At the end of June last year, the Saint Louis Art Museum dedicated its new East Wing, dedicated to contemporary art and housing the special exhibition space, after loads of construction work, to state the incredibly obvious.  One of the fruits of that construction was the Museum's new restaurant, Panorama.  While the new East Wing seems to be generally well liked, unfortunately, the restaurant was not.  There's been a bit of a shake-up just announced this week regarding the executive chef there, obviously with the attempt to turn around Panorama's less than stellar situation.  More below the flip.....

Two of the reviews of Panorama not long after its opening included:

(a) Ian Froeb, Post-Dispatch
(b) Cheryl Baehr, Riverfront Times

Froeb's review is obviously the much harshly written and angrily snarkier of the two.  Example:

"How do you know Panorama is a Serious Restaurant? The kitchen sends every table an amuse bouche. 'A complimentary gift from the chef,' one server helpfully explained. On my visits, this amuse bouche was a shot's worth of local apple cider. While I hesitate to mock a gift - from the chef himself, no less - I mean, come on. You poured me a couple of sips of cider."
It gets rougher from there, as you can read.  Example:
"If your great-aunt in for the weekend from Tampa insists on a meal at the nice museum restaurant, order the Warm Water Blue Crab Cakes ($9). Aside from wondering from which warm November waters the blue-crab meat originated, I can’t object to two plump cakes with minimal filler. A slaw of cabbage, apple and pecan and an autumn-squash coulis are innocuous accompaniments, there mainly to pretty up the plate.

This is a recurring theme at Panorama, where nearly every dish looks gorgeous yet fails the apparently overrated criterion of tasting good."

Ouch.  Baehr is milder in her review, oddly enough, since the RFT is nominally supposed to be the "edgier alternative" paper in town (but then it's owned by New Times, which has homogenized all the alternative papers its owns in the country - but 3CM digresses, as usual), such as noting that, by way of preface:
"....chef Edward Farrow is an avowed champion of the slow-food movement, committed to using environmentally friendly ingredients. His menu features the best the area's farms have to offer, from local game hen and lamb to Ozark mushrooms and Marcoot Jersey Creamery cheese. It's a testament to his skill that this recent transplant from the Southwest has captured the essence of Midwestern seasonal flavors; he comes to Panorama from the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum where, under his direction, the café was named 2012's Best Museum Restaurant by the Arizona Republic."
"With all this working for Panorama, I was surprised at how underwhelming the food was."
"I was also surprised with the choice of ground lamb for use in the lamb stew, as larger chunks of meat hold up better in such a preparation. The piquillo pepper comingled with the lamb juices to create a deep, rich sauce, but it was incredibly salty - almost to the point of being inedible. The stew was served with a side of brown rice and vegetable salad that paired strangely. Perhaps it's boring, but I would have much preferred some sort of potato accompaniment in the place of the rice. Bizarrely, the stew was not served with a spoon. I can excuse an oversight, but if this was intentional, it was a flaw as it made the dish difficult to eat."
So overall, in Baehr's estimation:
"In appearances, Panorama is an overwhelming success. However, after several visits, I wondered if - like the beautiful but inedible food from the magazines - the plates at Panorama aren't better suited for the walls of the adjacent galleries, rather than sustenance for hungry diners.....

There's no denying that Panorama is - like the rest of SLAM - a feast for the eyes. The trouble is, it's a restaurant, not food-themed performance art."

By way of mild irony or St. Louis' very large small town-ness, Froeb used to be the restaurant critic at the RFT.

Back in March, this P-D article summed things up with Panorama:

"The restaurant has been plagued in recent months by bad critical reviews, fewer customers and high labor costs.

In December, consultants hired by the Art Museum for about $15,000 filed an unflinching review of the restaurant, café and catering operations.

The restaurant was losing more than $5,000 a week then, on average, according to the report, which was recently released by the museum."

Of course, one could argue that the bad on-line and restaurant reviews already gave the Art Museum enough justification to effect changes, without a $15K consulting fee.  However, outside reviewers obviously don't have access to the financial records and other internal-only documentation to do a formal review that is nominally more "objective", and without the invective that too often taints on-line comments.  Further details per the consulting firm, Manask & Associates, read:
"The restaurant....needed to be reinvented 'as soon as possible.' Manask recommended museum leaders change the menu, make lunch service less formal, cancel Friday night dinners and even pick a new executive chef."
On that last point, the Art Museum just this week announced a new executive chef, Ivy Magruder, currently with the Gamlin Whiskey House in the Central West End neighborhood.  Froeb had this P-D blog post on this announcement, where Magruder said that he evidently likes a challenge:
"Magruder said he welcomes the 'uphill battle' of turning around Panorama, which the Post-Dispatch reported in April had lost more than $500,000 since opening last summer. The restaurant's contemporary American fare received a rare zero-star review in this newspaper."
From the RFT's "Gut Check" restaurant blog, Nancy Stiles had this post that notes some other particular reasons why Magruder would take on this challenge, per Lucas Gamblin, co-owner of Gamblin Whiskey House:
"Ultimately it came down to economics and time. I think he agrees that we're on fire right now. But Bon Appétit [the company that owns Panorama] sought him out about a month ago and came back to him three times since with better offers. It's a no-brainer for his family - better hours and more money."
Gamblin even goes on to say, for the record:
"It's really unfortunate to see him go. I consider him a friend, so I don't want to hold him back from what's best for his career and family."
While I've seen a hopping crowd at Gamblin Whiskey House when I've strolled or biked by, 3CM the loser hasn't actually tried the dining fare there yet.  However, I have been to Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Vin de Set on occasion, and liked what I've had there.  Given Magruder's track record at those two restaurants prior to Gamblin Whiskey House, I can understand that he has a strong reputation as a chef.  Plus, it says something, even beyond the financial trading-up for him, that instead of 'coasting' at a restaurant that's doing well, he's willing to take on the challenge of a down-and-out new place, perhaps to be its savior knight in shining armor / chef in shining linen.  For that, if no other reason, I wish Magruder (and Panorama) all the best of luck.  (Plus, self probably should check out the fare at Gamblin before the chef transition.)

With that, time for the usual SNLC protocol, namely your loser stories of the week......

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