Feb 26, 2010

Best celeb sighting ever!!!!: walked by Masaharu Moroto going into Shore Club!!!

Feb 25, 2010

Elizabeth and ibhad a layover in Memphis today and were jokin with each other that we should beat up Pat and Gina Neeley if we saw them. They're sitting 2 rows ahead of us on the plane.

Feb 21, 2010

Second Time Smoking

Last weekend was, for us, a Valentine's weekend. And my genius wife surprised me with a gift any man would love to receive... meat from McGonigle's! And beer!!!

These weren't just any meats or beers, though. They had meaning.

The beer was Anchor Steam. My favorite in the world. It's very good but I admit my lofty opinion of it comes from the fact that the first time I ever had it was on day one of our honeymoon, sitting on the rocks in Sausalito, California, looking out over the San Francisco Bay under a warm, orange, September afternoon sun.

The setting was picture-perfect. We'd landed in San Francisco, taken a cab to Sausalito, over the Golden Gate Bridge, off Redwood Highway, down the incredibly steep, winding roads that dropped into our honeymooners' refuge. We dropped our bags at Casa Madrona and immediately set out on food to find food and drink. Only a five minute walk down the street, we walked into a friendly little deli, selling everything from Italian meats to Dom Perignon. We grabbed a fresh and particularly tasty looking antipasto bean and olive salad - lightly dressed with olive oil and vinegar - and our Anchor Steam suds, and started off our vacation in what was, to us, the perfect way. I tell you all these things just to relay a piece of the wonderful thoughts and feelings that flooded my senses when I opened the fridge and saw that beer sitting there, waiting to be found.

My two meat gifts were a small piece of brisket (2.5 lbs) and a beautifully filleted rainbow trout.

Minutes after finding them, I emerged from the basement, grunting and groaning as I singlehandedly carried up my red Brinkmann smoker. This would be only the second time it had been used since being purchased. Its first use - smoked  pork shoulder for pulled pork sandwiches - was lackluster at best, so I was appreciative that Elizabeth wanted me to make another attempt.

The brisket took some preparation. I rubbed it in Koop's yellow mustard and then doused it with all-purpose dry rub; wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and let it sit for several hours. Later in the day I got the smoke going, brought the temp up to about 235, dropped the brisket on the lower rack and the trout on the top.

When the trout came off, it looked perfect. A light crust on the surface, but moist and tender underneath. We flaked the fish off its skin with a fork, made a quick dill sour cream sauce and enjoyed an appetizer of smoked trout on crackers with big cool dollops of the dill sour cream sauce.

The brisket tasted pretty amateurish. It lacked the smoky flavor I'm used to and didn't seem to be as tender as it should have been. Once sliced and piled on a bun with Gate's barbecue sauce, we were fine with the results, but had a hard time not being a little disappointed since we couldn't keep from comparing it, mentally, to the great brisket we're used to getting in this city. I guess I'll have to keep working at it.

Theories on the sub-par brisket:

  • New smoker - hasn't built up enough use to impart super-smoky flavor
  • Low-grade hickory (Best Choice chunks from a bag I got at Sun Fresh)
  • Small piece of meat = shorter cooking time. Less time to impart smoky flavor
  • Large opening around the lid of the smoker letting out too much smoke. Need to try sealing it off with foil
To me, this is what the art of smoking is all about, though. The act of smoking meat takes a lot of time, but perfecting the whole process takes trial and error experience spanning months, if not years, and many, many pounds of meat. I got a smoker for a reason, so I'll have to stick with it.

Or, I can just stick to trout.

Thanks, B, for the wonderful gifts. You are gift enough.

Feb 20, 2010

KC Food News

Thought I'd just share a few of the noteworthy things going on in this city related to the food scene:

James Beard Nominees
(From KansasCity.com) The James Beard Foundation has announced the 397 semifinalists in its chef and restaurant awards, which go to restaurants, chefs, restaurateurs and wine and spirits professionals across the country.
The local nominees are:
*Michael Smith, owner of Michael Smith restaurant in the Crossroads, for outstanding chef. (He also owns Extra Virgin. Read my review.)
*The American Restaurant for outstanding restaurant.
*Linda Duerr of Zest in Leawood and Colby Garrelts of Bluestem in Westport for Best Chef: Midwest.

Restaurant Closings
1924 Main, Pizzabella and Souperman appear to all be shutting down (same owner for all 3). I liked 1924 Main but found it a little austere. Pizzabella was good, but I'm guilty of not having done my part to keep it open. Didn't love the location. Good riddance to Souperman.

