This Foodie's event calendar really picked up in April. Somewhere between my committee work on Forks & Corks and the event itself last Thursday and the fact that once the weather gets warmer Foodies start heading outside, hosting parties, inviting others to come join them. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, (okay, to a Foodie it really means lamb, asparagus, peas and fiddlehead's are back on the menu) and that means the plans that most Chefs and Restaurateurs have been percolating on all winter are finally ready to be tasted.
So in making my rounds this April, here are some interesting things I picked up speaking to different Chefs around town as I have been out and about. These are all things experienced first hand, or told to me by a local Chef or restaurateur. It's good stuff, and I was so honored to be given the scoop on, so I thought I would share it with you. It's like a wedding - something old, something new, something borrowed . . .you know the rest.
Tidbit #1 - Cool Cocktails & Hot Expansion for Justus Drugstore. I was up at Smithville enjoying another incredible meal at Chef Jonathan Justus's and his lovely wife Camille Eklof's place, Justus Drugstore. We came early for a chance to sit at the bar and enjoy a unique cocktail from his charming bartender. I really love their cocktail menu. If you look at the end of the bar you see, glass jar after glass jar filled with fresh fruit and some sort of liquor hanging out together getting happy. We had almost enough people in our party to try all of the cocktails featured on the menu and each one was a standout. My favorite, was the one I got (mostly because it featured my poison of choice, gin) called a Silver Elder Fizz. It was a delightful concoction of (I think these ingredients are close) gin, elderflower syrup, lemon, vanilla vodka and frothy egg whites from Campo Lindo local eggs. It was completely refreshing with the bright citrus and gin waking up your tastebuds while the silky egg whites give it a very rich mouth feel. The vanilla vodka and elderflower syrup were sweet and floral, which gave the drink an innocent perfumed aroma . . .the best cocktail I have had this year. Jonathan said, he likes this drink so much he is thinking this will be one he keeps on his menu for a while. Hurry, while it is on there and get one. Take it from me, this is an award-winning cocktail.
After our meal, and being one of the last tables in the place, Jonathan pulled up a chair and sat down to chat with a lovely glass of red wine in his hand looking every bit a man enjoying his place, his guests and the moment. We talked about life in Smithville, the national press making the circuit through his doors and the new patio that is being poured on the far side of the restaurant. (See cement wall in this photo.) "Just in time for the good weather," he tells me when I ask about the staked off patio and concrete. At this point he is thinking the patio will be a different dining experience than what you would receive inside the restaurant. He sees the patio as more of a faster dining experience with a different menu of small plates that would be available. Patio season in KC just keeps getting better and better.
Morsel #2 - Michael Smith planning to open his second restaurant, Extra Virgin, in mid-June. I went to the Urban Picnic a week ago hosted annually by the KC Originals as their lovely guest appreciation event and had an opportunity to chat with a strikingly casual and relaxed Michael Smith, who was dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt, about his new Happy Hour promotion at Michael Smith. He had said those will be running only until he gets Extra Virgin open in late June. Located next door to Restaurant Micheal Smith, Extra Virgin's address is 7 W. 19th Street, literally in the same building. In an article Hearne Christopher Jr. published in the KC Star on April 10, 2008, Michael Smith describes his new baby this way: “We’re going to do olive oil martinis. And, like, when you walk into the place you’ll see food immediately. There’ll be an open-air kitchen and a patio on the sidewalk.”
As for the new restaurant itself, “It’s going to be very casual fare — hip, rustic foods, small foods,” Smith says. “And we’re taking the bar out of the Michael Smith side and bringing it over here to increase the seating on the Michael Smith side. So it’ll be a 90-seat restaurant. I’m only 70 now.” Smith’s take on having two restaurants side-by-side: “We just feel that one will feed off the other. There’s a customer that wants a Michael Smith restaurant, and there’s a customer who wants something casual.”
This is an interesting strategy, where Michael Smith will be able to utilize both spaces to flow traffic back and forth, potentially never losing the guest to another restaurant. Waiting for your table at Michael Smith? Walk over and sit outside or at the bar at Extra Virgin and sip an olive oil martini while you wait. No room to squeeze you into Michael Smith's tonight for dinner? Head over next door and see if you can snag a table for a quick bite before heading out to a downtown event. Potential cost savings from shared kitchen help, servers and food costs will all be a plus as well. I have to say, the menu and restaurant theme of Extra Virgin sound very similar to Chef Rob Dalzell, of 1924 Main, (located around the corner from Michael Smith's) Pizza Bella concept. Let's hope there are enough charcuterie-lovers in this town to go around. Count me in!
