Tavern in the Village

After two pleasant visits to Tavern in the Village, the new hot spot in Prairie Village, it would seem that owner Kelly Manning has a winning formula.  He’s worked in the PB& J restaurants, at Houston’s and Morton’s, so he has a solid pedigree. The Tavern is a comfortable place, with well-spaced tables, spacious booths and nice lighting. It’s family friendly, and on both occasions the service was competent. The menu, which is the same at both lunch and dinner, has a broad range of options, including chicken tacos, creole pasta,fresh fish, grilled pork chops and steaks, as well as a dozen salads and sandwiches. And, in keeping with Manning’s plan to attract repeat business, prices are reasonable.

I enjoyed both the Santa Fe chicken salad and the Asian tuna salad.  However, each of them, as well as the soup and salad combo, come with a very average roll on the edge of the bowl. There’s something about the rationing and presentation that rubs me the wrong way. A bread basket is much more gracious.

The chicken nachos were an interesting appetizer, displayed as individual nacho pizzas with black beans, charred corn, pico de gallo and a goat cheese sauce on saucer-sized tortillas. Pretty as well as tasty, and certainly not an appetite-killer as some nacho platters tend to be. The upscale chicken tacos are also a bundle of flavor, served with a bowl of black beans to make it a complete meal.

I have yet to try the entrees, but I did get a look at their presentation during a recent tasting event. All of the dishes looked quite substantial and are accompanied by whipped potatoes and green beans or asparagus.

And head bartender David Smuckler knows what he’s doing–he was the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition Champion of 2007. The cocktails are creative, employ many ingredients I’ve never heard of,  and have some fun names, like Thai Tavern Julep, Rosemary Monk, and Peach New Fashion. Being more of a wine snob than a cocktail maven, I was delighted to see Orin Swift’s The Prisoner on the wine list. Did I order it at $78 a bottle? No, but it’s an indication that wine is not an afterthought.

Judging from the crowds, it would appear that the Tavern achieves its goal of being a neighborhood restaurant with broad appeal. The concept is safe which, in this economy, is probably smart.  And it’s been packed since day one, with families and couples young and old, most of whom are probably from the surrounding area, delighted that Prairie Village finally has an upscale  restaurant that still manages to fall in the “something for everyone” category.

Tavern In The Village on Urbanspoon

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April 11, 2011 at 8:24 pm Leave a comment

Brussel Sprouts with Tofu in a sweet chili sauce

I’ve never been a tofu fan. That is, until recently. I’ve had tofu a number of times in restaurants, but what really got me going was making dishes at home with tofu.

For the other novices among us, tofu primarily is packaged as soft, firm or extra firm. I’ve mostly stick to soft tofu, because I always found it to be more palatable when crumbled like scrambled eggs. Until I tried Brussel sprouts with tofu in a sweet chili sauce, and now I’m a convert.

This is one of my new favorite dishes, especially when tossed with Chinese noodles. That makes it more of a complete meal; spooning it over rice also works. Go to the following website for the recipe and some great pictures.

http://www.gingerandberries.com/2011/01/tofu-and-roasted-brussels-sprouts-in-a-sweet-chili-sauce/

April 7, 2011 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Sutera’s

Sutera’s has been around for more than thirty years. First in the West Bottoms, then in Brookside, and now on Rainbow Blvd. It’s a family friendly, neighborhood joint, suitable for drinks while watching sports on TV, or for a full meal in the dining room.

Though it’s primarily an Italian restaurant, diners can also order burgers, wraps and salads. But since pasta and pizza has been their bread and butter for so many decades, that’s what we had.

Sutera’s menu states that although ” we didn’t invent pizza, we merely perfected it!”, but after sampling it, I’m not sure I agree. I ordered a large cheese pizza and my mouth started watering when it was placed in front of me. There was tons of cheese on it and it was nicely browned and bubbly. The crust looked thin, and it was, but unfortunately it wasn’t crisp. The pizza looked done on the top, but lifting up a piece, I noticed that the bottom hadn’t browned at all.  And though there was plenty of sauce, it was the same as the sauce in the lasagna and on the rigatoni. I’d rather have a real pizza sauce, not pasta sauce on my pizza, especially since I didn’t love the taste.

