I remember L’Auberge Bretonne. My mentor in all things French,
an Orléans native with a harsh initial demeanor but a heart of
gold, called it “the only true French restaurant in St. Louis.” You
parked in the lot of a bland Chesterfield strip, but you dined in
the welcoming confines of a fine family-run restaurant from coastal
I also remember the formal-to-the-left, casual-to-the-right
choice at Chez Louis and Bernard’s in the Seven Gables Inn; Simone
Andujar’s authentic bouillabaisse, first at Le Bistro and then at
Malmaison; and the lovely, salonlike dining room of Cafe de France,
a downtown spinoff of L’Auberge Bretonne.
I dug up all of these fond memories as I dined at the Clayton
relocation of Chez Leon, which exudes a joie de cuisiner similar to
those other great restaurants, reflecting the personality of its
owner, the unbridled Francophile Leon Bierbaum.
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And, of course, I remembered how the original Chez Leon had
transformed a ramshackle old building on Laclède, er, Laclede
Avenue in the Central West End into an authentic facsimile of a
side-street Parisian restaurant.
The revised Chez Leon lacks the whimsy and sheer charm of the
original, but it replaces those with a sleek dining room nestled
among very dark walls decorated with oil paintings and beveled
mirrors. Tasseled drapes, a chandelier and an elaborate china
cabinet add some ornate flourishes.
At first glance, entrees priced à la carte at up to $48 would
seem to make Chez Leon one of the most expensive restaurants in
town. A meal consisting of an entree and two other courses,
however, is available at a fixed price of $40, with supplements for
the more expensive entrees. (A $12 supplement for the rack of lamb
— $48 à la carte — for example, makes the total three-course price
Chef Colby Erhart serves up faithfully rendered classics: pour
commencer, perhaps escargots bourguignonnes ($12), announcing
themselves with aromas of garlic and licorice well before they land
on the table, or a leg quarter of duck confit ($12), moist and
dense and accompanied by crisp-yet-light fried diced potatoes
flavored with garlic and parsley.
Entrees include onglet comme à Paris ($24), a hanger steak
sliced lengthwise and served with a seamlessly smooth, gently tangy
sauce béarnaise; raie aux capres ($30), skate wing with a firm yet
easily giving texture, flavored with a caper butter; and filet de
boeuf aux truffes ($36, $6 supplement), beef tenderloin with an
aromatic, earthy sauce flavored with shaved truffles.
Desserts stay relatively simple: crème brulée, tarts, cakes and
macerated fruits. I loved the old-school approach of le cygne ($8),
which takes its name (the French word for ‘swan”) from its form as
a pastry shell cut in half, filled with a delicately sweet custard
called crème pâtissière and formed with an elegantly curving pastry
The wine list is, bien entendu, exclusively French, and almost
exclusively above $50 a bottle, with some well-chosen by-the-glass
selections available for $10 and reds served at proper cellar
Our service was exemplary save for a short period of abandonment
during a peak dinner rush.
I’d also probably avoid the tables-for-two in the back area
unless you’re a fan of Parisian-style coziness.
But next time I’m thinking about just how wonderful an evening
in a classic French restaurant can be, I’m going to remember Chez
7929 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton • 314-361-1589 • chezleon.com
• Menu: Classic straightforward French • Smoking: No • Hours:
Lunch, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday