Domo

Domo in Brookside is one of those places I always forget about despite its close proximity to my home. More often than not when I think sushi, I think Kaiyo or RA Sushi, both of which are in Leawood. But I recently went to Domo for lunch and was pleased I did.Domo

I’ve been to Domo several times, but it had been a while. I recall having always had a good meal there, but it is rare for me to not be happy with whatever sushi I order wherever I am–unless of course the fish itself is off.

Fortunately, I went with a friend who eats a lot of sushi and is more discerning than I. She’s the one who turned me on to Kaiyo years ago, and we both think it’s the best sushi restaurant in town. So I knew I could count on her expert opinion.DomoSexy Mama--Domo

We ordered a house salad with miso dressing, seaweed salad, and three sushi rolls, including the beautiful Sexy Mama.

My friend agreed with my assessment that the presentation was spot on and each roll was fresh and creative.

Nice to have good sushi in my hood.

Domo Sushi & Grill on Urbanspoon

Chelly’s Cafe

After writing about Paparico’s, and my excitement over discovering a Mexican restaurant I enjoyed in the Brookside/Waldo area, several readers questioned how I could prefer it over Chelly’s Cafe, which is essentially around the corner.

Chelly’s used to be in Grandview, but moved several years ago to its current location. Since I had not been to the Wornall location, and I appreciate any feedback to my posts, those comments spurred me on to try it.

They were right…to a point. Yes, it is worth going to, and yes, it’s better than most of the old-time Mexican restaurants on the Southwest Blvd. corridor that I tend to skewer on a regular basis. But, at first blush it did not change my opinion that Paparico is the best Mexican restaurant in the Brookside/Waldo section of town.

Walking into the restaurant at 12:30 on a Monday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost every table was taken. We were served chips and salsa upon sitting down, and happily noted that the salsa came in a mini-carafe to pour as needed. The mild salsa was a bit bland and tomatoey, but perked up nicely with the addition of the hot chile salsa that we requested.

I ordered a fajita burrito with pork. It was filled with meat, peppers and onions, and served with fluffy Mexican rice and whole pinto beans. Though the menu stated that it would be smothered with tomatillo sauce, this was definitely a ranchero sauce. When I asked about the switch, the server explained that had I ordered it with chicken, one of three options, it would have come with tomatillo sauce. However,  the pork and steak burritos are made with ranchero sauce because of the spices that the meats are marinated in first. Can’t argue with that, but it would have been nice if that had been clear, or if the server mentioned it when I told her I was debating between chicken and pork. At least she was happy to bring me some heated tomatillo sauce to spoon over it.

The pork was tender and pleasantly seasoned and, though as I’ve pointed out before, I’m not a fan of ranchero sauce (I prefer a chile based sauce to one made with tomato), it did work well with the dish. The tomatillo sauce added a bit of a punch though it was slightly oily. I love having whole beans instead of refried as a side– it’s so much healthier and I prefer the texture.

My husband ordered cheese enchiladas, which came smothered in the kind of rich chile sauce that typifies an “enchilada sauce”, as opposed to a ranchero sauce.

He also ordered a pork tamale with mole sauce, but when asked about it the server said it wasn’t really mole, though it was similar. I’m not sure it was different than the enchilada sauce, but that’s not a bad thing. It was a bit grainy, which confirmed it had indeed been made with chile powder.

Service was good, not exceptional. Our chip basket was not refilled, but that was probably for the best. As it was I had to pass much of the burrito across the table to my personal garbage disposal, who can’t abide letting food go to waste no matter how full he may be.

Were Paparico’s not in the same neighborhood, I would be happy to go back to Chelly’s, but the overall experience and fare didn’t quite measure up. Though my observations are admittedly based on one visit, I’d have to concur with my readers who gave the nod to Paparico’s.

Chelly's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Blue Grotto

Based on an expanded menu, I decided it was time to revisit Blue Grotto, the very popular pizza spot in Brookside. When it first opened, the menu contained a few salads as well as the star attraction, but it now has an interesting list of small plates and a large number of $5 antipasto selections as well.

It’s hard not to get pizza, so we skipped the bruschetta, the lamb sliders and the gnocchi and roasted salmon. Though tempted by the glazed pork belly, we took our server’s suggestion to try the arugula and  garlic salad, with artichokes, almonds, goat cheese and roasted garlic vinaigrette. It was fresh, crunchy and the dressing had a good bite. It was much more successful than the Baby Octopus small plate with mussels, calamari, mint and chiles on arugula, which was sounded good but was, frankly, tasteless.

