Port Fonda/Maza Azul Collaboration Dinner

Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda and Jonathan Zaragoza of Masa Azul in Chicago recently teamed up to prepare a goat and mezcal dinner at Port Fonda.

And what a dinner it was. Each course was an adventure in itself, made more so because we got a little education about  mezcal.  Beforehand I didn’t even know the difference between mezcal and tequila; now at least I have a working knowledge of mezcal…including the fact that crema de mezcal doesn’t have cream in it!

Here’s the menu:Aguachile

Aguachile– camarones y chicharron, with del maguey vida;

Sopes– goat carnitas, frijoles charros, salsa cacahuate, with del maguey san luis de rio azul;Sopes with goat carnitas

Ensalada Port Fonda– frisee, bacon, fried tripe, poached egg, honey-pasilla dressing, with a mezcal shandy made with Boulevard Tank 7;Mezcal shandyIMG_0589Pork belly with pineapple butter

   Al pastor– pork belly, grilled bread, pineapple butter, with pua lina, del maguey vida;

Birria estilo la barca–roasted goat, ancho mole, tomato consome, tortillas a mano, with a negroni that had been made with del maguey chichicapa;Roasted goat with ancho mole and handmade tortillasMezcal negroni

Ahogada–mexican wedding cookie semifreddo, christopher elbow spiced chocolate, del maguey creama de mezcal;Semifreddo with spiced chocolate and mezcal

The six courses were perfectly sized–not too little, not so much that we waddled out the door at the end of the evening. But that’s not to say I didn’t want seconds of everything! I’d be very happy if all of the dishes found their way on to the Port Fonda menu, especially the pork belly (awesome sauce) and the roasted goat with ancho mole. The semifreddo with Christopher Elbow spiced chocolate would be a good spoon-licking addition, too.

$65 for all six courses and the drink pairings. As much as I love the standard Port Fonda menu, this was a fun change of pace, one which I hope Patrick repeats with another chef and another concept.

 

Bluestem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluestem on Urbanspoon

Port Fonda

Before it even opened, the buzz was all about Port Fonda. Aside from being one of the most exciting-sounding restaurants to open in more than a year, Chef/owner Patrick Ryan has an impressive pedigree. He worked with Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill in Chicago, one of the country’s most highly acclaimed Mexican restaurants, and Ryan’s Port Fonda food truck experience received the only four star review by the Kansas City Star to be bestowed in recent memory.

The truck has been sidelined for now so Ryan can concentrate on getting his brick-and-mortar restaurant up and running.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but based on the awesome and memorable fare Ryan served up in the food truck, my first couple of visits were underwhelming (though he has since gone on to excite every time). Everything I sampled was very good, but there was nothing I just had to have again, except for the awesome chips and salsa. The carnitas tacos were good, but nothing special. Same goes for the Sopa Port Fonda. In fairness, I stayed away from the dishes I loved in the truck, preferring to focus on Patrick’s newer creations.

I persevered because I love Patrick’s food, and my next and all subsequent forays were much more in line with what I had anticipated and hoped for…creative as all get out, and every bite of every dish was mouth-watering.

The grilled sweet corn, one of my favorite dishes in the truck, is incredible. Epazote, cotija, habañero mayonnaise, chile, and lime top the bowl of corn (which has been taken off the cobb), so this is a much more complex and substantial dish than one may think at first glance.

If I didn’t make a meal out of the corn, I certainly could out of the chilaquiles. What makes these chilaquiles better than all others I have had (including in Mexico) is that the thick tortillas have been bathed but not soaked in salsa verde, so the tortillas retain some crunch and aren’t a mushy mess. The stack would have stood on its own without the fried egg, but of course the combination of fried egg, salsa, chorizo verde, crema, cilantro and lime really sends this dish into the stratosphere.

There are several other starters and salads, including tempura fried vegetables with the same spicy mayo that graces the corn dish, pig tails in a hot sauce, and a Rancho Gordo bean salad that can be had with or without a fried egg on top.

Tacos are reasonable priced, at 2 for $6 or $7 and, if you’ve never had a fried oyster taco, Port Fonda is the place to give it a whirl. Tortas seem to be a popular item, especially the sandwich with fried pork loin.

The flasks of green and red hot sauce on each table to use to your heart’s content is a nice touch.

If you are willing to forgo one of the interesting cocktails and stick to beer, Port Fonda offers a sweet deal called the 2 x 4. It’s a 24 ounce can of Tecate for $3. While my husband was unhappy with the $8 guacamole for a small ice cream scoop, he was over the moon about the cost of that can of beer.

Many dishes on the menu are cazuelitas, so defined because they come in a casserole dish. They range from queso fundido (melted cheese dip), which could be considered an appetizer, to wood-roasted mussels or braised octopus, grilled shrimp with green peanut mole and the Panza, which we devoured: rich pork belly with salsa negro, Rancho Gordo beans and pickled tomatillo. It was decadent, but scooping all of the ingredients into a warm corn tortilla was heaven.

I’ve also been to Port Fonda for brunch when the menu is abbreviated and obviously more breakfast focused.

In addition to the chilaquiles, which I must get every time I go to Port Fonda, we also ordered the Tostada de Carnitas and the Burnt Ends, with pork belly, Rancho Gordo beans, grilled green onions, a fried egg and chorizo hollandaise. Pork belly is by definition fatty, but this hunk was shy on meat. Nevertheless, wrapping all the ingredients into another one of those warm tortillas made for a satisfying treat.

Going on a Saturday or Sunday morning has the decided advantage of not being as loud. And the music was more to my liking with tunes from the 70′s(at least the day we were there). Typically the music is thumping, despite putting baffling under the tables and an intention by management to lower the volume in response to complaints from all ages. Though I’m not into the hard rock that blasts through later in the evening, Patrick’s symphony of flavors will keep me going back. I just wouldn’t suggest going with a big group when you have to resort to shouting, or on an occasion that calls for serious conversation.

I’m definitely on board now and in full agreement with those who think Port Fonda is the most intoxicating restaurant in town right now.

Port Fonda on Urbanspoon

The Green Room

The Green Room  is located in Westport, fittingly next to a theatre (green room, get it?). It also tries to be green in terms of our environment, thus the double-entendre….

Recently opened, it aims to provide a comfortable place to have a good burger at an affordable price, while also perhaps washing it down with a brew from the very extensive beer list. Though I think it achieves that, it’s probably not a place where you’d hang all night, throwing them back. It’s a bit too sterile to get comfortable,  though I found sitting at the bar to be more appealing than in the dining area.

I had a good veggie burger on a great wheat bun from Roma Bakery. The habanero aioli that I had ordered for my fries gave the burger a bit of pep. The French fries were hand-cut, with skins on just the way I like them, but my batch needed a bit more cooking  and much less pepper.

Everyone is very friendly and eager to please, and two servers asked how I enjoyed my meal. Since they inquired, I told them both that the fries were way too peppery (which was obvious from looking at them), and though they apologized, neither did anything to rectify the situation. Since it’s not meant to be a fine dining experience and the fries were cheap, I couldn’t get  upset that they didn’t offer to make me another batch.

Next time up I had the Brownfield burger, a classic with the traditional toppings. Though I regretfully neglected to take a picture, you can imagine it in your mind….diner style, fresh bun, pickles, ketchup and mustard. The meat comes from Bichelmeyer, and I could tell it was a quality product.

In both cases, the price was right at $5 for a burger and $3 for fries.

The Green Room Burgers & Beer on Urbanspoon

The Boot

Walking into the Boot is such a pleasant experience. Someone will quickly greet you and guide you to your table while you look around and take in the very charming interior. The side walls are brick. Old wooden ladders hang sideways and their rungs are interspersed with flower vases. On one wall sits a painting that hung in proprietor Aaron Confessori’s dining room when he was growing up. On another is artwork that was created by an employee, and the back wall is covered with white subway tile. In the middle of the room is a communal table where diners sit in candy- cane red chairs making new friends. The vibe is energetic but not ear-splitting.

