Cleaver & Cocktail stands out with dry-aged steaks at Town and Country
Cleaver & Cocktail isn’t called a steakhouse, and this 3-month-old restaurant certainly doesn’t look like the usual stuffy clubhouse of sleek leather and framed Wine Advocate awards. It looks more like a modern ski lodge planted in Town and Country, with exposed beams framing a spacious and airy dining room and bar. You could walk past the window inside the entryway and not notice it overlooks a chamber of dry-aged beef.
Cleaver & Cocktail also differs from a conventional steakhouse in a more subtle but ultimately more rewarding way. After reviewing both the main menu and the separate slip that lists dry-aged steaks – and after the waiter described the evening entrees, which on my visits included extra cuts of steak and other entrees from beef – you won’t feel like you’re playing your part in an expensive meat-guzzling ceremony. Or at least you won’t feel that. You will be genuinely excited about the beef.
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This excitement persists. I visited Cleaver & Cocktail once more than planned because I was worried about focusing on their beef dishes to the detriment of their other dishes. I couldn’t resist that last dinner either, prepping my main course of halibut with an appetizer of delicately creamy ricotta gnocchi and shredded beef ribs sous vide in a silky of dry-aged beef bones.
Cleaver & Cocktail is the latest venture from chefs Marc Del Pietro and Brian Doherty, the team behind The Block in Webster Groves and 58hundred in Southwest Garden, and their wives, Amy Del Pietro and Lea Doherty. (This is an extended family business; Lea is Marc’s sister.) Their restaurant opened in June in the Blacksmith Grove development on Clayton Road west of Interstate 270.
If you notice the dry aging chamber when you visit Cleaver & Cocktail, you won’t see anything quite as striking as the old-fashioned table presentation of raw steaks, red meat marbled with white fat. Huge chunks of beef, not yet cut into steaks, sit in the gloom, their mottled colors more reminiscent of an old bruise than fresh blood. The significant transformation occurs in the meat itself, becoming more tender as enzymes break down connective tissue and develop flavors often described as nutty, funky or cheesy.
Those adjectives didn’t come to mind when I ate the bone-in strip loin, which had been dry-aged for 60 days. It’s not a complaint. The steak exhibited a richer, fuller beef flavor – more intense, more complex itself – that lingered beyond the overriding appeal of the char and medium-rare flavor. And while the richness of the meat got heady, it didn’t display the truly off-putting funkyness that prolonged aging can produce. An excellent steak, that transcendence missed only because the generously peppery crust relied on cross-hatched grill marks instead of a fuller browning of the Malliard reaction.
A specialty 90-day dry-aged beef carpaccio that combines the rosy-red sheen and mineral bite of traditional carpaccio with a supple, velvety texture reminiscent of prosciutto. I would have gladly eaten this carpaccio with its sensible toppings of arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the latter bringing out more of the aged flavors of the meat. Del Pietro and Doherty added grilled peaches as an unexpected final flourish, a heart-pounding burst of late-summer sweetness.
Dry-aged beef is also making its way into the homemade burger, but I was also excited to see a plump 8-ounce specimen rather than a pile of smashed patties. This is an unapologetically high-end burger topped with Gruyere cheese, arugula and onions that have been glazed in red wine, but here the dry-aged beef doesn’t act as a nutty flavor, funky or what, but a black hole of overwhelming beefiness into which these accents inevitably crumble.
The burger is served with thin and crispy fries seasoned with garlic and herbs. Steakhouse-style, fries are also one of the a la carte sides you can order with your steak – the cost of dinner here can add up quickly – as is roasted garlic mashed potatoes. exceptionally creamy lustrous with herb butter and broccolini charred with chili oil, lemon and a refreshing herb ricotta.
With their seafood dishes, Del Pietro and Doherty make it clear that Clever & Cocktail is a modern American restaurant, not a steakhouse. In place of cocktail shrimp or lobster tail, you’ll find big little fried shrimp dressed in a spicy remoulade and pickled chili peppers and, among the mains, a piece of meaty but productive halibut seared golden and balanced on golden potatoes and shishito peppers in a shimmering tomato-saffron broth.
Even the tuna tartare gets a makeover with slivers of peach, which bring out the natural sweetness of the tuna, and a cream curry sauce, which brushes the plate with warming and slightly spicy spices. Those who avoid meat and seafood altogether can order the obligatory cauliflower “steak” or try building a meal out of some of the appetizers, salads and sides. (The menu doesn’t specify whether a dish is vegetarian or vegan, so be sure to ask.)
For a restaurant with a cocktail to its name in 2022, Cleaver & Cocktail is making the bold but not unwelcome choice to stick to Manhattans, old-school and other tried-and-true classics rather than local concoctions. (Though purists might wince at vodka, not gin, being the default spirit of the “classic” martini.) When I wanted a margarita, but not the only spicy take on the menu, the bartender obliged with an excellent mezcal-based version.
The dessert menu is simple to one flaw – creme brulee, carrot cake, or chocolate mousse – though fresh raspberries add a refreshing tartness to the creme brulee palate. I’m not sure dry aged beef would help any of the desserts, but I’d trust Del Pietro and Doherty to give it a try.
Where Cleaver & Cocktail, 13360 Clayton Road, Town and Country • More information 314-530-9700; clearandcocktail.com • Menu Dry-aged steaks with seafood and other contemporary American dishes • Hours Dinner from Tuesday to Saturday (closed from Sunday to Monday)