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Showing posts with label Chris Becicka. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chris Becicka. Show all posts

The Craft of the Cocktail

The Craft of the Cocktail

So a gal walks into a bar . . .

Or a restaurant.  And says to the bartender, “What’s special?”  He hands her an entire menu of what can only be called specialty drinks.

Take specialty up a notch and you have the trend that’s been going for several years now as the “craft cocktail craze” continues unabated.  Almost every bar worth its hand-filled olives serves at least five or many, many more, riffs on the classic cocktail, usually devised by that bar’s enthusiastic mixologists.  Though the execution in restaurants is different from the best-known crafty bars (for example, Manifesto, Julep, the new Monarch, or P.S. Speakeasy), the intent is the same:  a drink that is very special, very unique, very memorable.

It’s no coincidence that rise of the craft cocktail somewhat parallels the rise of the artisan food movement with its emphasis on fresh, high quality ingredients –  but that cocktail could have more ingredients than a main dish casserole and individually could take six or ten minutes to prepare.

What’s in a Name?

Cocktails have been around for a long time, beginning (probably) as punch when sailors discovered that harsh spirits could be mellowed if they sat in barrels which imparted other flavors.  The East India Trading Company sailors prepared punch by combining their barrel-aged brandy with fruit (helped with that pesky scurvy problem), sugar, spices, and water that needed alcohol’s sterilizing effects. There are assorted derivations given for the word “cocktail” which range from having to do with roosters, horses, the French term for egg cup, coquetel, the Aztec goddess, Xochitl, among others.  George Bishop's The Booze Reader: A Soggy Saga of Man in His Cups, 1965 says, "The word itself stems from the English cock-tail which, in the middle 1800's, referred to a woman of easy virtue who was desirable but impure . . . and applied to the newly acquired American habit of bastardizing good British Gin with foreign matter, including ice."
Pierpont’s fresh mangorita

No matter the name, it was the addition of bitters in the 1800’s that made it a cocktail.  By 1862, there was the first manual how-to, The Bon Vivant’s Companion by “Professor” Jerry Thomas.  Cocktails began to be mentioned in literature and more recipe books were published.

The upward evolution to “craft” cocktail was a natural one, even if it didn’t happen until the 21st century after years of other trends after Prohibition: Tiki drinks after WWII (and now back again), vodka (Bond, James Bond), a return to the classics and then, inevitably, crafty drinks.  Lots of places are now claiming to serve craft cocktails, though that may be a bit of a stretch for some of them. 

A true craft cocktail is one in which, “. . . every element is handmade or tailored specifically to the drink. You will see drinks served in custom glassware, poured over custom ice cubes, mixed with house-made syrups and finished with a dash of small-batch bitters,” according to The Barman’s Journal on-line, as good a source as any.  Often it includes specially prepared or small-batch alcohols, usually barrel aged, and often an unusual garnish is added.  These drinks require experimentation and taste-testing, usually take more time and care than a standard drink certainly and they also usually cost more – in Kansas City, maybe around $10 - $15.  So they better be good.

Why Is a Craft Cocktail Better?

For starters, the ingredients are fresh.  No cartoned orange juice.  Ok, that’s not so unusual.  But the tablespoon of lemon juice must also be fresh.  So, too, for grapefruit juice.  So you’ll probably see a juicer somewhere on the bar.

Syrups are house-made, of course beginning with the simple, simple syrup.  But the sugar proportions can vary, spices or herbs can be added, simmering time altered.  Flavored syrups take more complex recipes which may be more than fruit – jalapeno anyone? – and whose ingredients may be guarded just like original bitters and shrubs. 

Even the ice may be special.  A few bar/restaurants in K.C. have a special ice making contraption which guarantees perfect clarity and taste, one or just a few at a time.  Some smoke their ice, the glass or the bourbon, like Providence New American Kitchen from its Drum Room bar, catching the tasty flavor of the campfire right in the glass.  Travis Johnson, head bartender at Story has his own process for making ice, and then hand-cuts it.  Making everything fresh (and different) takes time, space, and effort – which is why many restaurants have a tougher time doing it.  Classic cocktails (or wine, certainly) are easier choices.

That said, keep in mind that every drink is just a smaller or larger twist on one or another classic cocktail because the same four ingredients are usually the basis: liquor, bitters, water or some other liquid often, and sugar in some form. 

Where Should I Go?

“Cure” from Nara
Some restaurants take the classic drinks and add a special twist.  Pierpont’s in Union Station has perfected this approach.  The new bar manager, Jimmy Rudnick, who came from NYC to take over the bar program there, points to his 18 specialty drinks as having been inspired by the restaurant itself.  “This is probably the most beautiful bar I’ve ever managed,” he said. “I wanted to come up with a cocktail list that was equal to the décor - classic, elegant and creatively-inspired.”  I personally love their “Manhattan … Kansas” which has home-made fig balsamic syrup in it and its description, “We know figs aren’t grown in Kansas, but do you really want a stalk of wheat in your drink?”

A number of restaurants in town make their own syrups, like Nara (see their “Cure” recipe in the box), Room 39, Ophelia’s, Eighty- Eight at the Elms Hotel, or Ruins.  Others infuse their own liquor for their specialty drinks, like Pinstripes’ limoncello. Fogo du Chao infuses cachaça (a rum-like liquor) with pineapple to drink straight.  Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar has a short infusion section on their menu which includes their Strawberry Lemonade (strawberry infused vodka, strawberry purée, lemonade) or their Bangkok Fizz with chile infused vodka, pineapple syrup, lime, and ginger beer.  Krokstrom Klubb infuses aquavit (a distilled spirit made from wheat or potatoes primarily from Scandinavia) with spices and fruits like coriander, orange, caraway, juniper, dill and others. The Westside Local even infuses a few of their liqueurs and cordials and change out their entertaining drink menu frequently.

