Restaurant Week 2014 Continued…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosso on Urbanspoon

First Taste: Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant

Chuy’s was just what I expected. It is a chain after all, another in a growing line of chains that now populate Country Club Plaza.  And though I prefer Southwestern cuisine to TeX-Mex, I figured I should try it. And now that I have, I’ve done my duty.Chuy's

Some of the food was good, and the portions are certainly substantial. If you have small children, it’s a great place to take them since there are lots of distractions. In fact, for those who remember the original Houlihan’s look with old tools, furniture and the like hanging from the ceiling, this is the Mexican version of that “style”.Chuy's

Chips are brought to each table in a basket and are  refilled with a mini shovel. A slushy pico de gallo comes with, though the menu also has a long list of house made salsas that diners can request, ranging in spice from mild to very hot, featuring different peppers. We tried the Hatch green chile and the tomatillo, both of which were fine, but not exciting. The Hatch green chile salsa was the perfect addition to the chile con queso that we had picked up at the Happy Hour Nacho bar, which is displayed in a portion of a car trunk.  Chuy's Happy Hour Nacho BarThe bar features the same chips and salsa that are brought to the table, along with the queso and ground beef.  It’s all free from 4-7 P.M.Salsas--Chuy's

We started with a bowl of tortilla soup that was chockfull of pulled chicken, corn, carrots and tortilla chips. It tasted very much like Grandma’s chicken soup, but adding more of that Hatch green chile salsa did wonders for it.Tortilla Soup--Chuy's

One of the Chuy specials is the Southwestern Enchiladas, stacked blue corn tortillas with pulled chicken, green chile sauce (a different green chile sauce than the Hatch) and a fried egg on top.Southwestern Enchiladas--Chuy's Each entrée comes with  Mexican rice or green chile rice, and refried or Charro beans. In addition to the enchiladas, which definitely tasted better than they looked, we ordered a Fajita chicken burrito smothered with red chile sauce. I had high hopes when it was placed before me, as the sauce was deep red and obviously made with chiles rather than tomatoes. But unfortunately, in addition to being too salty, I don’t think the chile powder had been throughly cooked into the sauce. However, the Charro beans that were stuffed inside the burrito and both rices were quite good.Burrito smotheres with red chile sauce--Chuy's

Tortillas are made on site, but even those seemed a bit doughy.Homemade tortillas--Chuy's

SO, I’m glad I tried Chuy’s, but I’d rather expend my calories at Rudy’s, Poco’s, Fiesta Azteca or El Patron, all of which are locally owned and serve up more authentic and pleasing Mexican fare.Chuy's

Chuy's on Urbanspoon

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

Bo Ling’s on the Plaza

This summer, Bo Ling’s moved its flagship restaurant to a space on the Plaza worthy of its designation as the top dog in the chain.  It’s stunning in its contemporary and bold design. Taking up half of the Skelly building, the restaurant would almost feel cavernous if not for the well-divided dining room that includes cocktail seating, booths, and a full bar. There are two entrances, one on 47th St. and the other on Jefferson. There are also a few parking spots reserved for people dashing in for carryout.

This location has added a noodle bar; diners choose soba, udon, ramen or rice noodles, and then add  a protein and broth. It even sells gorgeous cakes, something one does not expect at a Chinese restaurant.

Most of the menu reads the same as the one at the old venue– presented notebook style, each page is laminated and full of photos to help diners make their selections. It’s huge, so plan on several visits to discover your favorites.

We started one evening with fabulous Sichuan dumplings bathed in a luxurious garlic-soy chili sauce. We also ordered spicy vegetable lo mein, a dish not on the menu, but one of my favorite dishes to request…and they are always happy to oblige.

I love any of the vegetables Sichuan style, but the long green beans are especially satisfying.

Yu Xiang Chicken has a little fiery pepper next to it, which indicates the dish will be spicy, but I found it to be pretty mild. But tasty, with chunks of fresh peppers and very tender chicken.

I didn’t love the Dan Dan noodles, but that’s just me. I realized the minute I took a bite that I had made the wrong choice, but only because I don’t like Chinese five spice, and it was clearly the dominant flavor in the noodle sauce.

If you are with a group, consider ordering the Beijing Roasted Duck. Typically served with Mu Shu style pancakes, Bo Ling’s tucks the duck pieces in steamed buns instead.

I’ve always found Bo Ling’s to be quite expensive for a Chinese restaurant. It still is, but now with its new decor and upscale ambiance, it feels a bit more justifiable.

Bo Lings on Urbanspoon

Grand Street Cafe

Grand Street Cafe has been a favorite off-Plaza destination since 1991. At the time, its wallpaper with willow branches protruding in 3D fashion and striped rattan chairs created an imaginative botanical scene which captivated diners. Though originally owned by the very successful PB&J group of restaurants, it was bought in 2009 by Rick and Kristi Ghilardi. Rick had been a partner in the business for 19 years, so the transition was seamless. Fortunately, the couple recognized the need to update the decor because a recent visit revealed a more subtle, neutral-toned atmosphere.

