Posts tagged ‘Crossroads’
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.
I have always been a fan of JP Wine Bar in the Crossroads District. (The Leawood location recently closed.) I enjoy the wine and cheese flights and the food has always been fabulous. Last year the menu was tweaked to include more entrees and fewer small plates, evidently because Kansas Citians have trouble with the small plate concept and don’t know how much to order (or maybe they just wanted larger portions).
It’s been a while since I’d been and I wanted to check out some of their newer menu items. My friend and I split the scallops with grilled artichokes, carnitas, and seared tuna with a sushi rice cake and stir fried vegetables. Though each dish was good and nicely presented, nothing was memorable or knock- your-socks-off delicious. The scallops were properly prepared, but one-dimensional and not very exciting. The carnitas were served with good homemade corn tortillas and a spicy green sauce, but the black beans that accompanied the pork were beyond dry. The tuna was rare as requested, but the entire dish lacked flavor and oomph. It was a real disappointment.
The patio was packed on such a beautiful evening and the service was excellent. It’s still a great place for some special wine–I just hope the chef works on returning the food to its former glory.
We started with the grilled calamari appetizer which was one of the best any of us could remember having. The calamari had a smokiness that added to its depth, and it was tossed with pancetta, broccolini and polenta croutons. I am not typically a fan of polenta in any form, but these worked beautifully with the other ingredients and completed the dish. The lamb meatballs with feta, lentils and black olives were also unique, and another winning combination.
The entrees were substantial and hearty, but certainly not overwhelming. I ordered the smoked chicken leg, which is something one rarely finds on a menu–I’m a dark meat-eater and if I want to order chicken, I usually have to settle for white meat. This was served with cranberries and Brussel sprouts, and was a bit reminiscent of the Brussel sprout appetizer at Pizza Bella, one of 1924’s sister restaurants. The glaze on the chicken was a tad too sweet, but I still loved it.
Other choices on the small menu include a blue cheeseburger, short ribs, sirloin, a pork shank and a fish of the day. Both the short ribs and pork shank were taken off the bone, which made the dish look more dainty and was much easier to devour.
At 2 courses for $20 or 3 for $25 (all dishes are also offered a la carte), it’s hard to beat the price for an upscale, quality experience. All restaurants are struggling to survive in the sluggish economy, and owner Rob Dalzell has responded by making dinner more affordable without taking away the glamour of dining out. And, he is one of Kansas City’s independent restaurateurs, all of whom should be supported. If we don’t patronize these local treasures, they will not survive and we will be forced to spend our money in chain operations, which typically are less creative, more cookie-cutter, and don’t utilize local farmers. And what fun would that be?
With its brick walls, open kitchen and oh-so-cool bar, Extra Virgin is an extremely genial spot to try dishes not encountered elsewhere in Kansas City. A New York-styled restaurant in the heartland, this lively tapas spot is for the adventurous eater who enjoys trying unusual dishes. Michael Smith is in the kitchen here, and runs a path between it and his eponymous restaurant next door.
Although a special section on the menu targets the “adventurous” eater, mainstream diners will find even the less exotic offerings, from chorizo and fig stuffed chicken to spicy halibut cheeks, a bit unusual. The tapas concept makes it especially fun, and the menu changes often to encourage repeat business. It’s a fun place to go with a group to allow a large sampling, or for a sophisticated date-night with your main squeeze.
Having been several times, we opted for some of the selections I had not tried, including yellow tail ceviche with fried plantains, lobster and chorizo fried rice, scallops with sweet potato puree and a beet salad. All were delightful, and beautifully presented.
This is not inexpensive fare. But there are a number of ways to make the experience quite affordable. Go before 6 p.m. and many offerings are half-price, even at lunch. On Mondays, hand-crafted pizzas are $8 (remember that Michael Smith and Debbie Gold were the culinary gurus behind the Spin concept) and bottles of wine are half-price.
Pizza Bella serves incredible pizza pies baked in a 700 degree certified Italian wood-fueled oven. In fact, “awesome” is the only word to describe the chewy, thin, puffy, perfectly charred and beautifully adorned creations. My favorites are the Potato, with gorgonzola and grilled radicchio; and the Biancoverde, with mozzarella, ricotta, and romano cheeses, topped with a mound of lightly dressed arugula. Every bite is nirvana and I alternate between savoring the moment and plotting my return to have one of these pizzas again.
I have come to understand that it doesn’t really matter what ingredients top the pizza. The crust is the key and there’s nothing remotely like this one elsewhere in Kansas City. Quizzing owner Rob Dalzell on his methodology, it’s clear that he knew exactly how he wanted his dough to taste and feel. Amazingly, he told us that it took eighty tries to get it right. His addition of rye flour to the basic flour, water, yeast and salt mixture sets it apart, and he achieves the proper texture with a wet dough that almost needs to be poured out of a bowl. One look at Rob’s pants lets you know that having lots of flour on hand is the only way to work the dough into a disk.
Antipasti are non-traditional.Two of the most popular are the roasted brussel sprouts with cranberries, hazelnuts and pancetta, and the calamari salad, dressed with lemon vinaigrette and tossed with arugula, white beans and olives. Each bite has a different texture and delightful taste. There’s always a daily special antipasto, in addition to the handful on the menu.
The restaurant is small, yielding just 15 tables, though the front wall slides open in nice weather, making it possible to accommodate several more on the sidewalk. Red chairs and orange and brown argyle placemats give the industrial interior a splash of color.
I have been a fan of Pizza Bella since the day it opened its doors almost two years ago. As a food writer, I know I shouldn’t frequent it as often as I do, and instead should be out there trying new places, but this urban gem meets all of my criteria–great food, friendly and competent service, reasonable prices, and a nice vibe.