Final Cut makes their “El Hefe Martini” with pineapple-jalapeño infused Patron Silver.   Piropos infuses Rieger whiskey with apple and cinnamon; Sullivan’s makes their signature Vieux Carré by infusing their rye with an oak barrel stave, to name just a few.  The Gaslight Grill’s lead bartender, Christian Leake, was just recently involved in mix-off where he used Royal Crown Apple liquor, his own maple smoked bacon syrup and other ingredients which then were strained through cheese cloth.  This restaurant also makes its own fresh sour mix, honey syrup, purees, and infused vodkas.  Their “Pretty in Pink” martini is a vodka they infuse with blue, black, rasp, and straw  berries. 

Often assorted syrups and infusions are used in spins on the classics.    The Hilton’s famous Drum Room, open since 1941, is now serving many craft cocktails, some based on their original offerings and served with special ice.  One tasty sounding one: the Rocket 88 Boogie (a 1949 two-sided instrumental record by Pete Johnson) which calls for vodka infused with red onion, cayenne pepper, cucumber, and olive juice with a couple of hand-blue cheese stuffed olives plunked in it.  Brewery Emperial, with 14 cocktails on its list, makes mint simple syrup for their mojito, honey syrup for another drink, their own sour mix, and on Sundays only, green tomatillo bloody mary mix. Café Trio’s Star Lounge does seasonal craft cocktails, for instance, a fig Manhattan (the bourbon infused with five pounds of figs) or their “Mise en Scene” which is comprised of Tom’s Town McElroy Corruption gin, crème de cassis, their own cinnamon simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and bitters.

Known for their 25 varieties of martinis as well as their home-made pasta Italian dishes, Genovese in Lawrence also makes their own shrubs, the so-called drinking vinegars. These have become popular in the last few years, and are often strongly herbal, since that’s what they’re often made of. Shrubs have their roots in the Middle East — the word comes from the Arabic “sharab,” meaning a drink — and the early Middle Eastern varieties used nuts and spices and rose petals for flavor. But colonial America made shrubs as preservatives or remedies.  They are good added to water or soda and since they’re non-alcoholic, they’re a good option for those who don’t or can’t drink.  They take at least a week to macerate and they’re not so common at most bars. Room 39 features both shrubs and tinctures, at this writing they are doing a special black peppercorn tincture at their Mission Farms location.

You might assume that Story in Prairie Village should be making craft cocktails and indeed they are.  They make ingredients in house because, “There is a palpable, substantial difference in the quality.  A difference you can taste,” according to Travis Johnson, lead bartender.  All of Story’s syrups, purées, bitters and cordials are made at the restaurant.

Kansas City '82
There are also some unexpected places that you might not think of for craft cocktails.  One of these is Porto do Sul, the churrascaria out south.  Adrian Kennedy, lead bartender, is mostly responsible for this and points out it takes a lot of time and trial and error to come up with the perfect mix, even to the point of making his own bitters.  Their number one cocktail is the “Kansas City ’82” which is his play on a “French ’75.”  He was asked to come up with a cocktail years ago for a party and he quickly named it.  It’s made of Hendrick’s gin, fresh lemon juice, basil infused simple syrup and served in a wine glass topped off with champagne. One of his special bitters recipes includes ginger, lemon, hibiscus and 12 other ingredients.  His orange bitters have nine ingredients.

Another surprise choice is Ruins Pub, whose reputation is primarily for craft beers.  But they are stepping up their craft cocktail list which currently has six signature cocktails.  So far, the additions are working really well for them.  Another “strange” choice might be Waldo Pizza which makes their own syrups and juices their own fruit.  They change drinks out seasonally.  Sullivan’s Steak House’s list has gone from sweeter to more liquor-forward and they’re especially appreciated for their purified ice (blocks, spheres as well as crushed) and upgraded glassware that makes you feel just a little richer than you are.

There is a plethora of craft cocktails for you to try in Kansas City.  Talk to your bartender about how it’s made, what goes into it, why it was created. If not busy, they’ll be glad to talk with you about it – it’s basically their (or someone’s) artistic creation that you’re talking about.  If you hate it, tell ’em.  If you love it, tell ’em why and order another.  You’d also be amazed at the number of drinks that can be made by a great bartender.  On the spot.  But the best drinks demand measuring or memorization and forethought.  And home-made ingredients.  And a substantial amount of time. 

A truly great, well-crafted cocktail is worth it.


Hereford House Review

Hereford House’s quite excellent lunch menu!

As a long-time resident of K.C. and its burbs, I thought I knew everything about Hereford House I needed to know.  Hand-cut steaks, four locations (east, west, north, and south) plus Pierpont’s in Union Station, great burgers (hand ground from their steak meat every day), good happy hours, and this year, sixty years old.  What I didn’t know about especially was their great lunch specials every day of week, like a 12 oz. ribeye for just $25 on Mondays or what turns out to be a pretty famous meatloaf on Thursdays. 

On a recent lunch date with publisher Kathy Denis last week, we were treated to their newest steak – the Hereford special strip steak.  What makes this different is the fact that it’s “marinated” overnight – dried porcini mushrooms, salt, black and crushed red pepper, and a couple of other ingredients.  The result is the juiciest and most flavorful strip I’ve ever had – and I’m a ribeye girl.  This steak is the result of extensive testing – which means steaks being eaten day after day.  After day. Before they went on the lunch and dinner menus.  We also tried their oysters Rockefeller (normally on the dinner menu) which were perfectly roasted with enough butter, lemon, spinach and parmesan to make me forget I’m eating oysters.  With the short rib sandwich we ordered extra crispy sweet potato waffle fries which were perfect – and it’s hard to get sweet potatoes crispy.    

I have to admit that one of their eight desserts pretty much did me in, it was that good.  Their carrot cake riff is something I’m going to go order all by itself and call it lunch. As it was, I managed all of the above and said happy anniversary, Hereford House.  No wonder you’ve been around so long! 

