After months of anticipation, BLF opens in Clayton on Wednesday night—but it’s not the BLF that St. Louis dining patrons have known for years. Based on a sneak peek at Bistro La Floraison, however, that’s not a bad thing.
Earlier this year, restaurateur Zoe Robinson sold the venerable Bar Les Freres (7637 Wydown) to Take Root Hospitality, a local restaurant group owned by Tara and Michael Gallina, along with chef Aaron Martinez, who acts as culinary director. (Take Root Hospitality owns three other notable St. Louis restaurants: Vicia, Winslow’s Table, and the recently opened Taqueria Morita.)
The partners introduced some modern touches and renamed it Bistro La Floraison (French for ‘blossoming’). The address, which includes a lovely terraced patio, was and will again be known as BLF. “The concept will not be dramatically different,” Tara Gallina previously told SLM, “just done with our flair, our personality.”
Guests may make reservations here, but Tara says, “being a neighborhood place, we’ll leave plenty of room for walk-ins, too.”
The walls were repainted in softer tones than in the previous restaurant. (“Our goal was to preserve the inherent [red and pink and green] colors but with a different look,” says Tara.) The most notable design change—a long, pink banquette with flowing drapery above—was added to the main room, to go along with the existing marble-topped bistro tables and chairs.
Above the banquette is a painting by Andrew Milner, which uses pink acrylic paint applied with a pastry bag. “It’s a piece of a photo taken at the Rose Parade,” Tara explains. “Step back, and the whole thing changes, like one of those Magic Eye posters.” The wall décor is sparse at present, she adds, but more artwork is forthcoming.
One bonus was the stash of inherited glassware, antique china plates, silver platters, punch bowls, and flatware, much of which is being used, lending an air of familiarity.
The new restaurant has the same footprint as its predecessor: two rooms seating 20 people each, one that can be reserved for private events. (A thick curtain divides the rooms, making it natural for a surprise party.)
One of the focal points—the terraced patio (which is available on a first-come, first-served basis)—was virtually left unchanged, the only difference being a new logo in the window, which echoes the design elements of the window.
The menu is a collaboration between Gallina, Aaron Martinez, and Patrick Fallwell, who left Vicia to become the executive chef at BLF. Fallwell met Martinez while both were working in Chicago. Both chefs have extensive experience working in French cuisine. Fallwell says the overriding theme is “to stay fairly classic [French] and timeless but have fun with that as well as what was done here before.”
The prior iteration served a country pâté, for example. At the new BLF, Pâté en Croute includes predominantly duck (with added chicken and pork and walnuts) and comes with two sauces: a braised bing cherry compote and a soubise containing onion puree
The unofficial house salad at Bar Les Freres was a simple mix of little gem lettuce, fresh tarragon, and lemon shallot. The new iteration is similar, incorporating a Dijon and adding cucumber.
Gougeres, perhaps the most popular item on the prior menu, reappears with a Gruyere cheese sauce for dipping “cheese on cheese,” Tara says. “You can never have enough cheese.”
Another Bar Les Freres mainstay—Potato Blinis with Creme Fraiche—takes a similar left turn. Caviar Service will include a play on the blini—a mini potato waffle—served with chives, shallots, smoked crème Fraiche, and sieved egg. “We’re still kicking around exactly how—and in how many ways—to present this dish,” says Falwell. “Elegantly casual’ is what we’re shooting for, all across the menu and the space.”
Smoked Trout Rillette will likely prove to be a popular starter, served on toasted levain bread (similar to sourdough but made with a different starter), made at sister restaurant Winslow’s Table.