Category Archives: Fine Dining

Ra Sushi: Leawood

You have to be a real asshole to resent your baby.  At least that’s what I used to believe.  It wasn’t until I was actually at that crossroads when I realized…there are extremely valid reasons to resent your child. For example, when you realize that the time and money associated with raising the kid is going to cost you something you and your wife have dreamed of since January 7, 2013.  What’s the significance of that date?  Well, if you don’t follow every Housewives show on Bravo like we do, you probably don’t realize that January 7 was the premiere of the show Vanderpump Rules.  And if you’re not serious foodies like we are, you also don’t know that the show focuses on the inner workings of Sur; a destination that has been the object of our obsession since we learned that Lisa Vanderpump was opening this sexy, tres chic alternative to her other restaurant, Villa Blanca.  But now we’ll have to scrap any plans to visit anytime in the next couple of years thanks to this kid.  When we’re watching reruns on DVR, we’re careful not to look at her and go “It’s YOUR fault!”, but emotions run high and mistakes do happen. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to never being able to experience the height of culture and fashion, and the all-encompassing vibrance that the Los Angeles dining scene has to offer.  But that whole attitude changed one day recently when a friend rekindled that hope.  The request was simple- I had not taken my wife out for sushi since before she was pregnant, so I wanted to find someplace nice….super classy and sophisticated, with a good energy, but less rapey than what one might find in the Power and Light District.

“Have you heard of Ra Sushi?”, they asked me.

“Yeah, isn’t that out in Town Center Plaza next to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Panera?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, buddy….it is NOT at Town Center Plaza, it’s at Park Place Village…across the street from Town Center Plaza.  It’s just the kind of classy you’re looking for, and the parking garage makes it much less like a strip mall.  Plus, there’s a cupcake store and one of those upscale barber shops.”

Well, what the hell.  Maybe it wouldn’t be the same as eating at Sur, but the promise of mediocre sushi and improvisational courting antics courtesy of “Puma Wednesdays” made it the closest thing we’d be finding for awhile….so we headed out to the land of prefab developments based on tourism photos from larger cities in the early 90’s.  I think of it as “Earl’s Scottsdale”.

It’s quite a drive from north of the river, and the fact that we drove past so many restaurants we already knew were good really upped the anticipation.  But my friend was right, the addition of the parking garage gives the impression that you’re going to have to work just a little harder to get where you’re going, so it was kind of urban-y but without any of the loitering Westport rank and file.  We did have one very strange encounter between the parking garage and the front door.  While there isn’t exactly a lot of street parking, there are a few spaces between the entrance and the garage.  As we got closer to the entrance, we noticed a small group of six or seven men flanking a vehicle parked near the curb.  It is kind of hard to describe exactly what was going on…the closest comparison I can think of would be early to mid-90’s footage of rockabilly youth in Japan, dressed in rolled cuff jeans, white t-shirts, motorcycle jackets with extremely exaggerated ducktail hairdo’s and huge sideburns.  They were all just kind of shimmying around this Kia Soul with the back gate open, and Bowie’s “Suffragette City” blasting and cracking the cheap speakers.  That seemed like a really weird combination of things, but the closer I got I realized…they were all middle aged Indian men.  And I’m pretty sure I worked with one of them across the street at Sprint about ten years ago.  It was a lot to take in, but it was the constant (not exactly synchronized) movement that was most off-putting…constant swaying, fidgeting to get just the right hand-in-pocket poses, assorted Zippo lighter tricks….I wasn’t sure if it was purposely ironic like the movie Johnny Suede, or if we were about to witness a “Greased Lightning” flash mob.  I was planning for us to walk right past and do our best to forget about it, but the guy I recognized started walking over. At first I thought it was to say hi to me, but he made a bee line for my wife.

“Heeyy there Ms. Lady coming to Puma night! Why you don’t bring some more ladies instead of this turd?”

Thinking he was just screwing around because he remembered me, I was like “Hey man!  You still at Sprint?”

“Whooo the fuck you think you talking to?  I’m talking to the lady about Puma night, boy.  You out of your league, so go over and tickle some Aaron Sanchez nuts across the street at Mestizo before it gets hurting here! He might let you wash dishes, fucking turd!

I was convinced he was just really committed to this joke, “Yeah, you literally worked two cubicles down from me, how’s it been going?”

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK THIS IS?  We don’t need no more sausage at this party, boy. Leave the lady, but I think she has your PURSE!”

Finally catching on, I wasn’t sure how to respond to this level of ineffective badgering.  I wasn’t afraid, these guys were tiny, but I was really, really wanting to check out the sushi, and at this point we’d gotten the attention of his posse.  They didn’t stop with any of the shimmying or posing, but they just kind of started drifting over our way and forming a perimeter.  It was not unlike the Martin/Aykroyd wild and crazy guy dance. Just meaner.

“YOU AIN’T GONE YET FUCKING PUSSY?!?!  Am I a joke here to you or some thing?  Am I your bitch ass chai wallah out here?  You thirsty pussy?  As soon as I get done selling this data plan I’ll be right with you!  I been stealing rides on trains all day but I can still show you around the Taj Mahal motherfucker!  Special rate for white turds! You think I’m joking?  Piece of shit!  Wanna see some fucking jai ho dancing?  I do it on your broken DICK!

At this point I figured what the hell. Zero danger unless these little bastards had tiny switchblades. “Hey, I love Sha Na Na!  Which one of you is Bowzer’s SHIT?”

Fucking switchblades.  This night was not going well.  You’d think after living out this scenario a few dozen times at Sprint, I would have remembered the switchblades.  I told my wife this would probably take a few minutes, but to head inside and get us on the list for a table.  As the wee Roy Orbisons closed in, a well dressed gentleman burst out of the front door of Ra.

“Sumit!  I have TOLD YOU a HUNDRED TIMES to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE!  Haven’t I?”

“Yes Sir. Sorry.”

“You and your boys are to stay at least fifty feet from the entrance on Puma Wednesdays!  Are we going to have to file a restraining order like we did for Milf Mondays?”

“No Sir! No! Sorry Sir!  We’ll stay off the property!”, but then he looked right at me and mouthed “Fucking PUSSY!”  So this clearly wasn’t over.

“Folks, I am so so sorry, please, come right in and we’ll get you a table!  Welcome to Ra Sushi!”

“Thanks! Hey, did you say there’s Milf Mondays too?”  I was a little pissed I didn’t know about that. It would clearly be superior to Puma Wednesdays, culturally speaking.

“We haven’t had them for about three months now.  Long story, but we had some staff suffering recurring nightmares due to Milf Mondays, and before someone pulled OSHA into the mix we cancelled them.  But Puma Wednesdays are great!  Anyway, sorry again about that silly Sumit. He’s actually a very nice man. Faithful customer. If you need anything at all, my name is Greg.”

The only other minor hiccup we experienced was being seated in a windowless room next to the kitchen, along with Fred Durst and that little old lady who died in the movie 54.  Oh, and a Steampunk couple.  Clearly, they did not know I am “PX” in many fine establishments AND my Yelp reviews have received “Review of the Day” status on numerous occasions. Nobody seats us in the section of the damned. After showing my Yelp Elite profile to the Hostess, the problem was quickly remedied.  So FINALLY, we felt that we had arrived at the infamous Ra Sushi.  And while we may not have had Jax or Stassi from Sur to wait on us, we received the most cheerful confirmation that we were indeed at the right place at the right time.  Shortly after we were seated, the Britney Spears song “I Wanna Go” began playing.  It was the theme song for what was arguably the best ever “Summer By Bravo” commercial from back in 2011, and I could not think of a more pleasant way to begin our meal.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…..Ra is actually a buffet.  A buffet of style and culture. The interior is the perfect combination of Z Gallerie and Hot Topic, with low lights, dark finishes and geometric accents.  A loyal commitment to black and red.  Sure the dark finishes are probably harder to clean, there is the occasional hand stuck to the table, but appearance is what’s most important.  And the great thing is, they not only have an early and a late happy hour, but almost every night has some sort of theme in between them that has drink and food specials as well.  Pretty smart on their part.  When you’re putting out that kind of volume, presentation takes a back seat, so it really takes the pressure off and adds to the trendy indifference vibe.

We anticipated a much larger crowd for Puma Wednesday.  We were hoping for a packed house energy that would transport us out west, but it was strangely quiet.  We did have a table of sharp looking thirtysomething men next to us. And by sharp looking, I mean that they had on those really cool jeans with the bedazzled crosses on the pockets, and tight fitting button down shirts with the same big crosses…but embroidered.  And flip flops.  It takes real moxie to pull off flip flops when you’re a male older than ten and there’s no pool in sight. They didn’t seem to be having a great time, but they perked up when the server came over to take their drink order.

“Would you gentlemen care to start with a cocktail?  I see you’ve got our list of Puma Wednesday drink specials!”

“Yeah, I’ll have a Summer Breeze Vagiplasty. Ciroc in that if you’ve got it.  Oh, no homo.”

“I’ll have the same, but whatever you’ve got in the well is fine.  No homo.”

“I’m gonna try the Kegel Kooler.”

“Raspberry or Kaffir Lime with that, sir?”

“Kaffir Lime.  No homo.”

“Kaffir Lime….that’s my favorite!  And for you sir?”

