A bumper crop of long-awaited restaurants opened in St. Louis this month (Shake Shack, Louie, L’Acadiane, The Clover and the Bee), not the least of which is Billie-Jean, restaurateur Zoë Robinson’s tribute to her parents, Billie (her mother) and Jean (her father, now deceased).
It took Robinson (SLM‘s 2017 Restaurateur of the Year) the better part of a year to transform the bright-as-the-sun Yo My Goodness yogurt shop into an almost-invisible storefront with black casement windows, front door, and awning. Passersby will easily overlook the subtle Billie | Jean written high above. It’s almost as if, like the ’40s-era New York City supper club that it was meant to evoke, there’s no signage at all.
Like a stellar black hole, you’re drawn inside…to more black. The floor, ceiling, walls, banquette, even the kitchen equipment (hood, pizza oven, cabinetry) are varying shades of black. It’s the same monochrome at the bar (save the 10 perfectly contoured walnut seats), where old-school pressed-paper coasters and cups of black-and-white dice are strategically placed.
“People don’t quite know what to do with the dice,” says general manager Will Brawley of the diversion. “I’m joking when I tell them to come back for Yahtzee Mondays.”
The only pops of color are the simple fronds of green on the white clothed tables. Robert Motherwell prints, emblazoned by pin spots, line the 22 seats along the dominant wall at tables of two and four. There are no tables for six. “It’s not that we couldn’t [push tables together to] do it,” Robinson explains. “With the bar, kitchen, and service area practically in the same footprint, it’s impossible to do it—properly, anyway.”
At Billie-Jean, Robinson’s inexhaustible executive chef Ny Vongsaly has created a 16-item menu with Asian, American, and Mediterranean influences, from Robinson restaurant classics like mahogany glazed spare ribs (pictured above) and tuna lettuce wraps mussels with green curry to new classics, such as a whole roasted snapper with lime leaf, cilantro salsa, and sticky rice.
Beer and wine choices are limited due to the ship galley-sized bar, but little-known labels still manage to appear. On the cocktail front, the icy White Cosmo—with vodka, elderflower liqueur, triple sec, and lime—will likely be the drink of choice.
While the fine napery might indicate that Billie-Jean is a special-occasion place, Robinson dressed it down—literally—by enlisting famed designer Todd Thomas to create uniforms incorporating the “lover, not my lover” theme from the Michael Jackson song “Billie Jean.”
A chef wears a knit hat with “LOVER” emblazoned in the side; Vongsaly sports a billed cap that says “not my lover.” A server’s shirt reads “Billie Jean” on the
front, and “lover” on the back. Chef coats and cardigans are similarly adorned, as are the Dickies-style gas station jump suits. Adidas and Vans sneakers are the chosen footwear.
From the connotative name to the playful uniforms to the music (which meanders from the Pretenders to Pitbull as the evening progresses), Robinson and her staff are clearly having fun. Elegant, chic, yet unpretentious, Billie-Jean takes its food and drink seriously, but that’s as far as it goes.
Reblogged from here