Saturday, July 26, 2008
Ragland Road Irish Pub in the Power and Light district is the most recent place to fall under the spell of what I’m learning is a trend of cuisine confusion. The restaurant is gorgeous to behold, although its sheer size betrays some of the intimacy of a real Irish pub. It has an excellent beer selection and what appears to be a correctly inspired menu until the final result arrives.
I have lamented over the recent gimmicky trend of restaurants to try to dress up food that is better left alone. I ordered fish and chips, a bellweather for Irish food if one ever existed. I received some sort of fish sculpture with a couple of confused sauces and a creative and, frankly, useful chip presentation. If only the fish came the same way.
Fish and chips is a lovable dish from the U.K., one of the few palatable native cuisines of that area of the world (and I am an anglophile, I drive an English car, wear English clothing, and am an intolerable Doctor Who fan). I expect it to be served in a simple yet delicious manner. This complicated thing was lost on me, as it appeared completely out of step wit h the authentic feel of the rest of the place. In addition, despite being pretty, the fish was greasy and tasted flat, as if all the effort was placed on the presentation and not enough on the preparation.
My service was fine, if not rememberable.
Ragland Road Irish Pub is a nice idea. Irish Pubs often are, but if one is going to open one it should be consistent. Ragland Road should give up the frilly presentation and serve honest food, honestly presented.
Apparently this has now morphed into the fad of upscale hamburger joints. To me, the best hamburgers can still be found at places that smell of grease and serve them in paper, in a manner that is completely unpretentious and serves the nature of the food. Recently I attended a team lunch at Blanc in Westport.
Blanc is situated in the location previously filled by Tatsu Arai’s unsuccesful sattelite bistro. Although the name is reputed to be a reverent nod to White Castle, the name Blanc references the paint scheme and décor more than anything to do with the food.
I am usually gentle with restaurants in their first month of opening. Blanc has been open far longer than a month, and I still receieved ham-handed service from the kitchen. My group all ordered a variety of burgers, and I selected the Kobe burger, because I find that the surest way to test a new place is by trying their flagship item. We ordered, and waited. And waited. When the beverages came around, the fellow sitting across from me received a vanilla milkshake, despite having clearly ordered a chocolate one. A simple error, sure, but when he asked for the correction, we were informed that they were out of chocolate! How can a place be out of chocolate?!
Forty minutes later, all of the plates had been delivered but mine. It was explained to me that mine had accidentally been served to another table and was on its way, but even though I ordered it medium rare I waited an additional ten minutes. Surely this is not the best way to impress a crowd.
Although the service was disappointing, the burger was not. When it finally arrived, it was delicious and juicy. I had also greatly enjoyed the treat of a bottled Dr.Pepper, something rare and difficult to find in Kansas City. I love the stuff, and have even ordered it for delivery online to the tune of $12 a sixpack due to its unavailability in this market. The burger could have been delivered on time in a much less deliberate atmosphere and been just as good.
Food: 3 stars. Really the best that can be expected of a burger, and the bottle DP is a godsend.
Service: 2 stars. The waitress was kind and extremely apologetic, and my admittedly tardy burger was complimentary, but it is still not an excuse for the confusion in the kitchen and wait station.
Atmosphere: 2 stars. Clean but contrived. I wrote a scathing review of Seven because it was all show and no substance. The food was excellent here, but it suffers from the same pretension. Scandanavian architecture and furniture may have its place, but when mixed with burgers, the result is like french fries and green salsa: not quite right.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Our dinner took about 20 min to get to the table, which was fine considering my wife ordered the chicken and received a bone-in chicken breast cooked perfectly. I had the chile relleno and found it impressive. The black bean puree and ancho chile sauce was a great contrast smoothed out by the cream sauce.
The presentation on all of the dishes was great and each had a good balance. I read on some other posts that the service was sub-par but I have to disagree. We had excellent service, very attentive and the right amount of talkative. Perhaps some of those post were older and they enacted some positive changes since. Our water was never low and drinks never empty. This could be because the place was only half full..on a Saturday night. Which leads to my only qualm with Azul, the lack of patrons affected the atmosphere. When the music changed tracks, the restaurant fell silent. That and the weird graphics flashing on the flat screens. But, there is no reason this should be the case.