“I’ll have the I Know, Right???  Up instead of on the rocks.  No Homo.”

“That sounds kind of homo”, his buddy chuckled.

“Just leave it alone Todd!  I like the little ice chips from the shaker! DAMMIT!”

“Thank you gentlemen, I’ll put those orders in and be right back to talk about dinner!  Oh, I should go ahead and mention that we’re sold out of the Honey Mustard Maki Rolls.”

Propelled by a gust of disappointed groans, the server headed our way.  She was way friendlier than one would expect in a restaurant that’s trying to corner the suburban exclusivity market.  That would be my only complaint about the service.   Other than that, very professional.  First off, I had to inquire about the sparse, predominantly male and assorted couples crowd.  Was this normal for Puma Wednesday?  Where were all of the Cougars pretending to be young enough to be Pumas?

“Oh, are you two swingers? White Rock Garden night is actually THURSDAY….”

“Oh no. God no. Nothing like that.  My friend just said that Puma Wednesdays were as close to a happening Los Angeles scene as you’re going to find in Kansas City.”

“Oh NORMALLY, it is. It’s usually very happening in here.  I think most of our usual ladies are at a fundraiser tonight down at The Bullet Hole.  Kris Kobach is hosting a Bullets for ‘Bortions pro-life rally.  It’s similar to those Beer Pong for Babies type fundraisers, but his whole thing is that new laws are always a good idea unless they involve guns.  Apparently his events are a great place to find guys who aren’t very good at arguing with you!”

Oh well, there would be other Puma Wednesdays.  Apparently the crowd who wants to make the world safe from voter fraud that doesn’t actually exist had won this round. We were feeling pretty defeated, and decided we’d have the drinks we ordered and leave.  Food isn’t the reason you come to a restaurant like Ra, so we would return another time when we could enjoy the spirit of outdated concepts and vacuous attitudes.

As we were waiting for the server to pick up our tab, I headed to the men’s room in preparation for the long drive north.  A huge surprise awaited me!  What’s that you ask?  I shit you not, Ra Sushi has a DJ in the bathroom! Right there in the corner, near the paper towel dispenser, is a full DJ station. And it is LOUD in there! I don’t know if Dubstep is the usual choice, but the telltale Casio keyboard and WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU had begun ramping up as I walked in.

Loud and CROWDED!  No kidding, there were about eight urinals along the wall and I got the only one that wasn’t in use.  I looked over at the DJ station and asked the guy next to me, “Hey, is that DJ Ashton Martin?”

“No, he hasn’t played in here in about six months.  That’s DJ Fiat Abarth.  Ashton Martin has gone off the charts lately, you can’t get him to play a toilet north of 135th anymore!”

It took me about ten more seconds to realize…nobody was moving.  No flushing, nobody leaving, nothing.  In a full bathroom, no peeing was taking place.  Since the guy next to me was aware of the rise and fall of Ra’s Ashton Martin period, I asked him what the hell was going on.

“Waiting for the drop!”

“What?”

“The drop man, the DROP!  This song is just taking a little longer, but still, no pissing before the DROP!”

“I really have to go!”

“We ALL really have to fucking go, man!  But trust me buddy, save it for the drop. You’ll see!”

It’s hard to tell with Dubstep, but it sounded like we weren’t TOO far from the drop.  The WUH-WUH-WUH-WUH had gotten loud enough to change the air pressure in the room, and through my strained eardrums I could hear ocean waves start to feather into the mix.  Then all of a sudden- silence, gong, a single dog barked, Optimus Prime screamed “NO HOMO!”, aaannnd the DROP!

A wave of relief made its way down the row of men as the streams of urine found purchase. That guy wasn’t kidding.  You wait for the drop.  Between the relief of urination and the pressure in the room going back to normal, I finished my business on a wave of euphoric contentment.  The disappointment of a Puma-less Wednesday was far behind me as I went back out to meet my wife and head home.  As we walked outside, I spotted that crazy Sumit and his friends perched on the hood of the Kia Soul, a safe distance from the front door.  He was as good as his word.

“HOPE YOU HAD A GOOD TIME, PUSSY!”, he screamed, “BE SURE TO BRING YOUR WOMAN BACK SOON, YOU FUCK! ”

Oh, I will.  Trust me Sumit, I’ll be back.  While our evening did not turn out as we had hoped, the promise of Los Angeles evenings in the Midwest was strong enough to draw us back, floating in on the siren’s song of the Pumas.

Ra Sushi

11638 Ash St.

Leawood, KS 66211

913-850-6260

http://www.rasushi.com/

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen…

I don’t know about anyone else who has a camera, but when I was shopping for my Nikon D5100, I knew once I got my hands on it that time would stand still like I was Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway in “We Were Soldiers”.  Head on a swivel, in slow motion, click-click-click, prominent cheek bones, misty background, my own somber theme music….with a PURPOSE; newly energized and reborn with laser focus in capturing timeless photographic truths.  Yeah, I guess, kind of a DICK when you think about it….I mean, Mel Gibson was pretty cavalier about that one napalm canister frying half his guys, but Barry Pepper could have put down his camera for a couple of seconds to help that one Asian dude.  But that’s the thing- good photography has a body count if you’re doing it correctly. That’s just the way it goes. If you have a good camera, you get to be like Barry Pepper.

But you DON’T get to be like Barry Pepper.  You get to be like the dozens of 70 year old women with the exact same camera pushing past you to cockblock the picture you’re trying to take in Thorncrown Chapel. And THAT…is the beginning and the end of the glory.  The added bonus is when you realize how long it’s going to take to process the gigantic fucking files you created after hearing people say “oh, you have to shoot in RAW”.  The inferiority complex that is created by having a rig with limitless settings yet choosing to shoot everything in Auto-mode (without flash) is only compounded by your lack of Photoshop software knowledge and the growing fear that you are colorblind in various ranges of pigment.  By the time your little preciouses are posted on Facebook or distributed via various electronic methods, you are totally sick of them and convinced they look like the work of a beshitted, cataract-heavy chimp.

 YAY! A closeup of my sandwich with the cool fuzzy background look to it!  All you really do to yourself is realize how much better everyone else’s pictures look.  One of those idiots who holds their iPad out like it’s a board their kung fu nerd buddy is about to roundhouse kick as they snap photos ends up with better pictures than your dumb ass.

 The one small comfort I have found as I beat my head against the wall is the strange sense of legitimacy that comes with owning a “real” camera.  Other than the old battleaxes who order their family members in and out of shots between you and your subject, people generally get out of the way when you are taking a photo….in a sea of cameraphones, whip out the Nikon and boom- people must think you really mean business.  Plus, you get to look like slightly less of an asshole taking pictures at the dinner table…real camera = real pictures = you are part of some level of media that requires your photographic prowess.

 While I’m working on lining up the next installment of The Squander Logs (which has given me a new respect for people who acquire, execute and document interviews BTW), as well as a yearly check-in with “3 Years Sober, and a Church at My Grandma’s House”, I thought some decent filler would be my photographic holocaust over the last couple of months.  I’ve got some “artsy” shots from our recent anniversary trip to the Ozarks, and food-nerd glory courtesy of The Rieger.

 

 This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken thus far, because it’s just creepy.  It’s a decrepit Kewpie Doll in a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks.  I used a 10x macro filter and put it right up against the display glass.  Lesson learned here- $10 filters only exist to show you their limitations and make you want a dedicated lens.

Nothing special here other than the fact it was early enough to get the photo without the five billion cars and people that would be arriving in downtown Eureka Springs within the next couple of hours.

Sometimes I just fuck around with foreground/background focus (I have zero comprehension of actual photography terms, so fuck off) and the picture usually sucks until you put it in black and white, and then all you’re missing is the guy to advertise for London Fog.

When processing your pictures in Lightroom, it gets boring fast. But you can always depend upon your friendly saturation settings to make any picture say “Welcome to Jamaica!”.

 One of my favorite photos, and I call it “Go Fuck Yourself Instagram”.  I got up early as hell and waited to make sure the sun was coming up and there were zero cars or people. This is one of the rare moments where I actually thought of the picture the night before and went out to acquire it…..but none of that shit matters, because essentially all I did was reproduce one of the gajillion Instagram settings.

 

 It was at Green Dirt Farms, at the Rieger dinner, that I discovered my nice zoom lens wasn’t just for shooting things that are far off…like zebras and shit.  I bought a good fixed focal length lens in addition to the zoom, and it takes great photos like the creepy Kewpie, but with the zoom I find you can be both lazy and sneaky….and very artsy.  Just look at these bottles for instance. I was a good ten feet away with people on all sides, but I got one of those close-ups that allow you to delude yourself into thinking….hey, I am acceptable at this.

 

 

When visiting Green Dirt Farms with more than just your cameraphone, you are pretty much a dick if you don’t get a shot of the knives.  That’s just how it works.   And these are ACTUAL Laguiole knives…not those knockoffs that SOME restaurants use….you know who you fucking are.  Quality cutlery on a farm provides a dichotomous context in which you can think of all sorts of crazy shit to feel fancy about.

 

 

 You see this quaint corner of the barn and it makes you forget it wasn’t that long ago that sheep placenta reigned supreme in this space. 

