I can’t promise success, but it’s worth the effort to make your own cheese.
A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.
I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)
This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.
For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper
Dario ought to be in the movies. He’s a huge presence; full of charisma and warmth, holding court as he does from behind the counter. Walking into the shop, a staff member immediately greets customers and offers up a glass of house Chianti. He then points to a long table laden with a lovely spread of antipasto–cheese, lardo on toast, salami and fettunata (grilled bread drenched in olive oil.) It may have been 10 am when we visited, but we happily sampled their offerings.
I had read quite a bit about Dario before our trip. He’s been featured in several national magazines and the New York Times. He’d also participated in a special dinner at Michael Smith a few years ago, and Michael suggested I look him up and use his name. The minute I mentioned Michael’s name, Dario broke out into a huge grin and yelled that his wife should come out to say hello. He urged us to eat, eat, eat, and quickly cut up some chunks of the most gorgeous porchetta I’ve ever seen. He spooned some red pepper jam onto a plate, stuck toothpicks in the bite-sized pieces of pork and gestured to us to please sample it. It tasted as good as it looked, which isn’t always the case with porchetta. This was moist, tender, meaty and, except for the outer ring, not at all fatty. The jam, which I’d had before because my nephew brought me a jar after visiting Dario a couple of years ago, was the perfect condiment.
We bought a hunk of porchetta to take back to our rental house and, of course, a jar of that pepper jam. Dario asked us to stay for lunch at his restaurant next door, but since it’s an all meat affair (he does run a butcher shop after all) and we had too many non-meat eaters in the group, we regretfully declined. It undoubtedly would have been a lively experience and I’m sorry we didn’t stay no matter the fare.
There are actually two butchers in Panzano. The other one is in the old section of town, but ask anyone for Dario’s shop and they can direct you to his doorstep. It’s one of those memorable experiences you won’t want to miss.
Last spring I went to the Final Cut at Hollywood Casino and was served a cheese plate with candied jalapenos. I had never had this treat before and thought they were fabulous. Sweet, hot and an ideal match for the cheese. So I decided when summer came around I would try making them with the scads of jalapenos that we always have in our garden. I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that appealed to me. Some added too many spices but this one was just right.
It was simple to make but required a ton of jalapenos to produce a very small batch–30 in fact, for just 2 pints!
I would urge you to wear gloves while slicing the jalapenos: I never do and always wind up sticking a finger in my eye at some point and getting a very uncomfortable burn. Once you add the jalapeno slices to the sugar/vinegar mixture, watch them carefully so they don’t get overcooked. I took mine off the heat as soon as the bright green color was gone.
Those in the know know of David Chang, chef/owner of the New York based Momofuku mini-empire. So when one of his former sous chefs sets up his own shop in Kansas City, he and his restaurant are going to immediately be on everyone’s radar.
And so it was with me. I love Momofuku Saam Bar, the Noodle Bar and,of course, the chewy and ridiculously good compost cookies made by Chang’s pastry chef Christina Tosi (which, by the way, my son and daughter-in-law provided as party favors at their wedding–those cookies have a cult-like following.)
When I heard that the aforementioned former sous chef, Ryan Brazeal was coming to town, I “liked” his new restaurant on Facebook and started paying attention to the inevitable buzz that surrounded the opening of Novel. Novel is how Brazeal defines his food. To him, New American and Nouvelle are outdated terms. He’s doing American his way.
Brazeal has taken over a quaint little home on the Westside that for years housed Lil’s restaurant. Overlooking 17th Street from on high, several steps must be climbed to get first to the charming terrace and then into the restaurant. The building is just west of the 17th and Summit intersection that has become a hotbed of funky and interesting restaurants.
It was fun to watch as he posted pictures of the renovation and greeted area chefs who stopped by to welcome him back to town. Brazeal is a graduate of the culinary program at the Johnson County Community College and, in his mind, this was an inevitable return.
The renovation is smashing in a very rustic, cozy way. Reclaimed wood lines the walls and floors, and the large kitchen in back is completely open and spacious. Diners walk by an intimate bar in order to get to their table, whether it’s on the first floor or upstairs. Also upstairs is a private dining room that is sure to be popular during the holidays.
We were there on a hot day in July when the A/C was working very hard to keep up with the steamy temperatures. Though normally we would have bolted after dinner because of it, the intimate atmosphere and our particular companions kept us in our seats long after the dishes had been cleared.
Everything that comes out of the kitchen is worth a picture. The colors are vibrant, and the flavors of each ingredient are distinctive and intense. Each dish is really a feast for all of the senses and makes the statement that this is fare that is going to be uniquely Brazeal’s.