Hereford HouseLeawood
5001 Town Center Dr.
Leawood, KS 66211


McCormick and Schmick’s Happy Hour

More Than Happy Hour

The other day I was in McCormick and Schmick’s having a happy hour lemon drop ($7.00) and contemplating what a great happy hour they have – voted #1 nationally in fact by USA Today.  Their scrumptious fish tacos and a full-size burger (each just $5) or their seared ahi tuna or coconut shrimp ($9) are definitely just a few of the reasons I like it there.  Oh, there’s also the fact you can get a martini or Manhattan for $4.50.
Chocolat Bag

But I also had dinner there very recently and it, too, was very fine.  Our party of five was in one of the more secluded booths and we could hear each other speak while using our indoor voices, more and more a rarity these days.  The food was . . . exceptional, every dish. I had the almond crusted Idaho trout, perfectly pan seared with a butternut squash orzo – which I hadn’t planned on finishing since I knew we were having dessert – but I ate it down to perfect plate shininess.  One person had a huge lobster, another the crab plate, and two split the ultimate mixed grill that had stuffed and grilled shrimp, one large and perfect crab cake, salmon and more.  Everyone raved about their dish – and I noticed no one much shared.

We ended with two desserts, one the famous chocolate bag which was created in Kansas City years ago.  A thing of beauty (before we attacked it).  Dark chocolate, white chocolate mousse, fresh berries and whip cream – it may be part of my prisoner’s last meal. 

The Plaza has become less and less about local.  And this restaurant is one of Landry’s many across the country.  But it does everything right in a gorgeous space (with a cool patio) and it’s just a great place to go. . . which is why I consider it one of my favs.

McCormick & Schmick's
448 W. 47th Street 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-531-6800 


The Age(s) of Dining Out

I want you to know I resist the idea of this article I’m writing.  It’s about stereotyping and generalizations.  And simplifications and categorizing and labeling.  And generations.

Nonetheless, here goes: another article pitting Millennials versus Boomers.  Even if you’re not in one of those categories, I think you should read on – because restaurant life as we know it going to more and more reflect younger people’s tastes.

Backing up and yet justifying my reluctance, The Center for Generational Kinetics says: “Generations exhibit similar characteristics – such as communication, shopping, and motivation preferences – because they experienced similar trends at approximately the same life stage and through similar channels (e.g., online, TV, mobile, etc.). Generation-shaping trends are most influential as people come of age, which means that members of a particular generation will develop and share similar values, beliefs, and expectations. It is important to remember that at an individual level, everyone is different.”

Let’s define our terms, to make sure we’re all clear who is who.  Look at this box first:

Everyone agrees when Baby Boomerhood began; the later generations’ demarcations are a bit more fuzzy.  But why the media keeps stressing the Millennials is just that there’s so many of them:  projected at over 81 million in 2036, compared to the next largest generation (their boomer parents) who peaked at 78.8 million in 1999.  According to the Pew Institute, “Though the oldest Gen Xer is now 50, the Gen X population will still grow for a few more years. In April of 2016, U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials, whom we (Pew Research) define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, numbered 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028.”

So Millennials are the largest and fastest-growing group of consumers who bring the greatest life time value.  In the restaurant biz, 20+ somethings spend more than any other group on dining out, bar-hopping, and buying coffee drinks.  An interesting side note, according the Nielsen Global Out-of-Home Dining Survey (which polled more than 30,000 online respondents in 61 countries), reports that In North America, the type of cuisine served ranked as a close third behind reasonable prices and quality, and that exceeds the global average by nine percentage points. That’s for all ages.

Many believe in some key differences between Boomers and Millennials and the statistics seem to bear them out. Now, please remember as we go that we’re talking generalities.  So here goes:

Bring on the Adventure

Twenty-two-year old Kansas Citian Nicole Sifers notes a difference when she says, “I believe my generation is more open to trying new and different foods and restaurants and we are more willing to experiment with different cultures.”  She’s right as the numbers show that Millennials are more likely to choose ethnic and global cuisines and are more exploratory while Boomers enjoy more traditional American fare and classics and are overall, more conservative.
Scott Kalwei, owner and manager of Ruins Pub tends to agree with this assessment and caters to it.  “The younger people are more adventurous, open to new ideas.  I can see it in just the beer selections here which I rotate all the time – my older customers want to stick with a few they’ve always liked, the younger folks want to explore more, try new tastes.”

Digital, Digital, Digital

Millennials definitely are more attuned to the digital world and partake fully in its wonders.  According to Kelton, a strategic consultancy and research firm, social media is a game changer – 73% of Millennials say it’s important to read others’ opinions before food purchases.  This is a sentiment P.J. Preusser, a 23 year old Chicago native now in Kansas City as a consulting analyst at Cerner, agrees with.  He says, “Most of my friends and I ask for suggestions about new places not only from our friends, family, and coworkers but we definitely go to the internet as well.”

Yelp, where everyone’s a critic, touts their own statistics from a 2016 survey (2,000 consumers) which establish that 55% of Yelp users searching for restaurants have ordered takeout or delivery from a restaurant they found on Yelp. It is reasonable to assume similar numbers for actually choosing a restaurant.  The largest numbers of Yelp viewers and commentators are, you guessed it, younger – from 18 -34 at 39% while Boomers are less than 24% (in the category 55 years and up).  And gasp, 47% of Millennials report using social media while eating or drinking reports the Hartman Group and if you’re counting Facebook users, there’s 86 million of this age group, the largest segment, whiling away their hours.

Move Faster, Baby

Millennials tend to have more focus on convenience and fast service.  They want their meals to be good and a good value, sure, but they pay attention to speed with which they can get somewhere and once there, how long they (don’t) have to wait.

