I live near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and if you’ve been familiar with the area over time, you know that it is steadily becoming overrun with chain retail and restaurants, devoid of character or originality. Any time this fact gets me down, my thoughts begin to turn toward certain areas surrounding Kansas City’s downtown district which, to me, are the sections keeping the soul of the city alive. (Note – the new P&L is NOT included in these sentiments. It’s as guilty as the Plaza for bringing chains into what otherwise could have been a unique Kansas City epicenter of business.) We need a new epicenter of Kansas City, a new bastion for our unique food and culture. And high atop one of its western hills, Blue Bird Bistro serves as a beacon of this current paradigm shift.
Okay, maybe that suit of armor is a skosh heavy for this Bird. But credit BBB for what it does represent so well: locally grown and organic foods prepared with pride and care.
Perched at the crest of the west downtown area on 17th and Summit, this quaint restaurant draws deeply from the history of the neighborhood around it, which dates back to the 1870’s. Filled with original Victorian homes, the area provides a perfect example of old Kansas City charm, not to mention a fantastic view of the Bartle Hall spires and crossroads district in the valley below. Blue Bird’s exterior carries the same old-world feel but stands out nicely with its brightly painted woodwork and corner location. You can’t miss it (and you’ll be glad you didn’t).
Seating is laid out in four equally pleasant areas. First, are four small two-seat tables with crisp white linens hugging the north and east walls of the brick exterior. With little traffic in the area, the outdoor seating is fantastic on a warm fall day. Just inside the yellow front door frame, is one of the main dining areas and the design and architecture-adept will immediately treasure its hexagonal tiled floors, vaulted pressed-tin ceiling, and antique trim and cabinetry housing art from local galleries. Filled with natural sunlight from the large front windows and doors, it is a wonderful place to wake the senses at breakfast or brunch hours. I call the bar a third seating area because unlike most restaurant bars, this one appears so welcoming one might actually enjoy dining there. The weathered stone table top is a beautiful aesthetic blend with the historic-feeling room. Soft lights on the shelves of alcohol create a transfixing visual backdrop. And with plenty of elbow room and service that’s neither intrusive nor neglecting, it’s far less formidable as a dining space than most bars. The fourth seating area is a more formal dining room at the far west end of the property. With no wall cabinetry or notable décor, the tight grid of elegant tables amid exposed brick walls creates an intelligently engineered sense of formality which helps justify some of the menu’s weightier selections, e.g., Bison Tournedos for $32 or the cheddar, chevre, colby Ravioli for 25. Regardless of your mental or emotoinal state upon arriving, there is a seating area that will envelop your mood perfectly.
With such high marks for décor and ambience, I had to make a concerted effort to focus on the taste and preparation of the food while dining, lest I sophomorically bestow BBB with an A++. My first entrée experience was like a good first kiss – sweet, spicy, memorable and had me coming back for more. Analogy aside, we’re talking about a scrumptious green curry here. Since the farm fresh ingredients are all locally grown, I can’t say much for its ethnic authenticity, but the tender Yukon gold potatoes, snappy carrots, crunchy onions and succulent mushrooms are right at home in the mild sweet curry sauce and bed of jasmine rice. To me, this curry has a dangerously inviting blend of all the things I love in a light, refreshing meal – spice, sweetness, salt, vegetables and starch. If you’re a carnivore, look elsewhere on the menu. This curry is actually vegan fare and if I could have it every day the rest of my life I’d gladly become one.
My second entrée choice, however, was decidedly UNvegan. In fact, bison meat is an extremely dark red meat. I’d heard a hundred and one times that bison was a lean alternative to beef, but given my unchanging genetic predisposition to stick figure proportions, that factoid had little bearing on my decision to try it. My foray into “the other red meat” was meant as a discovery of taste and texture alone, and I was pleased with what I found on the adventure. The bison was very tender and juicy (despite my special request that it be cooked to medium-well as opposed to the waiter’s recommendation of med-rare). You ask about the gaminess? Not bad. Really, not bad. It does have a unique flavor and one might call it gamey, but if gamey is the right word, it shouldn’t necessarily be understood as a bad quality. I found the flavor quite pleasant as did my skeptical companion. It carries the same qualities we love in a beef hamburger. It’s meat. It’s protein. It doesn’t taste like a foreign creature, it tastes familiar and satisfying. Also, go for the local white cheddar cheese on top. It comes nicely melted and brings a wonderful flavor to the burger.
Condiments did not come with the bison burger but were offered up by the waiter. I asked for them and was brought house-made ketchup and whole grain mustard. Impressive as they were, I will leave them off next time and consume the burger with the bison, cheese, lettuce and tomato only, as the bison meat’s flavor belongs as the focus. Organic potato chips were served as a side and even though they were entirely forgettable, at $9 this burger was a bright spot on the menu that will no doubt have me coming back, even on nights when I don’t feel like spending much of money.
At this time I have not yet tried any of Blue Bird’s desserts, which leaves me with good excuse to go back for another “review”, however, as I conclude, I’ll mention the wine list. Often, wine lists in this city suffer from collections of over-exposed grocery store mega labels (Cavit, Woodbridge, Ravenswood, etc.). Blue Bird’s wine list is a natural extension of its menu with diverse selections from all over the globe, including even some rare organic choices (and none of which can be purchased at Price Chopper).
As we who cherish all that is original to Kansas City struggle against the harrowing infestation of chain restaurants and retails stores, and as our suburban areas expand like the city’s metaphorical waistband, Blue Bird Bistro serves as an important culinary refuge. Its hilltop location is a foodie’s fortress and I know I’ll go back often to ensure it remains the important stronghold that it is, while benefitting from the sustenance it provides.
Rating - 2 Napkins