Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Adventures in Restaurant Week and other happenings.

Kansas City Restaurant Week (RW) started last Friday and runs through this Sunday.  This is an event where restaurants all over the city offer special discounted menus and donate a portion of those meals to various local charities. It's a great time to check out new places and visit old favorites. This past weekend we made an event out of it and hit up four local establishments.

For lunch on Friday, we went to Grand Street Cafe near the Plaza. It's been a favorite of ours for a long time, turning out consistently good food with the added bonuses of pleasant atmosphere, good location, and easy parking. Unlike most other restaurants that offer multiple RW options for each course, lunch here was a set menu with no options. When we arrived I was reminded once again how much I like the place. The decor reminds me of being on vacation, with the high ceilings, wicker accents, upholstered walls, and perfectly comfortable temperature. We ordered a couple of limeades (no booze - we're working) and the RW menu.

The first course was a beet and greens salad with a goat cheese and fig truffle. This course was a bit of a disappointment in its banality. It was too large, too overdressed, the truffle was too dry, like it had been made the night before and stored uncovered in the refrigerator. However, the flavors of beet and greens and vinaigrette are classic and we both ate most of it. Now we get to a couple of dining pet peeves of mine, especially when it comes to establishments that consider themselves on the higher end of things. The server removed Mr. Awesome's salad while I was still eating mine. This one is little, but still annoying to me. But this one I really hate: our entrees were brought out while I was still eating my salad. We had our salads for about 8 minutes, tops. Our table was too small for the big plates, so I asked them to remove the salad. That irks me like nobody's business. Don't fire the entrees until several minutes after the first courses have been delivered. How hard is this?

The second course was a steelhead trout with artichokes, potatoes, tomatoes and capers with a creamy mustard sauce. It was delicious. About this time, Mr. Awesome notices we don't have bread, but other tables do. We assume it's because we ordered the RW menu, until I see another server bring bread to a newly-seated table that had not ordered anything yet. We then chalk it up to a bumbling server.

Dessert was a smaller version of Grand Street's signature phyllo-wrapped brownie. This is another thing that sometimes bugs me about RW: when restaurants deliver smaller versions of their menu items when ordered as part of the RW menu. It's misleading to me, in a way. Again, it's probably just me, but it still irks. The brownie, though smaller, was flaky, gooey, and intensely chocolaty. In other words, it was amazing.

The short version here is the RW experience at Grand Street Cafe was a little less great than a normal visit. But the presented menu was a good representation of the types of food they offer.

For dinner, we checked out the RW experience at Swagat, an Indian restaurant in KC North at Zona Rosa. We've liked Swagat for as long as they've been open, but don't go often because, to paraphrase Cookie Monster (or Hootsie, if you want to get picky on me), Indian is a sometimes-food. The RW offering from Swagat was really appealing: the Swagat Dinner for Two, normally priced at $45, for $33:

Vegetable Soup, Vegetable Samosas, Chicken Tandoori, Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Rogan Josh, Rice, Nan & Kheer or Gulab Jamun


That, my friends, is a LOT of food, for a little money. We arrived around 6:30 and had no problem getting a table. Unlike at Grand Street, we had to ask our Swagat server for the RW menu. He was a little confused, but then said he started working there yesterday and would go ask someone else about it. A short time later, he came back and gave us the option, which we promptly ordered, along with some Chai tea and raita (cucumber yogurt sauce to cool off the mouth when things get spicy). Feeling adventurous, we ordered our meal Medium instead of Mild.

So much food! And so spicy! Oh man, it was like a workout, it was so spicy. No more Medium at Swagat for us. But the raita helped and everything tasted so good, we ate through the pain. In the end, we had enough leftovers for another feast for two. Seriously, even at the regular price, this is a bargain. But for RW, this is a steal. I can't recommend this place, and the dinner for two, enough.

Stuffed full of Indian, we walked at the gym, then headed home to watch a movie. Someone at work recommended the Ethan Hawke film Predestination. I really enjoyed it, but Mr. Awesome was playing iPad golf or something and didn't pay close enough attention to get much out of it. It's sci-fi, but different and the performance by the lead actress (Sarah Snook) was very good.

On Saturday, we ate dinner at Zocalo Mexican restaurant. This was a new place for us, although we chose it because we'd had a terrific jalepeno cocktail from their stand last year at the Plaza Art Fair. With memories of warmer, longer days in our heads, we headed to the restaurant to drink some Jalepeno Coolers and eat whatever they had to offer for RW. Despite a reservation, we were seated at a tiny high-topped bar table. The restaurant was very busy, but it was still a little disappointing. It could have been worse - a group of four next to us were at the same sized tiny table.

There were several options for each course (four courses, pick any three, with an option to get all four for $5 more - so that's what we did), so we each picked something different (except for the second course). For our first course, we ordered a scallop ceviche and a mushroom queso dip. The ceviche was good, but not great. It could have used more salt and acid, and maybe some more heat. The dip, however, was fantastic.