Abigayle Jobe, Kansas City, summarizes it well when she says, “I think that the younger generations prefer to eat out at establishments that provide fast service.  The most important restaurant aspects to me are the price being affordable, the service being quick, and the location being convenient.” Matthew Sabens, also 22, said his generation has much less “willingness to sit down for an indefinite amount of time for a meal. The boom of “fast-casual” food has been aided by the younger generation’s desire for fast meals.”  The message for restaurants here is clear:  even if you don’t consider yourself a “fast-casual” like Chipotle or Panera or 5 Guys, you better be able to deliver high value food quickly.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun 

And guys, too, of course.  Mary Davis, with 25 years accumulated, says she wants, “The atmosphere to be laid back, not stuffy and also not super quiet.  If I’m with a group of friends, I want us to be able to openly have fun – which sometimes means a bit of volume.”  Boomers mostly want to be able to hear their companions easily – loud groups are not so much their preference any more.  Andre’s on Main is making some interesting structural changes to accommodate two different trends – more flexible seating so larger and different size groups can be accommodated (Millennials like to hang out longer) but they’ve also raised the ceiling to cut down the noise.  Millennial Nicole Sifers echoes that fun and money component: “I think my generation looks for the most fun eating experience with the best price.”  Makes sense.

Josh Rogers (33), who with Katee McLean (30) owns Krokstrom Klubb and Market, doesn’t really consider himself a Millennial because he says he had an “analog childhood and digital adulthood” – he was in college when he got his first cell phone.  He says they are fortunate that their restaurant, serving Scandinavian food, is so specialized that people of all ages choose it. He points out that their own preferences when they are able to dine out are “relatively simple and not age-related:  good beers, good food, good cocktails.  If it’s nice, is there a patio?”  Lots of Boomers are on that same quest he notes.

Rebecca Ng Clark, a millennial herself (depending on definition), whose family has owned Bo Lings for many years here, says that while they know many of their customers are older, and while Chinese food may be ageless since it can frequently be a new exploratory experience, they do think about the younger generations.  You see this especially when they add new dishes or craft cocktails or bubble teas.  She believes they have become a family restaurant – they see many generations together although their City Market and Plaza locations do seem to see more younger diners.

Nahhh, You’re Just Like Me

Both Millennials and Boomers seem pretty similar when it comes to health and wellness in eating out.  There is a difference, however, in how they define “healthy.”  The “youngsters” care more about “natural” (it just has to say it, however, because they tend not to research), “organic,” and locally grown while Boomers are more concerned about processed foods but both care about their health. Millennials eat more organic foods (30%) compared to Boomers (15%) according to Nielson.  Boomers have become more conscious of weight for health reasons rather than esthetics. Both groups think they eat better than their parents, believing their choices are healthier, less processed and more natural.  (Hartman Group)

Keitha Kaminski, Director at Webster House, however, does believe Millennials are more aware of what they eat, are more health conscious and she sees they like fresh, like real, like local especially.  They are one reason the restaurant’s Farmer Appreciation Dinners are so popular. She remarks that younger people pay attention to food with the same ardor they have for working out every day. Her diners may be what are called millennial food sophisticates who are likely to live on their own, half are urban dwellers, and at least half have a college degree and work full time.  These folks have a heightened awareness of food and culture but eating out may not be as “special” to them; Boomers mostly grew up eating out for special events only and may splurge more because of it while dining.  “YOLO” applies to them more, even though the youngsters came up with the term – plus they’re becoming more aware that you only live once, no matter what James Bond said.

Let’s Get Happy

Another thing both Boomers and Millennials love is happy hours.  And why wouldn’t they?  Both are paying attention to their wallets and appreciate good values, both like to drink, and both like to socialize, though Millennials may like to do it in larger groups.  One example of a restaurant catering to these trends is JJ’s, whose late night appetizer menu on Fridays and Saturdays until 1:30 a.m., is a clear call to the younger crowd. Owner Jimmy Frantze also points out that having happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 every day of the week – definitely longer hours than most in town – appeals to both sides of the age equation.

Finally, I talked with Caitlin Katz, a Millennial living in Fairway, who summarized her restaurant business experience by saying, “The sheer volume of new restaurants and specialty restaurants opening up shows that eateries are trying to cater to Millennials or at the very least, account for their business. As Millennials are growing older and have more buying capital, it’d be silly if a restaurant didn’t factor them in. Extended happy hours, specialty dining experiences (a meal with a mixologist or learning to prepare the meal while eating it) or pop-up restaurants at unique venues are great ways to attract Millennials.”

I have to add, knowing what I know about K.C. Boomers and being one, I think much the same does apply to us, too.  At least some of us.  And probably everyone who reads The Restaurant Guide!  And I’m sure all of us are excitedly awaiting Gen Z’s effects on the eating scene.


André's Confiserie Suisse

More Bistro-ish.  Less Old-ish.

It’s about the new atmosphere at André's Confiserie Suisse after their renovation. They wanted to “change everything without changing anything.” The Bolliers had already done a renovation back in 2014 of the front retail space and this summer they went to work on the back. The goal was to have an updated look but still retain the old world warmth of the former chalet. I think they definitely succeeded – new light wood floors, higher ceiling, no visual or closed off obstacles disguised as tall-backed booths and serving areas. 

I checked out the place one late morning and it was clear it is a more inviting space – still seems friendly and you can hear someone else talk to you. Their Main Street Tearoom is really from the middle back, but you can sit up front, too. They’re open from 7 a.m. with lunch beginning four hours later. There are always two delicious choices which change daily plus their famous quiches. I buy their whole quiches when I want to impress house guests, by the way. 

I liked the last renovation of the front, too, because now you can go and hang out until 9 p.m. with a decent glass of wine. Or two. It’s just very relaxing. You do this upfront at what they call their Main Street Café and you can eat lunch, dinner, or have happy hour there. From 7 – 9 p.m., you can get 25% off a pretty extensive list of items. Their bar selection is big enough, and they have 24 wines by the glass, Rieger liquors (try the Rieger Caffé Amaro for something different and a great finish to the evening), and Boulevard beers. 

Speaking of finishing, I’m done here – but going back. I like contemporary old-world Swiss.

