“Eagerly anticipated” barely begins to describe Vicia’s debut in March. Michael and Tara Gallina were the chef de cuisine and a captain, respectively, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the Pocantico Hills, N.Y., restaurant (and working farm) regarded as one of the country’s and even the world’s best restaurants. The Gallinas moved to Michael’s native St. Louis in late 2015 to open their first restaurant. The long lead time, the attention from the national food media and a series of pop-up events only compounded the hype.
Vicia lived up to that hype — and then exceeded it.
The Gallinas call Vicia’s food “vegetable-forward.” A better term might be elemental, with dishes that draw on the bounty not merely of the season but of the moment, and often marked by the flames and smoke of the wood-burning oven that is dramatically situated at one end of the restaurant’s patio.
The menu changes too often to recommend specific dishes. I still think about what I ate on my visits there this spring: a lightly scrambled goose egg served in its own shell with asparagus, shiitake mushroom and a smoked-butter foam; charred cabbage funked up with sauerkraut and painted with spalla cruda; a braised beef dish made mind-bendingly light thanks to the infusion of carrots and leek in the braising liquid.
A few weeks after I filed my initial, 3½-star review, Vicia introduced a chef’s tasting menu: more than a dozen small courses for the (relatively!) reasonable price of $85 per person. This is Vicia at full flower, with Gallina showcasing his creativity in focused, pungent, playful bursts: a “cocktail” of roasted-melon juice with a slice of coppa on the rim of the glass; a simple pork rib made ethereal with smoked blackberries; chicken and shiitake mushrooms in a smoked-corn-cob broth like summer’s ripeness distilled. It’s filling but not overwhelming. I didn’t blanch when desserts from all-star pastry chef Summer Wright arrived.
The tasting menu prompted me to elevate Vicia to a four-star rating. It’s a modern four-star restaurant, with service (led by Tara Gallina and assistant general manager Jen Epley) that’s impeccable without being fussy. You can wear jeans here. You can, at lunch, order at the counter and spend under $20.
Vicia is easily the best new restaurant of 2017. It’s already one of St. Louis’ best restaurants, full stop.
Where Vicia, 4260 Forest Park Avenue • More info 314-553-9239; viciarestaurant.com • Menu Modern, progressive cuisine with an emphasis on vegetables • Hours Lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Tuesday-Saturday