Around the BLOCK

Restaurant Week 2014 Continued…

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jan• 20•14

P1020372If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I participated in Restaurant Week previews in advance of its start last Friday.  I have already written about La Bodega and Pig and Finch; today I want to share my impressions of Rosso in the new Hotel Sorella on the Plaza. Since it opened last fall, I had heard mixed reviews about the food and service, so I was interested to check it out myself.

The GM, chef and server all knew I was coming, so it’s probably not fair to equate my my experience with what others may encounter when the restaurant is slammed during Restaurant Week, BUT I have to say that the service and food were flawless. Each dish prepared by Chef Brian Archibald  was beautifully presented and perfectly executed. And the setting, with a curved wall of floor to ceiling windows and white leather chairs and booths set against a red background, is quite striking.Lamb and pear pasta--RossoCuttlefish over polenta--Rossotrout with white beans and arugula--RossoBeet and Permission salad--Ross

We started with a beet and persimmon salad, a combination that I’d never enjoyed before, but it struck a harmonious chord between sweet and savory. We moved on to the Pork Cheek Pansotti, a stuffed pasta with smoked pear puree, pecorino, and  Meyer lemon, which had a lovely contrast of flavors, and cuttlefish with polenta with a rustic tomato sauce. Not sure I’m a huge fan of cuttlefish, though it sure worked in the dish.

We sampled the short rib entrée with farro risotto and a fried egg, and lemon sole with arugula and beans. Though the fish is definitely a good choice for those looking for a lighter alternative, the short rib dish was incredibly tender and creative. The other entrée selection on the Restaurant week menu is a pancetta wrapped chicken with crispy gnocchi.Short rib with farro risotto--Rosso

We finished our meal with Zeppoli, still warm deep-fried doughnuts with a honey and lemon marmalade for dipping.  Diners can also select an apple crostada.Ricotta doughnuts--Rosso

Rosso and its bar both offer a sleek and modern sophistication that conjures up images of New York or San Francisco, not unlike the Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel downtown. Check it out and let me know what you think!

One last suggestion for Restaurant Week: to make it easier to keep track of all the restaurants and their menus, consider downloading the mobile app. It will even direct you to Open Table so you can make a reservation and get a map. Again, refer to the Restaurant Week website for more information. You have until Sunday night, January 26, so time is running out but you’re definitely not too late to participate.

Rosso on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week 2014

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jan• 14•14

Now’s the time to mark your calendars for this year’s Restaurant Week. The dates are January 17-26, and more than 125 restaurants are participating. At lunch two courses will be served for $15 and at dinner you can enjoy three for $33. Diners will have a choice of several appetizers, entrees and desserts, but be forewarned that it will be a limited menu. Check out Restaurant Week’s website where most restaurants have posted the menu they will be serving. Restaurants typically offer a combination of dishes that are normally featured and some that have been created just for this event. This is 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).Squid--La BodegaSautéed mushrooms--La Bodega

As in past years, I was asked to make the rounds and try three of the RW menus.  My first assignment was the original La Bodega on Southwest Blvd. The dinner menu offers 4 tapas from an extensive list (but not the complete menu that is typically available) and dessert for $33. Considering the portion size, this is a great deal, and if you share around the table as tapas are meant to be, you can enjoy a wide variety of dishes. My husband and I had crostini with goat cheese, fig coulis and red pepper, sautéed squid with yellow rice, sautéed mushrooms, shrimp scampi, potatas bravas, and chicken and chorizo kabobs. All of them were flavorful and satisfying, and I was happy for the reminder to visit this long-loved restaurant on a more frequent basis.

Chicken and chorizo kabobs--La BodegaPatatas Bravas--La BoedgaShrimp--La Bodega

I was also asked to preview the Pig and Finch RW menu and it was a real treat. Chef John Smith, who has opened 801 Chophouse and The Jacobson, and  has worked in an impressive array of restaurants in New York and Chicago, is at the helm.  Smith is a fun and interesting guy with many a story to tell, all with a twinkle in his eye. And what he’s whipping up in the kitchen is a reflection of his Southern background as well as his passion for global cuisine.Roasted Tomato soup--Pig and FinchKale salad with cream cider dressing--Pig and FinchEspresso rubbed Pork Shoulder--Pig and FinchRoasted Hen--Pig and Finch

Most of the dishes offered for Restaurant Week are ones that the restaurant’s regular patrons are familiar with, though there are a few additions.

We enjoyed roasted tomato soup, butternut squash and kale salad, espresso rubbed pork shoulder and oven roasted farm hen. The meal was capped off by a citrusy twist on the traditional creme caramel.

