El Comedor at Port Fonda

I’ve already written about my love affair with Patrick Ryan’s chilaquiles verde, one of the awesome dishes coming out the window at Port Fonda’s trailer. But an evening at el comedor was a different animal altogether. Though it’s already received a four star review from the Star (Jill, you nailed it), I’ll add my two cents here.

As I described in an earlier post, Port Fonda is an Airstream trailer that has been converted into a Mexican food truck. But throw your preconceived notions of a food truck out the window and kick ‘em way down the road. Not only is the truck’s interior itself a thing of beauty, the food that Patrick is creating goes far beyond anything Kansas City has experienced before.

In addition to serving street tacos to walk-ups, Patrick and co-owner Max Watson are treating 6 diners (twice a night, weekends only) to a Mexican feast at a table that he installed inside the truck in a space that could have easily been utilized as storage. Called el comedor, this brainstorm has been an unqualified success, both financially and in terms of creating a buzz and building a loyal and fervent clientele.

Patrick is a former protegé of Rick Bayless, who owns Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. So to say he knows how to cook authentic Mexican fare is a wee bit of an understatement.

On to the other star of the show…the food.

We started with a little roasted corn number, topped with spicy crema and pork skins for crunch. A great starter.

Next up was a supplemental course, new creation of Patrick’s, literally conceived during a dream. He woke up and figured out how to make it work. And oh my, does it work. Rancho Gordo white beans form the base of the dish, and are gently pureed but still have texture. The next layer is choriblanco, similar to a boudin blanc sausage, but with a kick. It was then topped with a spicy jalapeno ranch sauce. All white, so it looks boring in the photo, but I assure you it was anything but. The mouthfeel was incredible and the flavors were intense and complex. A real winner.

Next, those fabulous chilaquiles verde with an egg on top. Unlike most chilaquiles that are a soggy mess, the tortillas that form the layers still have a crunch while still managing to absorb the salsa verde. And the salsa is a perfect recreation of those Frontera Grill salsas that my family devours in mass quantities.

The portions up to this point were manageable, though we all wanted seconds of everything. Then Patrick made room on the table for a huge pork shoulder that from then on served as our centerpiece. It was surrounded in a circle by tiny bowls full of salsas, pickled vegetables, crema, radishes, and cilantro, all of which we used to customize our tacos.

The pork was a wonder. I’ve made pork shoulder (also referred to as pork butt) before, but I’ve made the mistake of trimming the fat. No more. Patrick left the fat on, used a rub on the entire piece of meat and then slow roasted it for hours. Near the end of the cooking process the meat gets a healthy dose of brown sugar, and comes to the table with a caramel-like glaze on it resembling dripping candy. Patrick handed us tongs and instructed us tear into it. It easily fell apart as we went to town pulling from both sides. The fat was crisp and ridiculously delicious. As I ate way more than I should have, I felt as though I was eating forbidden fruit. Decadent, fattening, horrible for my health, AND amazing.

Move over David Chang. Momofuku Ssam bar in New York has nothing on Patrick Ryan and his Mexican pork shoulder.

We did a number on that hunk of meat before we leaned back into the banquette and cried “Uncle” as we lapsed into a satisfying pork coma.

With no room for dessert, we nonetheless managed to dig into Patrick’s sugary ricotta doughnuts, sitting atop caramel and chocolate sauces. Fortunately, the 24 year-old male in the group did a number on the leftovers so none of them were wasted.

Though I couldn’t manage to eat again until dinner time the next day, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat; it was that special.

The cost for this memorable evening? A very reasonable $250 for 6 people, 4 courses, BYOB.

At some point Patrick may change it up a bit, offering a 6-12 course tasting menu in the truck, but it sounds like he may ultimately open his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. I dream of the day.

In the meantime, assemble 5 friends (with whom you would enjoy spending three hours with in tight quarters), email Patrick and do whatever it takes to get yourself a reservation.
Port Fonda on Urbanspoon

The Westside Local revisited

I went to The Westside Local a few times when it first opened and, while I was drawn to the Portland-style ambiance with its brick walls and wood floors, I thought the food prep could use some work. Based on more recent visits, it appears that the cavalry has arrived.

Evidently I’m not the only one to reach this conclusion. On each visit, the restaurant has been hopping, and on more than one occasion, people were patiently waiting for a table.

What brought about the changes? Actually, it’s a who. The new chef Stephanie Dumler, formerly a sous chef at Webster House, has been in the kitchen for several months and is serving fresh, local and creative fare at a reasonable price point.