 

 

If you take many pictures I don’t have to tell you why this one is shitty.  Is there something even flatter than one dimensional?

 

 

It’s lamb. Up close. But not so close that it blows your mind. I have those pictures too. But you couldn’t handle them.

 

 

The Bossa from Green Dirt Farms is one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in all the land.  This photo is all about the quantity of cheese.  It inspired me to start using Bossa cut like this as a bun.

 

 

 Bossa meets The Rieger….this will definitely make my “Best of 2012” list.   A mushroom frittata with half a Bossa sunk into the middle of it shortly before it’s done.  The quality of the photo doesn’t matter, this is a test to prove whether or not you have a soul……no love, no soul. You don’t have to want to eat this dish, but you need to think really hard before you open your fucking mouth with anything less than pure reverence.

 

 

 This isn’t a photo, it’s a cheesy obligation whenever the sun is setting.  No context, no depth, I can’t afford the camera it would take to make something like this a panty dropper.

 

 

 Next up- a few shots from the night of my “White Trash Picnic” Birthday Party at The Rieger.  The Rieger is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, and I have zero obligation to food journalism or the food critic gods to be measured or evenhanded in my praise.  The party was a smashing success, but the important thing here is the degradation of quality from photo to photo.  I’m never going to be Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers.  I can’t even keep my focus long enough to spend a few seconds setting up a shot or taking basic details into consideration.  Then you turn me loose in Adobe Lightroom, and I do some shit like turn the restaurant walls bright green. 

 

 

Now this looks pretty good….housemade cheese bugles and corn nuts.  Not too bad with the available light.

 

 

 It’s deviled eggs.  And that’s it.

 

 

 Hey, cool, you can keep switching lenses in the middle of dinner….at least the extreme closeup of the Pasta Primavera Salad (with housemade mortadella!) masks how boring you are.

 

 

 No, it’s not my dick in a box. It’s pimiento celery. I am NOT kidding you!

 

 

 Man. All on an angle and shit with the crockpot meatballs. Sunday Schools across the nation will be lining up to hire me.

 

 

 Sorry, I was nodding off for a minute there…..the wheels were officially off the bus at this point.  Sure, it’s a white trash picnic, but no need to disrespect wonderful food like this…especially the Shake n’ Bake pork chops.  I’m new enough to put part of the blame on available light, but I can only milk that bullshit for so long.

 

 

What’s good for a Kewpie Doll doesn’t necessarily work for onion rings. Lose the filters. How is it possible to make something round so goddamn flat?

 

 

 This had to be seen to be believed.  Creamed corn or the set from the movie Dune?  You decide.

 

 

 It’s a fruit cocktail icebox pie from Tasha Goellner.  But you would never know that because I apparently suffer from photographic Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

 

The End

 

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

2 Comments

Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Photography, Food Reviews, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

Annoying Customer 2.0

There is an inspired conversation happening all across the Midwest right now, and with an abundance of talent in Kansas City positioning our town to be THE next big food destination, the conversation that all of us industry outsiders with a camera, a blog and a subscription to Lucky Peach are having sounds exactly like THIS…..

 TRUDY: So did you have dinner at The Second Coming yet? …….HA! HA! HA! RHETORICAL!!!!

 TAD: HA!….Yeah, made it to the first night of the pre-soft opening dinners before they do the actual soft opening.  Just fabulous….the food…and what they’ve done to utilize the repurposed lawn furniture while still maintaining the integrity of that abandoned mine mirrors the inherent generosity of the menu.

 TRUDY: Agreed.  When our server told me “No seriously, you really need to stay over here, that section of the mine isn’t safe yet”, I knew the food was going to have a lot to live up to…and it did. BUT…you were there that first night of the pre-soft opening?   Did you get stuck with a later seating?  We didn’t see you at the first one.

 TAD: Actually, we managed to get the last two spots at family meal, totally different menu.  We had rabbit sausage water and the crusts off the mini grilled cheese sandwiches that came with whatever you guys ate.

 TRUDY: OH! I HEARD about that!  So jealous!

 TAD: Yeah, but of COURSE, as USUAL, annoying Trip and Jenny scored the ultimate reservation.  They actually rode TO the restaurant with Chef Schvantz Grande and ate Wendy’s drive-thru on the way, then dessert course sitting on a box in the walk-in.

 TRUDY: Fuckers. I was wondering why I kept seeing those weird status updates of their middle fingers next to a Frosty and a big basket of chanterelles. 

 TAD: Well, they have money and tons of connections from their corporate non-food circles as a built-in marketing tool, therefore they have the most popular and respected food blogs.

 TRUDY: So I guess it’s safe to say that the next big trend is eating fast food with your local chefs?

 TAD: I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and while popular bloggers with major PR connections who get way more “Likes” than I do annoy me, I have to say…they may be on to something.  I mean, I’m starting to see meat and cheese from local producers in major grocery stores, even my mom belongs to a CSA now…these are both problems that indicate we’re hitting a level of saturation that will spawn the next big trend.  I think it’s fair to compare the current local, sustainable, farm to table trend with more of a Neoclassical approach to cuisine if we are still considering cooking an art form, in that it has managed to recapture a former grace and grandeur in its simplicity.  With what appears to be a trend where dining is more like theatre, and the artists themselves choose fast food over a waning locavore movement, one could make the argument that we are moving into more of a Mannerist period that emphasizes structure over nature.

 TRUDY: Isn’t that from the foreword to “Modernist Cuisine”?

 TAD: No, you probably saw it on my blog post about how the only legitimate food blogs are ones that will agree to a set of rules like Dogme film directors.  Oh, and if you have actually have a job in the industry there is a handicapping score you have to agree to as well.  AND if you’re a chef with more than one restaurant you have to let everyone else weigh in on a topic first.

 TRUDY: That’s it!  Well, great observation, and it’s a shame to see the toll that locavorism is taking on the food scene.  Just when things started getting good, did you read that piece the fucking Star did on Midwestern Cuisine? What fucked up timing.  

 TAD: Oh yeah….from Silva’s lips to Bourdain’s ears to the fat asses of the Paula Deen crowd. I am not sharing my space with those buffet behemoths on a Saturday night.

 TRUDY:  I know, I really think that the exclusivity that comes with niche dining is the only way any of us who aren’t in the industry are going to be able to get recognition IN the industry……being the best at eating food is not that hard to achieve…carving out a loyal audience of people who appreciate the unique way in which you chronicle your eating- THAT is the difficult part.

 TAD: Oh, not to interrupt, but back to that rabbit sausage water from family meal….perfect example of something we’re going to lose before it got a proper start.  You know much about Chef Grande’s new sous chef?

 TRUDY: I’ve only heard the rumors that he quit his chef position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in order to spend the last seven years staging across the American southwest.  Oh, and that he will NOT buy a piece of cutlery outside of a garage sale.

 TAD: Yeah, very different dude, real dedication to the craft.  From an aboriginal family.

 TRUDY: I thought he was just Mexican. He just goes by Segundo.

 TAD: Wow, nice racism.

 TRUDY: Saying Mexican is racist?  I thought Aboriginal was racist….you’re supposed to say indigenous I think.

 TAD: Christ, okaaaayyyyyy…so is he an INDIGENOUS Mexican or an INDIGENOUS Australian?

 TRUDY: You ate his sausage water, I figured you’d already know that.

 TAD: HA! Totally fucking with you, I DO know….the little bastard is Australian.  But I’ve been telling everyone he’s Mexican to put them off the trail until I can blog about it.

 TRUDY: You’re pretty good.  But I don’t get the cloak and dagger over naming Segundo’s heritage.

 TAD:  He’s just a very enigmatic character.  You see his Facebook page?

 TRUDY: Yeah, that’s kind of what threw me off with his name and all, his photo is just a blank, black space.

 TAD: Ding! Ding! Ding, Matey!  He is from the old school, still thinks the camera will take his soul.

 TRUDY: VERY old school…. Very abandoned mine.

 TAD: So there’s THAT, and if you’ve ever seen him stir a risotto or a roux, you’d have noticed something very peculiar…

 TRUDY: Ohhhhh, right right right, I haven’t seen him cook but  I assume what you’re getting at is that piece you did on tribalism and the significance of handmade wooden spoons…..the whole…

 TAD: COREOLIS EFFECT!  Our little friend from the southern hemisphere only stirs to the left!

 TRUDY:  And I know he’s responsible for the latest trend in butchery and sausage making…using the dying breath of an animal to blow open the end of the casing before you thread it onto the machine.  Makes me feel really bad for Chef Grande.

 TAD: How so?

 TRUDY: I mean, he put a lot of work into getting zoning permits for that mine, and he’s bravely sticking to his guns with the fading farm to table fad, but his restaurant is pretty much over with.

 TAD: Trudy, he hasn’t even opened the restaurant yet!  They’re still busy selling out the series of soft openings! What the fuck?

 TRUDY: You’re kind of proving my point.  Already proven it actually with all of your enthusiasm for Segundo, whose first service at Second Coming was also his last.  The unknown Sous Chef IS the new Celebrity Chef.  THAT is the real trend that will put Kansas City on the map.  Terms like “ingredient-driven”, making up new names for the same old regional cuisines….that is all last-gasp material.  At one point the trend was for a chef to grow up in a smaller town, get trained and open a restaurant in a larger city that highlighted their culinary roots.  THEN you had those same people come BACK to their hometown like a king returning from battle, open a restaurant, and combine what they grew up eating with whatever they learned abroad.  We’re still in that “chefs returning home” trend, and it has hit such a point of saturation that pretty much anyone can eat stuff you only saw in the major food blogs.  When my own mother knows what sous vide is, things are getting too weird.

