There had already been a lot of buzz around Kansas Town when we walked in the door with friends a couple of weeks ago. So I was a bit surprised to find that we were the only diners. Though others filtered in during the course of the evening, after our dinner there it’s surprising to me that it’s not packed every night.
It occupies the space where Macaluso’s restaurant sat for decades, a corner that has seen many a restaurant come and go since it closed. Owner Mike Bechtel, who has no prior restaurant experience, is a congenial guy who was more than happy to answer our endless flow of questions after he seated us. He explained that the restaurant’s name came from what Kansas City was called when our city was founded, and is a nod to the area’s history. Federal Reserve Bank chef and Uberdine pop-up owner Joe Shirley consulted on the menu and found Chef Garrett Kaspar to man the kitchen on a nightly basis. Judging from the quality and artistry of each dish, it’s clear that Kaspar is one talented guy.
The chef started us off with a personally delivered amuse-bouche, frozen tuna sashimi with wasabi crystals surrounded by dots of kimchee puree. He instructed us to let the tuna melt on our tongues before chewing, which was an interesting and unique sensation. We order two appetizers for the table. The first was a beet tarte tatin; gorgeous layers of beets with crispy kale chards, sour cream, and buttons of carrots. The other was the flatbread of the day, a riff on banh mi with chicken liver pate, braised pork and veggies. The flatbread itself was a bit doughy, but was otherwise a successful creation.
The menu is not well-organized. It’s just a list of all the dishes that can be ordered, without a break to delineate between apps, main courses and desserts. I originally thought the best way to decipher it was by looking at the prices, but the squid I ordered was considered an entree despite the fact that it wasn’t appreciably more expensive than most of the appetizers. In the end I just went with what the server told us, which is not very efficient. I very much enjoyed my squid which was prepared sous vide, and served over white grits, tomato, chorizo and kale, but it was a rather small portion compared to the other dishes that came to the table. My husband had pappardelle with braised pork and tomato sauce, which was hearty and delicious, especially because the pasta was housemade. The risotto with red wine and mushrooms was also a hit, as was the trout, which was served over a winter vegetable salad of primarily roasted root vegetables.
Of the four dishes, the first four were $13 or under, and the trout was $17. There’s currently a beef checks and quinoa dish on the menu at $20, but that’s the most expensive entree. I’ve read that the restaurant is overpriced, a comment I don’t understand given the quality and nature of each dish. Kaspar sensed our interest in the food (and saw that I was taking photos), and sent out a dessert that he said he whipped up for us that was not on the menu, a coffee cheese cake of sorts that we had no trouble demolishing.
I think there’s somewhat of a disconnect between the decor and the artistry of the dishes coming out of the kitchen, but it’s a very congenial spot. It’s not a place to linger however, as the wooden chairs get a bit hard after a time. My biggest concern is the service which, while well-meaning and ernest, needs to be polished. A full-on training needs to take place to do justice to the chef’s efforts. If the service issues are addressed, Kansas Town has major potential, and could finally be the restaurant that exorcises Macaluso’s ghost.