Diners are invited to build a plate from one or several of any number of “Localities”, ranging from fruit to cheese, bread service to sardines. Or, you can go with one of the pre-designed starters like deviled eggs or a pint of fries.The menu is the same at lunch and dinner, though the array is such that all the bases are covered. Salad or sandwich for lunch, fish or meat entrée for dinner. But for those not wanting a heavy meal or more expensive dish, those salads and sandwiches are available throughout the food service.

The Summit burger (so named because of the restaurant’s address on Summit) is often mentioned by internet reviewers as being one of the best in town, but that has not been my experience. I’m happy to eat local, grass-fed beef, but this was a bit gamey for my taste and didn’t compare to the hamburger at Julian’s, which has to be one of the top burgers in the city. But the grilled cheese, chicken salad sandwich and pesto chicken sandwiches were much more successful. The ingredients were fresh, plentiful, and local. Salads are not large, but they too have a freshness about them that is very satisfying.

One dish that I’ve been hearing a lot  about is the quinoa entrée. Quinoa is a grain, one of the  so-called super foods because its high fiber and protein content. By itself it tends to be a bit boring, the trick is to pair it with ingredients that add flavor and accentuate the fluffy texture.  At Westside Local the quinoa is served as a hot entrée, not a salad as is often the case in vegetarian restaurants. Haricot verts, corn, tomato, zucchini, red onion, golden raisins, shaved Parmesan, and ruby chard sit atop the grain and, once mixed in, the quinoa cools  to a reasonable eating temperature. Salmon or chicken can be added, but neither is necessary to fill the diner’s stomach or satisfy his or her tastebuds. It was a fine example of simplicity and healthy eating.

The spinach salad came with peaches, blueberries and feta, tossed with a cilantro lime dressing. Nice, not exciting, and definitely needed more of each ingredient. I love a good panzanella salad when tomatoes are at their juiciest, and the croutons are fresh and crisp. Westside Local uses Farm to Market’s kalamata olive bread to make the croutons, as I often do at home, so I appreciated that extra bit of flavor over the typical baguette crouton. The mixed greens were also tossed with cucumbers, olives, goat cheese, and sherry vinaigrette, definitely a summer dish that will probably be off the menu by the time this is posted.

Another item that will have to be dropped soon–seared salmon with corn puree and corn salad with peaches and basil, but if you hurry it might not be too late. No matter. At this rate, the fall menu promises much excitement, too.

The Westside Local on Urbanspoon

Kansas City Food Truck Guide

The country’s food truck craze has descended upon Kansas City, bringing with it a wave of rolling meals on wheels. The movement is driven entirely by social media. Trucks tweet or post their whereabouts and offer up menus online to get the word out. Follow your favorite vendors on Facebook and Twitter so you can find them whenever the urge strikes.

Miss out on the Kansas City Star’s Food Truck Friday? No worries, everything you need to indulge in some diverse and creative fare can be found in the Star’s Food Truck Guide. If you come across one that I’ve left out, please let me know so I can add it to the list.


These are a few of my favorite things….at Trader Joe’s

I know I’m not alone in my delight that Trader Joe’s has finally invaded Kansas City. My family and friends from around the country are so relieved that they will no longer be called upon to bring me a stash of Rio coffee candies from their Trader Joe’s to ensure that I never run out. I’ve an addiction to them, one that started when I decided to wean myself off of peanut M&M’s. Yes, I’m still eating candy, but a sort that has much less impact on my cholesterol numbers.

But those hard candies have loads of company in the grocery cart. Up until now I’ve not been able to buy fresh or even frozen foods at a Trader Joe’s before, so my overall experience has been somewhat limited, but I’m certainly happy to finally have ready access to the myriad of non-perishables that line the shelves of the store.

I’ve had several friends who have asked why I like the store so much and what I like to buy. As a public service, I thought I should give all of you the benefit of years spent roaming the aisles so, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorite things at Trader Joe’s.

1. Olive Tapenade. You can’t make it as cheaply as the TJ version, so why bother? This has all the key ingredients of homemade.

2. Jars of roasted red peppers. Again, it comes down to price and these are much less expensive than in conventional grocery stores.