 TAD: I see your point, I can’t say I disagree, but…I feel kind of sick, like I’ve been set up here.

 TRUDY: I’m so sorry!  I was afraid that would happen!

 TAD: I mean, you obviously knew more than you led me to believe…

 TRUDY: I’m sorry, you were just so enthusiastic and I’ve always admired your work and level of knowledge…and now it’s like watching a dying comet.  But I mean that in a good way.

 TAD: Okay. I guess.  I just figured my focus would always allow me to predict any upcoming food movements.  I guess I got to a point where my ability to be the first to do what nobody else would be doing for another few months put me in a dangerous comfort zone…..

 TRUDY: Tad, I’m sorry, but don’t feel bad about your outdated methods. It was bound to happen eventually. But the good news is, there is a brighter world to come!

 TAD: Yeah, I trust you. It’s just a hell of a paradigm shift.  So go ahead…it is obvious you are DYING to get on with the Segundo intel……

 TRUDY: It has literally been killing me this whole time!  And I wouldn’t even know any of this if Segundo himself hadn’t walked in to my office to inquire about a graphic design for his upcoming “Real Chefs Stir to the Left” social media blitz. 

 TAD: Do tell, sensei.

 TRUDY: SO- the whole premise is based on two things: First, try to name one sous chef at any of your favorite restaurants.

 TAD: I can’t. Oh, Segundo.

 TRUDY: EXACTLY!  Being unknown or, God forbid, the “best kept secret” isn’t enough anymore…it’s over with.  Now it’s a matter of literally nobody knowing who in the fuck you are.

 TAD: But we know Segundo. WE know who he is.

 TRUDY: Obviously, and I could explain that but I was sworn to complete secrecy on most of the details…let’s just say that on opening night, as the first seating begins, Segundo is going to pass out disposable cameras and “sell his soul”.

 TAD: Hooooly shit.  Now THAT…is dedication to his art.  I mean, there was that trend where traditional Chinese chefs were cutting off their braids after reading bad Yelp reviews, but that petered out quick…there’s only a finite number of braids and hair takes so long to grow back…..ANYWAY, can you divulge the NAME of this new restaurant?

 TRUDY: SOFT OPENING!

 TAD:  The man leaves during a soft opening to open Soft Opening….totally next level stuff….

 TRUDY:  Balls-Out is the new Next Level….just FYI…you probably want to stop saying next level.

 TAD: Thanks, so anyway…enlighten me on premise NUMERO SEGUNDO!  Sorry, that was stupid, had to do it…

 TRUDY:  Second thing is really simple…the next trend is the last trend.

 TAD: Huh?

 TRUDY: The NEXT trend is whatever the trend before it was….and do NOT fucking mention this to anyone when I tell you the menu for opening night….but to illustrate the point, Segundo’s first menu is going to revolve around Gourmet Hot Dogs and Macarons using sustainable ingredients.

 TAD: Nice!  I totally get it now….wow, you can take that and run with it. 

 TRUDY: Totally. To get his point across he’s opening with a really obvious one, but I think in the fall he’s just going to make “Umami” the trend again.

 TAD: So you just keep going backwards in order to keep it fresh…..so, like, in a couple of years he could work his way BACK to doing sliders, or a noodle bar….just advertise the SHIT out of the fact he uses a local coffee roaster…

 TRUDY:  Comfort food, cupcakes, deconstruction, pine nuts, low carb…..it’s pretty endless.

 TAD: But you KNOW, at some point the food is going to get kind of shitty…and not in that “I’m making an ironic gesture towards molecular gastronomy in order to out-Achatz you” kind of way, but genuinely crappy…I mean, there is some nightmarish aspic and overcooked asparagus-laden crap when Haute Cuisine first made its way across the pond….

 TRUDY: And THAT is the process, you nailed it exactly.  The latest trend is made up of incrementally fading trends, and exclusivity for foodies becomes the desire to eat food that fewer and fewer people even give a shit about anymore. And the fact that the food starts tasting worse and more predictable with each year, really shows you who the die-hard, dedicated people are.

 TAD: Eating bad food cooked by a chef that nobody even knows about….welcome to the future, where in a few years we won’t have to sneer at being called a foodie and we know it because it’s predetermined….it’s like some kind of goddamn culinary supralapsarian genius….

 TRUDY: Shit man, you’re going to be GREAT at this…..supralapsarian….hang on to that shit, there’s not a foodie PR schmoe in the world who can compete with THAT.

 TAD: And perhaps, one day you will have to pass the role of teacher back to ME!

 TRUDY: I have to pee.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Nurture My Pig…

 

Basically the coolest possible mural...

 
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a pretty cool event at the soon to open butcher shop- Local Pig…it was the first in a series of pig butchery classes sponsored by Slow Foods Kansas City and taught by Chef and Owner of Local Pig, Alex Pope. The series will go from nose to tail, and this weekend’s instruction focused on the head….braised cheeks, guanciale made from the jowls, pork stock and headcheese created from boiling the trimmed head. On the way there, I couldn’t get a recent Portlandia skit out of my head….possibly the most brilliant one I’ve seen thus far….where everything was just like it was “back in the 90’s”….the 1890’s. Butchering, canning, pickling, microbrewing, handlebar moustaches, and the excessive amount of untrimmed facial hair that is a requirement these days for that “hillbilly hipster” look. Actually, you can’t ding Kansas City too much for getting back to a time where anyone who doesn’t live here in “flyover country” apparently assumes still exists…just like it did back in the 1890’s.
 

The key to a magical afternoon in a young man's life...

This is my pig head. There are many like it but this one is mine.

I have never, and will never, apologize for my enthusiasm for the Kansas City food scene. I don’t care where you are from, if I’m your guide in this town you will eat food that impresses you.  We’ve been getting more and more much deserved press over the past few years, to the point where travel shows and publications don’t immediately feature Stroud’s and Bryant’s and then trundle onward. This is the point at which, if I were a real food blogger, I’d cite all kinds of goddamn examples…but that is not my milieu, my site is more like a teenage girl’s diary. The recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that we have amazing farmers and chefs in the area who are starting to put a hell of a dent in the Sysco Foods, stripmall chain dining that is typical in a town where eating out is a major pastime. Local, sustainable, farm to table, seasonal, artisanal, organic…if I’m leaving out any annoyingly overused terms let me know. But it’s true, we’ve got all that shit and we have an abundance of industry professionals who maximize what is available. As far as this weekend’s event is concerned, we drift on back to the 1890’s to a quaint storefront, down a quiet road past an industrial area that has GOT to have about fifteen “It puts the lotion in the basket!” style kill rooms dotting the landscape as well as the bar from “The Accused”….I’m not kidding you. It’s fucked up. It doesn’t scare me or anything, I’ve lived in worse, and I’m a Buford Pusser style badass. I’d open a bar down there and call it “The Cadaver Dog”. I would take payment in human ears. And the only song on the jukebox would be “Goodbye Horses”.

Class #1 down, three to go....cannot wait for the grand opening.

 

Cool storefront...

 

The front counter and meat case...

 

Looking back into the kitchen and workspace...

 

The "wish list", I am personally wishing they'd put Pad Thai Pate at the top of the list

 

In addition to meat products, they'll offer different salts, rubs, spices, nuts and house infused honeys...

 
 
Offal and charcuterie are two of my favorite things…ever. I kid you not. Even shitty stuff…..I’ll eat the hell out of that horrible braunschweiger in the orange-yellow tube from Price Chopper, canned deviled ham, I’ve never met a cheap piece of pepperoni I didn’t love. They could just come up with a line of processed meats called “GOUT” and I’d be the first in line to try it. SO WHEN I GET AHOLD OF THE GOOD STUFF…..watch out. This is another point at which, if I were an actual food writer, I’d give you the rundown of all of our local sausage makers, artisanal charcuterie gurus, and tie it all together with some historical info and a humorous anecdote or two….but again…LAZY! Justus Drugstore’s Farmer’s Platter, as well as whatever the guys at The Rieger have on the current menu, and most recently the sweet goodness at 715 are all examples of must-try charcuterie as well as nose to tail cooking in general. Different textures all in one bite, unctuousness, richness…there just isn’t anything like it. So when I showed up at Local Pig for our class, it was nice to find that our hosts had gone above and WAY beyond to guarantee us some quality deliciousness…..and they have scratch and sniff business cards.
 
 

Grass fed beef meatballs and guanciale...with a touch of tablescape.

 

Another shot of the food, it was way beyond what I expected for classroom snacks.

 

The money shot....if it doesn't excite and entice you, then it's because you have a rotten soul.