Front-of-the-house man Confessori and chef Rich Wiles own both the Boot, Westport Cafe and Bar, and also the Westport Street Fare, a food truck parked just down the street from their brick and mortar restaurants. I recently wrote a story for the Kansas City Star about these up-and-comers.

The Boot strives to be for Italian fare what the Westport Cafe is for French food–the restaurateurs want to provide simple and hearty meals in a casual setting.

Menu items include antipasti, Krizman’s sausages, meatballs, pizza, pasta and a handful of entrees. Based on my several trips there, I’ve found the best way to approach the menu is to order (depending on the size of your group), a couple of dishes in each category and then share them among your table mates. My favorite dishes include the handmade pulled mozzarella with beets and mushrooms, a riff on the more traditional caprese salad with mozzarella and tomatoes, the sheep’s milk ricotta with chile oil (addictive slathered on bread), braised short rib with polenta, and the skirt steak with salsa verde. Pasta dishes worth trying include the Parpadelle with red sauce and squid, and the Risotto Raggio, a not-very-pretty-looking but flavorful mushroom risotto. Both of these are based on recipes from the owners’ families. Other offerings that win praise are the short rib ravioli and the meatball sub.

The Boot recently started serving brunch on weekends, utilizing the same enticing deal as the Westport Cafe of offering a free mimosa or Bloody Mary with the purchase of an entrée. Both restaurants are becoming the place to be on Sunday mornings–especially the older crowd coming in early after church as well for twenty-somethings who roll out of bed at noon and want a hangover cure.

Aaron and Rich are very personable and aim to please, essential attributes for building a loyal clientele.

The Boot on Urbanspoon

Young Restaurateurs Hungry For Success

I love these guys! It was a really fun story to write; I only wish I had more words…Aaron and Rich have interesting backgrounds that I wanted to share with our readers more fully.

From Wednesday’s Food section: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/06/25/3675383/young-restaurateurs-are-hungry.html

Young restaurateurs are hungry for success
Aaron Confessori and Richard Wiles seek their fortunes in Westport, with three eateries on one street.
BY MARY BLOCH

It’s a Friday night, and at the 18-seat community farm table that runs the length of the Boot, seating is elbow-to-elbow.

Music pulsates through the speakers, competing with the lively chatter. A young couple sitting in lipstick-red chairs are sharing a bottle of wine at one end, two girlfriends sip highballs at the other, and a group of 30-somethings clearly delighted the workweek is over has commandeered the middle.

Platters of food cover the table: short rib ravioli; pizza with prosciutto; meatballs; beet and mozzarella salad, and seductive bowls of sheep’s milk ricotta drizzled with chili olive oil.

Owner Aaron Confessori circles the table surveying the scene, checking to be sure water glasses are filled, wine is poured, everyone is relishing the food, and there are no dirty dishes waiting to be bused. Recognizing one of the diners at the table, he shakes his hand and chats him up for a few minutes in an effort to make him a regular.

Despite a still sluggish economy, Confessori and 22-year-old partner Richard Wiles are wasting no time creating restaurant concepts. The Boot, a hip yet rustic Italian restaurant, opened early this year, next door to their initial venture, the French bistro-themed Westport Cafe & Bar, which opened in 2010.

So why open a second restaurant next to the first, and then add a food truck on the same street?

When Confessori, 34, opened the Westport Cafe, it seemed out of place in an area known primarily for a raucous late-night bar scene. But like Blanc Burgers + Bottles before it, the cafe on Westport Road was chugging along. Anxious to find a tenant for the vacant space next door to Westport Cafe, the landlord asked Confessori to make an offer.