The Westport location of Blanc Burgers + Bottles is now closed, but they've reopened at their plaza location.

Succotash's Successful Shift

A few weeks ago we tried to go to Succotash at their new location on the southeast corner of 26th and Holmes and found it to be so busy, we didn't even try to wait for a seat, opting, instead, to go a few blocks south to You Say Tomato. At 11:30 this Thursday, however, we found a more modest crowd on hand and saddled up for my first Succotash experience.

Succotash is a restaurant whose overall concept I regard highly. It's that funky, artsy type of place that feels like it cares much more about being unique and a good fit for the community than being a cash cow for its owners. The food is high quality, fresh and tasty. If you like brunch/soup/sandwich places like You Say Tomato, and Happy Gillis, you're likely to like Succotash as well. 

Thursday's lunch items were good... not great. I went for their turkey sandwich for two reasons: 1) I think a lunch spot's turkey sandwich says a lot about the motives of the menu's creator, and 2) because the ingredients sounded fantastic. A huge pile of turkey came on deliciously hearty bread (menu calls it "sesame french" but I don't think that's what I got), with thick cut bacon, two thick slices of smoked gouda cheese (I love smoked gouda) and tomato, mayo and dusseldorf mustard. It was an impressive sandwich but I could have used a little something more from the turkey. It clearly was cold cut meat, as opposed to being a bird they roasted on their own. And that's fine, but it was pretty plain. So abundantly heaped on the sandwich, it could have been better if it were smoked, or if they roasted their own. Still, I think the vast majority of people who order this sandwich will be pleased with the product.

My side of creamy macaroni with little pieces of tomato and bacon was cooling and quite delicious. I could have eaten an entire meal's-worth of it.

Elizabeth went for the caprese chicken wrap, which was the special of the day, and I talked her into getting a bowl of the crab bisque, as well. Her green wrap was filled with large chunks of chicken that she enjoyed, but if you don't like dark meat, this isn't the chicken wrap for you. Halved grape tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, arugula and basil oil rounded out the ingredient list. The mozzarella was disappointingly sparse and the basil oil ran all over her hands and wrists, detracting from its appeal. So we don't recommend Succotash add this to the menu permanently.

The bisque was much better. We were pleasantly surprised by all the veggies and beans it contained. Usually bisques are one-note cream soups. This bisque came with large pieces of crab meat, thinly sliced sheets of potato, lima beans, asparagus spears, sweet corn kernels and more. So rather than slurping  liquid, we got heaping spoons full of delicious flavors and textures and really liked it. The bisque was quite savory, too, which also played to my tastes. Crab and cream can come off quite sweet, especially together. This bisque was deliciously salty.

The new space is actually not new at all. It feels a lot like YST, given it's identical relative location, but plays up the eclectic, funky, artsy aspect whereas YST is focused on a throwback feel. It works well, from the signature bright pink chandelier hanging over the entrance, to the varied collection of mismatched tables and chairs. Standing next to our our table was a plaster monkey who I called "the fashionable monkey" as he was outfitted with a navy blue stocking cap, scarf and matching navy blue Christian Dior tie. Divert your eyes, however, from the huge painting of the girl eating tomato soup. It's harrowing. The first time I saw it, over a 5 second timespan my reaction migrated from appreciation of the art to "ick!"

The dining room is one big rectangular space - no weird nooks or crannies and there was something I liked about its logical layout. It was comfortable. The one thing that made me far less comfortable was the lack of ventilation. The humidity created by the kitchen action made it feel like a steamy July night. I seriously felt like I was dining in a rain forest. Our mirror-topped table clung to our skin in a sickening way. It was pretty gross. I'm sure this excess humidity was a result of the limitations of the hundred year old building, but it needs to be addressed.

One quick note on service: it was fine, for the most part. We were waited on quickly, he checked back with us to make sure everything was good, and refilled our water. But when he refilled our water, he knowingly poured directly over-top my cell phone. Due to the aforementioned excess humidity, his pitcher had tons of condensation on the sides, which dripped all over my phone. Demerit. I won't pour harmful H2O all over your electronic devices if you don't do it to mine, okay?

Despite the humid climate and the sub-par special, I'm excited to go back to Succotash, for lunch again but also for breakfast. There are plenty more delicious-sounding choices on the menu I'm eager to try, and the atmosphere was nicely relaxed.

Rating: one napkin

Succotash on Urbanspoon

Feb 14, 2010


Sure, I'll admit it. The last thing this blog needs is another review of You Say Tomato. Before you commence the eye rolling, though, know this: I did not intend to go to YST again last weekend. It just happened.