The layout is the same and the original striped rattan chairs remain. The signature grass-green color that has always graced the menus is now tied into the decor through its presence on the back wall, a splash of fun in an otherwise calm setting. It reminded me of Gram & Dun’s decor, and that’s a good thing.

Though the menu is also updated with new additions, it feels very much the same. You can still get that great pork chop; it just has a different twist. Same with the scallops and short ribs. Fans of Bill’s Chicken Salad will not be disappointed–though Bill (former owner Crooks) is no longer a part of the operation, his salad lives on.

We were there for lunch, so we didn’t go for the entrees. We started with their seasonal flatbread, which we both enjoyed immensely. The crust was thin, but with a slight chew. Onion marmalade, Maytag blue cheese, mission figs, arugula, shaved onion, grape tomatoes graced the top (it also came with prosciutto which we nixed) in ideal proportion to the size of the cut triangles, and the marmalade added a touch of sweetness.

My friend had the ahi salad with a marinated tuna steak, butter lettuce, hearts of palm, snow peas, roasted red pepper, hard-boiled eggs, caper vinaigrette. Perfectly pleasant, but not exciting.

I had the cobb which, in addition to traditional ingredients sported cheddar cheese and croutons. It was well-executed and filling.

Service continues to be a hallmark of this well-run establishment.

As word gets out that the restaurant has left the 20th Century in the rear-view mirror, I suspect it will again become top-of-mind for diners considering their eating around town.

Grand Street Cafe 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

Gram & Dun

Gram &Dun is the latest restaurant under the Bread and Butter Concepts flag, an independent and local group that also owns BRGR and Urban Table in Corinth. The owners decided to jump the state line and open on the Plaza, where it’s getting a ton of buzz. Evidently, I’m not the only one delighted that there is now another non-chain worth going to  in addition to seasoned veterans like the Classic Cup, Starker’s and Blanc Burger. 

Housed in the old Baja 600 and Parkway 600 space, you’d have to look hard to see the vestiges of those restaurants. The re-do is striking and the neutral colors the designers chose are very effective. The overall effect is a soothing one, though the place has been anything but calm each time I’ve been there.

At a preview event right before the restaurant opened, I sampled a number of appetizers, including shrimp fries, bison meatballs, shishito peppers and not-so-standard potato chips with three ketchups (guacamole, vanilla bean, blood orange-habañero), the last being the only one of the bunch I would consider ordering. Rather than being thin chips, they were a thick cut round, with a dollop of sauce on top. I wasn’t wild about any of the ketchups,  but it’s a visually appealing appetizer and a worthwhile concept.

On another occasion I tried the French Onion Dumplings, and they were quite good, bursting with slurps of traditional soup by the same name.

I had heard great things about the Brussel sprout salad, but I think the main appeal is that the sprouts are not roasted, but rather raw and shredded. They are tossed with Manchego cheese, celery, cranberries, walnuts, arugula, and a rather bland lemon vinaigrette. Similar to a slaw, the texture is pleasing, but the dish would benefit from stronger flavors.

The salad with ahi tuna didn’t need more oomph, just less dressing.The salad comes vertically, with the tuna layered precariously between lettuce and crisp won ton strips. Had it not been drenched with the chili vinaigrette or totally lacking in vegetables besides watercress, it would have been a triumph. I’d probably order it again, but with the dressing on the side. The Flat Iron Steak salad with oyster mushrooms, roasted red peppers, golden raisins, watercress, spinach and chimichurri vinaigrette was not overdressed and had more going on.

My husband tried the Roasted Mushroom Trio, a sandwich on sourdough that pairs mushrooms with radicchio, watercress, balsamic, pecorino and truffle aioli. It tasted as good as it sounds, but the bread to filling ratio was off. I’d rather have more “stuff” and less bread. The house salad that accompanied it was dressed with a tart sangria vinaigrette, along with cherries, bleu cheese and pistachios.

Shrimp and grits has expanded well beyond the South, and it’s become a hit on every menu in town that it graces. Webster House has a masterful rendition, as does Gram & Dun. The shrimp here were coated with blackened (Cajun) seasonings, the grits were creamy (but not as addictive as they are at Webster House and Chaz) and the jalapeno avocado gravy took the dish beyond the traditional. On my first visit, though the shrimp were cooked perfectly, they were too salty. The next time I went to the restaurant my companion couldn’t resist ordering them despite my admonition and fortunately, the kitchen didn’t use such a heavy hand. She practically licked the bowl. (Unfortunately, that was the one dish that I have no pictures of…I must have been too focused on eating the dish rather than photographing it.)

Chicken and waffles used to be served only at soul food restaurants, but the last couple of years this combination has gone mainstream.

While I’ve never understood the appeal of eating two fried/starchy items together or why the two foods would even be paired together, after eating the CFC & Waffles at Gram & Dun, I get it. The corn flake fried chicken was crisp and devoid of grease, and the waffles got an upgrade from the addition of cheese and herbs. But what won the day was the vinegary hot pepper sauce for dipping.  Just as the maple syrup was a natural for the waffles, so too was the hot pepper sauce for the chicken. For a town that loves its barbecue to distraction, we might all have to consider that chicken and hot pepper sauce is also worthy of love.  It’s really just an upscale version of hot wings, but oh so much better.