Two of my dinner companions had the lasagna–one with cheese and one with meat. Though it looked good coming to the table, neither of them raved about it. Too much of that same sauce and not enough flavor in any of it.

If you’re watching your carbs, the veggie wrap is a tasty alternative. It’s basically a salad wrapped in a tortilla.

Though the food didn’t impress me, there’s a reason Sutera’s has been around for so long. It has a comfortable vibe and, looking around the dining room, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Whatever they are doing, it seems to be working.

Sutera's Restaurant Westwood on Urbanspoon

April 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Sunday Brunch at the Bristol Bar and Grill

Though I am a big fan of the Bristol’s Happy Hour in the Power & Light District, I had never been to the Sunday brunch buffet there. It’s quite a spread. Tables are arranged throughout the restaurant to avoid overcrowding–one is for cold food, two for hot,  and one for dessert. Those wanting a waffle can place an order through the server.

The cold food table was my favorite. Flash seared tuna, seaweed salad, tuna sushi rolls, smoked salmon, scallops, and cold shrimp  lined one end. Multiple vegetable salads rounded out the options. Large bowls of wasabi and ginger, sour cream,horseradish and cocktail sauce complemented the raw bar.

There was a hot table for carved tenderloin, cooked perfectly and grilled with a very smoky crust, and made-to-order omelets. The other hot table was less successful. Mushy jambalaya, dry shrimp enchiladas (made with crepes, not tortillas), and overcooked brussel sprouts, along with the standard eggs, bacon and sausage.

Dessert helped make up for that gap in quality, with squares of the Bristol’s famous carrot cake, an assortment of cookies and a lemon meringue tart.

Glancing around the dining rooms, it was clear that many customers intended to make this their dinner, too, piling up their plates and making multiple trips to the buffet tables. Even if you intend to eat another meal later in the day, at $21 a head, this is a good deal.

Bristol Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

March 31, 2011 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment

Check out my new website!

I have a new URL, which will hopefully be easier for people to remember. You can now find me at aroundtheblockkc.com

During the transition, you may be unable to access my posts on Urbanspoon. Until the broken links are fixed, please go directly to my website and search at the top right of the page for the restaurant you would like to read about.

I’m also trying to transfer all of my subscribers over to my new home, but there are still some kinks to be worked out.

I appreciate your patience!

March 31, 2011 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

Drunken Fish

I’ve been less than impressed with the quality of restaurants in the Power & Light District, so when I tried Drunken Fish I kept my expectations in check. It’s not exactly a chain: there are three restaurants in St. Louis by the same name, and this is their first foray outside of the city. It occupies the space previously occupied by Bice–in fact, they haven’t even replaced all of the awnings yet. If recollection serves me correctly, even the furniture is the same, but don’t quote me on that.

The menu is quite large, not the typical sushi restaurant in that it has substantial entrees in addition to the raw fish component. And I’m not talking just teriyaki–pork chop, tuna, Chilean sea bass and even lobster tail are options for the non-raw eater.

There are of course the ubiquitous makimono rolls, some typical, some intriguing. But what sets this restaurant apart from all the others are the appetizers listed on the menu under “new  style sashimi”.  Sizzling Snapper comes to the table on a lovely long oval plate, already dressed with sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and yuzu-soy. The server then pours hot olive oil all over the thin slices of fish. The oil cooks the fish a tad, and combines with the other ingredients to form a dressing of sorts. The Yellowtail Mexicano features sashimi with a jalapeno pico de gallo and ponzu sauce, a bit of heat to marry with the umami taste.

In another twist, instead of standard tuna poke or tartare, tuna sashimi was mounded atop a cucumber slice, and topped with wasabi mayo, scallions, tobiko and eel sauce. Not a dainty bite to be sure, but worth figuring out how to get it in your mouth.

We also tried a noodle dish, udon with vegetables, customized to satisfy our need for spice. The noodles were cooked perfectly and the sauce was just right. Not too sweet, not too salty.

The sushi rolls were standard, though they all had creative names. The portions were skimpy relative to the price tag.

Once this restaurant is on everyone’s radar, it will probably draw the typical P&L clientele. They’ll undoubtedly appreciate the vast and inventive cocktail list. I’ll stick to Japanese beer, but I think this is a welcome addition food-wise to the uninspired selection of restaurants in the entertainment district.

