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Friday, September 23, 2011 / 10:40 AM

Bigger Bites: Grilled Octopus at Truffles

Okay, it took us a while, admittedly. After having lived here long enough to remember Wharf Street, Zantigos, and Channel 11’s “Sooopahh Saturday!!!”, we’re finally on to the little practical joke you natives have been playing. Yeah, we’re hip now, don’t try to fool us any longer:

Ladue Road and Clayton Road are actually the same place, aren’t they? Same street. Road. Whatever. Ladue Chapel’s on Clayton Road. Businesses, like Clayton Capitol Partners? Their offices are on Ladue Road. We know what’s going on. You just change the names periodically, change the businesses around now and then, to have some sport with us non-natives. You didn’t think we’d get it eventually?

That’s why we were late getting to Truffles. Because last time we went it was on Ladue Road. So that’s where we were going—and you wacky St. Louis pranksters had changed it to Clayton Road. Took us a while.

We like Truffles. A lot. We just named it "Best New Reinvention" in the October 2011 issue of SLM (on newsstands now). We thought it was pretty good back when the menu catered to the Bornwells and Goodbreds who dominated the crowd, the graciously-aged Ladudes and Ladudettes (many of whom of course live in Clayton), because well, they’re Our Kind. We liked it a whole lot better when, recently, Truffles completely revamped their approach. Suddenly the menu was studded with happy choices like lamb shoulder, Neapolitan-style ragu; trout stuffed with pancetta and shrimp. Truffles is a thoroughly upscale, cutting edge restaurant, one that, were it not situated in Clayton (or Ladue, depending on when you jokesters decide to move it), be raved over by the region’s culinary cognoscenti.

Sitting in the bar, waiting for companions also not native to St. Louis and consequently driving fruitlessly up Ladue Road, we perused the menu. We were in search of a bite that would stave off the starvation we could sense looming. We considered the roasted bone marrow. A house made salami. The incredible, creamy, squishy-soft, delicate fresh mozzarella ball of burrata. We settled on the octopus. One of our better choices.

First, the pair of octopus tentacles are prepared, not over the hot metal bars of a grill, but on a flat griddle, searing them evenly. It makes their texture consistent, meaty without being rubbery. Second there’s that spice, exotic, hard to place, maybe, dusted on the tasty little cephalopod paws. It’s fragrant with mace, a little cinnamon, coriander, cumin. Some other stuff that tastes like the evening air in a Middle Eastern souk. You know it; you just don’t taste it very often. It’s Ras al hanout. It's probably not in your spice cabinet. Ras al hanout is Moroccan originally. It’s spread, though, all over northern Africa. Then it drifted north, up into Italy, where it’s sometimes used with seafood, as a variation of it is here.

For a simple appetizer, the presentation is gloriously complex. Black garlic is swiped on the plate, along with a crisscross of basil paste. There’s a blob of piquant pepperonata and—just to make it fun—some tiny round potato chips scattered on top. It’s beautifully arranged, the dark green of the basil, the russet bubbles of pepperonata, that rich purple-black of the octopus. Delicious.

Truffles has a wine list large enough to require its own bearer. (We were hoping for some ouzo. Ouzo would have been perfect with the octopus.) Turned out there was a wine that worked, the very first one listed in the By The Glass section of the menu, a wine that performs with octopus like a teen-aged emo actress doing Laura in a community theatre production of Glass Menagerie. Xarmant. If you have trouble trying to pronounce it, just go with the varietal, Txakoli (SHOCK-oh-lee), which is more fun to say. It’s Basque, often thought of as an aperitif. It’s bubbly, just short of fizzy, green; it tastes like apples and honeysuckle and a sun-dappled picnic in June. The Xarmant is splendid with the octopus, even if we couldn’t convince the otherwise very good bartender at Truffles to pour it holding the bottle about three feet from the glass, like they do in Spain, to aerate it and to show off.

No better way to start a meal. Or to sit and savor and wait for dining companions late, because—“Hey, didn’t this place used to be on Ladue Road?”

Truffles
9202 Clayton Road (for the time being)
314-567-9100
todayattruffles.com
Dinner only, Tue-Sat

Photo credit: Ashley Gieseking

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