“It’s like buying low in the stock market,” Confessori says, adding that the Boot’s lease, which is based on a percentage of sales, allowed the restaurateurs to recoup their initial investment after just six weeks of operation.

Before the ink was even dry on that deal, the partners added a late-night, stationary, Mexican-style food truck known as Westport Street Fare just down the street behind Harry’s Bar & Tables at the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. The three-nights-a-week menu includes tortas, quesadillas, tacos and burritos.

They figured the new food truck would help drive traffic during nice weather, when the other two restaurants tend to lose business because they don’t have a patio. But the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. venture extends an already lengthy workday to a ridiculous 4 a.m.

“When it’s slow in the truck, you want to doze,” Confessori says, “But once those orders come in, you don’t have time to be tired, you just go.”

Big dreams meet fate

Most days of the week the 6-foot-3-inch Confessori can be spotted pounding the pavement between his restaurants, nodding to strangers on the sidewalk or stopping to talk to someone he knows. With his dark hair combed back and dressed in his personal uniform of a starched shirt, jeans and sport coat, the man with movie-star looks is constantly in motion.

Although recently on an all juice regime, when he stops by Westport Fare to check on supplies, he can’t resist gulping down a pork torta … or two.

Confessori insists he wouldn’t want to be in any other line of business.

“I’m slightly masochistic, but it’s all I’ve ever done. I branched out at one point, making investments here and there. I was terrible when I tried other things,” he says. “It may be a little insane, but I think it’s important to do what you know. And I Iove it.”

He also has never questioned putting down roots in Westport, rather than expanding his footprint into other neighborhoods.

“If we had gone out south to open a new restaurant, we’d have been hammered for not staying in midtown,” Confessori says. “Bluestem and its lounge, Michael Smith and Extra Virgin, the Rieger Grill & Exchange and Manifesto, they all enhanced their initial concept or added a restaurant and were embraced by the community.”

Their neighbor, Bluestem’s chef-owner Colby Garrelts, who plans to get his toes wet in Johnson County later this year, agrees: “It’s important to pay attention to where you are for a long while to build that loyalty.”

While the Boot, Westport Cafe and Westport Street Fare reflect a variety of cuisines, Confessori and Wiles are both of Italian descent. Wiles’ great-great-grandfather is the source of the menu’s risotto Raggio. Confessori’s grandmother often made the pappardelle with calamari and red sauce for her grandson, and a painting hanging on one of the walls of the restaurant came from the Confessori homestead.

“I enjoyed watching my grandmother in her kitchen clean the squid,” Confessori recalls. “And I am blessed that both my grandmother and my mother were incredible cooks.”

Confessori’s first restaurant gig was busing tables at age 16 in his hometown of Wichita. After two years of college, he opted for a change of scenery and moved to Arizona, where he continued his climb up the restaurant chain hierarchy, learning skills each step of the way that would serve him later in his career.

In 2004 he landed in Kansas City, opening Kona Grill on the Country Club Plaza. After two years as general manager, Confessori wanted to be his own boss. At 26, he and partner Chris Ridler opened Sol Cantina in Martini Corner. Ridler remains a friend and has since opened Zocalo, an upscale Mexican concept on the Plaza.

“He’s incredibly driven,” Ridler says of Confessori. “He holds himself to a high standard and holds others to that same high standard, and that is a recipe for success.”

Two years into Sol Cantina, Confessori decided he needed to round out his education, so he sold his interest to Ridler and packed his bags for the French Culinary Institute in New York City. “I could write a menu like Sol Cantina’s,” he says, “but not like what we have at the Boot or Westport Cafe, so I needed help.”

While enrolled in the six-month immersion course, Confessori met Wiles. Wiles, then 18, had been working in Kansas City restaurant kitchens since he was 14.

After parting ways after culinary school, their paths crossed again one sunny June day in 2010. As Confessori sat at the bar of what would soon become Westport Cafe & Bar, a venture he originally opened with a childhood friend, Wiles happened to walk by. Confessori went outside to greet Wiles and learned he was working in the kitchen at Blanc Burgers + Bottles on the Plaza but was looking for a new opportunity.