3. Pastas and rice. Ditto. You just can’t beat the price of the Arborio and basamati rices.

4.  Black Licorice Scotty Dog. Chewy, chewy, chewy. My husband’s favorite, so we keep a spare box in the pantry.

5. Vinegars and oils. Balsamic vinegar is another bargain, as are the array of olive oils from Spain to Italy.

6. Peanut butter pretzels. These used to be more of a draw before Costco started selling them, but they are just as hard to stop eating once you’ve started. Lay’s potato chip slogan of “You can’t eat just one” is even more applicable to these little treats.

7. Dark chocolate pistachio toffee. Move over milk chocolate almond toffee. TJ’s carries that as well, but the pistachio pieces covering the dark chocolate elevate this candy to a whole new level.

8. Indian naan. More oblong in shape and smaller than what you’d find at Whole Foods or in an Indian restaurant, this flatbread is an ideal size for making non-traditional sandwiches, or serving warm with the chicken curry you made for dinner. You can freeze the 6-pack and pull them out one at a time as needed.

9. Olive oil spray for grill grates. I like that it’s made with olive oil instead of vegetable oil or some fake substance and, did I mention that it’s cheap??

10. Big bars of chocolate–dark, darker, milk and bittersweet. Very tasty for snacking, but most useful for baking.

After my initial visit to the Ward Parkway store, I made two new discoveries that also delighted me. The selection of cheeses is impressive considering the allocation of space for them is limited, and they are appreciably cheaper by the pound than most stores, even Costco.

AND, they have lovely fresh flowers. I really enjoy having fresh flowers in the house, but my otherwise generous husband considers them a waste of money, so to see the reasonably price tags was especially exciting.

One area that didn’t float my boat was the wine department. I’m not a fan of Two Buck Chuck, though some varietals are better than others. However, I have been in some TJ stores that have a vast and worthy selection of wines, and the one at Ward Parkway was a disappointment. (The Trader Joe’s in Leawood doesn’t sell wine at all because of the antiquated liquor laws in Kansas.) Give me Costco any day, for price and quality.

I was also disappointed with the salsa selection. What was on the shelves was fine, but the options were meager. At least they’ve got a nice variety of chips, including spicy soy and flax, ostensibly a healthier take on nacho cheese Doritos.

As I continue to explore this treasure trove of goodies, I’ll report back on my new favorite things.



Boulevard Brewery Brewmaster’s Luncheon

Do yourself a favor.  Go online to http://www.boulevard.com/experiences/brewmaster-luncheons/ and sign up to attend one of the monthly Brewmaster’s Luncheon at Boulevard Brewery.  Your name will be a put in a lottery, and with any luck you’ll get one of 50 or so seats to a three course lunch prepared by a local chef. Beer pairings are, of course, the focus of the meal, and on this day they were all from the Smokestack Series.

I attended the June luncheon featuring Howard Hanna of the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. We started in the brewery for a quick sip and tour of the facility and then went to the Muehlebach Suite event space in the gorgeous new(ish) addition for our lunch.

Each course was accompanied by an explanation of both food and drink. The very knowledgeable (and darling) Boulevard brewmaster, Steven Pauwels described the particular beer, and Howard discussed the dish and why he picked that beer to go with it. We started with a scallop and shrimp ceviche with Boulevard’s new Two Jokers Double-Wit. Listening to the historical aspect of the beer was interesting, but drinking it was even better, and the ceviche was fabulous.

Next up was a beer-poached (what else?) bratwurst with local corn polenta , adorable baby mushrooms, and braised cabbage with Saison-Brett. I was initially disappointed when I saw the menu and realized that bratwurst was the main course, since I’m not a fan of any relative of the hot dog. But Howard surprised me with an all pork version, and I really enjoyed it. Though I’m sure there was plenty of fat in it, it seemed as lean as eating ground pork. and it had a pleasing texture. I have come around to liking polenta after years of avoiding it at all costs, and this had the local corn element so it tasted fresh and more corn like than I would have expected. I suspect any beer would have paired well with this dish, but drinking the Saison-Brett was a treat.

Dessert was an apricot tart with almond, frangipane and local peach creme Anglaise. A nice ending, but the beer that was served with it was the real star. It was called Dark Truth Stout, and though I’m not usually a fan of rich, dark, beer, this shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into that description. It felt like the cold version of having coffee at the end of the meal, with a touch of mocha to complete the bliss. The Boulevard website describes it this way. “Layers of complex flavors slowly emerge from the glass: espresso, roasted fig, crème brulée. Belgian yeast provides a plum-like fruitiness, noble German hops reveal spicy, herbal notes, while the rich, velvety mouthfeel mellows to a dry, smoky finish.”

