Bluestem

Come on people, as of May 6th chef/owner Colby Garrelts is a James Beard award winner! How can Bluestem not be packed every night? True, it’s not inexpensive, but for sheer value, it stacks up well with the other upscale restaurants in our fair city. And for a restaurant with a prix-fixe menu, it’s cheap compared to what you’d find in New York….and every bit as memorable.Bluestem

Diners choose a 3, 5 or 10 course meal, custom designed from the selections on the menu. The more courses the smaller the portion of each dish. On a recent evening, our table of four opted for three courses since none of us are big meat eaters and preferred to stick to the starters and fish dishes. But if you’ve never dined at Bluestem, I encourage you to do it up. You won’t be disappointed.Pea Soup without the soup--BluestemPea Soup--Bluestem

Spring is a glorious time to dine at Bluestem because the kitchen makes full use of fresh spring produce, including vegetables not typically utilized in our own homes such as ramps and nettles.Risotto with stinging nettle puree--Bluestem

We started with a brilliant green pea soup that was highlighted by mint, lemon ash and pink peppercorns. It had a touch of cream but wasn’t rich or heavy. The Meyer lemon and black pepper risotto with nettle puree was stunning. The rice had the proper bite and the the nettles added a unique character to the dish. I was tempted by the asparagus starter because I had seen pictures of the rye “soil” that accompanies it but since we have our own crop of asparagus growing, I get my fill of that particular vegetable on an almost daily basis.

Three of us then enjoyed the chitarra ( which is cut to resemble Italian guitar strings) with smoked clams, sweet bay scallops, wild ramps and broth. It was light on the sauce, but each bite had a lovely flavor all its own.Chitarra with clams, scallops and ramps--Bluestem

The wild salmon was cooked to a medium rare on parsnip puree that looked as though it had been applied by paint brush. The salmon was accented with peas and carrots, but not cooked to mush the way our mothers all used to do when we were growing up.Wild Salmon with pea, carrot and parsnip--Bluestem

Instead of sampling one of Megan Garrelts’ justifiably acclaimed desserts (many of which are also available next door in the lounge), we opted to move from a smooth Cabernet to dessert wines with our cheese plates. The cheeses were all heavenly, and were offered up with crisp toast slices and chutneys.Cheese plate--Bluestem

Though each dish that comes out of Chef Colby’s kitchen is camera worthy (at least in the hands of Ulterior Epicure‘s Bonjwing Lee, with whom the Garrelts collaborated on a Bluestem cookbook), it’s the small touches that make a restaurant like this sing a bit louder than the rest. In addition to the evening’s amuse bouche of a homemade Cheeto, we were also presented with gifts of marinated Hamachi served in Japanese noodle soup spoon and a fried morel. The gorgeous tray of homemade breads also included the finest butter, and a jam so good I was tempted to ask for some to smear on my cheeses.Marinated Hamachi--BluestemFried Morel--Bluestem

The polished service is exquisite. It’s formal but not stuffy; our server was appropriately friendly and GM Eric Willey was adept at directing our wine selections. Neither acted like we were doing them a favor by dining there, as is so often the case in big city restaurants of the same caliber.

It took Chef Colby seven nominations to finally win the coveted James Beard Best Chef -Midwest award, but while it was clearly an overdue honor, I would suggest that the experience has gotten better over the years and perhaps the judges recognized his continued dedication to excellence and innovation.

I am also delighted to support a chef who understands that he would be not be successful without his wife and partner, and proudly took her on stage with him to receive his James Beard medal last month. Bravo.

Bluestem on Urbanspoon

Mintwood Place

Mintwood Place is one of the most interesting restaurants I’ve been to in a long while. Very casual, but the food is serious and oh so good. I was not surprised to learn that the Chef is a semi-finalist for a James Beard award and that he recently nabbed honors as Best Chef Food & Wine Mid-Atlantic.Mintwood Place in DC

As is often the case, the appetizers were the best and most unusual part of the meal. We started with a burrata and kale salad, which looked nice enough, but tasted great. The kale was crispy, the burrata was creamy smooth and the sprinkling of apple and hazelnut on top added a bit of crunch. Really awesome.P1010165

