Around the BLOCK

Test Kitchen Kansas City

Written By: Mary Bloch - Feb• 21•15

A star-studded cast led the first 2015 version of the Test Kitchen, an underground supper club started by Jenny Vergara in 2008. For those unfamiliar with the Test Kitchen, it’s really an incubator for chefs. They are encouraged to think out of the box and stretch their creative limits, a luxury not commonly allowed in a restaurant setting. Interested diners sign up by email and are entered into a lottery. Twenty to thirty lucky winners are picked to dine in what is typically an offbeat location, revealed just 24 hours to attending.P1030070

Last night’s dinner proved to be a departure from the Test Kitchen norm as it provided a sneak peek of Alex Pope and Eric Willey’s Cleaver & Cork, which is set to open next week after a series of preview events. Chef Andrew Heimburger, previously at Pigwich and Local Pig, helms the kitchen as he continues his tutelage under Alex Pope. Participants were treated to a preview of menu items as well as the opportunity to dine in the restaurant before it opens to the public.

Andrew Olsen, previously a bartender at the Rieger, was recruited to manage the bar program at Cleaver & Cork. He and Eric Willey devised beverage pairings to go with the seven course dinner.

Cocktail hour began with a Horsefeather. Made with Rieger whiskey, ginger beer and lemon,  it is a variation of the Moscow Mule that has gained popularity since its introduction in the 1990’s in Lawrence.

Our first course was a lovely sweet potato soup with scallions and chile salt, presented in beautiful bowls that were purchased to create a particular look for the restaurant. Sweet potato soupThat was followed by a salad of oyster mushrooms with house made ricotta, arugula and a dash of chipotle.ricotta and mushroom salad

Since Alex owns Local Pig, it’s no surprise that Cleaver & Cork will sport a very meat-centric menu. The first appetizer we were given was beef tartar with porcini and Parmesan, a slight riff on the typical egg yolk version.beef tartar

The next appetizer we enjoyed was braised pork jowl atop fried polenta with roasted jalapeno sauce. Light it was not, but it was my favorite bite of the night.pork jowl--Cleaver & Cork

We moved into the entrees with a BBQ Pork Shoulder, paired with braised cabbage, cornbread pudding and a bbq beurre blanc. Braised for only 2 hours, it doesn’t melt like a pork butt that has been slowly cooked for 5 or more hours, but it was still tender and played nicely with the other elements of the dish.BBQ pork shoulder with cornbread pudding--Cleaver & Cork

The final dinner course provided a touch of the gulf coast, with wild shrimp, mussels, Kielbasa, sweet corn and farro (a substitution for the gold rice grits that will be on the menu).shrimp, sausage, corn and farro

We ended with smoked creme brulee, paired with a Valentino cocktail. Whiskey, orange, cherry, sweet vermouth, and a touch of espresso provided the perfect complement to this smokey finish.smoked creme brulee and a Valentino

Eric’s wine pairings were spot on. Though I’m more of a red wine drinker and didn’t love the whites on their own, the beauty of a well-conceived wine pairing and a talented sommelier is that when sipped with food, the wines shine. And that’s exactly what happened.

The restaurant is just what the Power & Light District needs. Though owned by an affiliate of the Cordish Companies, it will be independently operated without the feel of the chains that permeate the District. And with Alex Pope and Eric Willey running the show, a  quality food and drink program is assured.

If you’ve never been to a Test Kitchen dinner, go to testkitchenkc.com and sign up to get on the mailing list. If you haven’t succeeded in winning the lottery to get in, keep trying. Wherever the venue or whomever is cooking, you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

San Miguel de Allende–Part 1

Written By: Mary Bloch - Feb• 15•15

As my faithful readers have noticed I haven’t been updating my blog very frequently lately, preferring instead to post to my Around the Block Facebook page or posting photos to my msbloch Instagram account. But I was inspired by a recent trip to Mexico and wanted to share highlights of my trip.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

Though I know several people who vacation or have homes in San Miguel de Allende, typically when Kansas Citians go to Mexico they head to the coasts of Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. But San Miguel is in the interior, a three hour drive from Mexico City. Beautiful weather year-round, but no beach.

In 2008 UNESCO recognized San Miguel de Allende as a World Heritage of Humanity site, citing the town’s religious and civil architecture. It is beyond quaint, with narrow cobblestone streets, unique buildings dating back to the 17th Century, and a striking palette of color.