 

I’ve been to a bunch of different events attended BY Chef Pope, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten any of his food before Saturday… never ate at R Bar and didn’t go to either of the Vagabond pop-ups. So I won’t do the annoying high school girl foodie blogger social butterfly name-droppy oneupsmanship thing. But I will say, he was a hell of a nice guy, a great host, and it is obvious the man is very serious and dedicated to his latest venture. And it is always fun to watch someone butcher purely from muscle memory. The class moved swiftly, and was very informative in a way that…if you HAD questions about the basics they would be happily and thoroughly answered, but the assumption was that you came to the table with SOME knowledge and you weren’t eeked out by the carving of meat. I will say that was one thing that will bring me back for the rest of the series….Alex is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor, but the class isn’t geared towards the biggest dumbass in the room like many, many…okay nearly 100% of cooking classes seem to be structured (go roll with the Coffee Klatch contingent out at The Culinary Institute of Kansas City…sweet baby Jesus, the instructors deserve medals and all the oxycontin they can eat).  With it being a Slow Foods KC event, it was a good crowd and pretty much everyone I spoke with was really cool. I know that if he is as successful in this venture as I predict he will be, there will be many, many classes geared towards “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Alex’s future, and for that I applaud him because I realize that patience with morons translates into dollars in the restaurant world. As a different kind of moron myself, I have had to count on that level of kindness. BUT I could never be in the service industry unless there was a need for someone who could make the impatience of the late great Tom Macaluso look positively restrained and precocious in comparison. He was famous for ringing no-call-no-show customers at 1am to let them know everyone at the restaurant was worried sick about them and that their table was still waiting. On a bad night, I could see myself taking a more direct approach, like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, wailing away on that new Corvette…”Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass???”….sure, I’d be a local hero and I could count on my service industry compadres happily chipping in to post bail, but long story short- I don’t belong in that world. I leave the hosting and the cooking to the professionals. May God have mercy on their souls.

ANYWAY, here is some carnage…..I won’t go into instructional detail, go and learn this shit for yourself, but it basically goes- cut off the jowls, skin them, cut out the inner and outer cheeks, make stock with what remains on the head, make headcheese with the chopped up bits and the stock, rub the jowls down with a spice mixture and cure them in the fridge for guanciale, and braise the cheeks.

Lots of meat in that head! I know, that IS what she said!

 

This will take some serious practice, jowls are one thing but getting the inner and outer cheeks will be pure trial and error.

 

Important note: You must skin your jowls, I think...I plan on it anyway. Because no matter how hard you try, it's tough to get those pigs shaved closely enough.

 

This is what a workspace should look like.

 

Guanciale and braised cheeks-to-be

 

Pork stock...first batch you make is with the whole head, sans jowls and cheeks, and then you recook it with all of the meat for headcheese, and THEN you have this...reduce at will.

 

Chopping the chilled meat that will go into the headcheese.

 

The meat for the headcheese is chopped up and ready for the spice mixture....

 

Then a curry blend was added, along with the hot stock and was portioned out for carryout treats....

 
 Now, anyone who has ever read any of my stuff knows one thing…no matter how normal I sound compared to many of my rants, although I’ve been pretty well behaved here, there is no way I’m letting anything out on the web without “share-proofing” it. I have to address the blessing and the curse of social media as it relates to our food community. I’m totally proud of my town, and I’m not one of those over-protective “as soon as people know about it, it’s not cool anymore” pretentious assholes. That said, the popularity of damn near anything brings with it the “great dumbing down for mass consumption and maximum profitability”.  I’ve got a million examples from Paula Deen and pop-up thermometers on turkey to “street tacos” now available at Taco Bueno and those pans where a red dot appears to let you know the goddamn thing is hot.  But here is a favorite of mine….Greek fucking yogurt.  I guess Greek was just easier to fit on the package than “Hey dumbass, we drained it. It has less water. So between that and the cool marketing we charge you more.  We know your ass isn’t going to go and find some fucking cheesecloth to drain your own…so HA HA HA!”. 

Social media and the millions of food blogs allow whatever is new (or OLD recently made new once again) to be pounced upon with extreme prejudice…it’s not enough to know where your favorite food truck is going to be parked, you have to track it on an app via GPS.  The chocolate Boulevard Beer debacle….fortunes made and reputations tainted within hours.  While I don’t see Local Pig needing security to keep the throngs of Twits in line, I am sure there will soon be specific products that will disappear minutes after they are available.  No harm no foul there, again, I’m not venturing into possessive mode….the whole thing just speaks to the ultra-modern desperation to leverage that 1890’s goodness. We want it to be authentic and artisanal, but we also demand that it be available immediately and in an unlimited supply. 

 Another thing that has fascinated me over the past couple of years, in a town this size dealing with overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations in regard to foodie hipsterness, is the parasitic relationship between expat foodies and the native malcontents.  I use the term “foodie” negatively here, because I just don’t like it….”foodie” is what someone who doesn’t really know about food has to use to describe themselves in order for everyone to know it’s their thing. It’s like someone with an honorary degree insisting you call them “Dr.”, or the whole “Life Coach” concept…the shit that Napoleonic complexes are made from.  You know, the “maestro” episode of Seinfeld. I like to eat at local restaurants, buy local products and cook like a madman.  If I’m too cool for ANYTHING, it’s calling myself a “foodie”….if you HAVE to put a fucking name on it, then I’d prefer something like “Stud Powercock” or “Consumptive Whore”. 

 So…the expat foodies…those people who have come from much larger metropolitan areas and can never pass up an opportunity to point out why whatever we have that manages to be edible is still not nearly as good as the worst version in the magical land from whence they come.  I’m convinced that these people just couldn’t hack it in the big city, and if we knew the real truth about their foodie exploits in that town it would be like finding out that the alleged former football hero at work who won’t shut up about the good old days was actually the kid who showered in his underwear after riding the bench at every game. Nobody who actually knows anything has to talk that much shit.  If it were not for their parasitic twin, the native foodie malcontent, they may actually shut the fuck up at some point. But no, the malcontents keep them well fed with an inferiority complex that they must assume is shared, or should be, by everyone in this town. EXAMPLE:  Whenever there is an article or online discussion about the availability of vegetarian food in Kansas City the expats will predictably chime in with the usual shit about their hometown, and I can forgive that to a point, it’s the one thing they’ve got.  But those other dicks, who are FROM here are so quick to pile on….and it’s always framed in an incredibly patronizing and self aggrandizing manner….”unfortunately Kansas City isn’t as ENLIGHTENED as the more PROGRESSIVE cities with which I am intimately familiar”.  Yes, intimately familiar. When you consulted your Zagat’s NYC to look up “vegetarian restaurants” before your three day choir trip, there were four pages of listings in Manhattan alone. When you looked up Zagat rated “vegetarian restaurants” in Kansas City, they didn’t even list Fud yet….just Eden Alley and Bluebird Bistro…which sent you into a spiral because the two places listed by Zagat’s weren’t broken out into fifteen subcategories like NYC.  The height of unenlightenment.  Zagat’s, Yelp, and pouting at Outback Steakhouse because you won’t venture two miles from home…that’s your wheelhouse. Even the stupid expat realizes you’re a fucking retard, but you’re the only lackey they’ve got, so they live with it.

 So there you go….Local Pig is opening soon and you need to check it out, and social media is key in turning assholes into major assholes.  I think I’ve got some stuff coming up that may be of interest…as I’m sure I already mentioned I’ll be learning how to make povitica, I’ll go back to some classic religious ranting when I share the tale of the Church At My Grandma’s House, hopefully spring will be here sooner than later, AANNNNNDDD I’m going to buy a meal for anybody who will assist me in doing some site updates here.  Mainly want to get stuff categorized to make it more user friendly, find a better editor than what WordPress gives me, eye-friendly layouts, fonts, that kind of shit….I really don’t get enough traffic to warrant anything major, but if nothing else I need to be more web savvy when it comes to writing/publishing software. AND if that Santorum dipshit gets any more sway he’s going to need his own page on here…..if you’ve been with me for a while you remember 2008…..
 
                                                                  Local Pig KC

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All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Charcuterie, Chef Alex Pope, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Local Pig Kanas City, Paradise Locker Meats, Slow Foods Kansas City

715- Lawrence, Kansas…

                                                                                                                                                                    

So we all know how this works, I have fun reliving some gratuitous crap that is loosely related to the real subject of the post, and once I’m feeling fully entertained I get around to doling out information on a meal or meals that just leaves you wishing I was the type of dick who won’t let anyone at the table take a bite until I get a picture….”Oh, oh, hold up that butter, I didn’t get a shot of all the butters…WHO TOOK A BITE FROM THE COMPOUND BUTTER!?!?!…Oh man, now I’m going to have to come back here again to get a shot of that BUTTER!  I can’t post ANY of this until I can account for all the buuuttterrrrrs…..if I were my father I’d beat the shit out of ALL OF YOU!”.  Trust me, the schtick is starting to bug me too…it was cool the first half dozen times, now I’m just sounding like any other formulaic food blogger with the possible exception being my implied goal of  consistently low readership.  I’m not out to be edgy or underground, this is the way I actually talk and I genuinely enjoy talking about food related topics. At the same time I have to include stuff that amuses me enough to stay excited about writing anything, and how all of THAT peripheral bullshit fits into the formula is this- I would honestly feel bad if at some point some chef or owner stumbled upon one of my reviews on the interwebs and forwarded or reposted it without first noticing a phrase like “In my confused brain, the juxtaposition of the icy sorbet and the piping hot broth forced me to imagine what it would be like to be a young lady subjected to dueling Jekyll and Hyde ObGyn’s….COLD speculum-WARM speculum-COLD speculum-WARM speculum…..”.   All across Johnson County, scores of Yelpers who were trying to decide between eating at Mestizo and jamming an emery board into their urethra would see THIS jumble of shit and be like…”Hey HON, is it good or bad when the review mentions vagina tools?  I’m so confused now.”  So yeah, I just blow any chance of an actual self-respecting human in the industry counting this shit as “Media” right up front…it entertains me and at the same time it is polarizing enough to let people decide if MY speculum is too hot, too cold or juuuusst right.