Having read reviews online beforehand, I knew we needed to try the goat cheese and beet mountain pie even though I had no clue what it was. What it turned out to be was the most unusual beet dish I’ve ever had. Though it sounded unappealing from the description our server gave us, the four of us devoured it in seconds. As my son said, Arthur Bryant’s wasn’t the only restaurant up in arms when Hostess stopped making Wonder Bread, because this “mountain pie” featured two pieces of Wonder bread enveloping the goat cheese and paper thin slices of beet. Somehow the pie is closed up and the bread is toasted, sealing in the ingredients so the goat cheese can melt without oozing out until you slice it open.Goat cheese and beet mountain pie--Mintwood Place

Photos on the internet showed that the Tagliatelle Bolognese was a treat to behold, and the real thing was just as enticing. The noodles had been wrapped tightly and topped with a mound of Parmesan cheese that made my husband think he should order it despite the fact that he doesn’t eat meat. Instead he got the best of both worlds: the chef made him a vegetable pasta with a myriad of vegetables, and the same mound of grated cheese.Tagliatelle Bolognese--Mintwood PlaceTagliatelle with vegetables--Mintwood Place

We happened to go to Mintwood on a Sunday evening, which is Porchetta night. I’ve always shied away from ordering this Italian preparation of a pork roast because of the huge ring of fat that envelops the actual meat, but the server convinced me that it wasn’t overly rich, and that I wouldn’t regret it. So I went with his glowing recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. Yes, there was that huge ring of fat, but just like with a big piece of prime rib or a hunk of steak with the fat still on, you can just cut that part away and dive into the middle….which I did, and it was fabulous. The meat was pink in the middle, which made it moist and flavorful. A mustard-flavored charcuterie sauce accompanied the dish, but I preferred it unadulterated. The dish came with one side and I chose the Brussels sprouts. Roasted with ham, they were a bit smokey for my taste, but otherwise flawless. The better vegetable was the roasted broccolini, with glazed bits of nuts and onions.Porchetta--Mintwood PlaceBroccolini--Mintwood PlaceBrussel Sprouts--Mintwood PlacePotatoes Gratin--Mintwood Place

Though we had had more than enough to eat during this last meal of a marathon weekend of eating, we couldn’t resist trying one of the desserts. The key lime pie and the pecan pie were hard to pass up, but we went for a brownie sundae, whipped cream on the side. Good choice–the ice cream was full of chocolate chips and the brownie was chewy and fudgy.Brownie sundae--Mintwood Place

Mintwood’s decor deserves a mention as well, though it’s a struggle to describe. It fits right in the Adams-Morgan section of DC, epitomizing a neighborhood restaurant where patrons can have a drink and nibbles at the bar, a full on dinner, or a hungover brunch on a Sunday morning. The wood walls and tables offer a nice contrast to the tile floors, and the rusty machine parts displayed throughout the room give the interior a funky look.Mintwood PlaceMintwood Place

There’s nothing casual about the service. Servers are well-trained, friendly, capable and knowledgeable.

If our evening was any indication, this hot spot of the moment in DC is not going to fade anytime soon.

Mintwood Place on Urbanspoon

Mayo-Free Potato Salad

Have you ever looked at those cute baby potatoes at the farmer’s market or in the grocery and wondered what you could make with them? Yes, roasting and tossing them with coarse salt is always a possibility. But what about grilling them whole and then making a non-traditional potato salad instead?

Below is a link to a recipe I love. All you do is roast the potatoes or grill them (which I prefer), pile atop a bed of watercress or arugula and spoon a delicious blue cheese vinaigrette over salad. Drizzle with additional blue cheese and chopped green onions. FYI, the recipe doesn’t call for adding blue cheese to the vinaigrette, but why not gild the lily a bit?

Et viola! You now have a lovely dish to accompany fish, chicken, steak or even a veggie burger.

Just in time for a Memorial Day picnic.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/grilled-potato-salad-with-watercress-green-onions-and-blue-cheese-vinaigrette-recipe/index.html

 

Final Cut

Discard any preconceived notions you might have about eating dinner in a casino. I certainly had many, and after dining at the Final Cut steakhouse, I had to throw them all out the window..at least as far as the Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway is concerned. The pictures on its website don’t do it justice, the restaurant itself is stunning. In addition to the huge collection of Hollywood memorabilia that is beautifully displayed in niches and on walls throughout  (including one of the dresses Dorothy wore in the Wizard of Oz), there are massive booths, views of the Speedway and a dining room adorned with gorgeous Tiger Maple wood.The Final Cut interior with hollywood memorabiliaThe view from Final Cut Steakhouse