We made them leave the huge plate holding the dip on the table while we ate our second courses - spinach and cranberry salads. These were huge salads, with lots of blue cheese and dried cranberries. They were okay - what is it with this salad? It's like the Meghan Trainor of salads - freaking everywhere and annoying as hell, but you still put up with it because there's a reason this formula works. I digress. While we were eating our huge salads on our tiny table that was made tinier because of the huge dip platter, our server kindly asked if we wanted to move to a booth that had just opened up. We jumped at that chance and ordered two more Jalepeno Coolers.

For entrees, I ordered a the Mexico City Sampler ("chicken enchilada, pork and egg enchilada, mole chorizo & short rib enchilada, elote") and Mr. Awesome ordered Red-Chile Prawns ("spaghetti squash, zucchini, jalepeno, brown butter, toasted almond citrus sauce"). These were both kind of disappointing. Mine was too much of the same heavy, smokey flavor, with everything running together and indistinguishable from any of its parts. The chorizo mole enchilada was too rich and fatty to enjoy, and the other offerings had no distinguishable flavors other than smokey and heat. Mr. Awesome's prawns were three dreadfully overcooked shrimp on a bed of oily spaghetti squash. The flavors here were better, but it was too greasy and the shrimp were sad.

Desserts were a much better experience. We ordered the Tres Leches Cake and the Chocolate Torte, and both were excellent. The tres leches cake was moist and creamy without being too cloying, and the chocolate torte was warm and melty, and the vanilla ice cream served with it was a perfect compliment.

We decided that, if we go back to Zocalo, it will be for drinks and dessert. Those they do very well.

After dinner we went home and watched the movie Birdman. I missed Michael Keaton in movies. I hope this is his resurgence, because he is so good. The movie was entertaining and different, in a good way. I can't say it was one of the best movies I've seen, and it didn't stick with me the way, say, Whiplash has, but it's good to see a film that is unconventional and original, but still approachable.

On Sunday headed to the gym to lift weights, The we went to Happy Rock Park, where we ran outside for the first time in over a month. The weather was perfect - up near 60 degrees, no wind, lots of sunshine. In under an hour, Mr. Awesome ran 6 miles and I ran just over 4. We celebrated our healthy behaviors by treating ourselves to yet another RW dinner - this time at our new favorite restaurant, Le Fou Frog.

We ate at Le Fou Frog for the first time about a month ago, and instantly fell in love with the intimate space, warm and inviting. We fell in love with the decor, and the charming Frenchness of it. We loved the servers, the boisterous kitchen, the proximity to our house (less than 15 minutes) and most of all, we fell in love with the food. When I saw they were participating in RW, it was a no-brainier and I made a reservation.

We were seated in a cozy corner booth near the kitchen. The place was full, as usual, but even full and crowded, it still feels intimate. We started our meal with cocktails - the French 75, a martini made with vodka, lemon, simple syrup and champagne. Since we were hungry, we started our meals with soup, a course not on the RW menu. I had some of the best french onion soup I've ever eaten - savory, a little sweet, mmm. Mr. Awesome had an excellent lobster bisque that was briny and rich.

For our first RW course, I had the Goat Cheese with Root Vegetable salad. It was a perfect size (not too big, not too small) and perfectly dressed. The seasoning was spot-on and the vegetables were crisp-tender. Mr. Awesome ordered the Vol au Vent of Escargot and Crayfish. It was a mixture of the proteins, garlic, parsley, and oil over a puff pastry. Drool. I am a sucker for escargot cooked this way, but it also usually makes my skin smell like garlic for a week.

Our entree courses were equally as perfect. Mine was a Quail Stuffed with Brioche and Foie Gras Sauce Perigoudine. The quail was tender and moist, the stuffing was earthy and satisfying. Mr. Awesome had the Shoulder Tender Filet au Poivre. It was cooked perfectly and he practically inhaled it.

Desserts were a Chausson aux Pommes et Poire (pear and apple tart) and a Mousse au Chocolat, which we split. Again, perfection, as was the coffee I had with dessert. As we were eating our desserts, one of the servers entertained the room with her rendition of the song Gimme Gimme from the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie (here's a video of then-Broadway-newcomer Sutton Foster performing it on the Rosie O'Donnell show in 2002. My god, that last note, amiright?). That's one of the most wonderful things about this restaurant, and it happened the last time we ate (with another server's rendition of "When You're Good To Mama" from Chicago). So Parisian. I could die at the table after finishing a meal at Le Fou Frog and have lived a good, good life).

We then went home and watched the movie, The Hundred-Foot Journey. It's about an Indian chef in France, and I thought it was delightful. A nice, beautiful, heartfelt film.

On Monday we had the day off thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so we went for a long walk at the park, then cooked some Pho Ga at home, then went for another walk before coming home and watching some Parks and Rec and Top Chef.

Oh - and I finished The Goldfinch - loved it. LOVED IT.

Then I started and finished The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. I liked it, but I'm still processing it so I can't say for certain if it will stick with me.

Today I started The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I've read a couple of his books in the past and they didn't disappoint, so I've got high hopes for this one.

Man, this was a really long post with no pictures. Sorry 'bout that. Here's an otter because otters are adorable:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="324"] See? Adorable.[/caption]

And here's a video of one of my favorite Tony Awards performances - Kristen Chenowith as Sally in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown singing "My Philosophy" at the 1999 show:

[tube]tRa7WNmRakY[/tube]

YAY MEDIA!

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