After lunch we were all invited to grab another beer at the bar, and mosey out onto the terrace (which sports a beautiful view of downtown). I was certainly glad I wasn’t one of the guests who had to go back to work that afternoon. After such a wonderful lunch and a fair amount of alcohol, I’m not sure I would have made it.

Tannin Wine Bar

If you didn’t know JP Wine Bar had gone out of business, you couldn’t tell by walking in the door of the restaurant that now inhabits its former space.  The new Tannin Wine Bar was smart to leave the interior as it was–the urban decor is trendy yet comfortable, and it has a variety of seating areas depending on what suits your fancy on any given evening. Chef Brian Aaron is also a holdover from JP and, judging from my first meal there since the restaurant changed hands, that’s a good thing as well. 

We went for an early dinner before seeing a play at the Music Hall. We neglected to inform our waiter of that fact when we sat down, but once we mentioned our time constraint, he was quick to tell the kitchen and our meal was perfectly timed.

The menu has fewer small plates than JP did, but more sandwiches and salads if you’d rather not have a full entree.Wine is still king here, with a large wine list, though flights are not featured as prominently as they were at JP. The wine by the glass list is lengthy, though not as exciting as I would have expected, and I thought the pours were a bit skimpy for the cost.

We opted for the 4 course tasting menu for a very reasonable $38, as well as a Portobello sandwich on a croissant.  The sandwich made for a nice vegetarian option, but the hand cut French fries that accompanied it were outstanding.

The tasting menu offers several options for each course. We started with grilled Beau Solais oyster mushrooms on a pool of spicy sauce, a fabulous dish that could only have been improved if served with bread or a roll. We were sorry to have to leave any of the sauce, but we didn’t think it would be good form to lick the plate.

The next course offered a number of salad options, as well as steak tartare, crab dip, pork shoulder and mussels. We opted for the grilled romaine with grilled bread and a creamy Caesar dressing. I love the texture of grilled lettuce–it adds a charred flavor to what is traditionally not an exciting salad, and serving grilled bread instead of croutons was a nice riff.

The third course was my favorite. If I see seared Ahi tuna with wasabi mashed potatoes on the menu, I rarely fail to order it. It’s one of my favorite combinations, and the chef absolutely nailed it. It was as fine a tuna dish as our town has to offer right now.

The dessert wasn’t too shabby, either. It was hard to decide between the fudge stuffed peanut butter cookie, but it’s hard for me to resist a chocolate molten cake with Kaluha ice cream…so I didn’t. It may not have matched the one I still dream about from when JP Wine Bar first opened, but I still wrestled my husband for the last bite.

The tasting menu is a lovely way to sample a number of dishes, and the portions are smaller so it’s no problem to eat four courses and not be stuffed.

Though Tannin Wine Bar has been open for more than a month, they just had their grand opening on May 6. I’m glad the space is open and humming again. 

Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday Brunch at the Bristol Bar and Grill

Though I am a big fan of the Bristol’s Happy Hour in the Power & Light District, I had never been to the Sunday brunch buffet there. It’s quite a spread. Tables are arranged throughout the restaurant to avoid overcrowding–one is for cold food, two for hot,  and one for dessert. Those wanting a waffle can place an order through the server.

The cold food table was my favorite. Flash seared tuna, seaweed salad, tuna sushi rolls, smoked salmon, scallops, and cold shrimp  lined one end. Multiple vegetable salads rounded out the options. Large bowls of wasabi and ginger, sour cream,horseradish and cocktail sauce complemented the raw bar.

There was a hot table for carved tenderloin, cooked perfectly and grilled with a very smoky crust, and made-to-order omelets. The other hot table was less successful. Mushy jambalaya, dry shrimp enchiladas (made with crepes, not tortillas), and overcooked brussel sprouts, along with the standard eggs, bacon and sausage.

Dessert helped make up for that gap in quality, with squares of the Bristol’s famous carrot cake, an assortment of cookies and a lemon meringue tart.

Glancing around the dining rooms, it was clear that many customers intended to make this their dinner, too, piling up their plates and making multiple trips to the buffet tables. Even if you intend to eat another meal later in the day, at $21 a head, this is a good deal.

Bristol Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Check Out My New Website!

I have a new URL, which will hopefully be easier for people to remember. You can now find me at aroundtheblockkc.com

During the transition, you may be unable to access my posts on Urbanspoon. Until the broken links are fixed, please go directly to my website and search at the top right of the page for the restaurant you would like to read about.

Thanks for your patience, and happy reading!