San Miguel

San Miguel

The original homes in the city, many of which have been converted into stores or restaurants, were built around interior courtyards and placed side-by-side, so it’s rare for a restaurant to have a 1st floor patio, unless it’s behind the front door. Most restaurants and hotels instead utilize the rooftops, to dramatic effect; sunsets in SMA are spectacular. And no matter the time of day, the views in all directions seem endless.

In addition to allowing me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, that of eating, San Miguel also offers the opportunity to enjoy my other favorite pastime, walking. Except for the day when we took a cab to explore the botanical garden, we walked everywhere. For women interested in a trip to San Miguel, leave your heels behind. Sturdy walking shoes are de rigueur, even in the evenings. The cobblestones are too deep to navigate with soft soled shoes, and the sidewalks are so narrow that you often find yourself playing chicken with someone coming at you whom you know you’re going to have to pass. Don’t give into any temptation to hop in a cab, the best way to experience San Miguel is on foot. Below you’ll find photos from some of my favorite meals in SMA. My next post will be about an incredible meal we had at Aperi, a jewel of a restaurant with a master chef from Italy in the kitchen.

Enjoy!

Saturday market--taco fillings.

Saturday market–taco fillings.

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Enchiladas mole–La Posadita

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Tuna on a potato chip–La Azoteca

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handmade tortillas

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Jicama tacos with shrimp–La Azoteca

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frozen margarita–La Azoteca

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Tuna tostadas–La Parada

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Salmon ceviche–La Parada

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Heuvos Rancheros–Lavande Cafe

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Chips and salsa

 

Chilaquiles with three sauces–El Correo

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Octopus and potatoes bravas style–Luna

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Duck carnitas–Luna

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Drinks at Luna

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Cochinta Pibil–La Posadita

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Chilaquiles with bacon–Lavande Cafe

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Brunch at the Rosewood hotel–tortillas and tacos made to order

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Eggs layered with cheese and topped with mole. Andanza restaurant at Casa Sierra Nevada hotel.

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guacamole at La Posadita

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View from the terrace at La Posadita

 

Pozole verde--La Posadita

Pozole verde–La Posadita

La Parroquia

La Parroquia

KC Restaurant Week 2015

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jan• 18•15

Kansas City’s Restaurant Week is well under way, continuing through January 25, with 160 restaurants participating for lunch and/or dinner. At lunch two courses will be served for $15 and at dinner 3 for $33. Check out Restaurant Week’s website where most restaurants have posted the lunch and or dinner menu they will be serving. Restaurants typically offer a combination of dishes that are normally featured and some that have been created specifically for this event. Diners will have a choice of several appetizers, entrees and desserts, but be forewarned that it is a limited menu.

Restaurant Week was originally devised during the 1992 Democratic Convention in New York City. For an interesting account of what its goals are and what has been accomplished in NYC, click here.

As the story suggests, it’s a terrific way for restaurants to promote themselves and for diners to try a restaurant that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford (or several, judging from the way in which some diners attack the Week, trying one or two a day to take advantage of the great offers). It also drives traffic to restaurants during what is traditionally a slow time of year for the industry.

Three new charitable partners have been added as beneficiaries of 2015 Kansas City Restaurant Week. The donations raised during the 2015 event will benefit BoysGrow, Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired and Cultivate Kansas City. The Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Education Foundation, will again also receive a portion of the donations.

You’ll need reservations, so get dialing and enjoy Restaurant Week!!

Corn Tortillas

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jan• 04•15

Now that I know how easy it is to make homemade tortillas, I can’t believe I haven’t made them before. Spurred on by the gift of a tortilla press from my son and daughter-in-law, I recently made quesadillas using homemade corn tortillas. When I first received the press, I made the mistaken assumption that this was a special occasion effort, perhaps needing to roast a pork shoulder to be the centerpiece of the meal. I finally decided that a quiet dinner at home was occasion enough. Remembering fondly the simplicity of griddled corn tortillas with melted Oaxacan that we enjoyed for breakfast every morning the last time we were in Mexico, I decided to try to recreate that treat.IMG_2427IMG_2428_2IMG_2429IMG_2433_2Quesadillas

I used the recipe on the back of the masa bag–it took all of 2 minutes to make the dough and roll it out into little balls. One quick press and the tortilla was ready to be cooked on an oil-free skillet. Flour tortillas can be made in the same manner.

It was SO simple….and delicious. Next time I would probably make a more complicated filling, but since I was a virgin tortilla maker, this was the way to start. We were able to taste the freshness of the corn tortillas, and it’s hard to beat a flavorful, chewy cheese. Of course I served it with salsa, but no other adornment was needed.