At Happy Hour, pizzas can be made half-sized at half the price. While this does not present a financial savings, it does give diners an opportunity to sample more pizzas on the menu. Four of us tried four–the Caprese, the Margherita, the Salsiccia and the Quattro Stagioni. The crusts on each were chewy and flavorful, and the toppings plentiful. No complaints, but I do prefer Pizza Bella, Spin and Jake’s Bella Napoli. Their pizzas just seem to have more oomph, and the crusts on the Pizza Bella pies just can’t be beat in Kansas City. Just look at the pictures of those other pizzas, they tell the story. (To be fair, Blue Grotto’s are mini-pizzas, but I didn’t think  the full-size ones tasted appreciably different.)

On a Monday night, the restaurant was pretty empty, but I like the look of the place. They also have a great outdoor dining space, complete with a fire pit and comfortable seating.

Blue Grotto on Urbanspoon

Blue Grotto Kansas City, MO

Carmen’s Cafe–Park Place

If you like the Carmen’s Cafe in Brookside, you’ll enjoy its second location in Leawood’s Park Place.  Same great food with just a few additions to the original menu.

The decor is fairly dark, but with a big window in the front, a mirrored wall that runs the length of the room, and a separate bar area. It’s certainly roomier than its cramped sister restaurant, though the four top tables don’t leave much room for maneuvering glasses, wine, bread plates, a bread basket and the marvelous bread dipping sauce (more on that below).

But all is forgiven when the food arrives. The house salad, is a classic Italian mix of iceberg lettuce, romaine, pimento, red onion, artichoke and Parmesan,  almost identical to the Rich & Charlie salads of my youth in St. Louis. The bread is soft, with sesame seeds on the top. Nothing special on its own, but practically mouth-watering when used as a vehicle to mop up the dipping oil that accompanies it.  Though easily duplicated at home, somehow it always tastes better here. Olive oil,  red pepper flakes, black pepper, Parmesan and julienned basil sit on a small plate, tempting diners to spoil their appetites. It’s quite hard to resist, and I usually don’t!

The list of pastas is lengthy, there’s something to satisfy every palate. Without or without meat, seafood or no, spicy or tame, shells and strands. A favorite of mine is the Fettucine al Diablo. Pasta is tossed with mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari, and  a spicy tomato sauce  for a hearty and incredibly satisfying meal. This time though, I ordered the Paella Valencia, a dish that was a signature of Don Pepe’s when he was in the kitchen at Carmen’s on the Boulevard many years ago. It was obviously popular, as it has remained on the menu despite being a Spanish rather than Italian dish. The paella was as good as it gets this side of the Atlantic Ocean, the aroma of saffron wafting in the air as it’s placed before me. The huge platter of rice also has a healthy dose of mussels, squid, beef, chorizo, shrimp and peas. Like the Fettucine Al Diablo, the portion is enough for two and the waiter isn’t the least bit surprised that I need a doggy-bag.

Spidini is a big seller here. Chicken, beef and shrimp spidini are offered with a variety of sauces, including Marsala wine sauce, alfredo, and lemon caper and amogio. The chicken spidini we tried, atop angel hair pasta with tomato and basil,  was flavorful and moist.  There is also a large selection of beef, veal and seafood dishes, and all entrees and pastas come with a house salad. Though we didn’t have any appetizers, the stuffed artichoke is consistently a big seller.

The reasonably priced wine list has a mix of Italian and Californian wines, so a little vino with your meal will complete the picture.

Carmen's Café on Urbanspoon

Jake’s Bella Napoli

Kansas Citians may know Jake’s as La Cucina di Mamma, but a recent name change ties this little neighborhood gem more closely to the deli next door, which Jake Imperiale also owns.

Though I’ve bought pastas, olives and sandwiches at Bella Napoli for years, it had been quite some time since I had eaten at Jake’s–when it first opened I was less than enthralled. The food was good, but I didn’t care for the ambiance or the plastic dishes. However, Jake has learned a few things since then, and the small changes he made (including the use of china), transformed the place. It’s now an adorable little spot where diners can enjoy a quick bite or linger over a bottle of wine. So now it’s a pleasant experience all the way around.

We shared the Margherita pizza made with fresh Marzano tomato sauce and buffalo mozzarella. The crust was thin and chewy, though I prefer a bit more crispness and char, nothing that a bit more time in the oven wouldn’t fix. The Penne Siciliano was tossed with chunks of Italian sausage and ricotta in a spicy tomato sauce and was captivating.

The menu is broad–diners can choose from salads, pizza, pasta, as well as antipasti and panini. If you go on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, all bottles of wine are half-priced, making an already reasonably priced meal even more affordable.

La Cucina di Mamma on Urbanspoon<!–

Oak 63 Bistro

My lunch at Oak 63 had a rather inauspicious beginning. I had heard how great the Reuben sandwich and French fries were, and I wanted to give them a try.  There was no Reuben to be found on the menu (at least the day I was in), and French fries were only available to those ordering a hamburger. I’m not a huge meat eater, and can only handle a hamburger every so often. I preferred to order the salmon BLT, so I had to forgo the fries, but my dining companion managed to talk the server into letting us at least sample a few. Literally. The three fries she brought were excellent, and I would have been very happy to eat an entire plateful.

