Tucci & Fresta’s brings an elegant taste of ‘The Hill’ to Clayton

Costoletta alla milanese. Photo: Kristi Foster

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

Everything about Tucci & Fresta’s Trattoria gives you the sense that the Hill may have finally arrived in Clayton. The décor is stylish without being stuffy—bold colors, dark wood, framed artwork set against textured gold walls. The menu is bountiful, and the tableside kibbitzing with Kim Tucci and Joe Fresta make you feel like you are family. According to Tucci, this new restaurant was 38 years in the making. Both the ambiance, which is unpretentiously elegant, and the fine, classic Italian approach to the food reflect more of Kim Tucci’s time at Tony’s rather than the Pasta House, his later collaborative project with Joe Fresta.

There are two dining areas—one larger open room and another smaller area adjacent to the U-shaped bar and graced with songs by a musician at the baby grand piano. This place is big, and on the evening we dined there, it was at three-quarters capacity. Despite the large crowd, our waiter made time to explain the menu and answer our questions. All of our food arrived in a timely fashion, and servings were consistently generous.

The menu is divided into traditional Italian courses and features more than a dozen antipastos and pastas, several Italian style beef, chicken, veal and fish dishes, and an array of homemade Italian-style desserts. Diners who order a pasta or entrée have the option of adding a salad or soup for $4.

Additionally, the restaurant is sensitive to special dietary needs. For example, there is a gluten-free menu for lunch and dinner.

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From the antipasti portion of the menu, we settled on Nonna’s meatballs con polenta ($10), which are three large meatballs in a mild, caper-flecked tomato sauce accompanied by a crisp polenta triangle.  The meatballs were well seasoned, and the slightly sweet sauce paired well with the polenta, which was just a tad too salty on its own.

We ordered the mushroom and caramelized onion flatbread ($11) as a second appetizer. The crust was cracker-like rather than bready, and was meagerly topped with sweet caramelized onions and sliced Cremini mushrooms. Of our two appetizers, the meatballs were superior.

As for our second courses, we chose a pasta, two salads and a soup.

The spaghetti pomodoro con basilica was outstanding. The pasta was cooked al dente and tossed with a sauce bursting with the flavor of sweet fresh tomatoes and just the right amount of basil. A light dusting of fresh grated Parmesan from the bowl on the table was a nice addition.

The Tuscan onion soup had a rich brown, thick, oniony broth with the traditional toasted bread topped with melted Italian fontina cheese. As the waiter explained, this version differs only slightly from the traditional French version, which is made with Gruyere cheese.

The insalata di casa was a salad of mixed field greens accented by a handful of halved cherry tomatoes and lightly tossed with an herb-infused house vinaigrette. The Caesar salad consisted of bite-sized pieces of crisp romaine lettuce tossed in a milder version of the classic dressing and garnished with crisp croutons. For me, the Caesar salad lacked the traditional anchovy kick, though others at our table preferred it that way.

The 10 oz. filet of beef ($37) was magnificent, perfectly cooked to a buttery tenderness. Diners can add one of three sauces for an additional charge.  The meat, however, was delicious sans sauce. We ordered the filet medium-rare and that is precisely how it was served. It came with a wilted arugula and sliced cherry tomato salad which, as an accompaniment for such a regal steak, was unimpressive.

Costoletta alla milanese ($28), described on the menu as one of the “house specialties” was a large veal chop left on the bone, pounded thin, and lightly coated with fine breadcrumbs seasoned with minced fresh herbs. The veal chop was sautéed until crisp. The meat was delicately flavored and tender, though slightly undercooked near the bone. It, too, was served with a mound of arugula-cherry tomato salad.

The petto di pollo alla milanese ($16) was composed of two nicely seasoned, lightly breaded sautéed chicken breast halves. The chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and tender.  The arugula and cherry tomato salad accompanied the chicken, as well.

From the fish section of the menu we chose the salmone con spinaci  ($18), a large, thin fillet of salmon beautifully grilled medium-well, as requested, and served on a bed of tender and perfectly sautéed spinach.

An order of the trattoria potatoes ($6), small wedges of skin-on russet potatoes roasted with onions and olives, was a tasty and generous accompaniment to the entrees.

The dessert selections included cakes, berries and cream, and sorbets. The six-layered carrot cake ($8) was yummy, moist with just the right amount of spice, and iced with a not-too-sweet cream-cheese frosting.  The slice was huge, more than enough for three people to share. The tiramisu ($8) was served in a sherbet dish, obviously individually composed in that dish. Espresso-soaked ladyfingers were alternated with mascarpone custard, as in the classic preparation, but this one never really came together. It lacked the assertive traditional liqueur and cocoa flavors of this classic Italian dessert.

The wine list offers a nice selection of Italian, French, and “New World” wines from California and Oregon.  Bottles start at $28, and fifteen different wines are available by the glass starting at $8 each.

Overall, Tucci & Fresta’s Trattoria and Bar makes for a lovely dining experience. It offers generously portioned and well-executed classic Italian fare from a varied menu that gives diners good options at different price levels.  And if your whole mishpucha is in town, you can talk and eat amongst yourselves in a private room.

Whether you are celebrating a special anniversary, or looking for a nice place for a casual pasta and salad meal, you will not be disappointed.

 

Tucci & Fresta’s Trattoria and Bar

Where:  15 N. Central Avenue, Clayton

When:  Lunch served Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; Dinner served Monday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m., or until kitchen closes. Closed on Sunday

Price range: Pastas range from $12-$16; dinner entrees from $16-$36

Reservations: Accepted and suggested. Call 314-725-6588

Credit Cards: All major

Jewish flourishes: Tableside kibbitzing with the owners make you feel like you are family. Portion sizes are plentiful, so bubbe would be pleased.

More info: www.tucciandfrestas.com