I’m all over this now. Homemade tortillas grace the menus of restaurants all over the country, but this is something you can do just as well in your own kitchen. Fajitas and tacos, even pork chile verde, would all be elevated by a little DIY action.

 

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Char Bar

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 22•14

The Char Bar is the latest in the barbecue restaurant sweepstakes, coP1030055ming on the heels of the Q 39 opening last April. The Char Bar is taking it up a notch, with a sports bar/laid-back ambiance, complete with leather chairs, and even some healthy options. My husband thought I was off my rocker when I suggested getting the Roots and Fruits, but even he admitted it was a winner.  A generous portion of Brussel sprouts, roasted beets, parsnips, goat cheese, oranges and blackberry vinaigrette, it would be a great entrée, though we treated it as an appetizer.P1030056

Walking into the converted Beaumont Club space in Westport is a pleasant surprise. IMG_2326_2The restaurant has two dining rooms with a bar in the middle, and a planned outdoor beer garden that promises to be the biggest in the Midwest. The beer list is extensive and there is even a nice wine list for those who want to go that route. Add in the Southern cocktails and bourbons and you quickly catch onto the notion that this is not a traditional KC barbecue joint.

Though billed as “Smoked Meats”, make no mistake: this is barbecue. But that’s a good thing. I think the burnt ends are second to none in the city, the brisket was tender and the ribs succulent. Sauce master Mitch Benjamin’s Meat Mitch sauce is featured, though I prefer his spicier version, which is also on the table. I loved that there’s complimentary homemade jalapeno sauce as well.P1030061

And oh the French fries. Sweet or regular, these fries rank up there with my favorites in the city. P1030059

There are plenty of options for those not seeking barbecue…lobster and grits, fried chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, duck gumbo, and a myriad of salads. Even burgers, sandwiches and grilled fish.P1030054

Char Bar is a perfect spot for a quick bite, watching a basketball game on TV, or a relaxed dinner with friends. It’s not in a gas station, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out!

Char Bar on Urbanspoon

Caramel Crunch Bars

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 15•14

Dorie Greenspan knows what she’s doing. Easier than it looks, this is a great holiday treat, for young and older palates alike.

http://www.scrumptiousphotography.com/2009/02/caramel-crunch-bars-tuesdays-with-dorie.html  IMG_0188IMG_0186IMG_0191IMG_0192P1020282P1020286P1020288P1020287P1020290

Turkey Tidbits

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 24•14

Back by popular demand, a post from last year’s holiday season.

Every year a debate rages on as to whether to stuff the Thanksgiving bird or not. There’s really no good reason to do it (except that it looks cool) and many reasons  not to, the most important of which is that it’s not necessarily a safe practice. If the stuffing itself is not cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, bacteria can grow. Stuffing cooked in the turkey will be moist from turkey juices, but that can also translate into it being soggy. If you cook the dressing separately and leave the lid off while baking (at least part of the time), the top will crisp up, making it a more appealing dish. And to counter concerns about it drying out if it’s not cooked in the turkey, pour some white wine over the dressing before you bake it. I have done that for years and it works beautifully without imparting a strong flavor.

Many home cooks now have a convection oven in their kitchens, but don’t know what to do with them. The purpose of using the convection setting? It should produce a more moist bird in considerably less time. My mother always had to get up at the crack of dawn to prepare the turkey and get it in the oven for a mid-day feast. The newer convection ovens reduce cooking time by more than a third. Depending on weight, traditional ovens cook a turkey in 12-15 minutes a pound; in convection mode, it’s closer to 9 minutes a pound  at 325 degrees (if it’s stuffed, that time will increase to approximately 11 minutes). You may not get it just right the first time around, that’s why it’s always advisable to have a good meat thermometer on hand.  The instruction manual will undoubtedly advise  cooking at a 25 degree lower temperature when using the convection setting than in a conventional oven.

Most recipes advise taking the turkey out when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees, once it sits for 20 minutes it will rise to 180. And depending on the model, there are often different settings–convection, convection bake, and convection roast. If you have a roast setting, use that for your turkey, if not, the simple convection setting will work just fine. Finally, another bonus of using a convection oven is that because the air circulates all around the turkey, the heat is more evenly distributed and basting is not as essential. Once you stick the bird in the oven, you shouldn’t need to baste it every 30 minutes as in the “old days”–just peek at the turkey once in a while and baste if it looks like it’s drying out. I use white wine and orange juice, it’s healthier and just as effective as oil or butter.

This Thanksgiving, why not up the celebration factor?  How often do  you get a chance to use your grandmother’s china (or your own, for that matter)? What about hauling out those wedding presents that have long since tarnished? And what better time to do so than when your family is gathered around the table, the best reason to give thanks during this holiday.