5018 Main 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. (816) 561-3440 

Andre's Confiserie Suisse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

One Great Chef – Philip Quillec

If you won’t believe me, believe Business Insider, a New-York-based international website which recently selected Chef Philip Quillec’s family restaurant, Café Provence, as one of the 100 best U.S. restaurants for the second time.  This award comes after several others, including Open Table’s annual assessment by its diners.  Although Philip attributes the success to everyone there, it’s clear he has made a difference since he became executive chef in 2008, returning after stints in France, Argentina, and Brazil. 

Café Provence has always been a bit of an anomaly, nesting there in the Prairie Village Shopping Center – a truly French restaurant which has always embraced fresh ingredients including fish flown in daily.  And Chef Quillec’s journey has been anything but standard.  He started out in the kitchen of course, at the tender age of 13.  He didn’t especially want to be a chef, seeing all the hard work and long hours his father, Patrick, and uncle, Daniel, put into the restaurant.  But eventually he started to enjoy it, then became enamored, to the point that he embraced the profession fully.  In fact, he even met now wife Paola in the kitchen of the Fairmont Hotel.  Now they have a two year old daughter, Valentina.

I asked him what the hardest thing he must do.  That elicited a pause . . . “Hmmm . . . there are many.  I suppose it’s making everyone happy – guests, staff, everyone.”  What’s the most exciting or best?  “The same.  I love it when people tell me they like what I’ve done.  Success to me comes from challenging myself – I guess that’s why the accolades and awards mean something to me.  People are appreciating what we do.”

“I took over almost 10 years ago and the first few years, it was a tremendous amount of work.  Creating my new staff, creating a new menu or tweaking it, working with vendors – everything.  There’s a big difference between being head chef mostly focused on preparing great food and being an owner with family and all the obligations that entails.  The reputations of my entire family and my fellow workers is at stake, all the time.”  Nobody becomes a chef/owner for an easy life, that was clear to me from his comments, but he says life is easier because his evening staff is led by chef de cuisine, Dusty Remsing and he has the full support of family, several of whom work in the business with him. And it’s not just at Café Provence – it’s also at their French Market down the street with the foods from the restaurant there as well as other items.  Have you tried the Saturday crepes yet?  Oh, yum.  

When asked about his favorite dish at the restaurant, he opted for a left-over piece of fish usually with a bit of beurre blanc or perhaps the veal scaloppini (pounded thin every day by his uncle), a favorite with his clients.  Or their summer heirloom tomato soup, chunkier than most, to which he will add some rice. Besides cooking and helping to care for daughter, he is a big sports fan, especially the Chiefs; his entire family gets together at least once a week; and he likes entertaining – when he cooks for his friends.  “My friends don’t say no,” he laughs.

Stay tuned, folks, for Chef Quillec is going to share a recipe with me soon.  You’ll be the second person to see it.  He’s promised that even I will be able to make it.

Cafe Provence
3936 West 69th Terrace 
Prairie Village, KS 66202 
Ph. 913-384-5998 

Cafe Provence Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

SupperClub 2017

I’m So Excited NOW
There’s a very cool event coming up on September 29th and if you’re a foodie and /or you like jazz, you should get your ticket NOW.  It’s the inaugural SupperClub2017, sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, and the American Restaurant.  I know you are familiar with at least one of the three – the now premier event space in Kansas City.   The other two are philanthropic organizations, one women professionals in the culinary professions and the other jazz supporters, who are combining to provide scholarships in those respective vocations.  Anyway, what’s even more cool to attendees are the others who are contributing their skills – I just have to list them:  chefs Debbie Gold (The American), Celina Tio (the Belfry), Renee Kelly (Harvest), Theresia Oto (The Monarch Club), Katee McLean (Krokstrom Klubb), Remy Ayesh (Café Sebastienne),  Alison Reed (JCCC) ; mixologists Julie Ohno from the Rieger and Margot Thompson from Blvd Tavern as well as Kimrey Burmeister from Classic Cup Café who is serving as the somm for the evening.

But wait, there’s more:  The entertainment all evening long is stellar:  Host Angela Hagenbach, Lonnie McFadden, Julie Turner, Shay Estes, the Mark Lowrey Quartet and other soon-to-be-known-greats. This will all be done supper-club style with wines for each course of course.

This is such an unusual collaboration for such a good cause, I just can’t wait.  If you’d like to purchase tickets, and I really hope you do (and be sure to come introduce yourself to me), go here, NOW! 

Making a Place Even More Special

Today I’m writing about something I’ve not attended so I’m basing this on (very reliable) hearsay and the past success of this on-going event.  I’m talking about the Gaslight Grill in Leawood -- you know, that’s the place where they have live jazz music five nights a week and a great happy hour Sunday through Friday, a cool bar and a lovely patio. Specifically, what I’m talking about is their monthly special, where Chef Michael Hall does, really, whatever strikes his creative fancy and what’s fresh and delish.  He’s fixed wild boar and wagyu ribeye and Dover sole (VERY unusual here) and does all kinds of unique interpretations – and this special dish is offered along with their 28 or so entrées.

For August, it’s a fresh sockeye salmon which began last week and will continue as long as the fish are jumping and immediately flown to the restaurant.  And next month, as Fall is soon upon us (gasp), Chef Hall has committed to individually sized beef Wellingtons. I love the fact that these monthly specials are available every evening (until the supply runs out, that is) which means you could enjoy them with a wine for instance that’s 50% off if it’s less than $50 and 25% off if it’s over $50 on Sundays.  But you can order the monthly feature any night.

So I have Gaslight Grill down as a must-again-go destination for August or September – I’ll let you know if I go for the salmon or the beef.  Or, maybe both.  Great food is always its own reason.  

Gaslight Grill
5020 West 137th Street 
Leawood, KS 66224 
Ph. 913-897-3540 


Food Obsessed Wine Bar or Wine Obsessed Restaurant?