You can feel good about overindulging because 10% of the price of each meal will be donated to this year’s beneficiaries, Harvesters: The Community Food Network,  Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and The Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Stay tuned for my preview of Rosso, the restaurant in the new Hotel Sorella… 

 

Brasserie by Niche in St. Louis

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jan• 08•14

The Central West End of St. Louis is home to a wide variety of restaurants–ethnic, cheap, upscale, fun, exciting, you name it. This critical mass was probably a draw for Gerard Craft of Niche, enticing him to open one of his more casual concepts in the area. Though the fare may not be exciting at Brasserie by Niche it’s definitely solid, well-executed and a credit to the brand.Brasserie by Niche--St. Louis

The restaurant conjures up visions of dining in Paris at a lovely little bistro, complete with chalkboard specials, punched metal ceilings and period lamps. I knew dinner was going to be a treat when our server put a piece of epi pain (a style of French baguette) directly on the brown paper covering the table, along with a small crock of homemade butter. The menu is a collection of classic French hits–French onion soup, escargot, pate, goat cheese tart, coq au vin, roast chicken, cassoulet, mussels and fries and, of course, steak frites.Epi pain at Brasserie by Niche in St. Louis

The beet salad (graciously split for us by our server) was lovely, as was the roast chicken. The chicken was incredibly moist, served in a small skillet and sitting atop a hunk of toasted bread that just begged to be devoured soaked as it was with chicken and mushroom juices. My father and I split a generous side of pomme puree (smooth mashed potatoes) to complete the perfectly executed dish.Brasserie by Niche--St. Louis

Roast Chicken--Brasserie by Niche

I’m ticking off the Gerard Craft restaurants, and so far I’m two for two in the satisfaction category, after an awesome pizza at Pasteria. Next on my list is Niche, Craft’s intimate and innovative restaurant in Clayton.

Brasserie by Niche on Urbanspoon

Best Dishes of 2013

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 20•13

I love pulling together this annual post. It gives me the opportunity to relive special moments from the past year, most of which revolve around food. Not because of the food itself, though my readers may find that hard to believe, but rather because of who I was with and what occasion we may have been celebrating. All of the photos below were taken when I was dining with friends or family, and in most instances the occasion was simply that we were together. To me, there’s nothing better. Enjoy the holidays and being with the ones you love.

Octopus–Extra Virgin

Tomatoes--my house

Tomatoes with burrata–my house

Roast Chicken–The Nomad in New York City

Beet “sandwich”–Mintwood Place in Washington D.C.

Cauliflower and snake beans at Voltaire

Porchetta—From Dario the butcher in Panzano, Italy

Burger and cottage fries–Rye

Seafood Pasta at La Pineta in Italy

Reuben–Webster House

Fresh pea soup–Bluestem

Corn soup with chiles, clams and seaweed–Novel

Cheeseburger–Husk in Charleston

Brussels Sprouts–Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Bistecca Florentine in Tuscany

Grilled Broccoli with Smokey blue cheese–The Girl and The Goat in Chicago

Chile rellenos–Port Fonda

 

Taco Republic

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 11•13

I was very excited to try the new Taco Republic restaurant when it finally opened after the usual construction delays. Beautifully positioned to capture the overflow from its across-the-street neighbor Oklahoma Joe’s, I had watched its transformation from a former gas station and was intrigued by the new setup. Part indoors, part out, this place is made for hanging out and enjoying a beer at happy hour. The ambiance the restaurateurs have created is oh-so-very-cool. Brilliant, really. When it’s nice out the whole space is open, but that space can still be utilized when the temperatures dip. It’s the latest in a growing line of successful restaurants developed by bread & butter concepts, the group that also owns Urban Table, Gram & Dun and BRGR.Taco RepublicTaco Republic patioTaco Republic

So it was with a sense of anticipation that I stopped by for lunch one afternoon.  It was a chilly day, so the soft walls on the outdoor area were down and the heat lamps were full throttle. My friend and I started with guacamole which came with a huge basket of chips. We ordered salsa verde on the side. There’s a squeeze bottle of rojo salsa at every table which reminded me of the big bottles of barbecue sauce that grace the tables across the street. The red salsa was a bit sweet, but it had way more flavor than the green, which needed a major shot of hot sauce to give it heat and a reason to eat it. The chipotle salsa, I noted on a subsequent visit, packs some heat though it doesn’t have a ton of chipotle smokiness.Guacamole and salsa verde--Taco RepublicChicken taco and pork mole taco--Taco RepublicBeans and rice at Taco Republic