Nugget #3 - chefBurger's success demands menu change. Speaking of Chef Rob Dalzell, I was lucky enough to be included in a special spring menu tasting at 1924 Main where I had the opportunity to meet, Margarita, Chef Rob's very sweet and hard-working wife. After chatting about the delicious menu whose highlights for me included a Seared Diver Scallop, Crispy Artichokes, Basil Pickles and Crayfish Remulade served with a Champalou Vouvray from France and the Cheese Flight with Accompaniments and a "Jonesy" Port we had a chance to talk about the other concepts, most notable the new chefBurger in the Power & Light District.
I had asked Margarita about the menu change I had seen over the last few weeks since they had been open, particularly the disappearance of the "Build Your Own Burger" component which dominated the original menu at chefBurger, but seemed to be missing on my last visit.
"Rob really wanted the whole concept of chefBurger to be built around the idea that you could have your burger anyway you wanted it, that you could build it from the bun up," she said. "But the reality was it was very time consuming on the line to make these special order burgers."
She explained, the cooks at chefBurger would be flying through the standard chefBurger orders, but when a "build your own" was thrown into the mix it slowed the prep & cook times down considerably, as the cooks had to really study the order to make sure it was customized properly. With the heavy crowds that continue to pour into the restaurant, Chef Rob decided to take them off the menu to provide a faster food to table times and to keep his guests happy.
I have to admit there is something really wonderful about a man who can admit his mistakes and learn from them. How sexy is that? I personally think that this is a feature that although novel in approach is not a "make or break" component of the concept.
I was assured by Margarita that chefBurger is still happy to add or delete any ingredient from any of their thick and juicy specialty burgers, so you can still "have it your way."
Tidbit #4 - JP Wine bar adds new southern location, and is opening a traditional cocktail bar downtown. Last week, I was met a man named Craig Adcock, who sold me a life-changing rum cake, who also happens to own a successful BBQ catering company in town called Belly Up BBQ. He wanted to make the exchange of cash for cake at JP's Wine Bar downtown, and I agreed. Of course, given that my new friend also happens to have a wonderful depth of knowledge about wine as well, we decided to stay for a glass of wine, which then turned into a bottle back in the wine locker tasting room of JP's Wine Bar.
It also gave me an opportunity to talk with Owner/Sommelier Ryan Maybee, about his plans for the second JP's Wine Bar which will be located catty-corner from Town Center at 119th and Roe in the Crate and Barrel Shopping Center. This will be a spectacular location for this concept, and should really fit in nicely with the other upscale retailers surrounding him. Ryan says you can expect this second location to be open by September-October 2008.
But even more interesting and exciting for me was to learn that Ryan is also going to open (not far from JP's current location downtown) a traditional cocktail bar called Manifesto, specializing in hand-crafted, precision cocktails that use traditional ingredients and house cracked ice cubes. Think old-school 'tails. Think Pegu Club in New York City and it's famous mixologist Audrey Saunders who has brought back traditional cocktails but is making them with all of her own mixes and infusions, which brings a fresher, brighter flavor to these long forgotten, but still glamorous cocktails. These may be your grand-daddy's cocktails, but he has never tasted them this good before.
What I discovered in talking to Ryan, is not only is he a "Frosty", or a disciple of Doug Frost (a KC native who is royalty in the wine world for being one of three people in the world who have successfully taken and passed both the Master Sommelier examination and achieved the Master of Wine titles) which would explain his impressive wine knowledge and experience, but Ryan also happens to be a master mixologist. He was chosen as a finalist in the 2007 Vinos De Jerez Cocktail Competition held in New York City last year. Although he did not win the competition he said he was competing against many talented bartenders from all over the world. In KC, he was also the organizer for the HALO 2007 Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition.
Let's just say, Ryan has the fever for really great retro cocktails. Manifesto should be open by June -July 2008. I hope I get an invitation to the opening . . .gin is my favorite sin, well one of my favorite.
