Posts tagged ‘American’

The Rieger Hotel Exchange and Grill

The Rieger opened late last month in the former 1924 Main building, and was likely the most anticipated new restaurant of 2010. It carries those high expectations into 2011 and, for the most part, manages to deliver.

Howard Hanna (formerly of 40 Sardines and Room 39) and Ryan Maybee (formerly of JP Wine Bar) have teamed up to create a restaurant that they believe serves “beautiful food for the people”, a mantra that is painted on a soffit in the kitchen, where Howard can see it each time a plate goes to the table.

I have now been once for dinner and once for lunch. Both visits were enjoyable, there were no missteps, and all of the dishes I sampled were pleasing if not thrilling. The downturn in the economy has made “comfort food”, fare that satisfies without breaking the bank, the buzzword of the restaurant scene.  While Chef Hanna’s cooking is certainly straightforward and far from fussy, there’s also a level of sophistication in it that shows an appreciation for each dish’s origin, whether it be Italy, France or the United States.

The pastas are house made, as are the sauces. Pappardelle Alla Bolognese features a  four-day beef, pork and veal ragu, and the Spaghetti Rossi is infused with red wine, and tossed with escarole and guanciale. The pappardelle is a dish made for meatlovers, but as a non-Italian, I would have preferred a bit more sauce. The one dish that didn’t work for me was the Swiss Chard Gnudi.  Typically a pasta-like dumpling without its pasta wrapper, Hanna’s version is a swiss chard puree formed into balls, sitting in a pool of brown butter. Though visually stunning in vibrant green, it lacked oomph.

The restaurant’s signature soup is The Rieger Pork soup, with pieces of pork,  Gruyère and garlic. As I was savoring it, my taste buds vacillated between recalling a pork chile verde I ate in Santa Fe  and Swiss fondue which, of course, is primarily melted Gruyère. Either way, the soup is a winner, and not as rich as it sounds.

The Cioppino, a seafood stew originating in San Francisco but a derivative of Italian cuisine, was competent but not particularly memorable. Though the fish and seafood were properly cooked,  the dish didn’t scream with flavor.

Grilled Poussin is not often found on menus, because, as Hanna points out, diners think of chicken as being rather pedestrian. This was anything but and I gnawed at the bones to savor it.  It was accompanied by caponata, typically a relish with eggplant, capers, peppers and olives.  This rendition was too heavy on the eggplant for my palate, but I enjoyed the Tuscan Fries, ordered as a side, which are a cross between a thick potato chip and a cottage fry, though puffier.

The dinner menu is compact, offering a couple of soups, four pastas, three salads, a half-dozen meat entrees and three seafood/fish dishes.  Clearly, this is the kind of menu that will change seasonally to take advantage of fresh and locally sourced ingredients,  a hallmark of Chef Hanna’s cooking, as it seems to be with all young chefs today.

The lunch menu offers some of the same dinner items with a slightly different spin, while also featuring a handful of sandwiches.

The Cubano is layered with house-cured ham, roast pork, mustard, swiss cheese and pickle, pressed together on a baguette. This type of sandwich is  all the rage right now around town, but not all are as good as this one. Though not overflowing with slices of meat and cheese, the pieces of crisp pork that dominated each bite set this apart, rather than thin slices of pork tenderloin that one often finds.

I also ordered garlic  potato chips, which reminded me of those at Union Square Cafe in New York City.  They are homemade and each bite tastes of garlic. Knowing that Chef Hanna had worked at Union Square Cafe some years ago, I asked him if they were his model.  He explained that The Rieger’s are slightly spicier, but they are definitely of the same mold. I can attest that they are certainly as addictive.

It’s not all about the food. With expert mixologist Ryan Maybee as one of the co-owners, a focus on cocktails and spirits was inevitable. My husband had the best Bloody Mary of his life, a Smoky Mary, which Ryan recommends trying with tequila rather than the usual vodka. The cocktail list in the restaurant is different from the drinks that are mixed downstairs in Manifesto, but equally impressive. Manifesto is the speakeasy that closed temporarily when 1924 Main did, but is now back in full swing.  With only 48 seats available, those wanting a drink are advised to call or text 816.536.1325 for a reservation. Taking a look around, I was surprised and happy to see that patrons’ ages ranged from their mid-twenties to sixties.  I had been under the mistaken impression that this was just for the young, not the young at heart.