A Taste of Austin

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 02•14

Don’t get me wrong, Austin is a cool city. Pockets of eclectic neighborhoods, tons of live music, a pretty lake with an awesome trail surrounding it and a booming downtown. But for me, it’s all about the food.Austin

I was recently there for 4 nights and didn’t come close to trying all of the restaurants on my list. I did make a dent though, and every meal was awesome.Torchy's tacos

Torchy’s Tacos–there are a number of locations around the state, but this Mexican food truck doesn’t resemble a chain in any way. Homemade corn tortillas envelop a myriad of fillings, the queso fundido is topped with guacamole and salsa, and the street corn gets lost under a mound of ancho chile aioli, cilantro and crema.

Veracruz All Natural. This little food truck is as out-of-the-way as it gets. We rode our bikes there and waited in line, first to order and then while they made each taco to suit. It’s known for the migas taco, with tortilla strips, scrambled eggs and cheese, and it was worth the ride. The chicken mole and al pastor tacos were every bit as worthy.Veracruz all Natural

Thai Kun. Recently named #8 best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit as a food truck, this Thai gold mine is one of several food truck/shacks owned by master restaurateur Paul Qui.  The black noodles, fried and raw cabbage salad, peanut curry on baguette with cucumber salad, and tiger cry pork with rice were all fabulous.Tiger Pork--Thai KunPeanut Curry--Thai KunCabbage salad--Thai KunBlack noodles--Thai KunThai Kun-Austin

La Barbecue. A worthy competitor of Franklin’s Barbecue. We stood in line for 90 minutes despite arriving 15 minutes before it opened, but that’s nothing compared to the up to 6 hours some have endured for a taste of Franklin’s brisket. It’s hard for me to believe it’s any better than this was. The brisket was thick and juicy (the sauce was bland but fortunately not needed since the meat had so much flavor) and the more than one pound beef rib stole the show. Unlike Kansas City barbecue, the sides are clearly an afterthought here. We tried the chipotle slaw and pinto beans, both of which were a zero.La BarbecueLa Barbecue

Odd Duck. Bryce Gilmore has created a very cool vibe at this small plates restaurant south of town.  Soft pretzels stuffed with ham and gouda and served in a jar filled with mustard bechamel, spiced butternut squash with goat feta, chimichurri, olives and wild rice, soft cooked duck egg with fried rice and mushrooms, flatbread with chorizo, goat cheese and shishito peppers, grilled bacon with corn pudding and mustard greens, goat confit with red chile, goat cheese and popcorn–we had a small sampling, but that gives you an idea of the creativity at work.Goat confit with mole and popcornFlatbread with chorizo and goat cheese--Odd DuckOdd DuckSquash with chimichurri--Odd Duck

East Side King at Hole in the Wall. Another Soft cooked duck egg with fried rice--Odd Duckmasterpiece by Paul Qui, this time in back of a bar. We shared fried Brussels sprouts with sweet & spicy sauce, shredded cabbage, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño, beet fries with kewpie mayo, ramen, pork belly buns and spiced avocado buns. Another hit.Ramen--East Side KingBeet fries--ESK Hole in the WallPork buns--ESK Hole in the WallBrussel sprouts--ESK Hole in the Wall

The standout of the weekend was Qui, Paul Qui’s brick and mortar restaurant that features both a casual bar and tasting menu, including as unique a vegetarian menu as you’ll find anywhere. We shared the regular and vegetarian menu so we were able to try 14 dishes in all–it was truly memorable. Dishes included such bites as lamb belly adobo with coconut vinegar, black pepper, tomato fresco and black, lime; yuzu caramel, jacks lettuce, aged cheddar, coffee bean and pine nut butter; matsuake, maitake butter, balsam fir, ogo nori; kimchi broth, ribeye, daikno, leek, bok choy, nori; filipino peanut curry with green bean, puffed rice and kimchi, graffiti eggplant, grilled pecan butter, gremolata , pickled shallot, gala apple, and even tuna briefly seared tableside on a binchotan. Unfortunately, it was dark and my pictures don’t come close to capturing once of my favorite meals of 2014.QuiQuiQuiQuiQuiQui

Swift’s Attic. Not to be missed for brunch, or even just a cocktail, this industrial space has it going on. The food was very global, including such standouts as peanut butter and jelly pancakes with foie gras, fried quail with biscuits and red eye gravy, and Forbidden rice bibimbap with a poached egg.bimimbap--Swift's AtticQuail with cheddar biscuit and redeye gravy--Swift's AtticPB&J pancakes with foie gras--Swift's Attic

Though I would definitely be happy revisiting any of the places we went, next time I’d also like to try another East Side King truck, Lenoir’s reasonably priced prix fixe menu, Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine, 24 Hour Diner, Sway, Elizabeth Street Cafe, South Congress Cafe and El Naranjo. And by the time I go back, I’m sure they’ll be another group of trendy new spots to add to my list.

