Cleaver & Cocktail doesn’t call itself a steakhouse, and this 3-month-old restaurant certainly doesn’t resemble the usual stuffy clubhouse of sleek leather and framed Wine Advocate awards. It looks instead like a modern ski chalet plunked down in Town and Country, with exposed wood beams framing a spacious, airy dining room and bar. You might walk past the window inside the entrance without noticing it looks into a chamber of dry-aging beef.
Cleaver & Cocktail also differs from a conventional steakhouse in a more subtle but ultimately more rewarding way. After you have looked over both the main menu and the separate slip that lists the dry-aged steaks — and after the server has described the evening’s specials, which on my visits included additional steak cuts and other beef dishes — you won’t feel like you are playing your role in an expensive ceremony of meat gluttony. Or at least you won’t feel only that. You will actually be excited about beef.
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That excitement persists. I visited Cleaver & Cocktail one more time than I had planned because I feared I was focusing on its beef dishes at the expense of its other fare. I couldn’t resist at that final dinner, either, prefacing my halibut main course with an appetizer of delicately creamy ricotta gnocchi and the pulled meat of sous-vide beef short ribs in a silky broth made from the bones of dry-aged beef.
Cleaver & Cocktail is the latest venture from the 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 do notice the dry-aging chamber when you visit Cleaver & Cocktail, you won’t see anything as striking as the old-school tableside presentation of raw steaks, the red meat marbled with white fat. Hulking cuts of beef, not yet portioned into steaks, sit in dim light, their mottled colors more evocative of an old bruise than fresh blood. The important transformation is taking place in the meat itself, becoming more tender as enzymes break down connective tissue and developing flavors often described as nutty, funky or cheesy.
Those adjectives didn’t spring to mind as I ate the bone-in strip steak, which had been dry-aged 60 days. That isn’t a complaint. The steak showcased a richer, fuller beef flavor — more intensely, complexly itself — that lingered beyond the primal appeal of grill char and medium-rare tang. And if the meat’s richness grew heady, it didn’t display the truly off-putting funkiness prolonged aging can produce. An excellent steak, this missed transcendence only because the generously peppered crust relied on crosshatched grill marks instead of a more comprehensive Malliard-reaction browning.
A carpaccio of beef dry-aged for 90 days, a special, bridged the rosy red sheen and mineral bite of traditional carpaccio with a supple, velvety texture reminiscent of prosciutto. I would have happily eaten this carpaccio with its sensible garnishes of arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the latter of which drew out more of the meat’s dry-aged flavors. Del Pietro and Doherty added grilled peaches as a final, unexpectedly fitting flourish, a thrilling burst of late-summer sweetness.
Dry-aged beef also makes its way into the house burger, but I was as excited to see a plump, 8-ounce specimen rather than a stack of smashed patties. This is an unabashedly upscale burger, topped with Gruyère, arugula and onions that have been glazed in red wine, but here the dry-aged beef acts not as a nutty, funky or what-have-you flavor, but a black hole of overwhelming beefiness into which these accents inevitably collapse.
The burger is served with crisp, skinny fries seasoned with garlic and herbs. In true steakhouse fashion, the fries are also one of the a-la-carte sides you can order with your steak — the cost of dinner here can escalate quickly — as are exceptionally creamy roasted-garlic mashed potatoes glossed with herb butter and charred broccolini with chili oil, lemon and a cooling herb ricotta.
With their seafood dishes, Del Pietro and Doherty make clear that Clever & Cocktail is a modern American restaurant, not a steakhouse. In place of cocktail shrimp or lobster tail, you will find plump little fried rock shrimp dressed with a spicy remoulade and pickled chiles and, among the main courses, a piece of meaty but yielding halibut pan-seared golden and balanced atop golden potatoes and shishito chiles in a shimmering tomato-saffron broth.
Even tuna tartare gets a fresh spin thanks to bits of peach, which play up the tuna’s natural sweetness, and a curry cream sauce, which brushes the plate with spice both warming and a little hot. Those who avoid meat and seafood altogether can order the obligatory cauliflower “steak” or try to build a meal from some of the appetizers, salads and sides. (The menu doesn’t specify if a dish is vegetarian or vegan, so be sure to ask.)
For a restaurant with cocktail in its name in 2022, Cleaver & Cocktail makes the bold but not unwelcome choice to stick to Manhattans, old fashioneds and other tried-and-true classics rather than homegrown concoctions. (Though purists might wince at vodka, not gin, being the default spirit for the “classic” martini.) When I wanted a margarita, but not the menu’s lone, spicy take, the bartender obliged with an excellent mezcal-based version.
The dessert menu is straightforward to a fault — creme brulee, carrot cake or chocolate mousse — though fresh raspberries do add a palate-refreshing tartness to the creme brulee. I’m not sure dry-aged beef would help any of the desserts, but I would trust Del Pietro and Doherty to try.
Where Cleaver & Cocktail, 13360 Clayton Road, Town and Country • More info 314-530-9700; cleaverandcocktail.com • Menu Dry-aged steaks with seafood and other contemporary American fare • Hours Dinner Tuesday-Saturday (closed Sunday-Monday)