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

Korean Restaurant Sobahn

I have prepared Korean cuisine in my home, but until recently I had yet to try any of the Korean restaurants in the Kansas City metro. While not as trendy as the Momufuku mini-empire in New York City, they give diners a solid and authentic glimpse into this type of Asian cuisine. I have just embarked upon a little journey to try them all and, after my first foray, I’m excited to keep going.

The first time you venture to Korean Restaurant Sobahn, take some friends with you. It will allow you a  more complete experience, as the menu offers a diversity of options that can’t be properly tackled with just two people. Ask your server to help sift through it or, if you are feeling adventurous, she can create a meal for you and let you be surprised.

We had two appetizers, both of which were quite substantial and filling. The seafood pancake was the size of a 12 inch pizza and was replete with vegetables as well as bits of shrimp and squid. A small bowl of soy was provided for dipping. It looked pretty, and tasted much better than I had anticipated. Its flavors melded well and it had a pleasing texture. The spicy rice cakes with fish cakes and vegetables came in a beautiful covered porcelain bowl and resembled a stew of rigatoni pasta and vegetables in a spicy tomato sauce. The red sauce was actually made with a Korean chile sauce, and had a bit of spice that was not overpowering.

There are several beef dishes to choose from, and they are considered a speciality of the house. We ordered the sliced and grilled short ribs marinated in a sweet soy sauce, served with tongs and a pair of scissors for splitting the bones (which was not necessary). I’m not a big meat eater, but each bite was tender and wonderfully seasoned.

If you need a bit of a warmer-upper on a cold winter’s night, the soup with red bean paste and tofu will do the trick, but it was not as hearty as some of the soups/stews on the menu, and would have functioned better as a starter than a main course.

The winner of the evening was a rice dish, Kimchi Dol Sot Bap, which was topped with spicy stir fried pork and dried seaweed. Though there was no sauce component as in Chinese and Thai cooking, and though it was identified on the menu with a red chile to denote heat, it was not too spicy for our dining partner who typically prefers more mild cuisine.  And it came in a deep pot that managed to keep all of its contents hot for the duration of the meal, which would have made my mother happy.

As if we didn’t already have enough on the table, our server also brought out a lovely array of condiments to complement our dinner, including pickled cucumbers, kimchi, cellophane noodles and seaweed.

The scene on a Saturday night was a refreshing change from the usual loud and crowded spectacle of many restaurants on the weekend. Though it deserves to be full at all hours, we reveled in the ability to have a relaxed conversation without shouting, and to enjoy the pleasing mix of smooth jazz that wafted through the room. Service was attentive but not rushed.

We didn’t come close to sampling all that Sobahn has to offer, but we certainly got a beginner’s education, and one that made me eager to keep learning.

Korean Restaurant Sobahn on Urbanspoon

March 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm 2 comments

El Pulgarcito

The phrase “off the beaten path” defines El Pulgarcito to a T.  Featuring Salvadoran food, it’s in Merriam, Kansas at 5921 Merriam Drive. It even made the list of memorable Kansas restaurants, so clearly I’m not the only one who has been charmed by this friendly little joint. It used to be more of a hole-in-the-wall, but recently completed some renovations (nothing major, not to worry).

Salvadoran cuisine has similarities to Mexican food, but the sauces and preparation are somewhat different. Though it looked like a traditional tamale, the corn tamale was more fluffy like cornbread and came with butter, which made sense after I tasted it. The cheese enchiladas contained an enormous amount of a white cheese that didn’t melt the way cheddar or Monterey jack does, but my husband loved it. The enchilada sauce had more tomato than chile, the beans were refried but surprisingly flavorful and the rice was buttery.

