First Taste: 801 Fish

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.the Bar at 801 Fish

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.P1020326

Entrees range from roasted lobster and scallops to cioppino and surf and turf.Squid Salad

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.

Octopus--801 FishP1020329

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.

Gnocchi--801 FishP1020333

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.P1020325

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.810 FishSeafood bar--801 Fish

801 Fish on Urbanspoon

Aixois Brasserie

Aixois in Crestwood is practically an institution. But owners Emmanuel and Megan Langlade needed a new challenge, and downtown needed an upscale venue that would appeal to businessmen/women during the day, and concert or theatre goers and couples on date night during the evening.  Serving one of the city’s longest happy hours during the afternoon, and even offering a private dining room for business meetings or birthday celebrations, Brasserie is trying to cover all of its bases.Aixois BrasserieAixois Brasserie

The downtown Aixois Brasserie is quite attractive. Large windows dominate the space, allowing diners to take in what’s happening on the city streets. A large communal table dominates the middle of the restaurant, though small tables and bar seating is available for those desiring more privacy.

So far, Aixois is fulfilling its lofty expectations. The French fare is unfussy and for the most part hits the mark. The Croque Monsieur sandwich is a rich riff on a ham and cheese sandwich, dressed up with bechamel sauce and gruyere cheese.French Fries--Aixois The simple jar of marinated olives is the perfect foil for whatever cocktail you might start your meal with, and the French fries need little more than a quick dip in a spot of ketchup.Olives--Aixois When the brasserie first opened, lamb meatballs appeared on the Happy Hour menu and, although they are off the menu for now,  they deserve to be a main attraction. Sitting on a pool of  what I think was tzatziki sauce (but I was so focused on the taste of the lamb that the sauce was incidental), these little bites were incredible. I like lamb, but don’t love meatballs because they are typically dry.  But this was more like a mini round lamb burger, juicy and full of oomph. The shrimp cocktail was fine, but certainly not exciting or anything out of the ordinary. The remoulade with which the shrimp were served needed a kick. The pate was quite nice, especially the presentation.P1000183P1000181

The beet salad rocks. The beets are julienned and slightly pickled, the roquefort cheese and  candied walnuts are the perfect (and yes, typical) accompaniment to the beets, but it’s the tangy house vinaigrette pulls it all together. It’s a large portion, but I ate every bite and then mopped up the beet juices with the awesome bread from New Traditionalist Bread.P1010197

French onion soup should be the star of the show at a French restaurant, but Aixois tasted a bit too much like beef broth and not enough like onions.French onion soup--Aixois

Aixois is known for its roast chicken in Brookside, so I thought I’d see if it’s as good at the downtown location. The 1/2 chicken was moist and delicious, though on this night, they switched out the mashed potatoes and gave me sweet potatoes instead. Fortunately, I love sweet potatoes; otherwise I would have been a bit miffed at the unrequested substitutionRoast Chicken--Aixois.

The chicken paillard is a treat as well. Pounded thin, it resembles veal piccata, with capers, shallots and lemon sitting atop the tender piece of chicken. Served with crispy fries and a salad, it’s a complete meal.Chicken Paillard--Aixois Brasserie

Surprisingly, the menu also sports a pasta dish. It is predominately made up of crimini mushrooms, though goat cheese, pine nuts, garlic, balsamic vinegar and fried sage add to the flavor profile to make a winning dish.

Aixois Brasserie is a delightful venue, either as a destination or before or after a downtown event. Service is friendly and smooth, and it’s easy to hear your dinner companions, making it a rare breed these days. It’s open for lunch and dinner.

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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

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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.

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Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant is the new kid on the Plaza, taking the space previously occupied by 810 Zone. Fortunately, no remnant of the former tenant remains. CHW executed a total redo and introduced a new concept in the process. Walking into the building, one first encounters a retail store. I was a little surprised by the commercialism, but was later told that the idea is to replicate a Napa winery, complete with tasting room and outlet to buy wine and accessories. The Napa theme isn’t far fetched. I interviewed corporate winemaker Rob Warren last month and he explained that while the wine itself is made in Illinois, most of their grapes are sourced from vineyards on the West coast, as well as some from Michigan. Perhaps Missouri grapes will be added to the lineup at some point?! P1000834

Before we had a chance to check out the merchandise, we were greeted by a server offering us a glass of bubbly from her tray. And because it was the first week of operation, staff members were swarming, some in training and others undoubtedly on loan from other CHW operations around the country. While roaming we noted that wine-tastings are available for a small fee, and all 15 varietals of Coopers Hawk wine are available for purchase. There were also a number of pretty cool wine accessories that would have made great stocking stuffers.Coopers Hawk

The check-in desk for a table is located behind the store, at the base of the steps which lead to the dining room and in front of the bar area. We were led upstairs to our booth, which was in one of many small dining areas, making the cavernous space seem more intimate and quiet than I would have thought possible. I did note that a couple of the rooms were too brightly lit, but we were seated in a room that was more appropriate for evening dining.Coopers Hawk

My visit had been set up by the CHW public relations firm and we received a complimentary meal. Our server was a college student who loved everything on the menu, making her recommendations a bit suspect, but she was attentive, friendly and well-intentioned.