And then there’s the food.Crab cake--Final Cut

I was treated to dinner for two at Final Cut, undoubtedly in the hope that I would thereafter extol its virtues. Fortunately, the meal was outstanding so I can rave about it with all honesty. Admittedly, we didn’t have the typical diner experience because we were showered with personal attention….and close to half the menu to sample…but it was clear that Chris the GM is passionate about his job and he’s on a mission to make his restaurant a destination for Kansas Citians whether they gamble or not. And it was equally clear that our server, Sherry, is very good at what she does. I urge you to ask for her if you go.BBQ Shrimp--Final CutSeared Tuna with wasabi aioli--Final Cut

Final Cut is a steakhouse yes, but unlike some of its ilk, the other dishes are not an afterthought. In fact, the appetizers may be as compelling as the entrees. Certainly I could have made a meal out of the crabcakes (all crab, held together only by a scallop mousse) and the Barbecued Shrimp (sautéed cajun spiced shrimp, garlic, beer, roasted corn relish, and chile-garlic remoulade). But since we were showered with dishes, that was just the beginning. We also enjoyed seared tuna with wasabi aioli,  Seafood Gumbo (tons of seafood, light on spice) and a deconstructed (and a bit bland) French onion soup, the house salad with Parmesan ranch dressing, and a spinach salad.Spinach salad--Final CutSeafood gumbo--Final CutFrench Onion Soup--Final Cut

And that was before the entrees started coming! We sampled very sweet and tender sea scallops with blood orange beurre blanc and seabass with soba noodles in a coconut curry sauce. I didn’t detect any curry flavor, but the fish was light and flakey.Sea Scallops with Blood Orange Beurre Blanc--Final CutSeabass with Coconut Curry sauce--Final Cut

Then came the focal point of the menu…the meat. We were given a double Berkshire pork chop that was served with a too sweet caramel glazed apple mash, but the chop itself was juicy and immensely flavorful, as all heritage breeds seem to be these days. The star of the show however, was the Tomahawk chop, an Australian Wagyu 28 ounce bone-in rib eye beef steak. To give us an idea of both of their specialty items, it was topped with blue crab, lobster, and herbed cheese, in the manner that the filet mignon can be ordered. I eat very little red meat, but it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It was cooked to order and each bite was mouth-watering. (If you order this medium or even more done than that, I can’t vouch for its  magnificence–mine was rare.) I took more than half of it home and ate it the next day…it travelled well and was every bit as enjoyable left over. I don’t remember the last time I had more than 4 bites of a steak in one sitting, which should give you some idea of what an incredible piece of meat this was.Berkshire Pork Chop with apple--Final CutTomahawk Chop--Final CutSouth African Lobster Tail--Final CutSauteed Steak Mushrooms--Final CutLobster mashed potatoes and baby carrots--Final Cut

As if this wasn’t enough, Chris insisted we taste a South African lobster tail, which is supposedly sweeter than its Atlantic counterpart. I love lobster so this was a real treat.

All entrees come with a salad and bread, but how many of us go to a steakhouse and don’t try any of the sides. We sampled lobster mashed potatoes, heirloom carrots and sauteed steak mushrooms.

With no room for dessert, we of course had two! The creme brulee  reminded me of a dish called Creme Fromage that my sister-in-law used to make. It was creamier and thicker than most…simply outstanding…as were the homemade gelatos.Homemade gelatos at Final Cut

The restaurant has taken a page from its Vegas brethren and puts its wine list on iPads. It’s fun and informative. Breaking down the list by color and varietal, when you make a selection you can read a description of it to be sure its flavor profile fits your tastes and the dishes you’ve ordered. If you have any questions, Chris is well-versed (and educated), and can help you hone in on a selection.iPad wine list--Final Cut

Even though diners can’t expect the same over-the-top experience that I had, if you order right you can count on a surprisingly satisfying meal in a surprisingly enjoyable setting.The Bar at the Final CutHollywood Casino at the Speedway

Final Cut Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

First Taste: Louie’s Wine Dive

Louie's Wine DiveMy first visit to Louie’s Wine Dive in Waldo was a very pleasant one. From the owners to the servers and bartenders, everyone was incredibly friendly and helpful, and they all wanted us to be happy with our experience.