This quality of food and prices combined with the new tourism downtown should get this place the business it deserves. We will be back this weekend, do yourself a favor and try it out.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Two Saturdays ago, I received such a surprise at Room39. I had dined there many times before at lunch, and always found it to be a charming little coffee house/bistro, but nothing earth-shattering. If I had any idea what a wonder this place became at night, with white-linen clad tables and low light, I would have dropped everything and come running.
My wife and I had been out to the Auto Show and decided to get something in town, but, with it being a Saturday night, all the usual haunts were booked solid. I knew that Room39 had a dinner menu, so I suggested we stop in. .
All of their tables were booked, but a seat at the bar was kindly suggested. We took it, and found ourselves transported somewhere special. Suddenly the light seemed to dim, the noise faded into the background, and we were there, intimate at the bar, as if we were on vacation in some distant country.
My wife ordered a ‘French martini’, to start, some sort of fruity-flavored girl-drink concoction that I tried and approved. It was nice, and not over-sweet. I ordered a bottle of the Ridge Geyserville Zinfindel blend, an always reliable wine.
The bartender, who is also the manager of the restaurant, was literally perfect. He was present when needed (remarkable in a packed, small restaurant on a Saturday night), but never hovering.
Now on to the food: I started with the chicken livers. My wife ordered the crab cakes.
I hadn’t eaten a chicken liver since I was a child, but I’m fairly certain that these were the best I’d ever had, but the true superlative goes to the crab cakes. My wife grudgingly allowed me a taste, and we agreed that they were, like many things turned out to be that evening, perfect.
Next course consisted of sweetbreads for me and the beef ribeye for the Mrs. I love sweetbreads. They’re nearly impossible to find in Kansas City, and to have been surprised by their presence on an unplanned menu was a boon indeed.
They appeared to have been seared, as they had a delightful little crust, and the sauce was an excellent accompaniment, being dense and almost gravy like in flavor but with a much lighter texture.
The ribeye was also delicious, prepared to proper temperature and served in a traditional red wine preparation. There were these lovely little fried mashed potato thingies as a side dish. Crispy mashed potatoes. What a concept!
Finally, a wonderful crepe fell prey to our voracious appetites.
To really sum up this review, I have to mention that at one point during the dinner, shortly after tasting my sweetbreads for the first time, my eyes actually welled up with tears. I know how hokey that sounds, but it is true.
FOOD: 4 Stars. Cleverly and perfectly prepared.
SERVICE: 4 Stars. EVEN CORRECT CUTLERY SERVICE AT THE BAR! When most restaurants can’t get this right in an empty room on a weeknight, I always had a fresh fork. Now that’s what I call right.
ATMOSPHERE: 4 stars. Transported to a wonderful place is a pretty high assessment, I think.
At this time I feel that I need to right a wrong. I have read an unpleasant review of one of my ‘perfect restaurants of Kansas City’ on this blog, and, after further review (by dining there repeatedly), must come to their immediate defense.
Café Des Amis is still a perfect restaurant. My brother and I attended for my birthday, in January, and my wife on the weekend after Valentine’s Day, so I must testify with the following evidence:
Exhibit A: Guillome.
Guillome is the hardest working man in show business, from what I can tell. He’s always there, sometimes cooking, usually serving, mixing drinks, opening wine, a true jack of all trades. Didier has a jewel with this guy, and, let’s face it, he’s the reason why H1B visas were created in the first place. From the H1B visa regulations: “requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor”. Exactly.
Food, glorious food! Best Escargot in the world (read my review on the restaurant page for Café Des Amis). Duck braised for 17 hours!
France. The place reeks of it, in all its crusty, wonderful, delicious glory. From the old building to the creaky floors to the packed-in tables, I can think of no other place in town that so speaks of Europe to me. Going to Café Des Amis is taking in a bit of the old world without an 8 hour flight.