“Why don’t you come work for me?” Confessori asked.

The relationship eventually morphed into an equal partnership. “Sometimes I think I’m dreaming,” Wiles says. “Even though we’re actually business partners, I look up to Aaron as a mentor.”

Never-ending concepts

In a perfect world, Wiles would run the kitchen and Confessori would run the dining room. But there are days too numerous to count when nothing seems to go according to plan.

“Running a restaurant is tricky,” Confessori admits. “You simply can’t anticipate everything, like the credit card machine going down, or discovering that the water pipes to the dishwasher have been damaged by the tenant next door.”

Then there are your harshest critics. Recently a woman stopped Confessori in the grocery store to tell him that the restaurant’s fusilli carbonara was too salty. “Why didn’t she mention it while still in the restaurant so we could fix it right away?” he laments. “And it’s so frustrating to read a complaint on Yelp when the diner never said a word to us.”

But those are the times when Confessori confronts the problem head on.

So when diners complained about the quality of the bread the restaurant served, Wiles considered making the bread himself, thinking it would be simple to do in the pizza oven. After some thought about work flow and a price comparison, they instead went with ciabatta from Farm-to-Market Bread.

Customer reaction has been favorable, and one more task is crossed off his never-shrinking to-do list.

Ordering food is one of the most difficult tasks for restaurant owners. Confessori says even when taking into account known variables — day of the week, weather, events happening around town — it’s hard to gauge the quantity of fish, meat, vegetables and cheese that customers will order. The goal is to keep food costs at 30 to 33 percent, otherwise the restaurant has to eat that expense.

And the partners admit restaurant life can be all-consuming.

“It’s hard to take a day off,” Wiles says. “One time I was eating in the restaurant and ended up going into the kitchen and putting on my apron.”

But it’s just that combination of plucky DIY get-up-and-go and street-savvy sense of food trends that Bluestem’s Garrelts says has corporate-style restaurants paying attention to the smaller independent restaurateurs. “Chains get all of their best ideas from us,” he says.

Meanwhile, Confessori and Wiles are happy to tinker with their concepts. “Rich and I just need to turn the screws and continue making adjustments,” Confessori says. “It never ends.”

Mary Bloch is a freelance writer who lives in Kansas City. Her blog is aroundtheblockkc.com.

Posted on Mon, Jun. 25, 2012 01:00 PM

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/06/25/3675383/young-restaurateurs-are-hungry.html#storylink=cpy

Sama Zama

Sama Zama, a new twist on owner Erika Koike’s now closed One Bite Grill in Overland Park, recently opened on Westport’s restaurant row. It’s on the same stretch of Westport Road that houses the Boot, Westport Cafe, Jerusalem Cafe and the Beer Kitchen, among others. Sama Zama is very clean, sleek and modern, and with white furniture and orange swirls on one wall, the only reminder that you are in Westport comes from an exposed brick wall.

Sama Zama means variety in Japanese, so you can expect some non-traditional offerings, rather than the typical Hibachi grill or sushi set-up. The emphasis here is on tapas and Okonomi-yaki, a Japanese-style grilled pizza. Okonomi-yaki resembles a doughy pancake that is topped with a fried egg, an assortment of toppings, and sweet and creamy sauces that Erika bottles and sells in the store and at grocery stores around town.

The menu has a large array of starters, many of which are fried. My favorite entreé was the ebi chili; tofu, shrimp and zucchini, stir-fried in a spicy tomato sauce. It sounded Italian on the menu, but tasting it you will find it to be distinctly Japanese. The asparagus in a garlic infused sauce was luscious–spooned over rice, it would be a wonderful meal. In fact,next time I would order a side of rice to make sure we don’t miss a drop of either sauce.

