Feb 20, 2012


Restaurant: North
Location: 4579 W. 119th St., Leawood, KS
Food: Northern Italian
Service: Traditional Waitstaff
Atmosphere: Modern, vibrant
Price: Starters $8-$12, Pizzas $11-$13, Entrees $14-$30
Rating: one napkin

A restaurant's food should be a catalyst for good conversation and fun times. That's my philosophy. So it was a bit disappointing that after our birthday-foursome's meal there, we felt our good times were had in spite of a lackluster dinner.

The night started off well... a glass of wine at the vibrant bar at La Bodega on 119th street. The place was packed. There was a roar of enjoyable conversation mixed with the clinking of plates and glasses as exotic but homey tapas were passed and shared at the many tables surrounding us. In the distance, a server spun flaming stemware in a shower of sparks as she prepared their signature Spanish coffee. Brisk outside but toasty warm inside, we enjoyed an adult beverage and then bounced over to North, on the opposite end of the shopping center.

There, too, we were greeted with a raucous, buzzing scene. It was dark with strategically placed spot lights illuminating tables and the brick walls. Lime green seats, which would likely have looked cheap in higher light, worked to add a splash of color to the otherwise stark interior. I got the feeling North was working much harder to come across as modern and intriguing than homey despite its rustic food and northern Italian concept.

Starting at the bar here, too, we found a mediocre list of cocktails but a better wine list. I take issue with cocktail menus that go too far to please all tastes; case in point at North were examples like their "Sangria Rosso" and "Tuscan Margarita." Better would have been to have some actual Italian cocktails... why not a Negroni or Bellini on the list? Birthday boy Tyson ordered a Valente for $9 which was an interesting mix of rye whiskey, red bell pepper, basil, lemon juice and honey. He liked it but didn't seem to love it, the bell pepper seeming to have been an eye grabber but not actually prevalent in the taste of the drink.

What I like about the wine list is that North offers it by the glass, terzo (individual carafe) or bottle. When the table isn't up for sharing a bottle, terzos are a nice way to get an affordable second glass at a price slightly less than two full glasses of wine. And it's nice to be able to refill your own without worrying about offering it to the rest of the table first.

Our kind, attentive server came by and immediately set down a tiny saucer of olives--five in total. It seemed a little laughable to be given so few, bringing a humorous Oliver Twist-type expression to our faces. Regardless, being a party we were up for apps that night, so we set forth to pick out a few, ignoring the microscopic bowl of drupes.

The zucca (zucchini) chips were nice. Incredibly thin and loaded with salt, there was really nothing not to enjoy about them. And being zucchini instead of potato, they had a slight sweetness to their aftertaste I liked. Next up was an attractive wooden board lined with thin sheets of salami and topped with a pretty mixture of greens, provolone, roasted peppers and olives. It had nice Italian flavors and a good balance of briny saltiness against the earth, slightly bitter greens and their acidic vinaigrette. Of everything we had that night, this simple starter was the thing that stood out as my favorite.

Last starter was, what else, friend calamari. It seems to be a trend for restaurants these days to claim their calamari is a cut above the rest. The message has apparently gotten through that lighter, less breaded, less fried calamari is preferable to that of a few years ago which was all-too-often indistinguishable from a Church's chicken tender. North apparently had gotten the memo, too. Their calamari was indeed lightly breaded and fried and I was appreciative of the lemony bed of arugula on which it was served. Revelatory, no, but quite good and I'd recommend it to those who enjoy calamari and haven't tired of it yet.

Lots of restaurants feature a selection of pizza, even if not claiming to be a full-on pizzeria. North does so with an added bit of legitimacy being an Italian restaurant. I was interested to try their take on it, always craving a good, authentic Italian pie. Their style is a cracker-thin crust which I didn't hate but seemed a little disappointing. I had just recently tasted something very similar at Seasons 52, listed on their menu as "flatbread," which seems more apt of a name. My selection was the roasted mushroom variety which was too sparsely topped with mushrooms and I guess some onions though there were barely any. I appreciate when a pizza isn't overly-laden with toppings but there was little flavor on this one and I was left wanting.

Elizabeth's entree was quite nice--a pretty bowl of spaghetti with succulent, plump, juicy shrimp, delightful brussels sprouts and cubes of butternut squash in a creamy brown butter sauce. By the time I gained the courage to request a bite, it was somewhat cold, but even then I enjoyed it. I salivated over its simplicity and undeniable richness.

Tyson had the ambitious braised beef short rib dish, a big hunk of meat sitting atop a white pile of polenta, garnished with cooked veg. I refrained from trying any as this was his big day and there's something exceedingly enjoyable about eating every last bite of one's own meal. It looked tasty enough, the meat, though, clearly fatty. And after dissecting it for a few minutes with a fork, I ascertained that it was not the best piece of meat he'd ever consumed. He said as much after finishing, noting that it wasn't bad, per se, but hadn't wowed him, either.

In the end, we all felt a little "meh" about the meal. It was all fine, with a few high points (the salami/greens starter and pasta dishes) but the low-lights of the menu, somewhat high price and distinguishable chain restaurant characteristics had us agreeing it was likely a one-and-done place for us.

Italian cuisine is about simple dishes that feature the freshest, seasonally inspired ingredients. Few chains can pull off that kind of food. The food at North wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't hitting home runs, either. KC is loaded with Sicilian-inspired Italian-American red sauce and garlic restaurants. I hoped North would be a successful foray into a more old-world Italian experience. It doesn't fail at its task but I wouldn't recommend its fish/meat dishes over Il Centro or its pizza over even Spin.

Rating: one napkin

NoRTH on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Ser.iously! We checked out NoRTH right when they first opened and everybody was raving about it. A total disappointment but we are happy that other people are able to have good memories from it. Whatever floats your boat, right?

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