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

Restaurant Week Part 2: Gaslight Grill

I had never been to Gaslight Grill before, so when offered a complimentary preview of its Restaurant Week menu, I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit. It’s located in Leawood, in the space that at one time occupied the south location of Plaza III.Gaslight Grill

The restaurant is quite large, and consists of a cozy bar, a dining room with soaring ceilings, and a back room where diners can listen to jazz while they enjoy their dinner.

We started with a very nice kale salad with a lemon dressing, goat cheese and sliced almonds, and a grilled asparagus and portobello mushroom salad that was light and flavorful. The other RW appetizer is a hummus trio with pita.Asparagus and Portabello--Gaslight GrillKale salad--Gaslight Grill

My husband and I aren’t big meat eaters, and though I gather from looking at the regular menu that beef is the restaurant’s specialty, I was glad to see that the Restaurant Week menu has other attractive options.Roast Chicken--Gaslight Grill

We shared pan roasted salmon with leek risotto, and roast chicken atop a sweet potato cake with tasso ham gravy. Both entrees came out piping hot, and tasted every bit as good as they looked. Had we wanted meat, the RW menu features filet mignon with potato puree and broccoli.Salmon with leek risotto--Gaslight Grill

By this time we were full, but since Restaurant Week meals include dessert, how could we resist? Though we didn’t make it through the beautiful multi-layered carrot cake tower, it wasn’t for lack of interest. The white chocolate cheesecake was also a treat, but part of it went in the doggy box as well.Carrot Cake--Gaslight GrillWhite chocolate cheesecake--Gaslight Grill

Our experience was enhanced by the server who waited on us. The GM may have assigned us their best waiter because he wanted to make a good impression; in any event I can’t imagine there is a better server in the house than Marcus. When we return, I will certainly ask to be seated in his section. He was extremely professional, friendly and attentive, without being obsequious.

Many of the restaurants that are part of the RW roster fill up and won’t be able to accommodate diners if they wait too long to make a reservation. But Gaslight Grill can handle almost 400 guests, so don’t hesitate to give them a call. You won’t be disappointed.

Restaurant Week ends January 27. It’s not too late to participate.

Gaslight Grill on Urbanspoon

Tavern in the Village

After two pleasant visits to Tavern in the Village, the new hot spot in Prairie Village, it’s likely that owner Kelly Manning has a winning formula.  He’s worked in PB& J restaurants and at Houston’s and Morton’s, so he certainly has a solid pedigree. The Tavern is a comfortable spot, with well-spaced tables, spacious booths and soft lighting. There’s a  bar in the front with TVs, and an outdoor patio is in the works.  It’s family friendly, and on both occasions the service was competent. Manning is ever-present and intent on ensuring  each guest’s satisfaction.

The menu, which is the same at both lunch and dinner, has a broad range of options, including chicken tacos, creole pasta,fresh fish, grilled pork chops and steaks, as well as a dozen salads and sandwiches. And, in keeping with Manning’s plan to attract repeat business, prices are reasonable.

I enjoyed both the Santa Fe chicken salad and the Asian tuna salad.  However, each of them, as well as the soup and salad combo, come with a very average roll on the edge of the bowl. There’s something about the rationing and presentation that rubs me the wrong way. A bread basket is much more gracious.

The chicken nachos were an interesting appetizer, displayed as individual nacho pizzas with black beans, charred corn, pico de gallo and a goat cheese sauce on saucer-sized tortillas. Pretty as well as tasty, and certainly not an appetite-killer as some nacho platters tend to be. The upscale chicken tacos are also a bundle of flavor, served with a bowl of black beans to make it a complete meal.

I have yet to try the entrees, but I did get a look at their presentation during a recent tasting event. All of the dishes looked quite substantial and are accompanied by whipped potatoes and green beans or asparagus. I’m hoping for a bit more creativity once the chef settles in.

Head barman David Smuckler also has some impressive credentials–he won the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition in 2007.  It shows. The cocktails are creative, employ many ingredients I’ve never heard of,  and have some fun names, like Thai Tavern Julep, Rosemary Monk, and Peach New Fashion. Being more of a wine snob than a cocktail maven, I was delighted to see Orin Swift’s The Prisoner on the wine list. Did I order it at $78 a bottle? No, but it’s an indication that wine is not an afterthought.

Judging from the crowds, it would appear that the Tavern achieves its goal of being a neighborhood restaurant with broad appeal. The concept is safe which, in this economy, is probably smart.  And it’s been packed since day one, with families and couples young and old, most of whom are probably from the surrounding area, delighted that Prairie Village finally has an upscale  restaurant that also manages to fall in the “something for everyone” category.

Tavern In The Village on Urbanspoon

Happy Hour at Pierpont’s

Pierpont’s is a gorgeous restaurant within Union Station that opened when the old train depot was renovated in 1999. Primarily known for its steak and seafood, it also has a fun and extremely reasonable happy hour. It’s offered from 11 am to close on weekdays, and from 4-6 pm on weekends, in the lounge only. But that’s certainly not a sacrifice–the bar is a stunning space, with a ceiling high liquor display and the original lighting and molding. The only problem is that it’s usually packed, because this incredible deal is not a well-kept secret.

Crab packed crab cakes are $5.95, shrimp cocktail is $6.95, even a strip steak or filet mignon and frites can be had for $10.95. But for a more casual experience, on a recent visit we went for the sliders and tacos, washed down with draft beer (also discounted).