We were there on a Monday evening, during Happy Hour. I had heard that the noise in the restaurant can be deafening when full, but Chalk board at Louie's Wine Divefortunately we were there at a time when it wasn’t packed, and they were playing great old tunes from the 70s and 80s. We could also see their unique wine program in action. They have a printed wine list, but also sell many bottles that are only listed on the big blackboard display.

Unlike most restaurants that sell certain wines by the glass and others only by the bottle, at Louie’s they will open any bottle even if not typically offered by the glass as long as the diner/sipper commits to buying two glasses. Every Monday they have a Fire Sale with discounted glasses of wine that they need to move after a weekend of popping corks, and those are posted on the board. I noted that many of the wines on the list were marked up pretty high, but my discussion with the owner indicated they were aware of that and are in the process of making the prices more reasonable.Louie's Wine Dive

After deciding on a glass of wine on tap (a growing practice that keeps the air out better than replacing the cork on an opened bottle), I ordered a Reuben. It was quite good, made with slaw not kraut, and the corned pork was quite tender and moist. The fries were thin, but not particularly crisp.Reuben and fries--Louie's

My husband had the wild mushroom ragout with root vegetables over quinoa and, after a bite, I agreed with his assessment that it was not exciting or particularly flavorful, but had potential.Wild mushroom ragout--Louie's

The staff has also set up a room in the basement, called the Bubble Room, where they will feature live music several nights a week. The food menu will be available downstairs.

Kansas City is home to one of three Louie’s Wine Dive restaurants and, according to our server, each has a vastly different personality. Ours has all the makings of a comfortable neighborhood hangout. There may be no real Louie, but he’s making his presence felt here anyway.

Louie’s Wine Dive on Urbanspoon

Pork Particulars

At dinner last month, a friend asked me what “Duroc” on a menu meant. After I answered him (see below), I realized that though I wrote a post on pork breeds back in 2010, it’s still very much a current topic. With the Local Pig garnering so much press, and new butcher shops popping up around town, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the subject.

 

We almost need a glossary to read a menu these days. Restaurants are turning to local sources to get their meats and vegetables, definitely a welcome trend. But heritage meats often go by various names, making it confusing to order your meal unless you know the nomenclature.

Here’s a cheat sheet for pork varietals. One thing all have in common is that they are predictably more flavorful than their factory produced counterparts. And, most importantly, they are all raised outdoors using humane production standards. The pigs get plenty of fresh air, water and high-quality feed, and antibiotics and synthetic products are never allowed.

Duroc. A popular American breed, it dates back to the 1800s, originally developed in New Jersey and New York from European ancestry. These hogs display great marbling and a rich color. They are typically very juicy and flavorful.

Berkshire. This is the one found most often on trendy menus in Kansas City. The flavor is very rich and, because of the abundant marble, it has a more buttery flavor than some of its “cousins”. The British monarchy exported their beloved pigs around the world, including Japan, where it is known as “Kurobuta”. Newman Farms in Myrtle, MO raises the Berkshire pork that finds its way to Justus Drugstore in Smithville, MO. via Paradise Locker Meats.

Tamsworth. This strong and sturdy breed comes from England, and produces the leanest of the heritage meats. It is a threatened species due to lack of demand.

Red Wattle. Also on the endangered list, the pigs were originally from the South Pacific. Then, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they became prevalent in New Orleans, because the meat could stand up to intense Creole cuisine. It’s the only pig left in the world that still  has a wattle hanging from its jowl.

Ossabaw. These pigs are raised on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia. The meat is high in oleic acid and the fat is so unsaturated it is nearly liquid at room temperature. It is considered the most heart-healthy of all breeds, and is used in New York’s finest restaurants. For more on the history of this breed, here’s a blog post that you may find interesting. The Pig--Michael Smith

The meat produced by these pigs really does taste superior, so it is definitely worth ordering. But don’t succumb to the former rules about only being able to eat pork that has been cooked to a well-done temperature without a hint of pink. Many chefs today encourage diners to order their pork chops and tenderloins medium or even medium rare . As a recent article in Bon Appetit points out, trichinosis is not a real concern these days, and even if it were, it’s not a threat at temperatures above 137 degrees. Most restaurants serve pork anywhere from 145-160 degrees, where flavor and moistness are at their peak.

