Tara Gallina, Co-owner of Take Root Hospitality, Dishes About Bistro La Floraison
By Rachel Huffman
Unlike any other establishment in St. Louis, Bistro La Floraison transports guests to France, where the food and drinks are succulent, sophisticated and luxurious – and you’re expected to indulge.
The concept comes from Michael and Tara Gallina, two of St. Louis’ most acclaimed restaurateurs and owners of Take Root Hospitality Group, which includes the celebrated Vicia in the Cortex Innovation Community and farm-to-table restaurant Winslow’s Table in University City. With their newest venture, located at 7637 Wydown Boulevard in Clayton, the couple hopes to fill a void left by Zoë Robinson’s Bar Les Frères, which previously occupied the space and shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here, Tara talks about the sensuous dining experience at Bistro La Floraison and why she thinks St. Louis is one of the best food cities in the U.S.
What does Bistro La Floraison bring to the St. Louis dining scene?
It’s a chic, upscale, transportive French bistro experience that I feel helps to fill a void, which was created when Bar Les Frères closed. Bistro La Floraison is an updated, more modern version of [that restaurant], but I think it’s still a place where you can experience wonderful French food, French wine and French cocktails in a fun, beautiful environment.
Can you elaborate on the wine list at Bistro La Floraison?
Predominately, all the bottles are from France, and the offerings that aren’t strictly French are connected to France in some way. The entire list, with the exception of our sparkling wines, is also available by the glass as well as by the bottle, which fits the wine bar vibe. Guests can try a lot of different wines, experimenting and enjoying varieties that might be out of reach otherwise.
If guests want to go outside their comfort zones, which wines do you recommend?
We have a few orange wines from France that are more adventurous but hold true to classic French wine-making techniques. The blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Sylvaner from Alsace, which pairs wonderfully with the menu, has been really popular, and it allows people to try something fun and different. As for white wine, we expected everyone to gravitate towards Chardonnay, but we’ve been selling a fair amount of Jacquère from Savoie and Chenin Blanc from the Duchy of Anjou in the Loire Valley. And the Chardonnays that we have come from smaller, more interesting producers; they’re less oak-driven and more acidic, which pairs well with the food. In terms of red wine, we have some lighter-bodied reds, such as a Poulsard from Jura and a Pinot Noir, which people probably think is an obvious choice, but it’s from Sancerre in the Loire Valley, which is a region known for white wine. Both of those are lovely.
Walk me through the ultimate meal at Bistro La Floraison.
If I had a reservation, I would arrive a little early and sit at the bar and have a cocktail. I would start with a French 75, or for something more spirit-forward, the A La Louisianne [with whiskey, vermouth, Benedictine and bitters] is a riff on a classic and feels fancy. With my cocktail, I would order gougères. They’re light cheese puffs, but we take them to the next level by serving them with Gruyère mousse and sea salt. At the table, I would start with Champagne and oysters – we have these fabulous oysters flown in from Maine that are petite and sweet, and we serve them with a seaweed mignonette sauce. You could also have some bites of the caviar served on a potato waffle with crème fraîche or French onion financiers – think small, savory cupcakes – which have Comté cheese and thyme oil. … Our smoked trout rillette toast is also a favorite: The whipped trout mousse, which has crème fraîche in it, is served on toasted sourdough porridge bread from Winslow’s Table and topped with pickled shallots, dill and chives. You can do a glass of white wine with that, and then for your entrée, I think you could split a couple items. Our fried chicken cordon bleu is the most popular entrée. It features a heritage chicken breast stuffed with Gruyère and smoked bacon mousse – and fried, of course; it’s topped with this really acidic mustard sauce and served with braised greens and roasted oyster mushrooms. It’s a meal in and of itself, but if you want to try one more thing, I suggest the summer vegetable cassoulet. Cassoulet typically has meat, but this one is vegetarian and still hearty. Either of those with the Pinot Noir from Sancerre would be perfect. And you have to save room for dessert! The pain perdu, which is basically a fancy French toast, is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. We take fresh brioche from Winslow’s Table, sear it in a pan with lots of butter and caramel and top it with crème fraîche gelato [from Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery] and salted caramel sauce. It is heaven on earth.
If only we could consume all that in one sitting.
I know, but I think Bistro La Floraison is a place where you can have different experiences depending on the occasion. You can come in for a quick drink and snack, or have a full meal to celebrate, or stop by for a glass of wine and dessert. You don’t have to think of it as an all-or-nothing experience; it can be whatever you want it to be.
In your opinion, why is St. Louis one of the best food cities in the U.S.?
I think it’s a combination of the caliber of people who are working here – and that doesn’t just mean that they’re nominated for this or that award; they’re people who are really good cooks and chefs – and the wide variety of cuisines available in a relatively small footprint. If you want, you can go out every night and try something different. I’ve been telling everybody that, soon enough, you’re going to be able to travel the world on Wydown: We’ll have Spain, Italy and France, Southeast Asia and New York all represented right here, which is so fun. There’s also a lot of camaraderie amongst the restaurant community, and I think that guests can sense that. We all like to support each other as much as we can, and I think that speaks volumes for the spirit of the industry here.