The tacos and sliders come in threes. We ordered spicy chicken tacos ($4.95), fried cod ($4.95), Korean BBQ pork ($5.50) and rock shrimp with pineapple salsa ($5.95). Slider choices include Ahi tuna with Thai chili and cucumber ($5.95), pork with fennel mayo and caramelized onions ($5.50), French dip ($4.95), grilled chicken with Gruyère and Dijon ($4.95), and a traditional ground beef slider at $4.95. We opted for the vegetarian choice, smoked Portobello with roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomato mayo ($5.50).

Four of us split five dishes plus some pretty addictive shoestring fries and had more than enough to eat. All drinks are under $5 whether you order a martini, wine or beer.

It’s an unbeatable deal in a lovely setting. It seems like there must be a catch, but there’s not. Just go and enjoy.
Pierpont's at Union Station on Urbanspoon

Room 39

I’ve always loved Room 39. The servers are consistently friendly and knowledgeable, the space has a lovely coziness to it and the restaurant’s personality shifts as the clock does. In the  morning it’s an upscale coffee shop, with exceptional coffee and egg dishes, including a quiche that is probably  four inches high. At lunchtime, it’s a soup and sandwich spot frequented by lawyers and artists alike. The veggie burger is one of the best around, but it’s hard to go wrong with any of the offerings.

Come sundown, tablecloths and votives grace the tables, transforming the restaurant into a serious, upscale dining experience. The menu  changes daily and is posted online so you can get a peek of the chef’s selections before making a reservation. (The breakfast and lunch menus are set seasonally, but an  extensive list of daily specials is also available.)

Owner Ted Habiger and his chefs are all about fresh and seasonal ingredients,  which is why the menu has to change each day based on availability. We were lucky to be there on a night when beets were so prominently featured. The  beet risotto was a stunning magenta, and the beet vinaigrette that accompanied the succulent scallops was bubble gum pink. The color could have been off-putting, but knowing that it was redolent of beet and far from artificial made it a good thing.

The rib eye was huge, prepared as ordered and very tender. (Unlike the leg of lamb which was without even a touch of pink though the server explained that the chef likes to serve it medium).

While I think of Room 39 as being quaint, and it is, that doesn’t mean it’s quiet. We were there the Thursday before Christmas, and as more diners squeezed in at the bar to wait for a table, the louder it became. We could still carry on a conversation at our table of six, but it wasn’t as relaxing as when we first sat down to a half-full room.

Room 39 also has another restaurant by the same name in Mission Farms at 105th  and Mission Road. The fare is similar, though the chef at that location puts his own spin on the menu.  I prefer the more charming ambiance at the location on 39th St,  but the food is excellent at both.

Room 39 on Urbanspoon

Majestic Restaurant

The Majestic Restaurant is back in business with the same name, same decor, but different owners. Housed in the historic Fitzpatrick Saloon building, it still has that 1920′s look, complete with the original blue and white tile floors. A highlight is the jazz pianist who holds court in the front room, adding a bit of liveliness to an otherwise subdued setting.

The emphasis is still on steak, though chicken and fish dishes round out the menu. The food on a recent visit was good, though certainly not extraordinary or particularly creative. However, unlike most steak houses, a house salad, daily vegetable and choice of potato are included, making the meal more affordable than one might expect.

As an alternative, you might want to check out Happy Hour. Substantial bar food is featured for $5, including a 1/2 pound steak burger, sliders, and crab cakes. All would be good accompaniments to a $5 martini and some smooth jazz.

Majestic Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Charlie Palmer Steak

Trying to select a restaurant in Las Vegas is a little like trying to buy a dress in New York City. There are so many to choose from that it can be more than a little overwhelming.

Well-known chefs like Batali, Emeril, Charlie Trotter, Michael Mina, and Wolfgang Puck have hit the strip in a big way. Charlie Palmer, owner of restaurants in Las Vegas as well as New York City, Sonoma, Costa Mesa, Washington, DC and Reno may not be as famous as some of these guys, but he’s every bit as talented.

On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was treated to a wonderful dinner at Charlie Palmer Steak, located in the Four Seasons Hotel, one of three such restaurants in the country. I had been to Palmer’s flagship Auerole, in NYC, a decade ago, and still have vivid memories of that outstanding evening, so I was really looking forward to trying his newer concept.

I was not disappointed. The service, the meat, the sides, the wine, were all what one expects of a restaurant of this caliber. But unfortunately, not all such restaurants deliver what they promise, so this was a very pleasant discovery.

We started with tuna carpaccio, which was as pretty to look at as it was to eat.

Even the bread basket was exceptional. We all fought over the cornbread, which was easily the best I had ever had.

All of the steaks, from the strip to the rib-eye were perfectly prepared, tender and flavorful. The side dishes were all tasty, and different than the typical steak house offerings. We shared broccolini, wild mushrooms with caramelized onions, sauteed spinach (the only predictable dish), roasted carrots, Yukon gold potato puree and brussel sprouts with pancetta.

To attempt dessert at this  point was a feat, but it was worth splurging a bit more to try the Peanut Butter Bar, with ice cream and dark chocolate sauce.

Non-beef eaters can find plenty on the menu to satisfy. The various fish options are artfully prepared. There’s also a gorgeous Kurobuta pork chop and Sonoma chicken on the menu. This is one of those places where it’s hard to go wrong, no matter what you order.

This kind of evening doesn’t come cheaply. But if you’re in Las Vegas, it’s the kind of gamble that pays off handsomely.