Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda and Jonathan Zaragoza of Masa Azul in Chicago recently teamed up to prepare a goat and mezcal dinner at Port Fonda.
And what a dinner it was. Each course was an adventure in itself, made more so because we got a little education about mezcal. Beforehand I didn’t even know the difference between mezcal and tequila; now at least I have a working knowledge of mezcal…including the fact that crema de mezcal doesn’t have cream in it!
Here’s the menu:
Aguachile– camarones y chicharron, with del maguey vida;
Sopes– goat carnitas, frijoles charros, salsa cacahuate, with del maguey san luis de rio azul;
Ensalada Port Fonda– frisee, bacon, fried tripe, poached egg, honey-pasilla dressing, with a mezcal shandy made with Boulevard Tank 7;
Al pastor– pork belly, grilled bread, pineapple butter, with pua lina, del maguey vida;
Birria estilo la barca–roasted goat, ancho mole, tomato consome, tortillas a mano, with a negroni that had been made with del maguey chichicapa;
Ahogada–mexican wedding cookie semifreddo, christopher elbow spiced chocolate, del maguey creama de mezcal;
The six courses were perfectly sized–not too little, not so much that we waddled out the door at the end of the evening. But that’s not to say I didn’t want seconds of everything! I’d be very happy if all of the dishes found their way on to the Port Fonda menu, especially the pork belly (awesome sauce) and the roasted goat with ancho mole. The semifreddo with Christopher Elbow spiced chocolate would be a good spoon-licking addition, too.
$65 for all six courses and the drink pairings. As much as I love the standard Port Fonda menu, this was a fun change of pace, one which I hope Patrick repeats with another chef and another concept.
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 house made. 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 entrée. 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.
I’ve always been a fan of Chef Michael Foust, owner of the Farmhouse. He’s involved in the community and always strives to support local farmers. After an outstanding dinner there last month, it occurred to me that I had not weighed in on the Farmhouse since it started serving dinner several years ago.
We were there during Restaurant Week and, though the Farmhouse didn’t participate in the event, the restaurant was packed. I typically prefer to be in the front room where the bar is because of its charm and coziness. But we were a table of 8 and the bigger room was more conducive to the size of our group. Though it too has brick walls and old wood floors, I used to think it was void of character. Perhaps it was because every table was full, or maybe it was the paintings gracing the walls, but I certainly enjoyed sitting there that evening.
The blackboards in both rooms list the night’s specials, as well as the farmers who contribute ingredients to the menu. The night we were there I was happy to see a Brussels sprouts special with roasted root vegetables and blue cheese. It was hearty, healthy and delicious. My husband started with a vegan chili that he loved.
I moved onto the chicken and sausage gumbo served over a big portion of rice which really satisfied on such a cold night. It had a nice kick but I added more hot sauce to get the desired heat.
Some at the table ordered and were delighted with the hangar steak topped with a blue cheese butter and salsa verde and served with awesome French fries, while others enjoyed a potato crusted salmon with deviled aioli and charred Brussels sprouts.
Desserts included a Jude’s rum cake with ice cream and bread pudding, both of which filled the belly.
Going to the Farmhouse is like putting on one of your favorite old sweaters; it’s not fancy but it sure feels good.
BRGR, one of the Bread & Butter Concept restaurants, just opened a second location downtown. Their first, in Corinth, has been successful since the day it opened. The new one, in the Cordish-owned Power and Light District, is one of the few independently owned retail establishments in the mix.
The new space is gorgeous, and just what you’d envision when creating a burger joint that appeals to sports fans. Flat screen TVs abound, but there are booths and tables in the dining room where those who don’t want to take in a game aren’t forced to. Like the original, this has a warehouse motif, with lots of wood and metal throughout the vast space.
The menu is similar to the BRGR in Corinth and focuses on burgers and sandwiches, with a few tacos, pork shoulder and BBQ shrimp thrown in for good measure. (Bread and Butter also owns Taco Republic, Gram & Dun and Urban Table.)
I had the salmon “Not-So-Burger”, a blackened filet sandwich with chipotle aioli and onion marmalade. I asked them to top it with some spicy slaw instead of the mixed greens that were listed, and I had a winner. The salmon was cooked to order and I enjoyed every bite. My husband had the veggie burger, which is made with lentils, black beans and beets. I always enjoy it, but I wouldn’t rank it as high as the veggie burgers at Blanc or the Burger Stand in Lawrence, but it’s certainly a nice alternative to their many beef offerings.
We shared fries, which come with a multitude of homemade sauces, and Brussel sprouts, both of which we had no trouble polishing off.
We sat at the bar and enjoyed talking to the bartender, who provided good service in addition to good conversation. The only disappointment of the evening was that the restaurant was not very busy. There wasn’t a concert or sporting event at the Sprint Center, nor was there a convention in town, all of which usually drive traffic to their door. I’ve heard comments about it being a bit pricey, but remember that they have to pay the rent. I hope Kansas Citians will appreciate the risk the Gaylins, owners of the Bread & Butter Concepts, made in opening downtown among the big boys in the District. This is just the type of restaurant the P&L District needs, and I hope it gets the support it needs to stick around.
801 Fish in Park Place is the newest addition to the 801 Restaurant Group. Rather than the heavy and more traditional steakhouse feel of 801 Chophouse, 801 Fish is decked out in a light and contemporary nautical theme. Very expensive, but with a dock to door in 24 hours motto so everything is as fresh as can be. Accordingly, the menu changes daily depending on what the chef can get in.
We began the evening by sharing a shrimp cocktail containing four massive shrimp and an excellent spicy cocktail sauce. The shrimp were succulent and tasted as fresh as the water from which they came.
Entrees range from roasted lobster and scallops to cioppino and surf and turf.
I started with a nice but unexciting squid salad with white beans and arugula and then moved on to grilled octopus. Though the dressing needed more oomph, the octopus was tender and properly prepared so it didn’t suffer from the rubbery texture that deter many people from ordering this mollusk.
The beet salad was beautifully presented and a nice light starter.
My husband enjoyed his seared tuna with soba noodles in dashi broth, a preparation that was more creative than one would typically find in a traditional fish house. He also tried the gnocchi with tomato sauce, choosing this side dish as his appetizer. They were light and airy, suggesting that Chef Alex Shifman’s expertise goes beyond fish prep.
The other couple with whom we dined each ordered the Roasted Branzino, a whole fish that was deboned by the server, and large enough to be shared. The bass was light and flakey and fortunately came with a side since it was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.
Service was attentive, though they did forget our order of Brussel Sprouts until we brought it to their attention. When we opted not to place another order, we were offered a free dessert instead. Though we declined, it was an appropriate and appreciated gesture.
801 Fish is definitely not conducive for a casual meal. Though one could easily sit at the beautiful bar and quaff a glass of wine and slurp down some oysters, a full meal here requires big bucks, corporate expense account preferred, similar to its sister restaurant 801 Chophouse. But Jimmy Lynch, who also owns Pig and Finch, knows how to operate a restaurant, so I suspect we’ll see a second location of 801 Fish somewhere else in the city before too long.
If 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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