Aug 29, 2009

Arun: Adecent Thai Place

For lunch last week, I went to Arun Thai Place Grill at 7th & Walnut. Arun is among four other Thai Place locations in the city, though the only one with this particular name (the others simply go by Thai Place), and I'm struggling to find much of anything to say about the place. So I'll keep this one brief.

The great thing about Thai food is the fresh ingredients, abundance of flavor and spice! Arun gives you all those things in spades, so if you like Thai food and you're having a craving, I can't imagine you'd leave disappointed.

Thai dining does not, however, usually signify a top-notch restaurant experience. Arun and the rest of the Thai Place establishments I've visited are better than many alternatives in this category, but don't wow you, either. The dining rooms are a little ho-hum. The service usually prompt and polite, but not necessarily a value-add. You get your noodles or your rice or your stiry fry or your curry and if it's what you were expecting, you leave happy.

This is exactly what happened at my trip to Arun. I picked out the Thai Place shrimp - a big bowl of tender shrimp and rice with a sweet tamarind broth and lots of onion, mushrooms, bell pepper and jalapeno (not diced, but entire halves of jalapeno's - awesome for the spice lover!). Ladel in a couple spoons full of the chili paste condiment they have on the table, and about 10 minutes later, I'm staring at an empty bowl with a happy stomach and a slightly runny nose.

That's how it went down, and that's what I like.

Could have done without the hip hop beats coming from the massive DJ's speakers sitting behind our table, but once the jalapeno's and chili paste started working their magic, somehow I stopped noticing the music.

If you like Thai food, you should like Thai Place. Sure, everyone says there's someplace they know about that's even better. But I'll bet one of Thai Place's pleasant locations is near you and when you visit, you'll feel like you got good food at a good price and had a good experience. It's good.

Rating - one napkin

Thai Place on Urbanspoon

Not Just Another Drop in the Bucket

Who doesn't love changing up their daily routine by heading out for a happy hour cocktail and snack? My wife and I do. Often.

Our latest "aw, heck with it - let's have a drink" diversion took us to The Drop in Martini Corner. Some friends of ours hosted a holiday party there a couple years ago, which we remembered enjoying immensely, so we thought it was time to return. The bar/restaurant is quite small, with two cozy rooms and a small bar on one side. We remembered finding the bevvy of appetizers served that night all to be very tasty, from great bruschetta, which can be so soggy and bland so many places, to upscale cheese and fruit platters. But on this trip, we were going cheap. This was impromptu and neither of us had much cash to burn, so we were delighted at how well The Drop treated us cheapskates.

Happy Hour specials consisted of half price starters and discounted drinks across their long list of beers, wines by the glass and cocktails. Budget constraints being what they were, we went cheap and ordered the least expensive app on the menu, an incredibly filling and delicious hummus. The Drop's hummus is exceedingly creamy and not too garlicky, but thicker than what you might find somewhere the hummus is probably a little more authentic, like Jerusalem Cafe. That's not a dig, though. Topped with plenty of fennel seed for an added dimension of flavor, this hummus can be smeared on crunchy slices of toasted baguette - again, a less authentic touch in that you'd normally serve hummus with pita, but certainly fine with me.

When our helping of toast had dwindled, leaving still plenty of hummus, our waitress kindly offered to bring more toast so we could polish off the rest of the dip. We took her up on her offer and by the time it was finally gone, we were stuffed! Did I mention the hummus was $7 normally, and only $3.50 at Happy Hour?! What a deal!!

Not much to say about the cocktails. I had a well gin and tonic with flat tonic and no lime, followed by a PBR. She had a red wine martini that tasted like cough medicine (maybe this is "grandma's" answer to the proverbial "grandpa's ol' cough medicine?) followed up with a Boulevard Wheat. It was booze. It served its purpose.

The Drop has been at Martini Corner for quite some time now but if you're not frequenting the place, check it out at Happpy Hour and I think you'll be quite happy with what you find.