We'd meant to go to the new Succotash that opened in a similar corner spot, just a few blocks north of You Say Tomato. When we arrived, however, we were shocked to find that the place was absolutely packed, and there was a wait of 30 minutes that looked to be actually longer than what they were telling us.

The temptation was too great. We bolted. Two blocks south- to YST.

I have to admit, I was happy to find that it, too, was very crowded. We had nowhere to sit once our orders were placed, but were lucky to have a table open up after only a few minutes of awkwardly standing in the middle of the restaurant, slurping coffee and attempting to convey an appearance of collective self-assurance.

Front to back, the entire experience was indicative of our usual euphoric brunch at YST. My knish was nothing to get worked up about, but that's not because it wasn't prepared well; I just think that a fist-sized pastry filled with mashed potatoes is a little redundant in the squishy, bready and starchy areas of my palette.

The absolute show stopper and fantastic surprise find of the day turned out to be Elizabeth's mushroom galette, which I would contend is one of the very best breakfast foods you can find in all of Kansas City (even besting my beloved Oven Eggs at Room 39). It's like they took the best elements of my favorite breakfast dishes and put them all together, creating the uber brunch food. The most delicious, rich and flaky crust came topped with a delectable melange of savory roasted mushrooms, creamy goat cheese and herbs. It was deliciously indulgetnt, earthy... decadent. Blissful.

The jealousy in my soul came radiating through my eyeballs in such a tangible way, our company and Elizabeth cautiously withdrew their extremities from the table, creating a path through which my arm and fork shot as one omnivorous weapon, dexterously swiping large hunks of the galette and retracting them to my awaiting jaws with invisible rapidity. Despite being full from my fluff ball knish, I terrorized what remained of the galette when Elizabeth gave me the green light to "try" it.

A great addition to the plate was the salad  that accompanied the galette. Fresh lettuce, round slices of red bell pepper, beautiful grape tomatoes, red onion slices, croutons and balsamic vinaigrette with big slices of cucumber on the side were the perfect acidic counter to the comforting galette. Maybe a little sharp for an early breakfast, but at brunch, it completed the dish nicely.

One week later, I can feel the clock ticking. There's a time bomb in my psyche, pleading for our return. I"ll forego the knish this time and have the galette. I'll probably even try slipping the cashier a tip and see if I can get an extra large slice. Because, all kidding aside, this may be the best pre-lunch item anywhere in this great city.

Rating - still a solid three napkins

You Say Tomato on Urbanspoon

Feb 13, 2010

The New Blanc. A Four Napkin Restaurant Reopens on the Plaza

(Before reading this post, for necessary background, please read my original post on Blanc.)

First, let me reiterate that while I enjoyed the decor and general atmosphere at the original Blanc in Westport, which recently closed in lieu of their reopening at the Plaza in the old Pizzeria Uno location, I never considered the space to be its strong point. Quite the opposite. The original blanc was too small. There were maybe one or two tables in the front and a couple in the back that were ideal, and the rest pretty much felt squeezed into places that weren't very accommodating. The bar, thus, was not set terribly high for the new Blanc location in and of itself.

So why was I so trepidacious of the switch? Because in my mind, the Plaza ain't so cool anymore. It's chain heaven and overrun with local tourists - those from a 4-hour radius of Kansas City who stand in line for .4 MPH carriage rides behind enslaved horses with creepily braded tails (I guess there IS a reason it's called a ponytail after all...). This crowd is hardly indicative of the crowd amongst which I enjoyed mingling at the previous Blanc and I feared the whole vibe would be thrown off.

Sparing one small complaint, what I found in the Plaza Blanc last night was a spot-on reincarnation of Blanc 1, with an abundance of comfortable seating, a fun, raucous mixed crowd of diners, a mostly unchanged menu and even edgier white (Blanc) themed setting. PHEW.

Having extolled Blanc's menu before, I'll only mention the food in so much as to let you know the burgers taste the same, and the menu has been augmented with just a few new selections. It's not online yet, but the newbies I can remember now are a "$100 burger" ($15) featuring a big dollop of foie gras butter and stuffed with braised short ribs. New appetizers included fried cheese curds and peppadew pepper poppers. Forgetting my journalistic responsibility to investigate these additional choices, I went right back to my old favorite - the Pale Ale battered onion rings. And I don't regret it, because last night's rings were off-the-charts good. The onions were very thick cut and the crisp fried batter clung to them impossibly well. Our inside-out burger delighted, as did our BLT salad, which gave us more than our money's worth in B(acon) but left out the promised avocado.