Seasons and Square

Written By: Mary Bloch - Oct• 21•14

Andrea Morrow Joseph is a woman on a mission. She is filling her new spice and home goods shop with high quality, unique anIMG_2012d and artisanal products, with an enthusiasm and obvious passion that has everyone who enters the store rooting for her success. Not only is she selling many items that aren’t available elsewhere in town, it’s fun to learn from Andrea the back story of each product.

With the holidays coming up, Seasons and Square would be a great spot to do your shopping, for both stocking stufSeasons and Squarefers and beautiful gifts. Things are not cheap, but you get what you pay for.  Keep in mind that with each purchase you are supporting craftspeople who are committed to making the very best products you can buy. The offerings run the gamut from homemade gin kits and pre-made cocktails to recyclable food wrappers, chefs knives and cutting boards, and freshly ground spices. Specialty jams and dressings, cookbooks, beautiful thermos containers and soaps also line the shelves of this very unique and creative shop.IMG_2014

On my last visit to the shop, Andrea revealed plans to open a restaurant on the same block. More good news for the neighborhood.Seasons and SquareSeasons and Square

Q 39

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 18•14

 

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Q 39 is an anomaly in town. Q 39It’s one of the few restaurants in town with a focus on barbecue that has a serious array of other offerings. The award-winning chef/owner, Rob Magee, turns out some pretty awesome chicken, brisket and fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, while also serving up salmon salad, burgers, and chicken tortilla soup, among other non-barbecue options.

Walking into Q39, one immediately senses that this is not going to be a typical barbecue experience.There’s a good-looking bar upfront for sports enthusiasts and those desiring a real cocktail, an open kitchen with a wood-burning grill to cook steaks and fish, and a nicely appointed dining room with rustic but chic wood furniture. Magee’s medals and trophies grace one wall, letting customers know that this is no upstart establishment.P1020676

When my husband and I first tried Q39, I ordered a competition bbq plate and pulled pork sandwich with slaw (a la Oklahoma Joe’s Carolina style sandwich) so we could try a little of everything, including the awesome French fries.I was so excited to dig in I forgot to take photos of the untouched plate. While we enjoyed the meats, we both thought the barbecue sauce lacked the depth and thickness of those around town that we love, like Oklahoma Joe’s, LC’s and Danny Edwards. And unlike most barbecue joints, the sauce is not available tableside in big squeeze bottles.  My husband uses meat as a vehicle for his sauce, so he was less than enamored that he had to ask for more sauce 5 times, and all he got each time was a small little dipping sauce container. Hopefully, they’ll rectify that because we aren’t the only Kansas Citians who like our sauce.P1020680Competition Platter--Q 39

The Spiced Onion Straws seem to be a big seller, so we decided to get an order for “dessert”. The first few bites were tasty, but then the grease caught up with me and I let my husband finish them.Onion Straws--Q 39

On our next visit we started with the onion straws again, and the “Planet’s Best” chicken wings.Chicken wings--Q39 I still think the onion straws are too greasy, but I loved the wings. Drenched in sauce, they were meaty and a bit addictive. We also sampled that very smokey tortilla soup, the grilled chicken cobb and another one of those competition plates. The grilled chicken on the salad was charred yet tender, the bacon came in substantial chunks instead of small bits, the greens were crisp and the dressings I ordered on the side were both flavorful and homemade. My only suggestion would be to add that traditional element of avocado to add more depth to the salad.Cobb salad with grilled chicken--Q39Smoked chicken tortilla soup--Q 39

The meats and ribs on the platter were excellent, as before, but none of us at the table thought the slaw was worthy of any love.photo 3

I agree with the many fans of Q39 that it’s a welcome addition to the crowded Kansas City barbecue scene, especially if you don’t want to wait in a long line (you can make a reservation here), you’re looking for a leisurely dinner with a nice array of cocktails, beer and a decent wine list…or even a non-barbecue meal, and you prefer to be waited on rather than ordering at a counter. But, Q39 is not going to be replacing Oklahoma Joe’s or Danny Edwards’ in my heart (or stomach) anytime soon.P1020675

Q39 on Urbanspoon