Monday, March 28, 2011


this was actually the first tapas restaurant we visited in st. louis, and although we always suspected that it was our favorite, we never made it back after we reluctantly decided tapas isn't our thing.  turns out that's not quite accurate: tapas isn't our thing at pretty much anywhere besides modesto.  in fact, we have an interested reader to thank for prompting us to go back there; had andy not suggested it, we would have missed out... and maybe you are, too. 

the hill

modesto sports a modern rustic style featuring painted i-beams, steel and glass light fixtures, and floors resembling heavily varnished supercompressed wood chips--we imagine the hoof-beaten terrain of la mancha looks similar.  surely it's no coincidence: you'll notice don quixote's likeness around the restaurant.  otherwise, the decor is limited, which is wise--the floor-to-ceiling windows lining one side of the restaurant and the busy kitchen on the other side provide more than enough to look at.  keeping it simple makes it all the more easy to really unwind here, and then, of course, to fully focus on your food when it arrives. 

on both visits, our servers have been stellar.  accommodating and friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please, they have done everything to make sure our vegetarian needs were met.  on our most recent visit, our server made sure we understood all the options at our disposal, and she was frank in her analysis of both food and wine.  though our tastes didn't align with hers, she at least did all she could to give us guidance.  we appreciate this.  always. 

we started, of course, with the pure de garbanzos, served with crostini and topped with some olive oil and garlic.  it's a delicious take on a more traditional hummus, and the portion was just right, too.  but what really made it moan-worthy was mixing in some of their housemade tapenade--if you can bear to save some of it from your bread board.

this salad = bff
new to the spring menu, the ensalada de verduras features chopped zucchini, squash, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, and onions in a chimichurri rojo sauce.  we only wish we ordered two of these!  the sauce is really delightful, light enough not to mask the vegetables, but still so flavorful--so flavorful you'll want to lick the plate clean.  the variety and freshness of the perfectly cooked veg really made this unassuming little plate memorable.  we want many more of these before the menu changes again.

also new to the spring menu are the croquetas de setas and the paquetes de berenjena.  the croquetas are lightly breaded and fried mushrooms, served atop little dollops of garlic aioli.  the mushroom mouthfuls don't look like much, but they deliver a warm, creamy and woodsy savoriness.  the texture of the breading helps to balance the creaminess and the cleaving sponginess of the mushroom.  it wasn't our favorite tapas plate, but it was quite good.
the eggplant paquetes, on the other hand, are not something we'd order again.  slices of eggplant rolled around slices of iberico cheese, grilled, and topped with an herb picada--we like the sound of all those things, but somehow this was not what we were hoping for.  the melted cheese oozed an unappetizing pool of oil onto the plate, and the eggplant flavor was somehow almost undetectable, but the real disappointment of this dish was the picada.  salt is an important ingredient in many picadas, but this was overpowering.  clark popped one of these babies into his mouth and it was instant puckerface.  we wouldn't be surprised if this was an error, but next time we'll still pass. 

and although we didn't need it, we ordered a flatbread out of curiosity.  we chose the cebolla, which comes with caramelized onions, manchego, onions, olives, and garlic.  to be honest, we didn't much care for this either.  it isn't that it was bad, but we would have preferred more manchego to balance the sweetness of the onions, and we found the dough too...doughy.  we do love a thick crust; we just would have preferred a thin, crispy crust on this one (especially with the toppings as light as they were).  still a competent flatbread, just not to our taste.  see that delicious char?  we think it would be killer on a thin crust!

that brings us to el gran final: paella huertana. served in a cast iron pan, the saffron rice was beautifully cooked, and the addition of peas, peppers, asparagus, onion, tomato, and artichokes make this dish a veritable pan-copia (get it, because it's served in a pan and it seems to come with everything?).  this is something we could see ourselves craving... and in fact, we do, right now.  once again, the vegetables were all cooked to perfection.  it may be simple, but this satisfying and comforting dish is the perfect example of how uncomplicated ingredients prepared with thought and care can really turn into something special.  not to mention that it's not exactly the easiest task to find a vegetarian paella!

not everything was a win, but we're excited about modesto and are really happy to have re-discovered it.  there is plenty of interesting vegetarian fare on the menu to keep us trying new items for a while, but that paella will always be a staple of our meals to come at modesto.

(we also want to note that we contacted chef grace to inquire whether the fryer is vegetarian-friendly, and we're happy to report that it is!  she said that it's important to her as a chef to honor vegetarians and be strict about it.  we love to see a female chef kicking ass, and we love even more that we can feel safe about going to her restaurant.)


vegetarian-friendly score:
Modesto on Urbanspoon

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