The menu consists of cheese dips, tacos, tortas and even tamales. Tacos are categorized by meat, chicken or veggie; I tried  the Puerco Rojos with shredded pork, black beans, sautéed onions and peppers, as well as one with grilled chicken, mole and chipotle slaw. In both cases I thought the sauce and fillings were better than the actual meat, with both the chicken and pork being a bit on the dry side. If they could find a way to keep the meats moist, those tacos would be flying out of the kitchen. I had sampled several tacos at the Taco Republic truck that roams around town and was more impressed with those offerings, perhaps because the tacos were churned out on a smaller scale.Queso Fundido--Taco RepublicTortilla Soup--Taco RepublicHalf-Roasted Chicken with Charro Beans--Taco RepublicFrito Pie--Taco RepublicTaco RepublicTaco RepublicTaco Republic

On another visit, we started with a decadent queso fundido with melted Chihuahua cheese, roasted poblano peppers and chorizo, served with flour tortillas for scooping. We resisted the temptation to eat the whole cazuela lest we ruin our appetites; it would not be difficult to make a meal of it. It made great leftovers the next day. We followed that up with a rich and satisfying tortilla soup, the kind that is thick, not brothy.  Each dip into the cute crock produces a spoonful of avocado, chicken, cheese and, of course, strips of tortilla.

Upon seeing Frito pie on the menu, we couldn’t resist ordering it since it’s a rarity outside of New Mexico where the unusual dish was invented. It typically consists of Fritos that have been smothered with a beef, bean and cheese topping, but we chose Taco Republic’s chicken chili version instead. It was served the traditional way, on top of Fritos still in the bag. If you like sweet and salt, this dish is for you.

The wood-fired chicken was originally a carry-out order only, but now it’s a menu item in a half-chicken size. It was served with Charro beans and rice, and corn tortillas for making mini-tacos. The chicken was smoked and very moist, creating a nice option for those who might want a healthy menu option.

Next I hope to swing by and grab some street tacos to-go for breakfast; the menu is short but looks very sweet.

Taco Republic is a work in progress, but one with a huge upside. Though the food doesn’t yet hit on all cylinders all the time, for the most part each of my meals were satisfying and I’ve left wanting to return. And the way the restaurant was devised is just SO inventive. It’s the sort of joint I would imagine you’d find in Portland, Oregon or Austin, Texas, two big food destinations that are full of fun and unique venues. And it’s important to note that this restaurant is in capable hands with the Gaylins at the helm. I suspect that next spring, it will be THE patio of choice for lazy afternoons and Happy Hours. There’s no question we have plenty of Mexican restaurants around town, but how many score so high on the cool factor scale?

Taco Republic on Urbanspoon

Private Dining in Kansas City

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 05•13

It’s not quite too late to get on the phone…but almost! You can also save this list for occasions other than holiday parties.The Reiger private dining room

http://blog.visitkc.com/2013/12/03/private-dining-kansas-city/

Broccoli Rabe with Cavatelli and Harissa

Written By: Mary Bloch - Dec• 02•13

Pasta doesn’t have to be bad for you.  There are plenty of recipes that don’t include cream or meat, and if you buy wheat or rice pasta instead of one made with white flour, you can partake without guilt.

A new pasta dish I just discovered is for veggie lovers, and those who enjoy spice. Using both harissa and smoked paprika, it’s packed with flavor and quite easy to pull together. This particular recipe does call for cheese, but if you use it in moderation, it’s still going to be a lighter dish than those rich holiday meals which we all indulge in at this time of year!

Here’s the recipe from Food & Wine, let me know what you think!

Broccoli rabe in the sauce after roasting

1 1/4 pounds broccoli rabe, ends trimmed

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Fresno or jalapeño chile, seeded and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons harissa

1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1 pound cavatelli (or other short shape)

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

1/2 cup packed mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the broccoli rabe with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli rabe on 2 baking sheets and roast for 15 minutes, until crisp-tender, then chop.
  2. In a deep skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, chile and harissa and cook over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and smoked paprika and cook until tender, 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta, cooking water and 1/4 cup of Parmigiano to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the pasta is coated in a thick sauce, 2 minutes. Stir in the herbs and serve with more cheese.Orchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and harissa

Pecan, Caramel and Fudge Pie

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 25•13

Are you panicked that you don’t have time to make a Thanksgiving dessert? Help is on the way in the form of one of the easiest pies you will ever make. All you need are some chocolate wafer cookies, pecans, chocolate, and a few other ingredients like whipping cream and corn syrup. You can make the whole dessert in 30 minutes and it might be the dish that gets the most compliments on Thanksgiving. Chocolate wafer crust