We started with a bottle of Cabernet/Zinfandel which is described in the menu as being “full-bodied and jammy with aromas of black currant, pepper, and cherry.” Ordering a bottle of red wine triggers somewhat of a production–while our server went to get the bottle, another server brought to our table a huge decanter with a tap for releasing the wine into a glass. After opening the bottle, the server poured the wine over a glass ball which aerates the wine, cools it and releases the bouquet. Looking around the room I noticed one of those decanters on almost every table. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it was a fun touch.Chicken Lettuce Wraps--Coopers Hawk

Word to the wise, many of the apps are for sharing; we ended up with way too much food. The lettuce wraps could have been a full meal on their own, and definitely a good item to share among 3 or 4 people. There were 5 individual tuna tacos to that order, again a fun appetizer to pass around the table.Tuna tacos--Coopers Hawk

The menu is huge. It’s one of those “something for everyone” type of menus. Salads, sandwiches, burgers, chicken, pork, beef, pasta and fish specialities fill the pages.

Though it’s probably a throwback to the 90s, I love fish with wasabi mashed potatoes, so I couldn’t resist the grilled salmon with those potatoes and Asian slaw. I like my salmon medium rare and it came to the table just as I requested. Visually, there was too much wasabi butter floating on top of the potatoes; I’d rather not see just how many calories I’m consuming, but the end result made me banish that image and just enjoy them.Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

My husband had the Angel Hair Neapolitano with Fresh Garlic, Chili Flakes, Rotisserie Roasted Chicken, Broccoli, San Marzano Tomato Sauce, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For someone who loves pasta as much as he does, he was happy, but it wasn’t exceptional. He did have to ask for Parmesan, but he’s not shy…Angel Hair pasta with chicken--Coopers Hawk

I must have had pretzel rolls at 3 or 4 restaurants the week I dined at CHW. They certainly are the “it” bread of the moment. Here, they bring one large round loaf on a cutting board to the table for sharing.Pretzel Roll--Coopers Hawk

Of course we had to try dessert, so we picked the warm chocolate chip cookie in a skillet that had Reeces peanut butter cups baked in. Naturally it was topped with vanilla ice cream. Not a bad way to finish the meal before we rolled ourselves to the car.warm chocolate cookie with ice cream--Coopers Hawk

When dining at Coopers Hawk, the word “formulaic” comes to mind, but it works so I guess that’s something. If you’re looking for a nice meal, competent service and some good wine on the Plaza, add this to your list. It’s not a small, cozy independent restaurant but, except for a few restaurants like Classic Cup, you pretty much need to leave the Plaza to have that experience these days.

Cooper's Hawk on Urbanspoon

Seasons 52

Seasons 52, a relatively new chain restaurant that landed on the Plaza in late 2011, bills itself as a grill and wine bar featuring fresh and seasonal fare. Each dish is less than 475 calories, and desserts are 250 calories or less.

Our local outpost is quite attractive, a cross in design between Houston’s and Capital Grille. Both Capital Grille and Seasons are owned by the Darden group, so the similarities are not coincidental. And both wine lists were created by the same sommelier. They each have that clubby feel and, like Houston’s, the bar has booths for dining. I prefer the ambiance in the bar, especially on evenings when a piano player is in the house.

On each of my visits, the food was consistently solid and the service polished and flawless. The menu is extensive, so diners can really make the meal whatever they want it to be, whether soup and salad, flatbread and a glass of wine, or meat and potatoes. What diners won’t find is excitement. I’ve enjoyed most everything I’ve ordered, but none of it was so flavorful or interesting that I would rush back.

The first time my husband and I dined there, we simply wanted a quick bite. I had  the Maui Tuna Crunch Salad sushi-grade seared tuna, tropical organic greens, toasted almonds and miso vinaigrette. Very nice, but could have used a few more calories to add some oomph. Or even a few vegetables.