Drunken Fish on Urbanspoon

March 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm Leave a comment

Tabard Inn–Washington, DC

The Tabard Inn has long appeared on “Best Brunch” lists in the DC area. In fact, it’s one of those places where you need to call a month in advance to insure a reservation.

I made that call and was rewarded for my efforts with an 11:30 am Sunday reservation (Saturday brunch is also served).

The historic inn in which the restaurant is housed is lovely. We had to meander through the small, quaint rooms to find our way to the back where the restaurant sits.

We announced ourselves to the hostess about 30 minutes early and assumed we’d have to wait for an open table. We heard her tell a person at the other end of the phone that they could come in without a reservation, but that it would probably be 2-3 hours before she could be seated.

Surprisingly, they asked if wanted to sit down, and we walked into a relatively empty dining room. But in the next half hour it filled and stayed that way during our visit.

I had read that the Tabard Inn kitchen makes its own doughnuts and that they could be order singly or by the half-dozen. Since the server had just set  down a basket of  homemade muffins and breads, we decided to just order one to split.

Smart move. These were full-sized, not little donut holes; rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla whipped cream. I’m not generally a big doughnut fan, but these were light and served warm, what’s not to like?

My son ordered steak and poached eggs with chimichurri sauce, and while I was tempted by the seafood gumbo, when the server told  me its heft might require me to take a nap afterward, I opted for the huevos rancheros. Though the green and red salsas lacked a kick, they nicely complemented the black bean puree, avocado and perfectly cooked fried eggs that smothered the tortillas.

The menu features an large number of both breakfast and lunch items, and I would have been happy with any number of them. And the tavern-like ambiance is just as much of a draw.

As we left, the living rooms were filled with people waiting, some chatting while sipping drinks, and others reading the newspaper to pass the time. I was tempted to assure them that it would be worth their while to stick around.

Tabard Inn on Urbanspoon

March 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Chelly’s Cafe

After writing about Paparico’s, and my excitement over discovering a Mexican restaurant I enjoyed in the Brookside/Waldo area, several readers questioned how I could prefer it over Chelly’s Cafe, which is essentially around the corner.

Chelly’s used to be in Grandview, but moved several years ago to its current location. Since I had not been to the Wornall location, and I appreciate any feedback to my posts, those comments spurred me on to try it.

They were right…to a point. Yes, it is worth going to, and yes, it’s better than most of the old-time Mexican restaurants on the Southwest Blvd. corridor that I tend to skewer on a regular basis. But, at first blush it did not change my opinion that Paparico is the best Mexican restaurant in the Brookside/Waldo section of town.

Walking into the restaurant at 12:30 on a Monday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that almost every table was taken. We were served chips and salsa upon sitting down, and happily noted that the salsa came in a mini-carafe to pour as needed. The mild salsa was a bit bland and tomatoey, but perked up nicely with the addition of the hot chile salsa that we requested.

I ordered a fajita burrito with pork. It was filled with meat, peppers and onions, and served with fluffy Mexican rice and whole pinto beans. Though the menu stated that it would be smothered with tomatillo sauce, this was definitely a ranchero sauce. When I asked about the switch, the server explained that had I ordered it with chicken, one of three options, it would have come with tomatillo sauce. However,  the pork and steak burritos are made with ranchero sauce because of the spices that the meats are marinated in first. Can’t argue with that, but it would have been nice if that had been clear, or if the server mentioned it when I told her I was debating between chicken and pork. At least she was happy to bring me some heated tomatillo sauce to spoon over it.

The pork was tender and pleasantly seasoned and, though as I’ve pointed out before, I’m not a fan of ranchero sauce (I prefer a chile based sauce to one made with tomato), it did work well with the dish. The tomatillo sauce added a bit of a punch though it was slightly oily. I love having whole beans instead of refried as a side– it’s so much healthier and I prefer the texture.

My husband ordered cheese enchiladas, which came smothered in the kind of rich chile sauce that typifies an “enchilada sauce”, as opposed to a ranchero sauce.

He also ordered a pork tamale with mole sauce, but when asked about it the server said it wasn’t really mole, though it was similar. I’m not sure it was different than the enchilada sauce, but that’s not a bad thing. It was a bit grainy, which confirmed it had indeed been made with chile powder.