So anyway……

I went to some shows at the Outhouse when I was a kid, but it probably wasn’t until around 1991 that I started visiting Lawrence with any regularity….trips to Yello Sub, first run indie flicks like Slacker at Liberty Hall, Love Garden Records…typical fare.  One of the most memorable trips that pretty much set the tone for the next several years happened when I was still an associate pastor in KCK.  I was with our senior pastor officiating a funeral somewhere down near LaCygne.  It was a Friday and I was supposed to be all the way out in Lawrence later that afternoon because a bunch of us were going to see Throwing Muses at The Bottleneck.  Normally, it would be a no-brainer even though we were an hour from home….funerals generally went pretty quickly.  This one got a little complicated when it was discovered that the grave had been dug in the wrong spot, so we had to wrangle the funeral director to confirm the correct plot and then wrangle the guy who ran the backhoe.  This was out in the country in a little country cemetery, the lady who had passed away was an older member in our church and in addition to being the clergy I had to be a pallbearer because there weren’t enough able bodied men to carry the casket.  That fact made me feel bad. What made me feel worse was that I’d done enough funerals to learn about caskets, and these folks had to go with the cheapest possible casket…the silver-greyish felt covered model. And what made me feel even worse than THAT was when we had to set that cheap casket down on the ground and leave it there in the open while we went to sort things out.  So long/depressing story short, they located the right plot and we all stood around as the thunderously loud backhoe ripped up the ground to make room for a little old lady in a cheap casket. 

And it is against that backdrop that I DID make it to Lawrence in time for Throwing Muses.  It was a good show, it was dollar well drink night, and I think I drank about twenty five or thirty rot gut vodka tonics before I had to run out to the car and throw up in the parking lot for the last half hour or so of the show.  That night began a pretty solid tradition of getting so drunk that upon arrival at home I went ahead and slept in the car. For many years, when the question “Where in the hell is Jerry?” was asked the next morning, the reply was often “Did you check the car?”.  Correct answer eight times out of ten.  You are indeed reading this correctly- pastor by day, party animal by night.  That trend lasted for almost a couple of years, at which time I moved to Minneapolis to attend Bible College…then the REALLY crazy shit began….

Since I’m on the subject of getting wasted in Lawrence, I simply MUST bring up what is quite possibly the greatest establishment in the history of lawless redneck counties situated next to a college town….Little Reno’s Paradise Saloon.  Way, WAY too many crazy stories about that place to fit into a food review that takes place fifteen or twenty years later, but I will say…..as a man who ran an adult bookstore for several years and had the misfortune of knowing a LOT of strippers, the Paradise Saloon was the best of the best.  Three dollar drinks, five dollar lap dances, tons of girls, no laws of any kind, and a psychotic bouncer named Meatloaf who loved nothing more than taking misbehaving frat boys out into the parking lot and braining them with his mag-light.  Seriously, it got bad enough that even the Reno sheriff finally said cut it out.  I burned out on strip clubs a very long time ago. They are pretty sad places. But THAT establishment was beautiful.

Of course this is where I could construct a bridge with the cute local girls stripping their way through college  on THAT side, attractive young guys and gals hauling food to older men with mag-light imprints on their forehead on THIS side….too much work.  Back then it was getting our Yello Sub delivery driver buddy stoned for free food, and truckloads of cheap pizza.  Yello Sub remained a constant through the years, and I still love Planet Sub, but at some point life progressed to a point where I could put Lidia’s into the rotation (several lost years prior to the Lidia’s phase, and what a great story that will make once I know more about statutes of limitations), and my regular server there turned me onto Pachamama’s…..for whatever reason, that habit did not survive the move from their original location.  And my dining habits took quite a hit during my last relationship….after attaching myself to a mortgage and moving her in, I was quickly informed that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider….downhill quickly, etc. etc., flash forward, sobriety, marriage, gravy train with biscuit wheels, yada yada and 715 became the place to check out.

So finally, here we are.  Long story short, after three visits, 715 is an official member of “the rotation”.  It only took 2 visits to make it into the coveted spot, the third trip on Saturday night was just an excuse to go and try some more food.  Even though comparing 715 and The Rieger would be like comparing apples and POV porn, henceforth we’ll refer to it as our “Rieger West”.  The Rieger is like an extended family to us at this point, but considering the mutual love the respective chefs and staff all share, and the extreme high quality of food and service at both restaurants, we’re happy to have them ALL onboard. 

715 is a place that is serious enough about sourcing great products to transcend what is quickly becoming an overused cliché….”farm to table”….it’s the new organic.  The menu is always changing, some days hurt worse than others when I see a daily special that reminds me I’m too lazy to drive to Lawrence on a random Wednesday.  Chef Michael Beard and his crew do food correctly….solid products are given the respect they deserve by dedicating the time it takes to maximize flavor.  You don’t have to go fucking around with food very much when you start with that solid of a baseline.  So first and foremost we have the time and thought that goes into making dishes work on all levels…major “rotation” material.  While I don’t generally count it as a make or break component, the restaurant itself is a great space and that sure as hell does not hurt.  Sure, a nice restaurant in Lawrence is a pretty big douche magnet…former frat jocks who think they’re funny holding a server hostage with a very bad and overused “We have a complaint!” joke, and the cartoonishly thin and stiff turquoise jewelry wearing Portlandia extras who…do…not….stop it with the “Unless you’re in academia it’s hard to understand blah blah blah…..true, oh very true as far as a career in academia…..leave it to academia!….ACADEMIA!!!”.  But hey, I’m thankful for annoying fuckers because they help me narrow down the list of people I want as friends.

Almost as important as the food, an element that is absolutely, 100% mandatory for any restaurant I’d consider as a regular destination….the pride and shared sense of ownership in the front of the house.  We’ve had consistently great service, but if you know me I’m a very, very loyal sonofabitch when I find “my server”…if they are working, I’ll wait for a table in their section if I have to.  And I’m not looking to have my ass kissed, or the hottest hottie, or anything like that…I just want someone who is personable, knows the food, loves the food, is fun to get to know, no cheap waiter tricks, and has enough actual opinions to help guide my decisions as I piece together the best possible meal.  That type of service is critical, I would never, ever be a regular anywhere I could not find it (Mostly talking about mid and upper tier dining…they could throw shit at my head at places like Vietnam Café and I’d still go. Thankfully they do not…).

What I lack in actual writing skill I more than make up for in word count. Taking the time to read all of THIS is an impressive feat. But that shit aside, here is the laundry list of food to the best of my recollection….Sunday Brunch, then apps from 2 visits, entrees and desserts in the same manner….

Beverages– I can’t say enough about how much I love tasty non-alcoholic options…715’s Lavender Vanilla Cream Soda is almost like a dessert, but it is damn fine.  And while I love the “burn my face off” effect a big glass of very lightly diluted Ginger Green Tea Soda at the Rieger has more than anything, the lighter version of Ginger Soda with bits of pulp in it at 715 is a winner too.   My wife has tried a couple of the cocktails and really liked them, but my boring ass cannot speak to their deliciousness.  I don’t drink, but if I still did, none of those cocktails are straight bourbon, so what the fuck good are they?

Smoked Trout Bruschetta– got this during our first visit, Sunday brunch.  Great flakey, house smoked fish with all of the nice little accompaniments.

Pastrami Hash– another brunch dish, pretty hearty, house cured, all that jazz. The first good example of the price being misleading…wasn’t counting on a trucker portion for the money. Big score.

Fried Rabbit and Waffles–  I obviously had to get this for my main at brunch….I mean, it’s fried rabbit and waffles. Front and back quarters breaded and fried up pretty perfectly, and another massive meat missile.  Seriously, for anyone who eats here and does the whole “I expected to get more food for the money”….you need some serious self-examination. Your rotted soul is leaving an empty space where you cram food.

Aranciniarborio rice, stracchino cheese and ragu, served with marinara and hot calabrian chile oil–  this is where stuff really started to get interesting…during our first Saturday night visit. Brunch was good enough to get us back there, but here is where the real show began.  This version of arancini was somewhere between baseball and softball sized, which is no small feat since you need to get it hot all the way through to get a good melt on the cheese without burning the crispy breaded exterior.  I defy you to find anything wrong with deep fried balls of rice, cheese and meat sauce.   The Calabrian chile oil is really something else….I sat there for most of the evening thinking of different  applications for it.  Just the right amount of heat and a ton of flavor.  I will be putting in an order online at Taylor’s Market soon for an array of Calabrian chile goods.