My husband had the spicy chicken relleno which happily, unlike the versions you see at most Mexican restaurants, was not battered and fried. This appetizer  combines the chicken with sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach and sits on pico de gallo. Light and flavorful, but again, could have benefitted from some heat. (Though I’m not suggesting everything has to be spicy, I’m not into bland).

My next visit was complimentary, and came with an invitation to sample the new winter menu. Since Seasons 52 is known for their flatbreads, we started with the spicy chipotle shrimp flatbread, which was flavored with poblano peppers, grilled pineapple and feta. Not my favorite ingredients, but the dish was well-executed. The flatbread was thin and crisp, and attractively served on a long, narrow wood board.

Our server said that the stuffed mushrooms are one of the most popular appetizers, so we ordered those as well. The mushrooms are stuffed with spinach, crab and shrimp and topped with bread crumbs. They were  cleverly served in an escargot style plate, with the mushrooms in the holes that are usually reserved for snails, allowing them to retain their heat. Unexciting, but perfectly acceptable.

I ordered the  Maple Leaf Farms Sesame Duck Chop Salad with apples, mint, cranberries, butternut squash and toasted pecans for my entrée. The salad was layered and came in a cylinder which the server gently pulled off as part of the presentation. (I’ve seen this done at Gram and Dun as well.) I was glad A.G. Sulzberger of the New York Times wasn’t there since the salad was in fact, comprised of almost all iceberg lettuce. The duck was well-done, but they had not asked my preference, so I’m not sure if that’s typical or not.

One of the specials of the evening was called a seared tuna noodle bowl. Though it ironically came on a large plate, it was gorgeous and contained a variety of Asian vegetables. Though redolent with ginger, it was a bit salty and again lacked a kick.

Desserts come in shot glasses, and there are 8 from which to choose. We tried the key lime pie and carrot cake. Both are, of course, deconstructed and layered in the shot glass. I especially enjoyed the key lime, with its sugary bites of graham cracker crust. 

At Seasons 52, diners can expect an enjoyable experience. I wasn’t wowed by the food; nor could I find anything objectionable. I was certainly impressed with the smooth service and relaxed setting, both of which should make this well-conceived chain a success in our town.

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

The Pump Room–Chicago

No, it’s not your mother’s Pump Room, the one that hosted celebrities for decades in the old Ambassador East Hotel. Though black and white photos from those halcyon days grace many of its walls, the new Pump Room is a total redo. Ian Schrager (of Studio 54 fame) recently bought the hotel and renamed it the Public Hotel. It has very quickly become THE place to be seen in Chicago. The bar is packed at all hours and the Pump Room is an impossible reservation to snag, undoubtedly due in part to Schrager’s decision to install Jeans-Georges Vongerichten in the kitchen.

Knowing we had to pace ourselves through a weekend of eating, my sister and I wanted to have a light lunch after checking into the hotel, and this was the place to do that without sacrificing excitement or flavor. Perusing the menu, I was delighted to find that JG has imported many of the signature dishes from his wildly successful ABC Kitchen in New York City. While vegetables used to be an afterthought, today’s chefs have relegated them to exalted status. At both ABC Kitchen and the Pump Room, they are the stars of the show.

Ever since my visit to ABC Kitchen last spring, I have been extoling the virtues of the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad to anyone who will listen. Though it may be hard to believe that this dish could be so memorable, my sister agreed with me that it deserves the accolades it gets because fortunately, this was prepared as flawlessly as the first time I reveled in it.

Another dish on both menus is the Roasted Beets with Homemade Yogurt. The dish was pretty as a picture and the beets were as sweet as candy. But the surprise of the meal was the broccoli side dish. Who knew this green veggie could be so addictive? It was roasted with garlic, jalapenos and pistachio and every bite made us smile.

We almost ordered a pizza, but when we saw the homemade bread and green olive oil that our server brought to the table, we opted to enjoy that instead…and an order of crisp house cut French fries. What a great lunch!

Since the restaurant is in a hotel, one of course can expect the obligatory hotel menu items like a cobb salad or turkey sandwich, but Jeans-Georges gives these classics a new twist. The hamburger is finished with herb mayo and pickled jalapenos, the mushroom pizza (a huge seller at ABC) is finished with a fried egg, and fried chicken comes with sweet corn and a chile glaze.

The hotel, too, is a visual treat. The common rooms are spectacular and very cozy for coffee or people-watching.

Pump Room on Urbanspoon

ABC Kitchen–New York City

Recently named the James Beard ” New Restaurant of the Year 2011″, this was not an easy reservation to snag. But it was worth the effort to get a table at ABC Kitchen in New York City. It’s in the old ABC Home space and that alone is an enticement. The restaurant employs artisan, sustainable, local and recycled materials on the walls and at the table, marrying beautifully with the food on the plate.