That title above is a tagline and it’s pretty darn perfect.  About a month ago, I went to a rosé tasting at Tannin’s Wine Bar and Kitchen on 15th and Walnut and tasted about five, seven, ten, who knows? different varietals of my favorite summer drink.  Yes, of course, small sips only.  Then, this week, I went there for one of the Restaurant Guide’s Dine-Arounds which introduces hotel professionals to various restaurants in town.  Tannin’s has been around since 2011 and the wine choices, and their knowledge about those wines, has always been excellent.  

What I was reminded of, both times, is how good their food can be, too.  Their appetizers are varied and fresh.  We had three different small plates that second night – a bruschetta with grilled bread, heirloom tomatoes on garlic basil spread, an ahi tuna dish with avocado and red cabbage spicy slaw, and a pork tenderloin on brown rice with buttered beans, tender-crisp carrot and cucumber. Though they said there was no dessert, they presented us with peanut butter cookies, no, bars almost, that were drizzled with caramel and chocolate.  I don’t even like peanut butter anything, other than sandwiches (PB, butter, bananas) and Reese’s cups for some strange reason, but these were spectacular, along with everything else.

Besides dinner, Tannin’s is a good place for late night eating and drinking including Saturdays and Sundays when they open at 4 p.m., lunches during the week . . . whether or not you drink wine, happy hours five evenings a week, and a tasting menu.  

People always leave Tannin’s happy – is there anything else to say?

Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen
1526 Walnut Street 
Kansas City, MO 64108 
Ph. 816-842-2660 
Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Looking for a Different Experience?

A Surprising Experience 

The other day, right around my favorite time (yes, that would be happy hour time), I wandered into Fogo de Chao on the Plaza. I wasn’t looking for the full Brazilian churrasco experience but I did want a little something . . . and a drink. So it was a double-nice surprise when some complimentary appetizers came with my drink. Beers and bites are available for $4 and their Brazilian inspired cocktails are $8 – so of course, I was forced to order a caipirinha (cachaça, which is sorta like white rum, limes, cane sugar). 

In talking with the bartender, I found out that during lunch, you can get their Market Table and Fiojoada Bar for just $15 – about the same price as any nice lunch on the Plaza. It’s $27 at dinner time and both include a huge selection of come-back-as-much-as-you-want “sides” – some of which seemed like main course alternatives to me. There are the soups, salads, charcuterie with all kinds of meats and cheeses, smoked salmon – I think if you can name it, it’s probably here. And if you’re a vegetarian – oh my, there’s plenty here. And I didn’t know what feijoada is – it’s a traditional black bean stew with sausage that’s served over rice and you get to season it yourself with fresh orange, malagueta hot sauce and something called farofa which is baked yucca flour with bacon. Next time . . . 

 A little quick research told me Fogo has around 40 locations in this country – and they’re growing. It tells me they’re definitely doing it right. I really liked that I didn’t have to do the full deal – I AM trying to eat lighter this summer and I can still do it at Fogo and have a great time in a pretty place.

Fogo de Chao
222 West 47th Street 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-931-7700 

Fogo de Chão Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Five Things to Know about Wine Dinners

Rose GlassesThis week I attended a fabulous dinner at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar and it has occurred to me that I’m not doing this kind of thing often enough. This was called “The Longest Day to Drink Rose” and six different rosés were featured. Honestly, each one was better than the last, or next, and all the food, prepared by six chefs with each in charge of one, was better than the last or next. Or something. It was a fun evening – great food, drink, and I met some very cool people, too. 

Most of our better restaurants do an occasional wine or beer dinner or just what’s billed as a special evening. Usually, it’s financially a good deal because everyone cooking, pouring, or serving is hyped to do their very, very best. 

Here are five things to know: 

1. When you make your reservation, be sure to confirm date, time, and whether it’s individual tables or group seating. If it’s group, and you want to be seated with your friends, be sure to tell them. Be sure to ask if an additional gratuity is expected. 
2. If you are a picky eater, don’t come. Kidding. But if you’re allergic to fish and it’s a fish evening, don’t expect them to revamp your dinner for you. But if you have allergies, etc., be sure to tell them and ask if they can accommodate you. Usually the answer is yes. 

3. If you’re with people you don’t know, be ready to converse. Great topics include best restaurants you love or where you frequent regularly. The Royals are safe as long as they’re still in contention. A recent movie (or restaurant) you can recommend. Don’t talk too long about your vacation, unless it’s somehow hugely pertinent. Have you done anything that’s unusual lately? Politics are probably not safe. At the end of the meal, talk about your favorite course and see if everyone agrees. Would you come back to this place again? 
4. Try not to make special demands of your waiter. And if you do, a special appreciation is necessary. If it’s not monetary, be sure to compliment him/her AND his manager or whomever you can find. If the wine isn’t coming fast enough, a huge smile and a thank you for your extra effort goes a long way. 

5. When you go back, mention to the host or manager that you’re there because you attended such and such dinner and it was so terrific you wanted to return. That encourages the restaurants to keep having such dinners – their chefs usually appreciate the opportunity to show off their skills, the restaurants make a little money, and you have great memories for an evening. 

There are many such dinners coming up and they’re always listed in the Restaurant Guide under Calendar Events. 

If you’re looking for a companion, just let me know!


One Great Dish -- It’s Kimchi for Me! 

Back in May, I talked with Executive Chef Brandon Winn of Webster House. He’s so personable it made my blog easy to write. I asked him to give us a favorite dish that even I could make, and he suggested kimchi. I must admit I’ve only ever had kimchi in Korean restaurants, where the often spicy, pickled or fermented cabbage, onions, and assorted veggies mixture is a staple. I’ve never thought of making it myself. Chef Winn says it’s easy. 