Providence New American Kitchen

Though I went to the opening of Providence New American Kitchen in the President Hotel, I hadn’t sat down to any meals there until last month. The first thing most people notice is that it’s beautifully appointed, but a bit rustic, with walls made of reclaimed wood and walls painted with earth tones. The second thing is that it’s easy to have a conversation, which isn’t always the case at new, trendy venues. Providence New American Kitchen Tuna sashimi "salad"--Providence New American Kitchen Heritage Pork chop--Providence New American Kitchen Bison hangar steak with hash and fried egg--Providence New American Kitchen Lamb chop with braised white beans--Providence New American Kitchen Ahi tuna tacos--Providence New American Kitchen

The food is a revelation, too. Though it is a hotel restaurant, the menu doesn’t scream room service, nor does it offer typical hotel fare. Yes, you can get an aged KC Strip, or a cobb salad (though with beef tenderloin rather than chicken), and even a hamburger (Kobe), but you can also get some interesting entrees that represent Chef Eric Carter’s creativity. A heritage pork chop comes with brussel sprouts and a mustard sauce, the lamb chop with braised white beans and swiss chard, and bison hangar steak with potato hash and a fried egg.

Starters are fun. Pork belly comes in cubes with a touch of apple, and ahi tuna tacos are enhanced with guacamole, cilantro slaw and sriracha mayo.

The only sour note that I’ve encountered is with the tuna sashimi “salad”. Listed under salads and labeled a tuna sashimi salad with vegetable slaw, wontons and miso vinaigrette, it was somewhat of a shock to have a plate put before me that had 3 tuna tostadas on it. Lovely cubes of tuna sat atop squares of wontons, garnished with slaw and the miso vinaigrette. The ingredients would have made a great salad, so it was a bit disappointing. And though I did enjoy it, no part of that dish could have been considered a salad, so I would suggest a new name or description.

Restaurants of this quality are hard to find in the downtown loop and near the Sprint Center, so I’d suggest giving it a try. It’s reasonably priced, the atmosphere is congenial, the food is satisfying, and complimentary valet parking is available.

Providence New American Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Latin Bistro Express: First Taste

Latin Bistro Express is the fast casual concept created by Chef Tito of Latin Bistro in North Kansas City. While the man himself was in the house the day I went through the food line, it was not as pleasant an experience as my visits to his bistro have been. And I’m talking just about the food; obviously getting your meal Chipotle-style is completely different than dining at a full-service restaurant, though the chef’s personality was on display here as well.Chef Tito--Latin Bistro ExpressLatin Bistro ExpressBurrito--Latin Bistro Express

The menu is displayed on a big sign above where the food prep takes place. It features the typical taco, burrito and tamale presentation. Beans, rice and salsa are all extra. I was surprised that even the tacos were served sans salsa;  I understand the labor and costs involved in offering salsa when prices are already so low, but even a bottle of hot sauce on the table would have made the experience more hospitable…and tasty.pork tacos--Latin Bistro Express

My husband thought the tamales were fine–flavorful, but not light. We also had one burrito and one pork taco. Even without salsa, the pork taco with salsa verde (pork is prepared two ways here, either braised with red or green chili sauce) was the better of the two.Tamales--Latin Bistro Express

The small shop is a block from KU Med Center, and is open for lunch only.

Latin Bistro Express on Urbanspoon

Latin Bistro Express

La Choza in Santa Fe

La Choza is one of those restaurants I go to whenever I visit Santa Fe.  Sister restaurant to The Shed, it serves more locals because of its off Plaza location near the Railyard District.  The red chile sauce is some of the best in town, often considered second only to Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque. It looks more like a typical Mexican restaurant than most of the Santa Fe restaurants we frequent. It has a very basic menu but it covers all the bases; enchiladas, burritos, tacos and even sopapillas instead of tortillas on the side. They also make a wonderfully spicy carne adovado–with chunky, not pulled pork like at Tecolote.

Another bonus is that the enchiladas are made with blue corn tortillas, and they are stacked not rolled. Pinto beans are cooked whole rather than being refried, and you can’t beat the chips, salsa and guacamole. It has a big outdoor patio for dining in nice weather.

If you have an ounce of room in your stomach, don’t leave without trying the famous Mocha Cake, a frozen block of dense goodness that is not to be missed.

Can you tell I like the joint??!!

La Choza Restaurant on Urbanspoon