A couple of weeks ago my wife and I finally got a chance to use the gift certificate which I mentioned above and all I can say is WOW! It was one of those extraordinary meals about which I wanted to post immediately but due to a hectic schedule and spring break, I'm just getting to it now. But don't let the lag between the event and the post be an indication of anything other than my busy-ness. This was a phenomenal meal and a wonderfully personal and distinctive experience that I hope to enjoy again very soon.
Gaetano's had been on our radar ever since we'd received the gc but the final impetus to actually go there was provided by none other than Natalie and Nick at Pasticceria Natalina. We'd stopped into their place and while chatting, they mentioned that they'd recently been to a place in Forest Park that had completely blown them away. Natalie started describing the meal and began to hand me a card from the restaurant. As she was doing so, I already had a hunch, from her description, that it was going to be Gaetano's and sure enough, we both blurted out the the name at the exact same moment. Needless to say, I greatly respect Natalie and Nick's palates and their mention of Gaetano's lit a short fuse under us. As luck would have it, we had a babysitter scheduled for the next night but no concrete plans. We called Gaetano's and asked if they had a couple of seats at the Chef's Bar for Saturday night. Happily, they did and even though we arrived to a full restaurant 30 minutes before our 7:30 pm reservation time (never easy to gauge traffic when traveling so far), our seats at the counter were open and we were led to them immediately.
The unquestionable soul of Gaetano's is chef Gaetano Benedetto himself but the pumping heart of the restaurant is this amazing wood-burning oven, which was used for a wide variety of cooking tasks -- from salad components to desserts and everything in between . . .Gaetano's Wood-Burning Oven
Embers are removed from the oven for a special risotto preparation called Risotto all'anatra e mirtilli. It contains wild mushrooms, fontina Valdostana, blueberry, Parmigiano and wood-oven-roasted duck. All the components are placed -- along with a cup of the burning embers -- into a large piece of foil that's folded up into the form of a duck and delivered to the table. We didn't order this but next time for sure! However, everything we did eat was delicious -- there wasn't a single course that I wouldn't happily order again (in this instance we ordered the Chef's Choice and let chef do his thing). As I mentioned, it's been a couple of weeks and while I do have menus and notes (and some lasting memories), I'm not sure that the descriptions of what follows are 100% accurate. I did my best to remember all the details but I'd be shocked if I didn't miss a detail or 2. Also, I get the strong impression that chef is more committed to using the best available ingredients than he is to blindly adhering to his menu (as it's written), so there were probably some changes over what was printed on the menus . . .Chickpea and Garlic Dip
This savory dip is served instead of butter or olive oil.BreadCarpaccio di Barbabietole
Beets roasted in the wood-burning oven, sliced carpaccio-style and drizzled with champagne vinaigrette. Served with fried goat cheese.Datteri con Polpettina e Pancetta al Pomodoro
Dried dates stuffed with ground beef and pork, accented with chorizo, wrapped in pancetta and sauteed with tomato-coconut sauce.Cannolo di Pane con Pollo
Chicken breast salad served in a cannolo al Parmagiano over tuna sauce and a gastrique of chiles.Poached Pear Salad with Greens and Roasted Walnut DressingRaw Escolar with Burrata and Blueberry in Sesame Sauce
A fresh and delicious one-biter. I could have used a straw for that sauce, though. Tortino di Granchio alla Siciliana
Crab cake topped with roasted red peppers and mozzarella, then baked and served with spicy Drago sauce.Calamari Fritti stuffed with Asparagus
This is kind of a stylized play on maki, served with several sauces.Fiori di Zucca al Drago
Zucchini Blossom stuffed with pecorino cheese mousse and fried tempura-style. Served over Drago sauce.Gnocchi with Pork Ragout
These gnocchi were as good as I've ever had.Chef Gaetano's Delight
Cannolicchi pasta tossed with butter and Parmagiano, topped with fresh black truffles, shaved tableside. Here, our server Wendy shaves the truffles for us.Chef Gaetano's Delight
As servedRisotto ai Frutti di Mare
Organic, aged Carnarole rice with calamari, mussels and shrimp. All 3 pastas were not only well-conceived but expertly executed and utterly delicious.Arrosto di Maiale alla Romana
Organic pork loin, wood-oven roasted and served over mashed potatoes and romana sauce, accented with pancetta, garlic and rosemary.
Tremendous flavors and textures. I loved the balance here. At first I was nervous about mashed potatoes this late in the meal but the portion was extremely reasonable in size and not overly filling. When the ingredients and preparation are this excellent, a little goes a long way in the satisfaction department.Pesce Limone al Burro di Tartufo
Cobia (aka lemon fish) filet topped with truffle butter, baked and served with wild mushrooms. Here, chef Gaetano shaves the fresh black truffles over the dish.Pesce Limone al Burro di Tartufo
Next, chef Gaetano finishes the dish with a few drops of truffle-infused pumpkin seed oil.Pesce Limone al Burro di Tartufo
Again, an incredible dish and a perfect portion size. Near the end, we were torn between being too full and wanting to experience more of chef Gaetano's creations. I think he paced us magnificently, though, allowing us to experience so many of his dishes without being uncomfortably full at the end of our meal.House-made Limoncello
Before dessert, we were offered some of this delectable nectar. Notice the giant hunk of ice into which the bottle is frozen. This was one of the best limoncellos I've ever tasted -- intense but nicely balanced between sweet and tart.Panna Cotta, Deconstructed Key Lime Pie, Tiramisu
On the right, a couple of bites of tender panna cotta, topped with lemon, that were drizzled with olive oil, at the table. To the left, in the parchment vessel, is the creamy, sweet-tart key lime pie filling and fried pasta 'chips' that have been dusted with confectioner's sugar. At the back of the plate in the flower pot is the rich and intense tiramisu.
I can't say enough about this gem, how much I loved our meal and how eager I am to return to Gaetano's. If you appreciate the chef as auteur concept, dining at Gaetano's and sitting at the counter would be a definite treat for you. But even at one of the tables in the dining room away from the counter, the great ingredients, cooking and service would easily come shining through. This is one of those truly distinctive places where you're going to get a fantastic meal that would be absolutely impossible to find anywhere else. Chef's personal vision is evident in every aspect of the place -- right down to the way the staff interacts with each other when customers are not part of the equation. You simply cannot run a place like this if the staff isn't fully on board and committed to carrying out chef's mission. Here, all the pieces flow together in perfect harmony with chef Gaetano -- the maestro -- conducting the orchestra with his natural, easy skill.