 He said, “Kimchi is something that I have been playing around with for the last year for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, it is delicious, ever evolving and complex. Secondly, there are a large handful of health benefits to fermented foods (i.e., yogurt) that have extreme impacts on the body, how it processes food, breaks down nutrients and maintains a healthy homeostasis. It provides a high level of cruciferous vegetables which aid in keeping the body’s PH levels intact.” 

webster house jar

Whew, let’s just go back to that first one – it’s delicious. But he did also note that kimchi, much like risotto, is a method as much as a dish in itself. It is the theory of salting, pickling and fermenting vegetables of many variations. This technique has been used as a method of preservation for centuries in Korea and similar concepts in other cuisines internationally. 

Brandon told me this recipe can easily be cut in half and is very forgiving. Since it’s pickled, it can last a long, long time in the refrigerator. He says it’s great to top off stir fry, with fried eggs and a small portion of rice, on a cold noodle salad with some marinated and grilled chicken, or even by itself. Be creative. 

5 # Napa cabbage, thin julienne 
1 gallon water 
1 cup salt 
2 # scallion, whites cut into 1” pieces, greens into 2” pieces 
3 # daikon, thin julienne 
1 # yellow onion, rough chopped 
3 apples, diced 
3 pears, diced 
 3 oranges, peeled and cut down 
½ cup garlic cloves, minced 
1 six (6) ounce jar fish sauce 
¼ cup chili flakes 
2 cups toasted sesame seeds 
1 cup sambal 
3 T Korean red pepper powder 

Bring salt and water to a boil, allow to cool slightly and pour over cabbage. Wrap tightly and store for 4 hrs. Drain off water and rinse cabbage lightly. In a food processor puree yellow onion, pear, apple, orange, powder and garlic into a smooth paste. Toss the rinsed cabbage in this mixture, daikon, fruit paste, fish sauce, chili flake, sambal and sesame seeds. Pack into mason jars ¾ full and seal tightly. Leave out at room temp for 48 hours and then refrigerate until using. 

P.S. Funny fact: Napa cabbage is a type of cabbage which originated near the Beijing region of China. Around the world it’s mostly called Chinese cabbage.

Those Were the Days My Friends . . . or Wasn’t 1997 Just Yesterday?

Let’s go back: Twenty years ago, the Kansas City restaurant world was a different place.  The Plaza had many local restaurants while downtown really wasn’t an eating destination other than daytime. The Power and Light District, the Sprint Center, the Kauffman weren’t around. The Crossroads basically didn’t exist either.  Zona Rosa wasn’t developed until 2004.  Prairiefire followed ten years later when 135th wasn’t too far South for many to even contemplate.  If you were asked back then about our restaurants, you’d probably mention only steak and barbeque – not sure we could be called a “restaurant town” like we are today.

Our logo by thenA restaurant town, according to Charles Ferruzza, acclaimed food critic here who is writing a book about “old” KC and its eateries, means that our metro area has “a lively, varied and interesting selection of independently-operated restaurants, upscale chain restaurants, and ethnic dining that go beyond the traditional.”  We did certainly have some of that going on, but nothing like today.

And if it were before summer of 1997, you definitely wouldn’t mention the Restaurant Guide of Kansas City.  It’s our 20th anniversary in June this year, and that’s what got the publishers, Kathy and Laurent Denis, thinking about eating in Kansas City back then.  “We were mostly a paper magazine, starting out with 37 (of which 15 are still open!) restaurant clients.  We placed 60,000 magazines every quarter in hundreds of different locations.  We had a web site, too, but at the time, people really didn’t care.

“Now . . . well you know about us now. We still keep the paper version which both locals and visitors rely on and we have a very large on-line presence as our social media is vibrant.  We love that we provide valuable information!”

 But enough about us.  Let’s go back.

The Departed and the Remaining
In 1997, there were some favorites that are no longer with us:  Houston’s and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in the Plaza, EBT, The Savoy and Italian Gardens, Leona Yarbrough’s, Costello’s Greenhouse, The Golden Ox in the former stockyards, among others of course. Tell us your favorite departed restaurant and why you loved it.  (Yes, it’s a contest.  Go to and enter for a chance to win a night at Chateau Avalon and a $100 gift certificate to one of our restaurants.
Despite the competition, many restaurants open twenty years ago are still going strong.  A few I can think of include The Classic Cup, Le Fou Frog, Kelly’s of course, and Jasper’s.  I know there are many others. Two are even celebrating 60th year anniversaries this year:  Hereford House and Jack Stack Barbecue – is it a coincidence that they have highlighted what Kansas City has been known for?

KC Masterpiece
One of the oldest restaurants in town is in Independence Square, The Courthouse Exchange, which is 118 years old.   The pub was bought, changed, reinvigorated in 2004 by Cindy and Ken McClain, who were determined to do something about the Square, beginning with Ophelia’s in 1998.  They are a great example of people who became innovative restaurateurs.  They ended up changing the face of their city – adding Clinton’s Soda Fountain, Square Pizza, Diamond Bowl, Main Street Coffee House, El Pico – and several retail stores, all making Independence Square a true destination –  a major reason the location is now thriving according to Cindy, CEO of McClain Restaurant Group and CRM Stores.

Survival: The how & Why
Longevity can also come about because there is either a succession plan in place or somehow, the children of the original owners come “home” like Rebecca Ng of Bo Lings.  Some began there like Rene Bollier of André's Confiserie Suisse.  He started working at age 10 when not at school.  He said his parents never pressured him but it was always understood that if he did have dreams of running André’s, he would work in every area of the business.  His dad decided in 2008 it was the “right time to pass the title on.” He says, “I always loved it, even while having to wake up at 3am on Saturday morning to go in with my dad.” Case Dorman, President/CEO of Jack Stack, is an example of a planned transition. Case’s first restaurant job was at the Smoke Stack which he rejoined as general manager in 1987 and he and wife Jennifer bought the business from her parents in 2009.  Jack Fiorella had created a transition agreement in 1991 so it was well planned, he says. One of the largest differences he and all the others point to is the amount of competition even from just twenty years ago.  “There are so many great operators today and our guests’ expectations are much higher than in the past (as they should be).”

