Oct 24, 2011

Aixois: French Heavy Hitter In Brookside

Restaurant: Aixois
Location: 251 E. 55th St., KC, MO
Food: Classic French
Service: Traditional Wait staff
Atmosphere: Fine dining
Price: Entrees from $12 (burger) to $28 (filet)
Rating: three napkins

There’s good French food to be had in Kansas City, but you have to seek it out. Several great little spots are buried in the city’s neighborhoods, inconspicuous and unchanging… just as you’d expect of the French.

Up in the hills of Parkville, there’s Café des Amis. Cross the river southward and you’ll find Le Fou Frog, crouching in the River Market defying you to find it. Hidden in plain sight in the middle of Prairie Village is Café Provence. And don’t forget Westport Café and Bar in the heart of Westport which isn’t working too hard to be strikingly French, but even that credo is sooo French. It’s stiff competition. These are all decent, if not great restaurants. The one missing from this list is the one I recently visited and, as I found, it stands up boldly to the competition.

Aixois is located on Brookside Boulevard and 55th. From the street it gleams with black awnings and a gorgeous patio, a bright green lawn in front, and the promise of a dim, fancy dining room inside. That stretch of 55th, the Crestwood shops, has always been picturesque and Aixois is the cornerstone of it all.

On our first trip to Aixois, we went for lunch and sat out on the patio. This was a long time ago, but I remember having a decent salad with a generous portion of cold salmon on it (…cold in a good, refreshing sort of way that allowed the salad to avoid wilting. A creamy, lemony dressing perfectly coating the salad with plenty of freshly cracked black pepper and beets. Quite tasty.

On this trip, we were there for a casual dinner. We arrived around 8:00 and it was a quiet night. The dining room was probably only ¼ full but, even though brisk outside, there were several diners on the patio—people savoring the last warm evenings of the fall. We were given a two-top in the northern dining area, against the west windows looking out to the patio. A nice view. Maybe best seat in the house for our sensibilities.

Our waiter was attentive and quite competent. We decided to get a bottle of wine, so we told him we’d need to figure out what we were eating before we ordered drink. He checked back twice before we were actually ready, but in a helpful way. Not pestering. And as we chose our wine, salad, appetizer and two entrees, I think he said every single thing we ordered was his favorite, less my steak. Despite being hard to believe, we appreciated the encouragement that our selections would not disappoint.

The salad was immaculate, starting with its shrimp. Listed as Salade d'Avocat et de Crevettes Grillees on the menu, the salad came with at least three big, plump and perfectly cooked shrimp on the side, well cleaned and bursting with sweet flavor (shrimp is so wonderful if cooked perfectly and can be a nightmare when overcooked), with a nice cup of aioli in which to dip. The mixed greens supported a beautiful fan of avocado (a generous portion of it, to boot), which was cut nicely by the vinaigrette, acidic cherry tomatoes and sweet raisins. The thinnest imaginable strip of sliced red onion was elegantly laced across the top, adding a final savory bite. There was nothing not to love on this salad--a salad one could actually be excited to eat, rather than obligatory roughage.

Lest we forget we were eating at a French restaurant, we ordered a hot boat of decadent, buttery escargot. Plump, unctuous snails swam with little shoots of mushrooms in a super-rich buttery pesto-like garlic and her butter, sinfully heavy on both. Once the snails and mushrooms were gone, I continued to slather the flavorful butter sauce on warm slices of French bread, cherishing every bite.

When our wine arrived, I was a little confused, thinking it was not what we had ordered. I scoured the label to see if perhaps I was missing something and had not. We’d been delivered a bottle of Sancerre costing $10 more than what we had actually ordered. Rather than complaining, though, we took it as a sign the perhaps our selection had been subpar, and decided to give it a go. Great choice. It immediately cooled our palettes, ripe with that garlic and salt from the snails. We ended up quite happy with the accident, showing that it sometimes pays to roll with the punches rather than whining about a simple mistake. 

On to entrees, starting with the “lighter” selection—filet of trout, covered in lemon juice, shallots and almonds slivered almonds. But wait, what was this under the fish? Another filet of fish. What at first appeared to be the normally expensive fish+veg+starch dish ($19) turned out to be a very reasonably priced, generously portioned one. The fish was delicious, flaking off the skin easily with a fork. And amazingly, the haricot vert on the side were nicely cooked, not that squeaky, annoyingly al dente doneness we’re served all too often these days. The rice was, well, rice which kept the dish a little on the lighter side, but a potato might have been more luxurious.

I had a fantastic cut of red meat--hanger steak--but ultimately ended the meal with mixed emotions about it. The steak was incredible. Two thick pieces of almost conically shaped beef, long fibers of lean muscle running the length of each cut. Surprisingly tender and with huge flavor. A perfect medium, erring toward medium rare (I’d ordered it medium). The frites on the side, though, were disappointingly flimsy. Clearly pulled from the fryer a few seconds too early, they just weren’t cooked that crispy French way. I was sad and contemplated sending them back, just to make sure they were perfected. But didn’t. Also not perfectly French was the dish of (gasp) ketchup for dipping. No aioli. No mayo.

Also on the slightly disappointing side was the small pile of greens on the side. Warmed by the hot plate, with nothing but a little vinaigrette (okay, one little cherry tomato on the side), it was more a garnish than a true side. Boo. As served, I found myself peeking over to the fish dish, once the meat was gone. With a little more attention to detail on this one, it could have been a French stunner but as served, left something to be desired.

With so many calories consumed by this point, a dessert menu only garnered chuckles. A little espresso from the Aixois coffee bar was all we needed to polish off the delicious French experience.

I hope to sample all the places listed in the opening of this review soon and put together a ranking in the future. For now, Aixois has made a strong showing and will sit high on my list of special dinner options.

Rating: 3 napkins
Aixois on Urbanspoon

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