Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rich & Charlie's

Last night I used up another gift certificate from Restaurant-dot-com. I felt like celebrating the end of my last work shift before two consecutive days off. So I steered a course toward 9942 Watson Road - the address the coupon listed for Rich & Charlie's.

It turned out to be a frustrating search. As I drove west on Watson, the street numbers ascended in predictable order...until I got to the corner of Watson & Sturdy Road. There, on the south side of Watson, the intersecting street passes between two medical buildings. The one on the east side of Sturdy is 9930 Watson. The one on the west is 10,000 Watson.

I pulled over and asked a couple people where Rich & Charlie's was. One of them pointed back eastward, so I drove that way and looked intently at every building I passed. Several of them were restaurants, but none were Rich & Charlie's. I turned around and drove west again, stopping at a car rental place to ask for directions again. They said it was just a couple buildings down the road, before the next intersection (at Sturdy). I got back on Watson and drove slowly west, looking at all the signs and street numbers. I finally pulled in behind the medical building at 9930 Watson and went inside to ask a receptionist. I was starting to think about the Fidelius Charm in the Harry Potter books, which enabled the Order of the Phoenix to make an entire building (13 Grimmauld Place) invisible to passersby. I was beginning to wonder whether spacetime curved around 9942 Watson Road, and what a small Italian restaurant could have done to deserve such an exception to the laws of reality.

The receptionist told me exactly where Rich & Charlie's was, bless her. It was the first building to the west of 10,000 Watson, street numbers notwithstanding. I would have seen it from Watson Road if I hadn't been blinded by the sun, and if I had been looking for it on the 10,000 block. So I went into the restaurant with a sense of grievance. I just restrained myself from warning my server that her mission was to unfrustrate me.

My gift certicate was for $10 off a minimum purchase of $35. It's not the most advantageous deal Restaurant-dot-com offers, but sometimes it is liberating to be able to read a restaurant's menu and not have to think about how you can get away with spending as little as possible. Instead, I had to think about how to blow $35. Basically, it meant having a license to choose anything I wanted off the menu, regardless of cost.

I started with a bottle of imported, Italian beer. The make was Menabrea, the model was Amber Beer. I hadn't had that brand before, but I was well pleased with it. This was soon followed by a basket of bread - toasted baguette slices, dotted with sesame seeds and accompanied by butter. I was still munching on my first (and only) slice of the bread when my appetizer arrived: a huge helping of the toasted ravioli for which St. Louis is famous. I only ate about four pieces before putting the rest in a to-go container, but I immediately knew that they were the best toasted ravs I had ever tasted. For their sake alone, my frustrating search for 9942 Watson was worthwhile.

My main dish was listed on the menu as tutti mare (sic). The name of this dish, which is usually spelled tutto mare, means something like "the whole sea" in Italian. When my eyes fell upon a bowl of pasta big enough to bathe a baby in, I realized that this was only a slight hyperbole. The long, thick noodles were swimming in a reddish, creamy sauce combining the flavors of garlic and seafood stock. The sauce was liberally supplied with bits of clam meat, with enough peeled shrimp and chunks of crab meat to ensure an extra treat with every second bite or so. The only thing I missed (from previous encounters with this dish at other restaurants) was mussels. But everyone does things their own way. All in all, it was a fine dish. Again, I saved a large portion of it for later.

I got past the $35 minimum - barely - by ordering a coffee and canoli for dessert. I asked for cream with the coffee, just in case; after tasting the coffee, however, I didn't feel a need to use the cream. The canoli was spectacular. You may know nothing about canolis except the role they played in whacking a wise guy in The Godfather. If so, I can name a handful of places in St. Louis where you could order a canoli and find out what I'm talking about. But you might as well just get one at Rich & Charlie's while you're recovering from the best toasted ravioli in St. Louis. A canoli is a mass of dense custard, approximately the size and shape of a thick Cuban cigar, surrounded by a shell of crunchy pastry and served, I have usually found, with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar and a drizzling of chocolate syrup. No one has to get whacked to enjoy one, but you would be whacked not to try it.

My total bill, before the Restaurant-dot-com gift certificate was taken off, was $35.85. After $10 discount and a roughly 20% tip, my final bill was $32.50. Without the gift certificate and the minimum purchase it required, I probably would have ordered the entree and a soft drink, and spent less than $20 tip included. So in the final analysis, the coupon didn't save me any money. Rather, it gave me a sense of freedom to spend it trying exactly what I wanted. And considering that I got two meals out of the deal - very good and goodly meals - I don't feel bad about spending it. Plus, I'll know where Rich & Charlie's is next time. Who knows how much I'll enjoy myself when I don't need to be unfrustrated first!

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