Udon noodles can be ordered with vegetables, shrimp, beef or chicken. Though properly toothsome, I thought they were a bit bland. The spicy ramen does have a kick. Big slices of fatty pork floated above the noodles, giving the broth an added dimension.

I really enjoyed our experience, and look forward to sampling the teriyaki bowl, gyoza, garlic green beans and even the fried rice, which I suspect will be a cut above what one finds in just about every Chinese restaurant. I do worry about the staying power of Sama Zama, because it’s never crowded when I walk by or when I’ve eaten there. But it deserves some attention and love–the food is fresh and enjoyable, the service efficient and friendly, and the owner is truly interested in delivering a quality experience to her clientele. She’s trying a new concept in Kansas City and we should embrace her efforts.

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Sama Zama on Urbanspoon

Bluestem Lounge

I shouldn’t be writing this. In fact, I’ve put off posting a story about the Bluestem lounge over the years because I didn’t want it to get so crowded that we could never again get in the door. But based on my last couple of visits, the cat is clearly out of the bag, so there’s no reason for me to keep quiet anymore.

Bluestem lounge represents one of the best deals in town, especially during Happy Hour. From 5-7 pm, Tuesday through Thursday, and 5-6:30 on Fridays, the lounge menu is significantly discounted. Until recently, dishes were 50% off, but now it’s closer to 40%, which still makes my husband a happy man. The menu features comfort food type dishes as opposed to the upscale cuisine in the dining room. But no frills doesn’t mean lower quality. Fabulous burgers, hangar steak with chimichurri sauce and French fries, Mac & Cheese, grilled pork chops….and amazing Shrimp & Grits. When I wrote the story in the Kansas City Star about the resurgence of grits, I interviewed Colby Garrelts, chef/owner of Bluestem about this dish, and a spectacular photo of it graced the front page of the Food Section. Colby gets his corn for the grits from Mark Meinke of Bonner Springs, who provided a local angle to a story about an ingredient typically found in the South. Between the quality of the corn Mark produces and the skill and creativity of Colby, this is one awesome dish–every bit as fabulous to the palate as it is on the plate.

Drinks and bottles of wine are cheaper during Happy Hour, too, and Jeremy Lamb’s expert wine list is available. Though Bloody Marys are never among the drink specials, my husband always splurges on one anyway; he thinks it’s one of the best in town. Wherever he imbibes, he always asks for his go-to cocktail to be extra spicy, but Bluestem’s server told him that it always is. Skeptically he took a sip and was wowed not only by the explosion of flavors but the level of heat. There’s no such thing as a drink that’s too spicy for him, but be forewarned that it may be too much for the average drinker to handle. The vodka is infused with peppers and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Bluestem was recently recognized by Open Table as being in the Top 100 restaurants in the country for Best Service. You don’t have to order a pricey prix fixe meal to rate fabulous service; you’ll find it in the lounge as well. Colby and Megan (the pastry chef) are extremely talented, passionate and dedicated restaurateurs, and they succeed in making the lounge as memorable an experience as in their wonderful, artful dining room.

Bluestem on Urbanspoon

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Westport Street Fare

Aaron Confessori and Richard Wiles are busy men. They own Westport Cafe and Bar, the recently opened Boot, and they are operating the Westport Street Fare, a food truck parked at the corner of Westport and Pennsylvania in the parking lot just to the west of Harry’s Bar and Tables.

The truck serves up mostly Mexican fare with a bit of a global flair. The menu is very straight forward. There are five fillings–spicy pork, chicken confit, Korean short rib meat, seared mahi-mahi and crispy tofu, and four vessels for enjoying them–in a burrito (with rice), as a quesadilla (with cheese), as a torta (with avocado, mayo, Pico de Gallo, lettuce and chipotle crema), or in a corn tortilla to make a taco.