I enjoyed the salmon BLT.  There was nothing extraordinary about it, but it was well executed and came with a broccoli slaw that nicely complemented the sandwich. In fact, that would seem to be the hallmark of the lunch menu. The selections may be simple, and not very exciting, but you can count on everything coming out of the kitchen being good.

We had a blueberry strawberry cobbler for dessert. They didn’t have any ice cream, instead offering cream, but the dish didn’t need embellishment. The fruit filling was nicely sweetened, and the cake-like topping was light and very satisfying.

Oak 63 on Urbanspoon

Julian Restaurant

I was really looking forward to trying Julian. It’s in my neighborhood, in Joe D’s old space, and owned and operated by James Beard award winner Celina Tio, former chef of the American restaurant. Julian--Kansas City

I was listening to a Ruth Reichl podcast recently. She was editor of the now defunct Gourmet magazine and a former New York Times restaurant critic. She correctly pointed out that dozens of observations and judgments are made before taking a bite of food. Does the space feel comfortable? Does it have positive energy? Was the host friendly and welcoming? Is the look of the table pleasing? Did someone come right over to fill water glasses and take a drink order? Is it loud? How is the music? These and other thoughts were running through my mind as I sat down at our table.

Perhaps it was unfair of me to have such high expectations, but considering Tio’s stature in the restaurant community, I was anticipating an outstanding experience and I didn’t have one. Tio has certainly improved the look of the space, with clean lines and neutral colors, but it’s still quite cramped. The back room now adjoins an open kitchen, but that feature increases an already problematic noise level. I did like the clipboard menus and Chilewich striped place mats on the stainless tables. Salmon and Asian Noodles-Julian

After ordering a bottle of wine from the manager (which was served  at least ten degrees too warm), our first encounter from the server was when, without prelude or greeting, she asked if we were ready to order. And so it went. I felt rushed from the beginning, and that feeling intensified when our entrees were delivered before everyone was finished with their salads. Orzo Paella--Julian

We started with homemade pretzels that resembled chewy twisted rolls. These were served with two mustards, though one tasted like barbecue sauce. It was a unique appetizer and we enjoyed the presentation. The butter lettuce salad with blue cheese and egg vinaigrette was novel and tasty.  French fries come with homemade ketchup, but they needed to be left in the fryer a bit longer. There was no bread service and, though that seems to be a more common occurrence these days, I think a fresh roll or chewy bread can enhance a dining experience, especially when there’s a savory sauce begging to be mopped up.

My entree was a winner. The pork shoulder was crisp and tender, and combined with sweet potato puree, I was happy. Pork shoulder--Sweet Potato--Julian (The picture doesn’t do it justice.) The other entrees at the table were less successful. The “paella” was fine but nothing special. Though the menu description indicated that it was not an authentic version, it lacked oomph. The seared salmon with asian noodles would be ideal for those watching their waistline, but it didn’t strike me as representative of Tio’s considerable talents. I do like the offered option of ordering a small or large portion of most entrees.

Other menu items include a hamburger, which I’ve heard is sensational, a pulled pork and slaw sandwich, a B.E.L.T. ( bacon, egg, lettuce and tapenade mayo), lobster shephard’s pie, and mac n’cheese.

Had I not known anything about the chef/owner and walked in with a blank slate, I’m sure my first impression would have been far more positive. In any case, new restaurants always take some time to shake out. I look forward to lunch service and spring meals on the spacious patio. Julian is a welcome addition to the Brookside restaurant scene, but it has a way to go before it reaches its potential. Celina Tio is the consummate pro, and I know she will do what it takes to make her new venture a success.

Julian on Urbanspoon

Carmen’s Cafe

Carmen’s Cafe in Brookside is a longtime neighborhood favorite. Italian specialties abound, including spiedini, veal and my favorite, Fettucine Al Diablo, an enormous pasta dish chock-full of seafood in a spicy tomato sauce. Linguine Aliolio is another must-try, combining olive oil and garlic with fresh herbs and just a touch of tomato.Carmen’s also has surprisingly good paella, odd for an Italian restaurant since it’s a Spanish dish. It’s a holdover from the days when Carmen’s had a second venue on Southwest Boulevard that served primarily Spanish cuisine.

Be sure to ask for the special dipping oil made tableside–olive oil, basil, black pepper, red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese. Combined with soft bread, it’s hard not to make a meal of it.

Carmen’s Cafe
6307 Brookside Plaza
www.carmenscafekc.com