ABC Kitchen is currently the hottest restaurant in Jean-Georges Vongerichton’s empire, with good reason. It’s an incredibly cool-looking space, with a fabulous array of lighting fixtures hung and strung throughout the restaurant. (The overall effect is quite dark, hence my pictures didn’t come out well enough to give you an accurate portrayal.) It’s also a celebrity hot spot–we saw actor Hugh Jackman and magician David Blaine chatting it up with Chef Jean-Georges.

But the food is the real star here. Though the appetizers and salads were more inventive and eye-popping than the entrees, we enjoyed all the dishes we ordered. And the presentation was marvelous.

We started with spring pea soup. The bright Kelly green puree was dotted with fresh peas and had several mouth-watering croutons floating on top.

Having read countless online reviews that the Roasted Carrot and Avocado salad was a must, we followed instructions and were not disappointed. The way the carrots were roasted brought out their sweetness in remarkable fashion which, when combined with the buttery avocado made for an unlikely but lively duo.

The tuna sashimi marinated with ginger and mint was not the best I’ve ever had, but it was silky and refreshing.

There are a number of pastas and pizzas on the menu, and tempted as I was by all of the raves I had read about the mushroom pizza with a fried egg is a real winner, we decided to go for the mozzarella and bread instead. It turned out to be a great decision, as one of the highlights of the dinner was the large bowl of warm, fresh mozzarella covered with olive oil, sprinkled with freshly grated black pepper and sea salt, and served with a spoon and awesome bread.

We also shared fresh cavatelli with guanciale, ramps, spring vegetables and pecorino. Not a complicated dish at all, but deeply satisfying. We fought each other for the last bite.

The two entrees we split were the steamed halibut with mushrooms, asparagus and topped spring onion chili vinaigrette, and black bass with chiles, herbs, spinach and potato. As I mentioned, next time I’ll skip the entrees, which were lovely but not sensational. They just couldn’t compete with the appetizers and salads. I wouldn’t resist one of those pizzas either.

I would, however, have dessert again. The same one. We ordered a sundae with caramel ice cream, fudge sauce and popcorn. Fortunately, it was a huge bowl, though the three of us managed to scrape the sides. What a stellar combination.

My only complaint about the evening is that the hard surfaces and tall ceilings result in a very loud decibel level, making it a bit problematic for easy conversation. But nothing could detract from the meal itself. It was a glowing example of how fresh is best and food need not be complicated to be delicious– culinary artistry at its finest.

ABC Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Story

Walking into Story creates a bit of a culture shock. The decor is much more akin to New York than Prairie Village, but in my book that’s a good thing. It’s just not what you expect to find in a suburban shopping center. Quite sleek, it’s devoid of color. White walls contrast with simple gray and black accents. It harkens back to the ’80s when everything was white, before people decided adding color to the equation was a warmer way to go. It became tiresome, but this is now a refreshing look, especially since the modern lines are so appealing.

Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen and his wife Susan recently opened Story after Carl’s seven-year stint under Chef Michael Smith, first at 40 Sardines and then at Michael Smith restaurant. The name comes from three layers of stories that comprise a restaurant–the owners’ story, where they came from, what led them to open the restaurant; the diner’s story; and the food’s story and where it came from. As with most new restaurants today, the emphasis is on farm-to-table, fresh and seasonal, all of which (including the story behind the name, Story) was explained by our very competent server, Tom.

I loved the variety of seasonal produce, which the night we were there focused on fava beans and mint. I succumbed to the soft shell crab because it has such a short season. The crustacean was perfectly crisp and not at all oily, though the pancetta mayo was a bit bland and could have used more punch. The octopus appetizer was also the picture of perfection. Though  I prefer mine grilled rather than braised to enhance the flavor, this was cooked just right. It wasn’t  rubbery or tough, and that’s a feat in itself.  Its pairing with those same fava beans and potatoes was masterful.

The ravioli with morels was amazing. Despite being finished with a butter sauce, it was quite light and every bite melted in my mouth. The tile fish in prosciutto broth was fine, but not memorable or extraordinary. The description on the menu alluded to a crab fritter, but it reminded me more of a pancake. Our server had recommended it over the halibut or trout, but I’d be inclined to go for the trout next time, prepared for the moment with mushrooms, spinach, mashed potatoes and lemon-jalapeno vinaigrette.