The mahi is marinated in soy and pineapple, and topped with sliced cabbage, avocado, pico de gallo and chipotle crema. The short ribs are crispy chunks of meat, marinated with Korean seasonings, including sake and pear. The pork is marinated with three types of dried chiles including chipotle, guajillo and pasilla. The chicken filling combines confit chicken (which they use for their hash at brunch at the Westport Cafe) with hash browns and roasted tomato vinaigrette.

I have sampled all of the offerings and loved everything I ate, in every format. However,  I am especially partial to the pork torta; it has to be one of the best sandwiches in town. The rolls as well as the tortillas are made at Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio and are still warm when delivered. The Korean short rib tacos are special, too,  and the flavors will really grab you.

There’s typically a ramen special with housemade noodles, pork belly and short rib. You’ll need the chopsticks they give you to pick up the big pieces of pork belly and short rib that are floating in the soup.  It’s all very soothing on a chilly night, but it might not stay on the menu in the heat of the summer.

Richard and Aaron wanted to keep the menu simple and it works beautifully.  The one addition I would make is to add chips and salsa.  The fiery red salsa and smooth avocado tomatillo salsa that accompany each item are homemade and, while the offerings don’t need embellishment, I really wanted  some chips to dip into those little containers.  It was really hard to throw out even one drop, because the heat and texture of both have me thinking the salsas are as fine as you’ll find in Kansas City.

The little courtyard is strung with lights that make the area festive, and there’s a ledge that goes around the fence so after you pick up your food there’s a place to land while you eat it. Rich said that at some point they may add stools for outdoor dining. At the moment, no beer is served, but they make their own sodas. I sampled the lemon lime and it was perfect for putting out the fire in my mouth from the salsas.

The Westport Street Fare is open Thursdays-Saturday nights, from 7 pm to 3 am. Yes, you read that right. Aaron says a big wave of customers come in the wee hours of the morning, undoubtedly after rolling out of one of the nearby bars. But those of us who aren’t up that late can grab a bite during its more civilized hours of operation. It really doesn’t matter when you go…just go.

 

 

 

 

Rudy’s Tenampa Taqueria

For the longest time, Rudy’s was our go-to Mexican restaurant. A favorite of my younger son’s, it was always his “pick” when it was his turn to choose what restaurant our family would visit on the weekend. But once I started reviewing restaurants we stopped frequenting our old haunts, spending our time instead checking out new spots on the Kansas City scene. So I was delighted to see that Rudy’s was featured on Groupon a few months ago and I bought into the deal so I would have a very good reason to go.

When my husband and I go out for Mexican food, we don’t mess around. Consequently, we’ve learned that if we don’t care about having a beer to wash it all down, we’re better off going in the middle of the day instead of at the dinner hour when there’s not sufficient time to digest before going to bed (I guess I’m showing my age here).

Some time ago, Rudy’s started charging for chips and salsa. While I often think of that in the same way as bread and butter that should be part of the meal, when my husband is at the table, it seems only fair to compensate the restaurant for the several bowls of each that he typically devours. We always order a bowl of hot sauce to go with the mild, and either mix the two or stick with the hot, depending on the heat of the peppers in the particular batch.  This is the smooth variety, not a chunk in sight.

Though initially disappointed that they’ve taken their excellent chicken mole off the menu, I was relieved to see that the Baja Burrito was still around. Filled with traditional chicken or beef fajita ingredients, it’s served with melted cheese, guacamole and whole beans. The chunks of chicken with caramelized onions and peppers make a flavorful combination and I can even pretend it’s somewhat healthy because I’m eating my vegetables. The red sauce that is typically served with it is a bit bland for my taste, so I always ask for the burrito with enchilada sauce instead.

My husband created a vegetarian plate from a long list of options. After much thought, he settled on a cheese and onion enchilada, a vegetable fajita and an Azteca burrito, which was filled with rice and beans. It came with sides of rice and beans; he was a happy camper.

As always, the service is friendly and attentive. And I loved seeing Rudy at a corner table enjoying his lunch. He gave us a friendly smile and thanks as we walked out. We need to get back there sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

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