Rating - one napkin

Drop on Urbanspoon

Aug 23, 2009

You Say Tomato... Again

It may seem pathetic that I'm already writing a second review on You Say Tomato, considering how few reviews there are on this blog altogether.

Originally, I wasn't going to write this review, but then thought better of it. Look, the reality is that those of us who do this for fun, and aren't paid or comped to eat at restaurants throughout the city, are going to go back to our favorite places with some regularity. Why waste the trip?

As I write this, I'm remembering now that our original plan this morning, when heading to brunch, was to go to Room 39 again, a place I've visited and written about even more recently than YST!

I guess my point in this intro is that I think it's a good thing to review a restaurant based on multiple trips and not just one tasting. So expect to see repeat reviews in the future and look at them as an opportunity to view recommendations on a broader spectrum of the menu. That's useful, isn't it?

My wife and I both wanted to try something we hadn't eaten here before. I really wanted the Smoked Salmon quiche (their quiche is truly outstanding - always), but so did she. In an uncharacteristic act of chivalry, I let her have it, choosing for myself... scrambled eggs, toast and cheese grits. (record scratch) I know, I know. I could have made that for myself at home, right? I had a little buyer's remorse as soon as we placed our orders. But the truth is that, sure, the eggs and toast I can do just fine. But the grits would be a rarity. And once that plate of food showed up, my remorse was GONE.

The toast and eggs were fine. I was alarmed at what a large portion of eggs I received - well worth the money! They were a little overcooked, but I like my scrambled eggs a little runnier than a lot of people.

The star of the meal were the grits, though. Creamy as could be, with a nice, slightly crunchy crust from a dollop of brown butter placed on top the mounded grits before being heated through for serving. Small flecks of jalapeno added a great depth of flavor and kick and the thoughtfully placed miniature bottle of tabasco on the table allowed me to inject a nice vinegary layer of heat for my own level of heat-preference.

The quiche was, as ever, fantastic. Unbelievably light and fluffy, with a flaky, savory crust. The classic flavor pairing of the smoked salmon with the dill and sour cream was decadent and very satisfying.

With a bottomless cup of coffee and charmingly cool atmosphere, brunch was great. So I guess you can count on reading more YST reviews in the near future. Get used to it.

Final note: The cynic in me was fearful YST wouldn't make it. The location was great, but definitely off the beaten path (2801 Holmes). But apparently the experience and food have given it more than enough word-of-mouth advertising to keep business flowing in the front door.

It was packed when we arrived and the line got so long after we were seated, I had to shoot a picture with my phone. See for yourself. Way to go, YST!

Rating - 3 napkins

You Say Tomato on Urbanspoon

Aug 22, 2009

For chorizo fans, something hard to find on menus in KC, hit up El Rancho after a night of drinking for their chorizo torta. Hugely satisfying. (mobile post)

Aug 11, 2009


One of my top 3 favorite TV shows is Anthony Bordain's No Reservations on the travel channel. This week's new episode featured San Francisco - a city I'll always love, not just because it is a beautiful place, but because it was the first stop on our honeymoon.

As I watch the show, I find myself always trying to see beyond the footage being presented and think about everything else Tony did with his time during the trip. For instance, often Tony appears to be drinking large amounts of liquor - sometimes nothing more than ahorrendous fermented concoction birthed in a plastic gasoline canister and filtered through a burlap sack - and on his way to breakfast the next morning, I ask myself "how hungover do you think he is right now?" Or when he's saying "oh this is delicious - yeah, i could eat a dozen of these" as he chomps down the eyeball from a whole cooked fish... does he really mean it?

He admits that NR is a pork-centric show, and I, too, love meat. But this guy can really pack it away, and no amount ever seems to be too much! The episode from Argentina, I believe, features he and his brother devouring not one, but two plates piled high with grilled pork products. And 'plates' isn't even the correct word. They were high-sided trays... pans, almost. You know what a deep dish pizza pan looks like? Yeah, that's it. Two of 'em with sausage links hanging off the sides, and a seeminly insurmountable heap of fatty, greasy meat mounded inside. Here's the thing, though: I can live with that. It's grilled pork, butchered close by. Purchased in a thriving marketplace. There's a freshness about it. Sure, it may triple your blood pressure in one sitting, but at least it's not heavily processed and pumped full of hormones and preservatives.