In 1997, there were not as many restaurants in town.  As our
Club 427
population has grown to over two million from about 1,690,000, so have the number of restaurants, many of which are casual and counter types.  Whereas the restaurant industry’s share of the food dollar was 25% in 1955, it has steadily climbed and today, it’s 48%. Jimmy Frantze, owner of JJ’s, points out some similarities for his restaurant beyond its move necessitated by the fiery tragedy of his 90 year old building: “A warm, friendly atmosphere is still necessary.  Steak remains an often-selected item here.  But many of our new items reflect the modern trend towards more spice and esoteric ingredients. Social media, which was nonexistent in 1997, has now become a large part of our advertising and promotional efforts – for example, online apps have become almost mandatory for taking reservations.”

Ethnicity Broadens
Ethnic restaurants in the 90s included Mexican and Chinese which now the National Restaurant Association no longer regards as ethnic – they’re pretty typical according to Ferruzza.  Restaurants like Bo Lings, which opened in 1981, or Margarita’s in 1985 are still popular even if these once “ethnic” restaurants are not considered quite so ethnic anymore.

Rebecca Ng Clark, who returned from a different career to work in her parents’ Bo Lings restaurants and says she is still learning about every facet of the very complex business of running six local restaurants, agrees with this.  “I think that Chinese cuisine is much more mainstream today than it was when my parents opened up in 1981.  That is wonderful because so many more people are enjoying Chinese food, but there is also growing competition – from other Asian cuisines (say, Nara or Saki Asian for instance).    But all this is great to me, as it shows that people in our area seem to be more open-minded than ever when it comes to delicious Chinese/Asian cuisine.”

In 2017, we truly do define ethnic more broadly and certainly restaurants such as Grünauer (Austrian), or Piropos (Argentinian) or Sawasdee Thai and Thai Place (guess) or bd’s Mongolian Grill or India Palace or Krokstrom Klubb (Scandinavian) all offer us tastes of other cultures and their foods.  That’s a lot of name dropping but there are now many, many more around us. This does make our culinary lives more interesting.

Setting Trends
In 1997, food trucks were a non-item except at fairs of one kind or another and street food-inspired dishes were pretty much not seen anywhere.  Perhaps other than places like Margarita’s or El Pueblito or La Parrilla or Ixtapa or El Pico or some of the Mexican restaurants on Southwest Boulevard proffered the casual, interactive, innovative approach of food trucks, but that was as close as we came – a more relaxed atmosphere.  And now food trucks are getting fancy, with far more unusual offerings than they had earlier this century.

Waaay back then, in 1997, “natural,” farm to table, vegetarian, vegan, healthy were not words you heard quite so often – they were more on the fringe element side.  The restaurants all had some salads of course, but veggies were pretty much a side on the plate by the meat.  Today, in restaurants from Jack Stack’s (salads! salmon!) to Waldo Pizza which has both a gluten free and a vegan menu, there are many more health-conscious items than we saw even just twenty years ago.  Cindy McClain from Independence Square points out one big difference: “Today it has to taste great.  People won’t sacrifice their taste buds.”

Twenty years ago, Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State, Diana died, the Lion King opened on Broadway, a pound of hamburger cost $1.38 and you’d go see Titanic, Jurassic Park, Liar Liar, or the Rainmaker at the Plaza theater and follow it with a meal at perhaps Plaza III or The Classic Cup or Starker’s which ended with molten chocolate cake.  Fondue had come to us in the 80s, hello The Melting Pot on the Plaza, and crêpes had come and gone, only to return in the last few years.

Today and Beyond
By 2017, “fine” dining is almost defunct if by that you mean white tablecloths, required jackets for men, formal (and stiff) service and soft music and we now expect gourmet food almost everywhere, once mostly found at these establishments.  Cafeterias, most popular in the 30s and 40s, are now grandparents’ memory, decimated by “fast casual” by the early 80s.

But we still do have buffets, especially popular at casinos for their plentiful selections at one price like the Epic Buffet at the Hollywood Casino, noted for its large selection of fresh food. Other restaurants which have special buffets on holidays like the Walnut Room in the Hilton or Harvey’s in Union Station.   The other manifestation of the buffet concept can be found in Brazilian restaurants. Em Chamas Brazilian Grill, Fogo de Chão, and Porto do Sul all present large buffets of any number of ethnic and American dishes to go along with their meat selections.

In 2017, national restaurant industry sales will be about 800 billion dollars whereas food and drink sales were about 120 billion in 1980. There are now over one million restaurant locations.  Most of them, nine in ten, have fewer than 50 employees and seven in ten restaurants are single unit operations.  That all rings true in Kansas City in 2017, too.  And some of these restaurants stay in the family for years, transferring to the younger generation as time goes by.  For instance, Jason Quirarte is now working with his father, Dave Quirarte, at Margarita’s Amigos who began his restaurants on Southwest Boulevard.

Trends to continue from 2017 include more healthy choices but becoming more flavorful. Locavores rule. There will be more ethnic restaurants but their specialty foods will continue to jump to innovative mainstream menus. We have seen more diversity in food choices but comfort food will always remain. Grocery stores will continue to realign their shelf space to create more “to go” items and include restaurants with some even placing bars in their stores (the drinking kind, not the metal). There are a hundred more I could name.

Dining out remains both entertainment and nourishment just as it was in 1997, just as it is now, and just as it will be in the years following.

1997 – those were the days, indeed.  Check us out in 2027 for our 30th anniversary, my friends!

Almost Our Category – Fifteen to Nineteen Years
BD's Mongolian Barbeque
Café Provence
Café Verona
La Parrilla
McCormick & Schmick’s
The Melting Pot
Webster House
Zen Zero

At Least They’re Sixty
Hereford House
Jack Stack Barbecue

Granddaddies of Them All 
(Over 100 Years!)
Courthouse Exchange
The Elms Restaurant


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