Morsel #5 - Is Chef Jasper Mirabile Jr. headed for a Throwdown with Bobby Flay? I was invited to attend Jasper's 54th Anniversary Party of his restaurant Jasper's this Saturday at the restaurant. As a warm crowd of friends, family and well-wishers noshed on Jasper's incredible trademark salad, garlic bread and pasta, Chef Jasper Mirabile Jr., or JJ, as his friends call him, was live on the air hosting his Jasper's LIVE radio show on KCMO 710 Saturdays at 11:00 am.
I was amazed that JJ was able to concentrate on getting through the show with all of the excitement and chaos going on in the restaurant with the anniversary party. But he managed to keep it together enough to interview the Kalaris family who owns Tasso's Greek restaurant and who had been close restaurant neighbors to the original Jasper's when it was on 75th and Wornall. He also interviewed his mother about the name of the restaurant and told us that she had made the cream puffs that we would be enjoying for dessert at the anniversary party.
After the show was over, and the candles on the anniversary cake were blown out, I had a chance to sit and talk with Jasper for a few minutes before he was needed back in the kitchen to prepare for the Saturday night crowd. This man never stops for one minute. He can easily do 6 things at once and still make you feel like you are the most important person in the room. He is talented, relevant and a genuine person who had shaped the Kansas City restaurant scene with his drive, talent, passion and customer service. I am a big fan.
I toured his wine room with his brother, Leonard, who is the front of the house man and who does all of the wine buying for the restaurant, which sports a fabulous collection of Italian wines, including one that he found that bears his family name, Mirabile.
As I was chatting with JJ on the way out, he said that he had been contacted by the folks at Food Network about Bobby Flay's Kansas City cookbook signing on May 9, 2008 at 7:00 pm at the Unity Temple on the Plaza. JJ said, "I don't know, but this could be a set up for a Throwdown match between Bobby and I." (referring to Bobby's hit show where he travels to different towns challenging local cooks to a cooking throwdown). JJ thought it seemed too convenient Food Network would call him about Flay's appearance. I told him, if they do end up having a Throwdown to be sure to call me. I'll be the first one on the front row cheering JJ on to victory. UPDATE: See this hilarious account from JJ of what happened when he arrived at a radio interview with Bobby Flay he posted on his blog.
Nugget #6 - Chef Marshall Roth is definitely OUT and about between the 6 restaurant & bar menus he is executing for ECI, the Cordish Company's restaurant and club division. I went into Vinino Wine Bar in the Power & Light District with a friend for a drink after an event to see if I could tell if Chef Marshall Roth had been able to make any noticeable improvements to the drink/food menu since taking over at the beginning of the year. I had very high hopes for the place, that were quickly dashed upon sitting at the bar. I have to say Vinino is still really at the bottom of my list for both food and especially disappointing was the wine . . .none of what I ordered appeared to be in stock and if it was it was vinegar when they poured it into my glass and served it to me. I didn't even have the strength to remind them that they had the words "Wine Bar" in the name of the place.
That's when we spotted Chef Marshall Roth and his signature bleach blonde mohawk coming out from the McFadden side into the Vinino side where he spoke to the front of the house manager about something before heading out the back door and across the way to Tengo Sed Cantina. After about 10 minutes in that restaurant, he came back out across the courtyard with a leg of pork or beef in a plastic bag over his shoulder and took it back into the Vinino kitchen. We somehow managed to get him to stop long enough for a chat, but not before he cell phone rang and he excused himself to speak to "his boss."
You definitely get the impression looking at him that this is a talented man who is getting pulled in too many different directions with almost all of the ECI Cordish restaurants/bars opening in the next 2 weeks. He looks tired and beaten and running on coffee, love and who knows what else. His Dad is still battling cancer, and Marshall talked openly about his concern for his Father's health, which was the reason he relocated to KC after years as a trendy, boutique hotel chef. But eventually it is back to his boutique hotel roots that he is hoping to get, once he decides to move on to his next gig.
But for now, his eyes light up as he discusses his work on the menu for the new Maker's Mark Restaurant & Lounge in the Power & Light district which had its soft opening last Thursday night and will officially open on May 2. He likes working with this concept because it is more upscale in nature.
Marshall, I know you are tired and need a break, but you need to stay focused. Kansas City needs you more than ever to rally to the occasion and make your impact. We are counting on you. We want to see that from you.
Now you know what I know . . .just a little bite of somethin', somethin' to hold you over. Enjoy!