The recipe calls for a 9 inch pie pan, and you can see from the pictures that mine, at 10 inches, was too large. Using an 8 x8 square pan and cutting the “pie” into bars is another option. Just improvise; it’s hard to mess this up!IMG_0166Adding chocolate to the pecan mixtureIMG_0171

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pecan-Caramel-and-Fudge-Pie-101822

Finding the Perfect Wine for your Thanksgiving Feast

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 18•13

Thanksgiving will be here in the blink of an eye. In addition to planning your feast, why not give some thought  to what wines will best complement it? You deserve to drink something that will highlight the countless hours you spend preparing that gorgeous bird with all the trimmings. rose wine

I’m a firm believer that you should drink what you enjoy without consideration of the connoisseurs’ rules. Most experts would tell you that white wine is the most appropriate selection with turkey, but with so many health studies extolling the virtues of red, the color white has certainly fallen out of favor.

Regardless of your preference, take an inventory of your buffet table before deciding upon a varietal. The intensity and flavors in the wine should match that of the cuisine. Unoaked Chardonnays match up well with cream sauces and giblet gravy, while Sauvignon Blanc works best with butternut squash, oyster stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and even mashed potatoes. Riesling stands up to spicy foods as well as sweet desserts. Viognier is a fashionable grape of the moment and would be a pleasing, all-purpose choice.

Of the red varietals, Pinot Noir is a safe choice. But keep in mind the cornucopia of delectable and rich options sitting on that groaning sideboard. Zinfandel has deeper flavors to match such fruity dishes as cranberry sauce, and Shiraz/Syrah will bring out the best in that peppery, spicy, and oh-so-rich sage stuffing.

First Taste: Libertine in St. Louis

Written By: Mary Bloch - Nov• 10•13

Josh Galliano’s name means as much to St. Louisans as Colby Garrelts’ or Michael Smith’s means to Kansas Citians. Galliano is a recipient of Food and Wine’s Best Chef-Midwest award and a multiple James Beard award nominee. His latest venture is a neighborhood eatery in Clayton called Libertine.Libertine in St.Louis

Diners first walk by the very cool looking bar that utilizes rustic wood and subway tile. The dining room is in the back part of the space, offering a bit of separation in terms of noise and ambiance.Libertine--St.Louis

I went on a busy and loud Saturday night with my parents, but fortunately the restaurant had a Roaring 20′s theme going on and they liked the music. The menu is fun, but it isn’t easy to find something for those who may not be adventurous, except perhaps for the hamburger. I spied one at the table next to us- on a beautiful bun with cheese smothering the double patties, it was accompanied by a gorgeous pile of crisp French fries.Sunflower Seed Fried Rice--Libertine

Libertine--Octopus Pozole

The menu itself is organized by food category–meat, fish, vegetable and seafood, with the appetizers and smaller meals at the top of each list and  larger portions at the bottom. I ordered sunflower seed fried rice with Chinese bacon, sprouts and pickled carrots and octopus pozole, both of which were in the middle of their respective lists. Though our server, who had not been well-trained, brought them both out at once instead of coursed out, they were both interesting and flavorful. In fact, though it may not have been an authentic pozole, it rivaled any I’ve had in New Mexico; the octopus was prepared perfectly and added an unusual and welcome twist to the dish.Mahi Mahi fish special--LibertineCrab curry--Libertine

Each night the restaurant serves a pan roasted fish of the day served with General Tso’s Mushrooms, Wilted Sprouts, Golden raisin and scallion relish. On this night, our server told us it was tuna, though it turned out to be Mahi-Mahi.

The crab boil curry was one of the smaller dishes, but it had a nice kick to it and the lo mein noodles were the perfect foil for all that curry sauce.

I had never seen the Korean spice togarashi used as a pepper crust for tuna, but now that I’ve had it, I will definitely try it that way at home. The tuna also came with creamed corn, Nduja sausage vinaigrette, roasted peppers and pickled corn. My sister asked for a vegetarian substitute for the sausage vinaigrette, which our server said she would take care of, but it came dry. Fortunately the corn carried the day.

The “candy bar” on the dessert menu was a hit. Made with Salted Caramel Semifreddo, Hazelnuts, Ganache, Chocolate Dacquoise, it was definitely meant to be eaten with your hands–using a fork would have sent it flying across the table. It was a fun way to finish a delightful dinner.Libertine--Candy Bar

Given Galliano’s pedigree, I imagine the menu will change at least seasonally , giving diners a chance to sample more of his creativity and also allowing an opportunity to find dishes that appeal. And despite reading rather mixed reviews before my visit, it’s only a matter of time before this imaginative restaurant hits its stride.

 

The Libertine on Urbanspoon