Desserts were a marvel. The chocolate mousse is a misnomer–it  was more like a sensuous and decadent Kit Kat bar. Likewise the lemon bar bore no resemblance to the bake sale variety. It was tart and sweet without being sugary, and was appointed with dots of blueberry puree.

The bread was awesome. Made in-house, each slice had a chewy crust and airy inside. The foccacia was nice, but not as compelling as the slices of batard, served with French style butter. However, don’t expect to sample it at lunch.  Our server sheepishly told me that bread is only available as an appetizer, with prosciutto, olives and olive oil for a whopping $8.  Those wanting a piece of bread to mop up soup or sauce are out of luck. I know making bread is a labor-intensive process, but when lunch costs more than $20 a person, I really think bread ought to be included as part of the meal.

No complaints about the actual lunch, though.We sampled both the vibrant green asparagus soup dotted with pistachio oil, and an unusual pea soup with salsa verde and meatballs. I was expecting another bright green puree, but this was brothy, with cooked peas and other vegetables in the mix. It tasted Thai to me, perhaps from the flavors in the salsa verde, but in any case, it was tasty. I also had the fluke ceviche with pine nuts, celery and cilantro. Very light and delicate.

The fried chicken thigh with fava bean succotash may not have been light; nor did it resemble what you’d get at Stroud’s. Crisp, tender and not at oily (remember that soft shell crab? Thorne-Thomsen knows a thing or two about frying), it was a thing of beauty. As is every dish that comes out of the kitchen. Presentation is a huge part of the overall experience. I suspect Thorne-Thomsen is a perfectionist, and it shows.

A trip to Story is not an inexpensive venture. But the menu is devised to allow diners to order a couple of nice sized appetizers and still enjoy a lovely evening. Lunch is a bit of a commitment and focuses more on real entrees than what Ladies-Who-Lunch may prefer. The only salads on the menu are of the side variety, not substantial enough to order as a meal. A mid-day menu is also available with a combination of some items that appear on the mealtime menus, as well as a few that are strictly available from 2-5 pm, including some awesome looking French fries. Not a bad way to while away a couple of hours at the bar or on the patio, at a easy-on-the-wallet price point.

Though Story may not be an everyday destination, it’s a coup for Prairie Village to have a restaurant of this caliber in its zip code.

 

Story on Urbanspoon

Kinkead’s in Washington, DC

Kinkead’s has been around for decades, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It is consistently on all the top restaurant charts, deservedly so.

I made a return visit there recently, after too long of a drought.The multi-level restaurant has multiple personalities, depending on where you sit. There is a casual cafe on the lower level, a loud bar at street level, and a more subdued and formal dining room upstairs. We were seated in a booth upstairs, which was made for easy conversation.

In early March, spring hadn’t yet taken hold, but unfortunately they had just changed to the spring menu, eliminating the possibility that we could try the grilled tuna with mole, a dish my son and I both had our eye on when perusing the online menu before the changeover. Fortunately, we were happy with all of  our selections, most of which were on the Classics menu that doesn’t change seasonally.

We started with two appetizers whose descriptions were intriguing, and unlike any dishes either of us had experienced. One was Grilled Squid with Tomato Fondue, Pesto and Creamy Polenta. It was arranged vertically and artfully, and resulted in each bite having a burst of flavors.  Yucatan Style Tuna Soup with Tomatillos, Chiles, Lime, Sour Cream and Tortilla Strips was all green, like a split pea, but made with tomatillos and cilantro. Chunks of tuna are dropped in at the last minute so they are barely cooked and not overdone. The tortilla strips added crunch to a very successful soup.

My son was determined to have tuna, so he tried the preparation on the new menu and wasn’t disappointed. Sesame Crusted Rare Tuna with Cool Soba Noodles, Sesame Seaweed Salad, Soy Dipping Sauce and Wasabi tends to show up on many a menu these days, but if the preparation is flawless, as this was, what’s not to like.

I tried another of the classics, Pepita Crusted Salmon with Cilantro, Chiles, Crab, Shrimp and Corn Ragout. Since I was near crab and shrimp country, it seemed like the thing to get. I was less than enamored at the outset, perhaps because I make enough salmon at home that I rarely order it in restaurants, and because I don’t love a crust surrounding my fish. But as the different ingredients took hold and each bite offered up a different taste, I was happy I had tried it.

Though primarily a fish and seafood restaurant, Kinkead’s does offer meat entrees for landlubbers at the table, so don’t shy away from trying an outstanding restaurant simply because you don’t eat fish. Though not inexpensive, it offers a very pleasant and delectable way to spend an evening.

 

 

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