You can expect service and hospitality to be top of mind with these restaurateurs, given their devotion to Danny Meyer, who is widely considered to be the king of restaurant hospitality. Meyer is the author of Setting the Table, a primer on hospitality that many have adopted as the industry’s bible, as well as owner of a wildly successful group of restaurants in the Big Apple. Hanna and Maybee have undoubtedly learned a thing or two from their mentor and it shows.

My first impression is a positive one. If the owners are striving to create a place where patrons can stop in to relish a drink and nibbles or to experience solid, satisfying fare without breaking the bank, they’ve already achieved that. Nor is it highbrow. The ambiance is warmer than when it was 1924 Main, the menu appeals to a broad range of tastes, and the staff is friendly and welcoming. It certainly adds some panache to Kansas City’s dining scene and I will be happy to return.  All good, right? But I was hoping to be blown away by what I ate, and I wasn’t. Perhaps my expectations were too high considering Howard’s pedigree and my past experience enjoying his cooking, but as the kitchen develops an identity, I’m hoping a touch more excitement is part of its DNA.

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange on Urbanspoon

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January 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm 3 comments

Pot Pie

Until last month I had never been to Pot Pie for dinner. I’m not sure what took me so long, but I’m very glad I finally made it. With its brick walls, subtle lighting and lively buzz, it’s very cozy, and an ideal winter locale. (My apologies for the poor quality of the photos, it was too dark to take decent pictures but at least they give some context to my comments.)

The nightly menu is displayed on a green board in the back of the restaurant. Unfortunately, we were seated right under it, making it a bit difficult to read, but not impossible. There were three or four salad offerings, a few appetizers, two soups and a handful of entrees, including meatloaf, scallops, grilled fish and chicken and, of course, the obligatory pot pies in meat and vegetarian versions.

This is not trendy or cutting edge cuisine, but it is very comforting and enjoyable.

We started with a spinach salad with fig and bacon vinaigrette,  goat cheese salad with beet vinaigrette and a spinach and brie tart. All were fresh tasting and visually appealing.

Because the scallops, grilled fish and roast chicken are most often mentioned as the restaurant’s “go-to” dishes, we tried each. The scallops were tender and sweet, and the roast chicken was moist and flavorful. I wasn’t as enthralled with the mashed potatoes and gravy that accompanied it however, because surprisingly they didn’t have enough salt. How often is that the complaint? Usually, I’m turned off by oversalted foods because I rarely salt anything. But potatoes need a shake of salt to “pop” and bring out the flavor, and that mistake made this dish less than exceptional.

The fish on this night, was barramundi, better known as Australian sea bass. It was grilled perfectly, and served with a light gnocchi that was dressed with blue cheese, walnuts and spinach. An unusual combination to be sure, but it worked (though not if you’re trying to avoid a cream sauce).

The wine list is compact, but well-rounded. The best part is that they don’t go wild with the markups. Each bottle was marked up much less than most restaurants seem to do. Certainly less than the almost-standard 50%. We enjoyed one of Missouri’s finest, an Inland Sea Cabernet Franc (recently renamed Amigoni Vineyards, after its founder).

Word has it that the restaurant does an amazing chocolate chip bread pudding, so don’t miss it if you are a fan of that type of dessert. I’m not usually, but based on its reputation, this one may make me a believer.

The restaurant was packed, even on a weeknight. It doesn’t promote itself but manages to be wildly successful anyway.

PotPie on Urbanspoon

January 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm Leave a comment

Five Fifty-Five in Portland, Maine

Portland, Maine has no lack of fabulous restaurants. And it has more than its fair share of James Beard award-winning chefs. One of them, Steve Corry of Five Fifty-Five, does an awesome brunch.

