Photo by David Carson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch



One winter evening, wanting to serve a classic hearty dish, Ben Poremba decided to put pot-au-feu on the menu of his flagship restaurant. Poremba being Poremba, of course, it wasn’t simply the beloved French stew of meat (beef cheek, in this case), vegetables and aromatics. In the broth, Poremba combined red wine and beet vinegar in equal measures, and the beet vinegar’s earthiness and tang both enriched and brightened the dish. It was hearty, as desired, but also brilliant. It was Elaia in a nutshell. Poremba’s inspired cooking, drawn from his background across the Mediterranean, have distinguished Elaia since it opened. Even after a year of significant turnover, including a new chef de cuisine (Tello Carreon, replacing Josh Charles, now at Element) and wine director (Aaron Sherman, formerly of Girl & the Goat in Chicago and, briefly, Niche), it belongs at the summit of St. Louis dining. My most recent meal here featured stunner after stunner: Kibbeh Nayeh, a disc of smooth lamb tartare topped with a quenelle of raw carrot, both sharpened with harissa; swordfish ceviche in lime juice and aji chile, cooled with the sweetness of Japanese yam and honeydew melon; a show-stopping soup course in which Poremba poured a silken velouté of parsnip into an airy, luxurious sabayon of foie gras.

Last year's ranking: 2

Opened: 2012

Must order: Menu changes frequently