The... how shall I say... whiteness of the new Blanc is stunning. Walking in, you know you're in a place unlike any other in town. And I love that, amid all the chic white, vibrant orange accents, bright lights and general trendiness, the fare is down-to-earth. Burgers and good bottles of beer.

The bar is brilliantly illuminated and features all the different beers available. Clean-looking glass-front mini-fridges below it dazzle, as well (this is a great touch I've seen at other bar favorites like Harry's Country Club and R Bar).

Some tables are high tops, like the one we had. High tops can be painful... they're usually stools whose backless quality lends to slouching and deeper-seeded worry that because of my gangly nature, I'm trending toward unsightly scoliosis. Most tables, though, are regular height, and I was amazed at how cavernous the dining room was. One glass wall between the bar and big dining area, and another between the middle and back, separate most of the seats into three general areas, but upon entering, one can hook around to the right and enjoy a cluster of seats near the bar, or walk straight through, past the bar, and into a sectioned-off orange room for another angle. I question the move to this locale no more. They can seat probably four times as many people in the old Uno location as compared to the closet in Westport.

So, then... same great food, fun, appealing aesthetic and comfortable setting. What's the criticism? Something I'm sure others wouldn't mind nearly as much. The music.

Never mind that it was probably a little louder than it needed to be. It was a grand reopening kind of night. Party it up. I just didn't appreciate its overtly clubby feel. One could find Blanc to be less approachable than they'd like, because of its trendy feel. I think the friendly, casual staff and the relatively simple menu keep Blanc grounded, but the boom-boom-boom baseline of the techno beats that pulsated throughout the restaurant all night made me feel like we could have been in a dance club as easily as a restaurant. Thank goodness the cast of Jersey Shore weren't there, or some good-natured battling would have broken out for sure. (Then again, I wish that would have happened.)

In the end, my rating of Blanc remains unchanged with the new location. Take the music down a notch and throw in some indie rock and I'm back on the bandwagon for good. Can't wait to try the new menu selections. I'm almost glad we didn't have them last night, just so I have a reason to return soon. I suggest you do so, as well.

Rating - still - four napkins.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles (Westport) on Urbanspoon

Feb 7, 2010

Indian Cooking 101

We've finally made our first foray into Indian cooking. After a solid hour and a half in the kitchen, last night we turned out a very authentic and enjoyable spicy green curry chicken dish!

It all started with our recipe organizing exercise. Our collection of torn out magazine clippings and printed off internet recipes had gotten out of control and was covering every horizontal space in our kitchen. So we embarked on a week-long organization task that finally wrapped up today. Now we have a big fat tabbed binder and clean kitchen bookshelf to show for it, but moreover, we have rediscovered our Indian cookbook entitled Fresh Indian: Over 80 healthy Indian recipes by Sunil Vijayakar (Metro Books).

After visiting our friend Amanda and her twins, Aida and Ella, then stopping at McGonigle's for a euphoric 15 minute, two-fisted barbecue sandwich demolition, we putted over to the Indian grocer at 95th and Metcalf and stocked up on spices and basmati rice. Our mission for expedient shopping dragged out into an hour and a half of pointing, sniffing, oohing and ahhing over the sights and smells we encountered at the market. Perhaps a small waste of time, but worth its weight in inspiration. 

Preparation of the rice, chicken and curry was actually quite simple. The difficulty came from the delicious flatbread Elizabeth created, also from Fresh Indian. A perfect compliment to this dish, for those not ready to tackle the more difficult naan - a more delicate flatbread, soft with pillowy pockets and a charred crust (see how much I love naan in this review of Korma Sutra in Westport).

Here are the simple steps:

Green Chicken Curry
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger root
  • large handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • 1 jalapeno chopped (for spicy, use all the seeds. Medium spice, half. Mild - none.)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed cardamom seeds (I crushed whole cardamom seeds by placing them in a good ziploc bag and then pounding them with the flat side of a meat tenderizer. My dog is still traumatized.)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp jaggery or palm sugar, grated 
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat coconut milk (the entire city - or at least the Indian grocer, Walmart and Hen House - were all out of lite, so we used full fat)
  • 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
  • scant 1 cup water
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • lebanese cucumber, cut into fine strips to garnish (we omitted this)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or wok, add the onion, and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Meanwhile, place the garlic, ginger, cilantro leaves, mint leaves, jalapeno, cardamom, ground cumin, ground coriander, jaggery and coconut milk in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the chicken to the onion and cook over high heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until sealed and lightly browned. Pour in the coconut mixture and add the water. Season well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook gently for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through. serve immediately over steamed basmati rice.