While sipping a Bloody Mary, the server brought out the cutest, most delicious little peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, courtesy of the chef. My son and his girlfriend were frequent visitors to the restaurant, so they knew to order the freshly baked cinnamon buns with  cider caramel and vanilla icing. Wow. Nothing like starting with dessert. It was hard to restrain myself from eating the whole thing, but I knew I needed to save up for the lobster eggs Benedict that were coming my way. I had heard about this dish, called “Traitor’s Eggs” and was told that if it was on the menu I had to order it.

It’s Maine, so how could I not order lobster in any form? This was an easy sell.

I was not disappointed. There were large chunks of lobster underneath the poached eggs and the hollandaise sauce was lively and lemony.

Sadly, my son has left Maine so I probably won’t make it back to Portland in the foreseeable future. I’ll miss it. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but I’ve had some incredible meals there. This was one of them.

December 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

Proof–Washington, DC

There’s a very good reason why Proof is considered one of Washington, DC’s hot spots of the moment, in the hopping Penn Quarter. Although I’ve only been there once, I can’t express my enthusiasm enough. Incredible food, exhaustive wine list, attractive decor and a fun vibe all combine to make the experience a special one.

We started with pork confit on jicama slaw with a red pepper lime emulsion, an incredibly pillowy gnocchi with tomato and basil, and stacked tuna tartare with crispy nori tempura.

Do I have your attention yet? No? Okay, let’s move on to the entrees.

A gorgeous vegetarian napolean, with crispy tofu standing in for the usual pastry layer, honey glazed duck with yam puree and pomegranate emulsion, and sablefish with pumpkin seeds, raisins, garbanzo beans, spinach and romesco sauce. The latter dish was the only one of the evening I wouldn’t order again, not so much because it wasn’t enjoyable, but rather because it wasn’t as exciting as the other dishes.

The menu changes monthly to keep up with what’s in season, and servers are knowledgeable and engaging.

Restaurants come and go all the time; it’s such a tough business. Proof has been open for three years, but it’s still hard to secure a reservation or even find a seat at the bar.

And to think it’s known more for its spectacular wine inventory than the food.

Proof on Urbanspoon

September 7, 2010 at 9:40 pm 1 comment

Jack Gage American Tavern

It was a long time in coming, but Jack Gage American Tavern finally opened in December. The building at 5031 Main sat  vacant for what seemed like years after Blair Hurst bought it and Double Dragon closed.

Having been in that Chinese restaurant, I’m happy to say that the restaurant was gutted and completely renovated. Though there’s an emphasis  on the bar business,  it’s clear that Hurst is interested in patrons coming for the food as well as spirits–both the  general  manager and chef hail  from Plaza III.

The same menu is offered all day.  Though the restaurant is only open for breakfast on weekends, egg dishes are available  any time. For a satisfying, but rather rich entree, go for the crab hash, with two eggs and a spicy Hollandaise sauce.  The sauce threatened to overwhelm  the dish, next time I’ll order it on the side, and overall it was a successful combination.  Chunks of crab and potato matched up well with the runny eggs.

From 4-6 pm, many but not all of the starters are half-priced. The tuna and seafood appetizers were not discounted. But that didn’t stop us from having some tasty sliders and awesome  onion straws with “comeback” sauce. Despite the small size of the burgers, the kitchen prepared them medium rare as requested and they were juicy and flavorful. The baby crabcake sliders were also a pleasant surprise, with minimal filler.

On another visit, we had the flat iron sandwich. It was fine, but not as enticing as its description– it lacked pizazz. And the fries were nothing special–I would have expected them to be an important component of the extensive burger and sandwich plates. Offering   the onion straws  as an optional side would be a great addition.

The Chopped Tavern salad is Jack Gage’s version of a Cobb, only with the same “comeback” sauce with which the onion straws are served–the spicy tomato based dressing pairs nicely with the salad.

The menu is large, leading one to wonder whether the kitchen can execute on all fronts. I will be interested to sample the rotisserie chicken, which the menu proclaims is a specialty of the house, as well as the ribs–they’ll have to be pretty incredible to rival Houston’s or our numerous BBQ joints  about town.

Jack Gage is off to a running start, and has a good vibe going for it. The place is packed with patrons of all ages, enjoying each other and soaking up the welcoming and friendly ambiance.

Jack Gage American Tavern on Urbanspoon

January 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm 3 comments


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