these. I loved the chouquette, which was basically a giant cream puff on top of a caramel sauce. The chocolate tarte was rich, but I would eat anything with coconut creme and a peanut nib crumble.
The [symple_highlight color="blue"]olive oil cake[/symple_highlight] with cherries and plums was the lighter option, but that didn't stop it from being another stunning option.
I feel that people too often want to say a restaurant is a replacement of another, such as "this is the new Niche". It's not. Niche is still Niche. St. Louis is going through a food revolution and there is plenty of room for more chefs like Ben Poremba and his team of all stars to open top-notch restaurants. Elaia is certainly something special with its modern Mediterranean flavors, gorgeous plating and unique dining setting. While this particular meal didn't put it above Sidney Street, Niche and The Libertine for me, it's certainly in my top 10 St. Louis restaurants, and possibly even my top 5.
I look forward to my future visits to Elaia and seeing what Chef Josh Charles and Ben Poremba come up with. If you're looking for a romantic date night restaurant, mark this one down.
1634 Tower Grove Ave
St. Louis, MO 63110