Here’s what we enjoyed:
Tomato Salad with heirloom tomatoes, pickled strawberries, crisp cucumber, fresh herbs, yuzu-ginger vinaigrette was clearly made from just picked vegetables and fruit. With the Asian dressing and an unlikely combination of strawberry and tomato, Brazeal wastes no time in making it clear that he’s all about local and seasonal, cooking with only the freshest ingredients that he can get from the farmers with whom he is developing relationships.
Chilled Corn soup –it was a special the night we dined at Novel, and was easily the best corn soup I’ve ever had. Made from fresh ears of corn, it was incredibly sweet, with a hint of spice to offset the natural sugars.
Fluke Crudo with salted avocado, lime, and jicama was a delight. Each bite was a revelation and the flavors married beautifully.
The Chicken Brick was also quite inventive. According to GM Richard Garcia, this is the process: Brazeal brines the meat and then it’s lightly pounded flat; both the light and dark meat are seasoned with porchetta seasoning (sage, thyme, rosemary, and fennel seed), the meat is then layered alternating light and dark meat, and topped with chicken skin forming what looks like a brick; the “brick” is then pressed, cut into portions and pan roasted to order; sauce for the dish is made from fennel, shallots, white wine, chicken bones, and finished to order with sherry vinegar and pickled mustard seeds. The four bricks are surrounded by a panzanella salad of sourdough, summer squash, upland cress, mustard seed. Its was moist, light, and bursting with flavor.
We also spied a huge rib pork chop with spicy pork belly ragu, rice spaetzle, and baby bok choy that the diner at the next table was attacking with relish.
One flourless torte with caramel and peanuts for our table of four was all we could handle, but we demolished it. That’s my kind of dessert.
The small menu is updated often to take advantage of what’s in season, and weekly specials are off menu.
Jose Andres has done it again. The celebrity chef based in Washington DC owns several restaurants around the District, and I’ve now eaten at all of them with the exception of Minibar (though my son and his girlfriend went and took lots of pictures so I have experienced it vicariously). I had heard fabulous comments about Zaytinya for years but was reluctant to go because the featured cuisines of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are not typically my favorite. But this is not about hummus and dolmades, though those particular dishes are on the menu. If you venture out of your comfort zone, you will be richly rewarded with fun and exhilarating fare.
Here’s the list of what we shared at our table with a description from the menu. I’ve made a few notes of explanation where needed. The pictures say it all.
Halloumi is a cheese that can withstand heat without melting. It gets a bit too chewy when it cools, but right off the stove it’s soft and pairs well with a variety of sauces and fruits.
Garlic tuom is a Lebanese dipping sauce made along the lines of a pesto in that a mortar and pestle is needed to crush the ingredients into a paste. This particular condiment contains garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.
There are a number of beef and lamb options on the menu. Knowing we had another meal to eat later in the day we opted for the lighter dishes. Though the small plates are meant for sharing, we still ordered too much food for three people to consume for brunch. The salmon was the only dish I didn’t care to fight over. There was nothing objectionable about it; compared to the other dishes, it was ordinary.
Not to be forgotten is the puffy warm pita that comes to the table with olive oil for dipping. It’s light and airy and makes a great pusher for each dish. We asked the server how it was made and he said it requires a very expensive machine, so I dismissed thoughts of trying to duplicate it at home.
I try to check out a new restaurant, or one I haven’t visited, each time I make a trip to DC, but Zaytinya will definitely be on my repeat list.
Standing outside the front door of Affare on Main St. in the Crossroads District you would never expect what lies within. The restaurant itself is quite large, but part of the massive room is given over to a lounge and bar for those who only want a drink or bite to eat. The latter proposition is an easy one; the menu is comprised of small plates organized by the source of the ingredients–In the Garden, Under Water and In the Barn.
Chef/owner Martin Heuser and his wife Katrin bill their cuisine as “Modern German”. While there is the obligatory schnitzel and spatzle, most of the menu reads more Continental…and no matter what you order, bring your camera. Each dish is a work of art on a plate.
Pretzel roll lovers will be delighted to see that a basket of them (courtesy of Farm To Market) comes to the table along with a bowl of spiced olives to whet your appetite. After that, it’s best to either rely on your server or ask a lot of questions since the menu needs deciphering. Our server was more than happy to assist and did a beautiful job of helping our table construct a balanced meal by choosing from each of the categories.
Pretzelknödel served with chanterelle mushrooms and brandy-cream sauce sounded rich when our server described it, and though that proved to be the case, it was so much better than a savory bread pudding would suggest, especially if you’re a mushroom lover.
Standouts on various visits included mushroom soup, a beautiful elk chop, a bison short rib, and baked quail, wrapped in cabbage with almonds, cranberries, cassis jus, and celeriac puree. The lemon risotto that accompanied the seasonal seafood didn’t have much oomph, but the fish was delightful.