But throughout the San Francisco episode, the question on which I became fixated and only grew stronger after the show ended, was whether he truly enjoys injesting all the heavy, greasy, low quality, meat-centric and cheap foods we seem him devouring?

In this episode, he clearly wanted to convey the message that he likes San Francisco, but not for the reason that most people do. He apparently hates the yuppy, vegan/vegetarian, organic-obsessed, often hypocritical upper-crust granola population there, who are responsible for making San Fran one of the most progressive bastions of the local/organic movement (nay, revolution!) currently sweeping the nation. I don't think he has anything against good vegetables, organic, local farming methods or people of wealth. But what he wanted us to see as the best aspect of San Francisco was what still lies on the underbelly: the dive bars, the cheap classics, the avantgarde offal trend, etc.

To that end, we see Tony, after visiting the requisite historic seafood and street food landmarks, eat his way through a barrage of truly gross foods: prime rib (which he refers to as the American Dream) so rare it looked like it was clubbed to death by neanderthanls only moments before served, soft roe (basically fish spooge), a seven pound meat shrine of a sandwich (a torta made at a liquor store sandwich counter) featuring ground beef, chorizo, hot dogs, ham, eggs, lots of mayo and cheese, avacado and more. Then a night filled with nothing but offal: dehydrated ham fat crystals fried in duck fat, venison heart tartare, goose intestines, calf's brain and testicles. Finally, because apparently he hadn't yet had his fill of fatty meat, another pure junk food pigout session: a greasy double cheeseburer (for breakfast) which he applauds for tasting "like it died screaming."

Again, I'm a huge fan of the show most of the time. The episodes from Asia are always beautiful, and the recent Australia episode featured some really great looking food. But I'm getting tired of the borderline maniacal worship of low quality meat-centric foods. In the San Francisco episode, he just goes too far in trying to downplay the local/organic message they espouse there by trying to make us think the best things in the city are only found on the underbelly.

Regarding the double cheeseburger at the end of the show, he asks, "Is it organic? Who cares?!" Seems like a funny question for Tony to be asking, considering he's also a guy who kicked a hard-core smoking habit after the birth of his daughter. The answer is right there in front of you, Tony. Love the show, but maybe a higher level of scrutiny for the obesity-inducing gut bomb foods is in order. If I want to see gross people stuffing their gullet with cheap Americana sandwiches, I'll watch Man vs. Food.

Aug 10, 2009

Lovin' Oven Eggs

I've been to Room 39 before, I think as a gifted dinner for my wedding, and enjoyed it very much. But the prices were aptly high so I didn't return until recently... for brunch.

I think brunch can be a good indicator of the type of chef that runs a particular restaurant. My theory is that the best restaurants, whith chefs who truly care about everything that is served from their kitchen, serve good brunch. And the chefs who think their customers are all the same and want nothing but french toast and scrambled eggs are the ones whose dinner menus are adequate but feel a little dated and lazy.

Room 39 has, of course, the basics. It has scrambled eggs if you want them. It has French Toast if you want that. But it convinced me it was a restaurant of that more special caliber with the delicious breakfast I was wise enough to choose: Oven Eggs.

Oven eggs consisted of a simple, round and thick-cut piece of toast with a single, thin slice of genoa salama on it, covered in melted gruyere and topped with two farm-fresh egg yolks. The short stack is baked in the oven just long enough to bring the slightest firmness to the outside of the yoks and melt the gruyere, so, of course, the beauty of the architecture of the dish is that the yolks break on top of the tower and then run down the sides, creating a wading pool through which to shmear and soak the toast.

