“Because you need to get a nose-hair trimmer?” she shot back with comedic immediacy.
We broke into pathetic laughter at Extra Virgin as we continued sipping our wine and gobbling an assortment of lusciously rich, briny olives in the amazingly perfect September night air. Tuesday night was our second anniversary dinner and from this snippet of conversation it would seem apparent we’re already turning into our deepest darkest fear: an old married couple. Good thing the edgy restaurant and, in particular, its unique menu, helped steer things back where we like them… a state of feeling opposite the pathetic, mind-reading, nose-hair-monitoring couple illustrated by this inane banter.
A lot of restaurants these days are making we foodies want to eat seemingly stranger things… the castoff and forgotten foods that those with a closer connection to the source of their meal – land or animal – have always appreciated (read: offal). Extra Virgin, Michael Smith’s newish tapas restaurant at 19th and Main connected to his flagship, falls squarely into this group and may be the best example of this food trend come to life in Kansas City.
Seating is about 55/45% indoor to outdoor. We went al fresco since it was such a beautiful night, but the indoor dining room is mostly filled by a large, rectangular bar with only a few outlying tables and chairs. The kitchen is semi-exposed, showcasing a beautiful wood-fire oven. Our outdoor seating was very comfortable – a large patio just off the main sidewalk, and on a Tuesday night when the restaurant wasn’t too busy, we felt like we were welcome to stay there as long as we liked.
Last year's anniversary dinner was steak at Capital Grille, so this year we chose EV to try some more… interesting things. Some "firsts". How’s this for interesting: halibut cheeks, cabrito tacos, wild boar sausage, lamb kebabs, Campo Lindo chicken livers… Let’s back up, though.
We started with a simple assortment of olives. I’ll definitely enjoy these again with a couple happy hour beers and half-price tapas in the near future (all the tapas with asterisks next to them on the menu are on the happy hour list). Our wine selection, La Posta del Viñatero Bonarda at the normal 50% markup over normal retail, was perfect for our meal, and I’d trust the rest of the wine list is equally well-geared toward the eclectic menu.
Round one selections were the cabrito tacos: shredded, slow-cooked, spiced goat meat, with a simple slaw topping and spicy, citrusy mojo dressing on tiny homemade corn tortillas. Assemble yourself. These were our favorite item the whole night… they were intensely flavorful and satisfying, and our addiction to spiciness was aptly fed by the mojo’s kick. The tortillas were hands-down the best I’ve ever had.
Next we devoured the spicy halibut cheeks, served in a miniature cast iron skillet with sugar snap peas and a beautiful sauce of roasted grape tomatoes and plenty of course grain mustard. The cheeks were perfect round medallions of halibut, almost similar to a scallop but less sweet. Exceptional. All-the-while we were maximizing the richness of our intake with bites from a meat board covered in slices of carpaccio-thin sopressata, speck, Spanish chorizo and wild boar cacciatorini. You know what you’re getting with a meat platter like this and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The tiny pickled peppers were delightful, wrapped up in the rich meat slices.
Round two brought us lamb kebabs, crab and corn fritters, and Campo Lindo chicken livers. I love the taste of lamb meat and the spices that work so well in it. These skewers could have used just a little more flavor, but the tomato sauce was helpful. I spooned large amounts of it on top of the meat and picked up the whole stick, devouring each in 3 or 4 huge bites.
The fritters were the biggest let-down to me. A great recipe, no doubt, but fried too long. The crab and corn flavor was virtually non-existent, drowned out by the pungent burnt taste overwhelming our palettes. I'd like to try these again, fried less, and see how well the crab and corn stood out.
At this point you’re probably asking yourself whether we were actually eating everything on each of these plates – hoping the answer is no. Wrong. We took it all down, without ever stopping long enough to gain any perspective on the level of gluttony we were exhibiting. I admit this with a strange mixture of embarrassment and pride. This was easily one of my best gastronomic performances to date.
The richness of all that fatty food required some sort of digestif before we bid our anniversary good night, so instead of dessert, we opted for cocktails. My modernized version of an old fashioned was hands-down better than any I've ever had. Those happy hour olives and beers I mentioned earlier... add one of these to that order.
Here's how I'd sum up Extra Virgin: You owe it to yourself to pick a night when the weather is perfect for outdoor dining, and go drop $100 downing a bottle of wine and plate after plate of these original Mediterranean tapas, delivered to you over the course of a couple relaxing hours of sheer indulgent bliss. You may hate something you try, but I guarantee you'll also love something, and the original experience will almost assuredly win you over.
Rating: three napkins