Red Wattle ‘Surryano’2 year dry aged hoof-on pork leg– You order this by the ounce, and on the advice of our server we only got one ounce to  share which ended up being the perfect amount.  My wife goes “oh man, country ham”….she pretty much nailed it.  It is damn good, a lot of flavor and I actually much prefer the texture over far more expensive imported hammy products like Prosciutto.

Lamb Chips w/lemon, parsley and parm– Lamb balls…no mystery here, the awesome photo on 715’s Facebook page put this dish on my radar and was part of the reason we headed out there.  Sliced, breaded, fried….great texture, mild, went very well with the chile oil left over from the arancini. Definintely needs more sharpness of some kind…a few capers in with the lemon and parsley maybe.

Soppresata, Pate, Mortadella Sampler– One thing I need to follow up on here is the Soppressata, I usually think of it as just salami, on the menu it lists it as headcheese, the chunky fattiness definitely says headcheese but it’s sliced thin as hell like salami…just a Basilicata vs. Toscana thing here and I’ve somehow never sampled the latter?  Who gives a shit, the flavor and texture is just dynamite.  This little plate really did end up being one of the best representations of housemade charcuterie I’ve eaten in the KC area.  The flavor and texture of the mortadella was outstanding as well, and the depth of flavor with some spicy sweetness in the pate made it stand way, way out from others I’ve eaten.  Across the board, solid as hell.  To be honest, I’d prefer to just eat the housemade stuff vs. the La Quercia products listed along with them.  La Quercia is obviously fucking phenomenal, but I’m more about the rustic flavor profiles.

Fried Livers– Obscene and total false advertising.  You can’t go and list these fucking things as “fried chicken livers” and then only charge about eight bucks without giving motherfuckers some warning. It’s like back in the day at Sanderson’s when they’d wheel out the world’s largest tenderloin for unsuspecting newbies. Crazy shit.  I will eat any chicken liver any time…from gross and overcooked specimens under the lamp at a prepared foods counter to Go Chicken Go, and everything in between.  For the sake of brevity- huge and batter fried, best livers ever, enough for 4 people.  If I had to make one improvement it would be to maybe throw in some lemon slices or some kind of vinegar based something…..no complaints though, the Calabrian chile oil aioli was fiiine.

FegaloTuscan liver sausage with braised sweet onions, golden raisins and white balsamic– That was one tasty burger patty.  A juicy patty of caulfat wrapped goodness. Really, really rich, minerally, fatty, crisp exterior, heavy dark spices, sweetness, sharp vinegar…ultimate, ultimate dish for a thirty degrees below zero day.  Assuming we ever see another one of those. JINX!

Rabbit RavioliRare Hare Barns rabbit confit over homemade parsnip and goat cheese puree ravioli–  Very solid example of well made ravioli…the pasta was thin enough and the amount of filling was perfect in accentuating both components. The shredded rabbit meat on top was an added bonus.  I really need to try more pasta dishes in the future…so far so good there.

Tilefishseared and served with farro salad, grilled radicchio, watercress and red wine vinegar– You’ve got your fatty liver sausage over there, your light grouper-y seared and roasted filet on this side.  And honestly, the fish dish was strong enough to contend with everything else, the farro, veg and vinegar combo was a very welcome change of pace and stood out. Believe it or not, I’m not ALWAYS in the mood for an overload of animal fat, so it is important that the fish options be worthy of a visit all by their lonesome.

Pork Confit and Spaetzleseared pork belly with chive spaetzle, duck fat seared apples, watercress, fennel and walnuts– I know my 3,000 word reviews are punishing, BUT with this dish we have to go back to last month’s “gay jock hate crime of love” topic. This pork was right at that line, and I have to find out more about the order of preparatory events here….I’ve eaten many times my weight in pork belly, I do a passable version of a Thomas Keller recipe at home, but this rendition took all of the best things about the myriad examples I’ve tried and managed to blend them all into one little package. Salty cure, warm and melty fat, meaty texture, crisp exterior.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing that goes into the pork belly salad, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will say…this is something you have to try.  I am never wrong about pork.

Soppressata Pizza– This is what gets the most talk from the 715 fans I’ve spoken with, and it is damn good. You get that headcheese melted down into a pizza and you are on the road to success. Great crust, right ratio of meat/sauce/cheese, seasoned just right, good crispiness giving way to that micro-layer of tongue cauterizing heat. AND it travels well.  We’ll try each of them before all is said and done.

7-Layer Honey Cake– My wife is the dessert fan, and she went crazy for this. I love a good dessert, this one was delicious, but I what I loved and respected most was the construction…very impressive….now that I can do a decent macaron I want to learn how to do this multi-layered rustic entreme thingy.

Sticky Date Cake– Oh, you have to try this and that is no bullshit. This is the type of thing that prompts me to always at least TRY dessert at a new place….for such a small and unassuming little dish it’s a freakin’ monster. Date cake, toffee sauce, ice cream, get it inside you. It’s a world beater.

Lastly, pricewise it’s the kind of place where you can go any direction. We went full-bore with our first dinner there and still barely hit our benchmark $100 tab, which is usually exactly what we spend at Justus, The Rieger, Lidia’s, etc.  Last Saturday we dropped that by ¼ and STILL had way more food than we could ever finish….so honestly, a couple of apps, a shared entrée and a dessert would probably be the perfect amount of food and would make regular “non-date night” visits very doable.  I love the constant Facebook updates that keep me informed of specials, because I am exactly the type of crackhead to make the drive from Parkville on a whim.

SOOO….after thousands of words about one goddamn place, I will shut up after saying- I realize sometimes that my glowing comments make me sound like a Johnson County housewife who never gets to see daylight, but I only usually talk about the places I REALLY like.  So I hope the fact that I know I will never make money on any of this, and the fact that I can (for the most part) eat wherever I want lends some weight to my enthusiasm.  You find a good local place with a solid philosophy, putting out thoughtful food with an emotionally invested team, and you make sure the people on your short list of friends knows to get the fuck over there asap.  I’m not a food critic, I don’t want to potentially mess with anyone’s livelihood just so I can bitch about bad soup, and I’m too lazy to put myself on a schedule with all of this.  This time it’s 715, next time it will be my first experience learning how to make Povitica from a lifelong master, then I’m sure I’ll have some really good fundamentalist-related shit as soon as I’m sure it won’t cause collateral damage, etc. etc.

Now it’s back to my email campaign to get TLC to change the name of “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “WOW! Your Six Year Old is a WHORE!”…..

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Filed under 715 Restaurant, Charcuterie, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Lawrence Kansas, Michael Beard, Paradise Locker Meats

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Cascone's, Christopher Elbow, Citronelle, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, eGullet, El Comedor, Eola, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, General Thoughts, Health, Healthy Eating, Home Cooking, homemade, Howard Hanna, Justus Drugstore, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Kansas City Star, Lucky Peach, Patrick Ryan, Port Fonda, Recovery, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange, Sous Vide Supreme, The Boiler Room, The Corn Exchange, Vietnam Cafe, Washing DC Food, Weight Loss, weight loss surgery

The Boiler Room: Omaha, Nebraska

There really isn’t any other way to say it than to just say it….I’ve always been a boob guy. As far back as I can possibly remember, that fact has been a driving force in my life when it comes to my fascination with and admiration for the opposite sex. In this I am not alone, but much of the time we keep it under wraps, limiting it to guy-talks, locker room chats, anonymous bulletin board postings, whatever. I’m just out there with it…Russ Meyer is GOD, Christina Hendricks is the prototype for a collection of perfect Stepford Wives, Victoria’s Secret models are built like ten year old boys……..I know what I like and with very few “which of these is not like the other?” ex-girlfriend exceptions to the rule, it has been a fucking lifelong THEME. A goddamn QUEST! How in the hell my ramblings about my chronic alcoholism have unashamedly and transparently become a running theme before I ever rounded the bend into big-tit country is a total mystery to me. For those of you who know me, this news is as big a revelation as the fact I wear too much Under Armour. I’m not one of those loonies who scour the freaks of science websites that display obvious quality of life issues, there IS such a thing as TOO big….but for me it’s case by fucking case. The algorithm is a work in progress.

And no story from my personal X-Files of cleavage lore would be complete without mentioning the city of OMAHA. For it was in OMAHA that I suffered a harsh life lesson after flying way too close to the sun. It was somewhere around 1994, I had spent most of the five prior years in a sheltered churchy-type social construct, and I was really green. Easy pickin’s for a savvy chick with very big issues and even bigger boobs. This was back when just having basic shit in common with a girl meant you were soulmates….”OH! You read RE/Search Magazine too? What song will we play during the first dance at our wedding??”. This girl, who will remain nameless, worked in a diner my friends and I frequented when I was in Bible College in Minneapolis, and sometime after I quit Bible College and went to the U of M she and I became buddies. What I didn’t realize was that even though we began dating and ultimately did start talking about marriage….I was still in the buddy role, but I was also a good provider for her when she needed a ride, money, place to sleep, shoulder to cry on, or whatever. A pretty girl with a huge rack and extreme body issues……looking back at the shit I put up with for minimal reciprocity is hilarious now. She was originally from Omaha, so we’d bounce back from there to Minneapolis to Kansas City back to Omaha…all dependent upon whatever drama she was suffering at that moment in time. It’s probably why I hate all of the Emo shit now….a bitter reminder of the hopeless pussy I once was. A trendy and fashion-forward lifestyle based on being a whiny doormat who won’t shut the fuck up about how much it impacts your tiny heart is just too much for me to think about. So long story short, THAT shit ended badly and I fled Minneapolis to Kansas City. I drank for a few days, and then I began my journey from my ministry license expiring to running the premiere porn store in all the land.

