The food stands on its own at Panorama, the newly opened restaurant at the St. Louis Art Museum.
The decor is simple, refined, with translucent screened panels separating the space into three areas. The walls are white, minus any artwork to distract the diner from a contemporary American menu that ranges from Herb Grilled Wild Salmon ($15) for lunch to Oven Roasted Soft Shell Crab ($22) for dinner.
"If you want to look at art, it's steps away," said Executive Chef Edward Farrow, who said he's squeezed in enough free time twice to "stroll the galleries."
He called his move to St. Louis from Phoenix, where he was executive chef of the restaurant inside the Musical Instrument Museum, "a promotion. I love it here. I've seen rain."
It's a homecoming for his wife, Julie, who grew up in Kirkwood.
The restaurant, part of the new East Building of the museum, offers a grand view through a wall of windows: King Louis IX on horseback, Art Hill and Forest Park's Grand Basin. Hence, the moniker Panorama.
The restaurant opened July 1 and, Edward said, the crowds haven't let him, Sous Chef Colby Walloch and Manager Elisabeth Rama catch their breath yet.
"We were busier out of the gates" than expected, he said, smiling.
At 12:30 on a Thursday, there was a half-hour wait for a table without a reservation. Later, with a 2 p.m. closing looming (opening is at 11 a.m.), the hostess was sadly smiling and explaining to a continuous stream of visitors that the restaurant was no longer serving.
Ready to head back into the new wing after lunch, Miles Wyman, of Kansas City, Mo., said he had made a reservation a week ago before coming to visit family in the city. "We'd heard the food was excellent and we weren't disappointed. I had meatloaf and my wife had potato soup and the Romaine salad."
Main Plates include the Local Grass Fed Beef Meatloaf ($15) that arrived perched on a horseradish-potato cake, with green beans and onions and a vibrant Roasted Carrot Coulis pooled underneath.
Starters include Local Red Pontiac Potato Soup ($7/$9) with sweet corn and green beans that arrived with Swiss chard ribbons on top. The Romaine salad ($6/$11) included grilled red onions, crispy herbed garlic croutons and creamy garlic-anchovy dressing. Chicken or shrimp can be added to any of the six salads on the menu ($3 to $6). Desserts ($6) currently range from Ginger-Sea Salt Panna Cotta to Banana Toasted Walnut Cake.
Brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays offers an a la carte menu that includes soup, parfait, salad and entrees such as Ricotta and Local Blackberry Pancakes ($11). And what would brunch be without a Mimosa, Champagne or a Bloody Mary ($7)?
Dinner is offered only on Friday nights until 9. A sample of the menu currently includes Corn Flour Crusted Chicken Livers ($9) as a starter and Herb Marinated Loin of Lamb ($26) with an avocado and quinoa salad, local summer asparagus and Piquillo pepper.
Edward arrived in April to oversee the final details of the restaurant, run by Bon Appetit Management Co., which oversees more than 500 restaurants in universities and museums in 32 states.
He has complete autonomy over the menu. "It's like I have my name on the door."
Panorama is participating in Bon Appetit's Farm to Fork program, where at least 20 percent of its ingredients must come from within 150 miles of the restaurant. Illinois products include pork from Wenneman's Meats in St. Libory and dairy from Marcoot Creamery in Greenville.
"The mantra is to cook from scratch, seasonally," he said. "We don't use cycled menus. Every chef writes his own menu. And for that to happen, it's advantageous to buy local."
Luckily, for those minus reservations at Panorama, or wishing to dine more casually, Edward also is in charge of The Cafe on the lower level near the main gift shop. There, you will find sandwich ($8), soup ($4), salad ($7) or a combination, and seating.
What: Contemporary American cuisine. Also serving select beer and wine. See menus at slam.org/dining
Where: One Fine Arts Drive, inside the new East Building at the St. Louis Art Museum, Forest Park.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Saturdays; to 9 p.m. Fridays for dinner; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday brunch. Closed Mondays (as is the museum).
Reservations: Almost a necessity, in advance, to 314-655-5490. Museum member? Show your membership card and save 10 percent.
Handicapped accessible: Yes.
Additional dining is available at The Cafe (lower level near gift shop): 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; to 8 p.m. Fridays.
The museum: Entrance is free