The servers must love the Gram & Dun bar, because they push it hard. With good reason as it turns out. Billed as a faux Snickers bar, if you love peanut butter and marshmallow, this is for you. They come two to an order, so ask for an extra spoon.

The profiteroles are less inspired. The pastry was a bit gummy, and they were way too stingy on the chocolate sauce. It was more a decoration than for enjoying with the ice cream filling, and where’s the fun in that?

Even on chilly nights, groups can be seen huddled by the gorgeous firepits that grace the restaurant’s patio. In warmer weather, seats on the patio will surely be a hot commodity. Right now the restaurant is packed in the evenings, and loud. The bar is unfortunately too small to handle the current crowds, but no one seems to mind waiting for a table, especially since a hostess will text you when your table is ready. How 21st Century is that?

Gram & Dun on Urbanspoon

Sahara Mediterranean Cafe

Recently opened  on the little strip of shops at 51st and Oak, Saraha is very popular with the UMKC crowd. Adding a bit more ethnicity to the standard choices of pizza, subs and Chinese on that block, students have been flocking here for hummus, gryo sandwiches, shawarma, and kabobs.

Sahara is in the old Russell Stovers store, and I think they kept the same commercial ceiling lighting that existed before, which does nothing to enhance the restaurant’s rather drab appearance. The owners took a stab at decorating, using a bright saffron to freshen the walls and hanging a few ornaments, but the decor is definitely more suited to a quick meal or grab ‘n go rather than a relaxing dining experience.

Diners order at a counter from a huge cardboard wall menu that has pictures of all the offerings, and a server brings the food to your table a la Spin Pizza’s model.

But, the food’s decent. Plentiful and fresh, if not exciting.  We tried the lentil soup, which was more flavorful than it looked. The appetizer platter featured falafel, hummus, baba ghannouj (eggplant dip), dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and pita. The baba ghannouj was our favorite, though the falafel’s inside was light, almost airy, a pleasing contrast to the fried exterior.

We also had a side of tabouli. It was heavy on the parsley with not much bulgur, which is usually the dominant ingredient in the dish. Cucumbers and tomatoes added the crunch.

Saraha is a welcome addition to the area. It will fit student budgets and offers a healthy alternative to dorm food. I know some businessmen who also enjoy it for the large portions and quick service. But a cozy date night? Not so much.

Sahara on Urbanspoon

Classic Cup Cafe

The Classic Cup has always been one of my favorite restaurants, but it’s been ages since I had eaten there. As much as I love the outside deck, for quite a while the menu never changed and I grew tired of it. I had stopped ordering the Thai Chicken Pizza when the crust didn’t seem quite as fabulous as the original and  I had mastered the recipe at home. Moving on, I hit upon the Magic Mushroom sandwich, a grilled Portobello with roasted peppers and goat cheese aioli, a meaty, messy stack of deliciousness, but chef Michael Turner is so talented, I wanted more from him.

I recently noticed some menu changes when I was surfing online and decided it was time for a return visit. So, on a gorgeous fall day, four of us went for lunch, sat outside and had dishes that were recent additions. I enjoyed a Tuscan tuna salad, with grilled romaine, ahi tuna and white bean salad. Though a bit heavy on the lemon caper dressing, the overall dish was solid. The crunchy texture of the grilled lettuce provided a nice contrast to the creamy beans and the tuna was prepared rare as requested.

The Cuban Muffaletta was a takeoff on two trendy sandwiches, the cuban, which pairs pork, ham and cheese, and a muffaletta which uses an olive salad as a sandwich topping. Thick and rich, it was very tasty. The lamb gyro used ground meat rather than shaved, it was spiced with harrissa, then wrapped in a thick pita and served with a cucumber salsa and tzatziki sauce. Again, another winner.

The Classic Cup is one of the few independent restaurants left on the Plaza. Given Highwood’s propensity to bringing in chain stores, it’s important to patronize each of them. And the Classic Cup been an institution for more than 20 years– we need to make sure it lives on for another twenty.

The Classic Cup on Urbanspoon

Classic Cup Cafe-On The Plaza Kansas City, MO

Glace* Artisan Ice Cream by Christopher Elbow

Glace is Christopher Elbow’s newest endeavor, having made a name for himself in the chocolate business. He utilizes some of those same ingredients to concoct truly outrageous flavors of ice cream. The flavor list reads like a grocery list–sweet corn, goat cheese and cherry, basil lime sorbet, fresh mint, lemon curd with blueberry, caramelized banana and peanut butter and jelly.

More traditional flavors, including vanilla bean, coffee, strawberry and Venezuelan dark chocolate are also available, but Elbow doesn’t do  mundane, so even these are pretty intense. And rich.

Cups come in two sizes, one which holds two flavors, the other three. The servers provide samples to help narrow your choices, but repeated visits are in my future so I can eventually pick some favorites!

*(There is an accent over the “e” but my blog format doesn’t allow me to add it.)