Pupusas are the thing here. Don’t even think of going to El Pulgarcito without ordering one…or two. A pupusa looks like a thick pancake, but it’s made with masa flour and stuffed with a choice of pork, cheese, beans or any combination thereof.  Unlike a quesadilla, you don’t see the filling until you cut into the pupusa, as it’s completed enclosed. But before eating what looks like a very plain dish, pile on the curtido, the Salvadoran equivalent of Korean kimchi. This vinegary cabbage is a slaw that has onions and jalapenos and is great on its own, but it’s a triumph on the pupusa. Top it with some of the red hot sauce sitting on the table in a ketchup bottle and you have your own little masterpiece just waiting to be devoured. The combination of the heat and crunch of the slaw and the softness of the filling is a winning combination.

The server was a gem. Rather than snickering at our ignorance of the cuisine, she was patient as I asked questions in an effort to learn more about ingredients, etc.

I’d rather go to Mexican restaurants for my enchiladas, but the pupusas are a real treat, and warrant a return engagement.

El Pulgarcito on Urbanspoon

March 1, 2011 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

Soup’s On

As much as we’d like to think winter is over, I don’t think we can’t put away the soup pot quite yet.

This squash soup is an old favorite from the original Silver Palate cookbook (for those of us over 50 who remember it) and very easy to make (especially if you have access to Costco’s already peeled chunks of butternut squash). It’s a bit on the sweet side, but you can always substitute chicken or vegetable broth for some of the apple juice.  And whenever the recipe calls for water, I use broth instead. It contributes a deeper flavor to the final product. Butternut squash soup

If you have an immersion blender, this would be a great time to pull it out rather than using a big blender.

Topping it with crumbled blue cheese completes the deliciousness.

http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/611751-Butternut-Squash-and-Apple-Soup

February 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm Leave a comment

Il Mulino Aspen

If you’ve never been to one of  Il Mulino‘s many locations, I have two words for you, “pace yourself”. I recently went to the one in Aspen–the original is in New York, though there are locations across the country and in Tokyo. From the very moment you sit down you will be inundated with food. In quick succession a waiter comes by with a chunk of cheese from a massive wheel of Parmesan, bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, lightly fried and thinly sliced zucchini, salami and a variety of breads. Who needs dinner?

After inhaling all the food set before us, we turned our attention to the menu, a feast in its own right. There’s a mouth-watering list of pastas, along with risotto, fish, veal, beef and lamb. Since there were eight of us, we thought it would be fun to sample several of the pastas, passing them around the table family style. Each of us ordered an entrée as well.

Big mistake.

The waiter brought each of us our own plate of four pastas, which taken as a whole was enough for an entire meal. Whether the waiter misunderstood our wishes and thought we wanted enough for eight, or decided to take advantage of us by giving us double what we ordered,  it’s hard to know.  But the upshot was that we felt compelled to eat the pastas because they were so outstanding, leaving little room for our entree when it arrived.

The pastas included a very light gnocchi with pesto, pappardelle with sausage, a house capellini, and mushroom ravioli. All were excellent but I thought the pasta with sausage led the parade.

Thinking we were only going to have a bite of each of the appetizer pastas, my husband and I ordered pasta for our main dish. Living in Kansas City, we don’t have the luxury of eating pasta of this quality very often, so it seemed like a good bet. With more room in my stomach, it definitely would have been. I ordered a squid ink linguine with seafood in an arrabbiata sauce, which is one of my favorites, and this was as good as it gets. My husband ordered angel hair with the same spicy tomato sauce, and he was equally enthralled. Especially since there were plenty of leftovers for the next day.

Others in our group ordered veal Parmagiana. I have NEVER seen anything as huge. It looked exactly like a 12 inch pizza, only instead of crust on the bottom there was a piece of veal with the bone still attached.

We were all ready to roll out of the gorgeous restaurant when the waiter came by with a bucket holding cold grappa for all of us. He scooped up a glass for each of us with our bill. Nice touch.

Il Mulino’s sleek ambiance and smooth service would make this a restaurant to remember even if the food had been less than stellar. Was there too much to eat? Definitely, but that was partly our fault for the way we ordered, and of course, for the way we attacked the food. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.

Il Mulino New York on Urbanspoon

February 21, 2011 at 8:05 pm Leave a comment

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