I'm a savory kind of guy, though, so what I truly loved about the dish was the salami. I can't get its delicious flavor out of it out of my head. The portion was almost so small it only served as a tease, but was just large enough to be an intensely satisfying layer in the dish. I'd like to go back for lunch sometime just to see if they'd make me an off-the-menu sandwich with the same bread, many slices of the salami and a fried egg in place of the runny yolks. Maybe a little frize or arugula, mayo and dijon... I think I really might go back and make the suggestion. Just see what happens.

Yes, this trip to Room 39 reinforced my good brunch/good restaurant, bad brunch/bad restaurant theory. So, the next time you're ruefully complaining about your paycheck being completely spent 48 hours after receiving it, remember that those pricey, out-of-reach restaurants' great service and higher end atmosphere can be more attainable if you're able to drag yourself out of bed early enough to take advantage of their brunch.

Rating - three napkins

Room 39 on Urbanspoon

Aug 3, 2009

Take Me to the Farm

It's funny: I grew up in a small-ish town a couple hours west of Kansas City where everyone hoped dearly for a chain like Olive Garden to move in. Fantastic fresh food was being grown locally all around us, and yet we thought we wanted frozen bread sticks with overcooked noodles walloowing in enough alfredo to render one's arteries useless.

Now, living in the heart of KC, I find that the most exciting new restaurants are the ones featuring the freshest, locally sourced foods, like The Westside Local (see below review), and a new restaurant at 300 Delaware in the River Market called
The Farmhouse, featuring a lot of fresh, locally grown/raised items.

I had lunch at The Farmhouse yesterday after learning of its existence only a few days prior. That's how excited I was about this farm thing. I think part of the allure is that when the weather gets hot, things like crisp, cold vegetables and salads - fresh, lighter fare - just sound much more appealing than the braised, stewed, slow-cooked, heavy comfort foods of winter.

The dining room felt a little small, but has nice high ceilings, typical of the old lofts in that neighborhood. Simple decor and pretty polished hardwood floors. The host was chipper and promptly showed us to a comfortable table on the shady deck big enough for four, but small enough for the two of us. The two female servers working the deck area were both wearing skirts and cowboy boots. Not sure if that was part of the uniform for the day, but it was pretty cool! I say yay on the boots.

The food: for me, 3 pulled pork sliders with a peach-dijon aioli, home made fries and a small side of pepperoncinni slaw. Delicious and note - these are not barbecue sliders. They had a very nice fruity flavor - was there a cherry spread smeared on the buns, not listed on the menu? And if you like you're barbecued pulled pork done Carolina Style, put the relish in the bun, too. It's a great added crunch. The pork itself was cooked well, but seemed a little dry and cool. I don't think it was overcooked at all, just seemed like once it was pulled, it sat in a container "draining" for a while before being served, so it lost some of its natural juiciness. The fries were good, but not great. They were a little soggy and perhaps needed more time in the fryer.

For her: an heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella, basil pesto, tiny fried strings of prosciutto and leeks and a port-black pepper reduction (note - we ordered having specified ahead of time that we would split the plates 50/50). While I believe the reduction was completely absent from the dish, I found myself not even caring, because the heirloom tomatoes were left as the star of the show and they were sublime. Small piles of black salt crystals laid on each of the 4 corners of the rounded, rectangular plate for us to pinch and apply as desired, and that was all the tomatoes needed to shine. The mozzarella provided the intended girth to the dish but didn't add a lot. Still, I'm glad it was there.

Prices are right where you'd expect - sandwiches are in the $7 to $8 range, salads slightly less. I think this is going to be one of those places where I'll return often, checking one delicious item off the list after another.

I heard on the Today show this morning that Chili's buffalo chicken crisper bites have 1620 calories and 100 grams of fat. And you can bet the chicken is pre-breaded, seasoned and fried before it ever reaches a restaurant. Not exactly sure when my palette evolved past the point of craving steriod-laden schwarzenpatties of fried chicken breast smothered in ranch dressing to fantasizing over Brandywines and Green Zebras, but I'm glad it did. Check this place out sometime soon.

Rating - two napkins

The Farmhouse on Urbanspoon
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