In addition to the main dining room, there’s a private dining space, as well as a long picnic table in the outside courtyard for special events.
My favorite area of town to dine just got a bit sweeter.
The online magazine The Daily Meal recently published a list of the best dishes in Kansas City. I thought they missed the mark, so I wrote the author and suggested that she might want to get input from a local. She responded immediately and suggested I submit my favorites to incorporate into the article. Her only guideline was that they needed to be dishes that an out-of-towner would associate with Kansas City or that I thought represented KC well.
When I actually sat in front of the computer to make my list, I realized that it’s not that cut and dry. People want to have a KC Strip when they’re here, but the best steaks in my opinion can be found at chain restaurants. We have a plethora of Mexican restaurants, but is there one iconic dish? Everyone would have a different opinion on where to get the best Mexican on Southwest Boulevard–I’d pick Poco’s because it’s fresh, creative and family owned. Others would pick Manny’s, Margarita’s or Ponak’s because they’ve been around for decades. Some might choose Frida’s because it’s authentic and innovative. Same with pizza. I love Pizza Bella and Spin; others swear by Minsky’s or D’Bronx.
And of course you can’t win picking a favorite barbecue joint.
Hence my dilemma.
I went ahead and picked 5, with a 6th as an alternative or spare depending on how many the author wanted to include.
She ended up with 9. Originally listing Oklahoma Joe’s for its burnt ends, I switched that out for Danny Edwards since that’s its speciality. She kept her other original 4 and added my 4 others. If you regularly read my blog or listen to me on KCUR’s The Food Critics, you’ll probably be able to guess which ones I contributed to the list.
Feel free to tell me what you’d have suggested!
Voltaire recently opened in the old R Bar space in the West Bottoms. Owned by Wes Gartner and Jill Myers of Moxie Catering, the couple serves up dinner and Happy Hour Wednesday-Saturday, and utilize the kitchen for their catering business the rest of the week. Though the old stage up front was transformed into a comfortable seating area, they left the rest of the restaurant intact, fortunately leaving the gorgeous bar as it was. Both times I’ve been there, the place was hopping with mostly under 30s.
The menu consists of innovative and delicious dishes, some small, others not so. On my first visit, the server suggested 2-4 dishes per couple; the second time I dined there it became clear that the number greatly depends on what dish you order. The plates get bigger as you move down the menu, so if you get one of the dishes at the bottom featuring meat, chicken or fish, you probably only need a salad or one of the more appetizer type dishes to complete your meal. If you stick to the top half of the menu, you’ll need to order more to make a complete meal.
A new menu is printed up every week, with many new items added depending on what’s fresh. I tried most of the dishes on the spring menu, and was excited by what I ate.
The roasted cauliflower with tempura snake beans, pigeon peas (which taste like a cross between lentils and red beans) with nam prik num sauce is one of the most complex and flavorful vegetarian dishes I’ve experienced in town. (I wish young Sulzberger from the New York Times was still here to enjoy it.) I will order it as long as it stays on the menu.
The Anaheim chile is charred and sits atop a gazpacho sauce. It’s sprinkled with fried anchovies, and while they may not be my favorite taste, the anchovies do transform a simple dish into something quite addictive. Beet and arugula salad with a fried egg and blue cheese crostini was lovely, but was the only dish that was less than flawless, and only because it was overdressed.
P.E.I Mussels with fennel, leek, pernod and thyme were piled high in a bowl, with grilled bread for dunking. The colors and flavors in the beautifully presented Bibb salad made it vastly different than most “house” salads, especially since it was dressed with good old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing.
The risotto wasn’t my favorite, but others at the table really enjoyed it. The base was mushroom and was a bit bland, though the asparagus, pea sprouts and pistachios swirled into it made up for that lapse. A beet risotto that’s currently on the menu is getting raves.
Tri-tip Beef with chimmichurri and roasted poblano rajas brings a bit of Argentina to the menu, and the strips of salmon on a stick sitting on a bed of bok choy with sake-yuzu beurre blanc takes diners to Asia. Looking to India for inspiration, the chef devised the current lamb chop dish. Coriander crusted, the two chops sit atop a saffron-potato pancake and tikka masala salsa, and are topped off with mint raita.
Since much of the fare may be a bit unfamiliar to some diners, it’s fortunate that the servers are knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the menu. And those who enjoy sipping a good cocktail will be happy to hear that Ryan Miller, former barman at the Boot in Westport, is working his magic behind the bar at Voltaire.
Voltaire’s hip vibe and ambiance, sophisticated but unfussy fare, and creative cocktail list make this new hot spot a really fun place to hang out. And for those of us who have passed the half-century mark, I promise that just being there will make you feel younger.