As an aside, what the hell are you thinking ordering Iced Tea at a French restaurant at dinner? Unless you’re a certified AA alcoholic in recovery, that is crazy-talk. If I had to choose, I’d put you on the pay-no-mind list too, knowing that I stood a better chance of getting a good tip from an experienced, WINE-BUYING diner at another table. Also, what first class restaurant ever includes a salad? The only decent place I can think of that does is Tatsu’s, and it’s as much of an anachronism as the plastic flowers in the dining room (although that salad is magical).
The only thing I’d change about Café Des Amis is that I’d expand the wine list somewhat. But that being said, this is a first-rate place coming from someone who knows first-rate places
Friday, January 25, 2008
Like James Bond, I like my martinis a very specific way, with the only variable being the brand of Gin. “Sapphire Martini very dry, shaken, up, with a twist.” I got a warm, stirred martini with too much vermouth and 2 olives.
Ok, for those unused to my reviews, I have very high standards for my restaurant service. I like it classical and correct, and I certainly did not expect that at a casino restaurant, but I did expect to have a martini made correctly.
That said, the problems with the martini follow:
1: Very dry means the drink should contain only the slightest breath of vermouth. When I make them at home, I put the vermouth in the shaker with the ice, shake it, then I pour it out before adding the Gin.
2. Shaking is done in order to make the drink very cold and to slightly dilute the alcohol, making the flavor of the gin more pronounced. A martini should be so cold your tongue tingles.
3. A twist means a tiny twist of lemon, preferably twisted above the glass and rubbed around the rim. If olives are desired, and this is a big one in the ‘know what you’re doing’ school of drink-mixing, then one uses one or three olives. NEVER two. Look it up in any drink manual and it will confirm what I’m saying. On to the food: I ordered a mixed fish plate with sea bass, salmon, and skewered shrimp, with mixed vegetables, and the ‘lobster sauce’ dressing.
The fish was quite good. It was flavorful, not terribly prepared (the salmon was a bit overdone, but that is a common problem). I think I liked the light, flaky, sea bass. The dip tasted like milky lobster bisque, which is not a bad thing at all. I then requested the ‘lemon butter sauce’ to try as well. I was given the soy-ginger (a good thing considering that it gave me a chance to try all three, but that’s strike 2 for the inattentive bartender.) I finally flagged him down for the lemon butter, which turned out to be decent. The soy/ginger, however, was toxic. This horrid mush was the stuff of nightmares.
All in all, I give the fish three stars. I finished the dinner with the bananas foster, one of my favorite deserts of all time. It was magnificent and enormous.
The atmosphere of the place was fairly standard for an upper end Kansas City casino restaurant, meaning it looked like a cross between red lobster and a Houlihan’s.
So, here’s the rundown:
1. Food (cooks): Good quality, good flavor. 3 stars.
2. Service (wait staff): Incompetent (wrong way to make a martini), and Bad (wrong sauce, inattentive despite light customer load). 1 Star.
3. Atmosphere (ownership and management): Lousy wine list, vinegar by the glass, cutlery rolled in a napkin, 2 stars
Friday, January 4, 2008
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Nice concept but upon entering the second floor establishment the first thing that caught our eyes was the two dirty ceiling vents ajar and hanging down, as well as an empty hole above the entrance. As diner service started the lobster bisque was an enjoyable starter. However the entrees were less exciting. When the entrées arrived, pheasant breast pink peppercorn and chablis sauce served with the usual potato and veggie. Presentation was fair, but the pheasant was not seasoned and the sauce was not reduced and did not meld together and began to separate, which created pockets of different bitter flavors. Tur other entrée was duck breast in a fig port reduction. Presentation was nice and the duck was seasoned and cooked properly, but the port sauce was slightly overpowering. Service was a bit off as I only received one full glass of iced tea during dinner and our waiter visited the table a half dozen times throughout the evening. One other concern is the menu pricing which we felt was a bit high as compared to other French Restaurants in the area due to service and food issues. Considering a salad is not included with the entrée and costs an additional $9+ dollars for the house salad. Overall the atmosphere was nice, small, and quaint. But the ceiling vents and a gapping hole above the entry door need immediate attention.