So OMAHA…I spent a lot of time there. A lot of time wandering around the Old Market back when deciding whether to spend what little cash I had on a Snapple or a pack of smokes counted as a financial dilemna. This is what any self respecting hipster from that era would call the POST-grunge days…..more than ten people outside of Seattle knew about Sub-Pop records, and seeing Urge Overkill live NOW meant you had to go to a larger venue than the neighborhood bar where you first saw them. With Kurt Cobain only having a couple of months to live, it would have been wise to talk to him longer when I met him at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, KS……Soundgarden SUCKED, Pearl Jam SUCKED DICK…..to us they ruined a scene we never would have known about had it not been for them “selling out”. Scoffing at the movie Singles when it came out, being the coolest guy in the room for having met G.G. Allin, road trips to Chicago to see The Jesus Lizard or Laughing Hyenas….the springtime of a boy’s life, ultimately ruined by a damning fascination with breasts. In Omaha we’d always spend a weird amount of time shopping at Drastic Plastic in the Old Market, and I’ll never forget the day I finally found my own copy of Bongwater’s “Double Bummer”. Interesting sidenote- the folks who ran Drastic Plastic (still run it for all I know) opened a sister store in Kansas City called Spiney Norman’s. The final location for THAT store was in the exact same place where one of my ultimate favorite restaurants, Bluestem, now resides. Life comes full fucking circle. And some shit don’t change…..still a boob guy, but much to the dismay of my wife and any woman who has known me for the past ten or twelve years….at some point I realized I had testicles.

So there we have it….a little too much memory lane preceding the actual reason for this post….but it’s Omaha-related. When we were there a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but remember the fun and the horrors of life back then. No money, no skills, no direction, no sense, no semblance of the white trash culinary discernment I possess now. I returned to Omaha a conqueror. A man who had gotten his shit together, to some degree, through the years. At the very least, I quit putting up with unnecessary shit…with extreme prejudice. AND I was sober, happily married, employed, and involved enough in the food community to get an immediate answer to the question….”Where should I have dinner in Omaha?”.

Short answer- The Boiler Room. There ARE other good places to eat, but all information pointed to The Boiler Room as THE place to begin. In short- solid, solid place for dinner. And not in that food-tourist kind of way…more in that “I’m a fat guy who knows good food so fucking trust me” kind of way. Oh, foodies of every stripe will love the place, but when I think of good food now it’s more along the lines of where a chef would tell another chef to eat. Beautiful space, but not pretentious. Knowledgeable, engaging and friendly service, but not all up your ass. Simple, homey, regional food themes, executed cleanly with great ingredients.  A proper application of heat…I realize that a fancy way of saying “cooking” would get me gang-banged if I were part of the infamous Bourdain/Dufresne/Chang conversation in Lucky Peach…but a “proper application of heat” is a big thing to me, so I can’t just say cooking.  Texture and temperature in harmony arriving to your table at the height of the marriage.  Yes “the food is still hot when it gets to your table”….I know, fuckers, I know. Big, big deal for me that goes beyond the most obvious. Most importantly- the sense of pride and ownership from the back to the front of the house that is 100% mandatory before I would ever say “go eat there, the place is solid”.

Go eat there, the place is solid. Oh, I’m not going to throw my favorite restaurants under the bus or anything, I’m just saying you’re going to have a great meal. Still a ways to go before something eclipses my scallop and sweetbread dish at The Rieger. Let’s not lose our minds here.

When you are trying a new restaurant, do what we do: over-order. Investigate that shit. If you have the right people in your ear telling you where to go you don’t have to be afraid of getting a tableful of shitty food.   We ended up getting three appetizers, two mains, and just one dessert and a capuccino…I didn’t get a photo of dessert, it was a delicious Early Grey Pots de Creme.  If you’re late to the party when it comes to reading my reviews….I error on the side of enjoying my food and my company when it comes to taking notes or pictures.  Oh, also be sure to mention if you’re coming in from out of town, or if you’ve heard great things about the place, etc. when booking your table….we didn’t get VIP’d or anything, but they did save us a fantastic table on the 2nd floor with the best possible view of the kitchen.  And what, besides bouncy boobies, is as fun to watch as a professional kitchen on a Saturday night?

Hand Cut Tajarin, sweet corn, peekeytoe crab, chives

With apologies to all of my local chefs who regularly serve me wonderful and compelling pasta dishes, this was the BEST fucking pasta I have had since my meal at Quince in San Francisco several years ago.  And ironically, I found out from our server that the dish was inspired BY Chef Kulik’s trip to Cotogna/Quince….in fact, if I remember correctly the trip actually inspired him to have a pasta dish on the menu every night.  This one is a winner, winner, winner….and was a last second throw-in as the third app when I couldn’t decide between it and the pork belly.  Perfectly done pasta, the best possible texture, rolled so thin, cut to a perfect and uniform width,  fresh flavors from what had to just be the milk from the corn, micron-thin bits of chive, and light chunks of crab.  Pretty much worth the 2 1/2 hour drive from KC just to have this. I’m not joking.  World class.

Braised T.D. Niche Pork Belly, cranberry beans, spinach cream, shaved black radish

As far as pork n’ beans go, this was a winner.  First of all, that “proper application of heat” got it to our table right when the fat was still melty but didn’t fall off your fork.  Really, really decadent.  And I like the way they present it….like a very thick bacon slice vs. the ubiquitous cube-o’-belly.  At home I’ve found this to be the best, and the easiest way to present it.  More surface area for that delicious crispy fatty exterior.  The texture of the beans, smooth earthy sweetness of the spinach cream and slightly hot bitter bite of the radish pulled it all together and kept it from being just another study in richness…which is not without its own merit.

Heirloom Squash Soup, bottarga, celery leaf, fingerling potato

Didn’t get a picture of this one, fuckers!  Great soup though, potatoes added some texture, as did the celery leaf along with some fresh bite. Very rich overall, cold weather stuff to be sure.  The addition of just a little bottarga on the top was pretty genius…it lent a certain amount of depth to the flavor with that little hit of ocean brine.  A condiment to be used very, very sparingly…perfect amount here.

California Escolar, potato gnocchi, beef marrow, oregon chantrelles, escargots

Pretty dreamy main course.  The fish had what one may refer to as the “proper application of heat”…flaky, moist, crisp and thin little crouton-like addition to one side.  The supporting cast really took this dish all over the place. First off, my server let me know that they were out of the escargots, but the chef would like to add his housemade sausage instead if that was okay.  Of course it was okay.  Awesome flavor and texture to the little slices of sausage….along with the little chantarelles, some broth and the rondelles of beef marrow, the dish was all over the place flavor-wise.  Very well composed, making an already great piece of fish far, far more interesting.

Braised Nebraska Piedmontese Shortrib, celeriac purée, nantes carrots, grilled eggplant, marrow crumbs

My wife ordered this dish, so since I was neck-deep in my escolar I didn’t try as much as I would have liked.  She loved the marrow crumbs….new to me too, tasted kind of like if God won the annual “Best Alternative to Panko” contest.  The shortribs themselves were very good…I mean, shortribs…one of the best cuts of beef, period.  I forget how much a good celeriac puree can add to a dish….a far better choice than the usual heap of mashed potatoes.  Recently my wife started using smashed white beans as a potato alternative….way more flavor and texture…this puree was a lot like that. I’d never sit down and eat a quart of it like I would potatoes, but the flavor is exactly what you want in a hearty, homey dish like this one.

Again, if you are in Omaha, this is where you want to have dinner.  I want to try Grey Plume and a couple of other places, but The Boiler Room will be mandatory dining when we visit.  

BONUS ROUND!

The “11worth” Cafe…..just had to throw this one in there.  I think my ex-girlfriend lasted about half a shift.  The place is a meatgrinder as far as service and table turning, an amazing military operation. And I’m sure that drunk rednecks and assorted rough trade aren’t as subtle when it comes to scoping boobs…so she bailed pretty fast.  Good, not fantastic, food. Awesome people watching, and you do get a ton of grub for your dollar.  Honestly one of the most impressive operations I’ve ever seen outside of monstrous Asian restaurants and dim sum parlors….the place just churns and fucking burns. Unreal.

 We got a breakfast burrito, and this huge plate of biscuits covered with manhole cover sized sausage patties and gravy that they call “The Robert E. Lee”.  My advice- get the small order. It is massive.

So anyway, in keeping with the food theme of late, here is another offering. And I made sure to keep enough time between posts to just be annoying.  Lots of good dinners and events coming up throughout the holidays for us.  We’re co-hosting a NYE party featuring some catered Port Fonda pork, and god knows what meals we’ll be enjoying at our regular haunts.

OH, I never end my food review posts with some annoying sign-off, but if I WERE going to do that now it would be something like….. When it comes to being seductive and satisfying, The Boiler Room in Omaha sure has one HELL of a rack!

See why I never do that shit?  It just ruins everything.

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