Service was good, not exceptional. Our chip basket was not refilled, but that was probably for the best. As it was I had to pass much of the burrito across the table to my personal garbage disposal, who can’t abide letting food go to waste no matter how full he may be.

Were Paparico’s not in the same neighborhood, I would be happy to go back to Chelly’s, but the overall experience and fare didn’t quite measure up. Though my observations are admittedly based on one visit, I’d have to concur with my readers who gave the nod to Paparico’s.

Chelly's Cafe on Urbanspoon

March 18, 2011 at 8:50 pm 5 comments

Matsuhisa Aspen

Nobu Matsuhisa has made a name for himself with a slew of sushi restaurants dotted around the world. One of his newest endeavors is in an historic Victorian house in Aspen. Its quaint exterior belies the size of the restaurant, made possible by a clever digging way down into the earth to create the reservations-only main dining room.

Though it happens to be the hippest venue in town, Matsuhisa has culinary credentials to match. The menu has cooked specialities as well as sushi, and you’ll be well rewarded if you put yourself in the hands of the accomplished servers (or go with a friend who is a frequent patron, as we were lucky to do).

We started with shishito peppers, which can be spicy but are usually low on the Scoville heat scale. I’ve found these on the RA Sushi menu in Kansas City, but they are not readily available at most sushi restaurants. They don’t have a ton of flavor, but it’s a more interesting starter than the basic edamame.

Crispy Rock Shrimp with spicy sauce came out next, and we all attacked the bowl with our chopsticks before moving onto yellowtail jalapeno, beautifully fanned slices of fish and thin slices of jalapeno with a ponzu sauce, and cucumber salads with crab. The latter two dishes were light and refreshing, a stark contrast to the rich Italian dinner we still digesting from the night before.

Then came the sushi, a beautiful platter of spicy tuna rolls with crispy rice, lobster rolls, shrimp tempura rolls and a caterpillar rolls, made all the more tasty by the addition of real wasabi root.

We topped off the meal with banana “egg rolls”and mochi balls, homemade ice cream enveloped in mochi rice wrappers. It’s an acquired taste, but these were better than others I’ve had.

If you didn’t plan in advance and can’t  get a reservation, the upstairs (which is street level) has a limited menu but is open to walk-in traffic. And the outside patio draws the crowds during warmer weather. However you make it happen, this belongs on any food lover’s must-try list.

Matsuhisa on Urbanspoon

March 14, 2011 at 8:08 pm Leave a comment

Hickok’s Bar and Grill

No surprise that Forbes Cross and Michael Peterson* are a winning combination. If you mention their names in the same sentence, people assume that whatever they are working on will be successful.

So it is with their latest venture, Hickok’s Bar and Grill. It has taken over the space previously occupied by Dos Hombres in the River Market area. The interior reminded me of  restaurants I have frequented in Portland, Maine, with high ceilings, brick walls and exposed pipes. It consists of several rooms, with an attractive bar in front. Though the menu is heavy with Southwestern dishes, diners will also find burgers, ribs, salads, hangar steak, meatloaf , fish and  pork chops. And everything sounds appealing; it’s one of those places where it’s hard to decide what to order.

Each time I’ve been we’ve gravitated towards the Southwestern choices. The red chili chicken quesadilla was killer–a bit sweet, with pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, poblanos, and tons of flavor. The grilled shrimp tacos are another winner, served on  fabulous corn tortillas, dripping with a red chili mayo. The nachos were substantial to say the least, and though I couldn’t resist plowing through the layers, they could have benefited from more “stuff” besides chicken and cheese. And then there’s the tuna. Tuna “takos”, tuna nachos on rice chips, and grilled tuna with cabbage and a red chili vinaigrette. The vinaigrette shows up often, but that’s a good thing, as it was when it graced the blackened salmon sandwich at Trezo Mare, one of the many restaurants that Peterson helped launch.

Happy Hour offers some great drink and food specials, with more than enough options to make a whole meal.

Word has it that Hickok’s has some awesome handcut French fries, so that’s a reason right there to go back, but there are two pages worth of other reasons.

* UPDATE: Michael Peterson has left Hickok’s and is planning to open his own restaurant. Hopefully, they have a chef in place who can continue what he started.

Hickok's Southwest Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

March 9, 2011 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

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