(Elizabeth and I liked this so much, we fought over the one serving of leftovers today. She won, because I discovered two leftover calzones from last week. I'll post about these, soon.)

Red Onion, Chile, and Gram Flour Bread
  • 1 cup whole grain flour
  • 1 cup gram flour
  • 1 red onion, finely diced (we used half of a huge one - about the same)
  • 1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black onion seeds (nigella)
  • 1-1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • salt
  • sunflower or light olive oil, for brushing
Sift both of the flours into a large mixing bowl and add the onion, red chile, chopped cilantro, and cumin and onion seeds. Season and mix together. Gradually pour in the water and knead for 2-3 minutes on a lightly floured surface, to make a soft dough. Let rest for 5 minutes and then divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each one into a ball. Roll the balls out on a lightly floured surface to a 5-inch diameter disc. Heat a large, lat griddle pan or nonstick frying pan until it is hot. 

Cook the rolled-out discs of dough, one at a time, for 30 seconds on one side; brush with a little oil, flip over, and cook for 1 minute, moving the bread around. Then flip the dough over again to cook on the other side for 1 minute or until the bread is lightly browned on both sides. Remove and keep warm, wrapped in aluminum foil while you cook the remainder. Serve warm.

This was one of those meals we ended up liking so much, we seriously contemplated making it two nights in a row. 

Instead, we more wisely made a commitment to cooking something from this book at least once a week, not only for the enjoyment of eating it, but to also ensure our spices are used often enough, they don't go stale.

Superbowl's on. Gotta get the sombrero bean dip on the stove and crack open a beer. What a stark contrast from this India cooking. God Bless America!!

Feb 6, 2010

Pulled Pork Salvation

Dear McGonigle's:
Thank you.
Thank you for being conveniently located near the home of our good friends who we visited today at lunchtime.
Thank you for being there to calm the insatiable beast of hunger that nearly caused me to turn on them.
Thank you for knowing how to smoke cuts of meat like pork shoulder and brisket to tender, smoky perfection. ...And for piling the meats so high on your sadly overwhelmed Wonder bread buns - the noblest of martyrs.
Thank you for your honey-sweetened Kansas City style bbq sauce, serving as a sticky perfume on my finger tips through my afternoon of errand-running.
Thank you for rendering my Saturday trip to the gym inadequate even before it transpired.
Thank you for keeping me full long enough to survive our green curry chicken cooking experiment (post on this forthcoming).
Thank you for being the unperceived specialty food store that you are - more than just meats, but beautiful deli options, seafood, locally grown produce, artisanal dairy, wine, liquor and more.
Thank you  - for making my day.
(Elizabeth did not appreciate the messiness of your sandwiches or your lack of seating as much as I, but barbecue never was for the feint of heart.)
We will visit you again, often and with great fondness. We will recommend your selection, service and quality at every chance  presented to us.
Thank you, McGonigle's.

Feb 2, 2010

A New Stew

There are an infinite number of soup and stew recipes out there, yet somehow each winter I end up eating my weight in chili and chicken noodle (not complainin', just sayin'...). That's why this Mexican-inspired simple stew recipe was such a fun find.

You can find great deals on pork now and then at the grocery store, so this is an inexpensive meal, but the spices and slow simmering process gives it a rich, deep flavor.

It calls for using pork tenderloin. No need. Find a sale on some nice looking center-cut boneless pork chops and use those instead if you want to keep the price down. Just account for a longer simmering time to ensure the pork softens and breaks down ensuring that it's falling apart nicely  before eaten.

Here it is:

Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew

2  tablespoons  ancho chile powder
2  teaspoons  dried oregano
1 1/2  teaspoons  smoked paprika
1  teaspoon  ground cumin
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1 1/2  pounds  pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1  tablespoon  olive oil, divided
2  cups  chopped onion
1 1/2  cups  chopped green bell pepper
1  tablespoon  minced garlic
2 1/2  cups  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1  (28-ounce) can hominy, drained
1  (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; set 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mixture aside. Add pork to remaining spice mixture in bowl, tossing well to coat.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork mixture to pan; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove pork from pan; set aside. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Return pork to pan. Add reserved 1 1/2 teaspoons spice mixture, broth, hominy, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes.

The result is a rich, but not too rich, spicy stew. I've stated my love for hominy before and a pork-based stew is a nice change from ground beef.

Jalapeno corn bread makes a great accompaniment.
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