I received a few other invitations to dine this month that came from places not always top of mind for me. They are places that I seem to forget about, not on purpose, but perhaps because they have existed a while on the scene, or they are hidden away in a place not always remembered first for their food. They can be places I keep meaning to get into but never seem to make it happen or they can even be old friends that I have much love for, but somehow end up neglecting with all the new places to go and see.
Each of these places,The Drop, Cafe Sebastienne and Chaz at The Raphael, falls into one of these categories above. It is not a testament of their skills, but more a testament to my schedule and ability to remember them. They are all places that should be considered Forget-Me-Nots in your Spring dining bouquets.
The Drop - Eddie Crane and Chef Kelli Daniels at The Drop had been asking me to come in and taste some of Chef Kelli's food for at least a couple of months. I knew I would get myself in to meet my old friends for dinner eventually, but something always came up, and I never seemed to get it on my calendar.
Besides, I felt like I already knew the food at The Drop. The near cult-like love, and most copied dish in all of KC - The Drop's bruschetta, or how about the Arugula salad or delicious soups. It was the food I remember eating when Chef Josh Eans was with Eddie and Ernesto cooking at The Drop. I loved it then, and I love it now. So, when Eddie and Chef Kelli kept calling me to come eat, I couldn't imagine why or what had changed. Now, I know what has changed, and who has changed it. Chef Kelli Daniels. Period.
The funny part is, I actually introduced Eddie to Kelli after I had met her briefly at the Christmas party. My impression of her was that she was someone who was very poised and mature, someone who knew who she was and was open to what would be coming next in her culinary future. She had just left a Chef's position at Skies Restaurant at the Hyatt downtown and she described to me her culinary style as Low Country Delta cooking meets Mediterranean food, which I thought was an interesting combo. But, what struck me the most was listening to her talk about all of the various skills and jobs she had held on her way to becoming a Chef and how her father, who is a well known Chef, was also a major influence in her life and her "waste not, want not" approach to cuisine. At different points in her career, she had worked for a fish monger and a butcher. She had held high end cuisine jobs and casual cookin' gigs. She had worked the gamut and was still in the game. She was also the perfect person to step into The Drop and help Eddie figure out how to get the most from every dollar of food cost. She breaks down her own proteins, makes delicious sauces from what's already in inventory like Apple Cider Vinegar and yet she doesn't cut corners where it counts by using local Campo Lindo Chicken and Elysian Field’s Farm lamb or more widely known among foodies as "Chef Thomas Keller's lamb."
When I did make it in to eat dinner with Eddie, Chef Kelli sent out the dishes she wanted me to see and eat and I was struck by the fact that these where not nibbles or small plates, these were full on entrees. The Drop was officially serving dinner in lovely little, picture perfect portion sizes. Eddie ordered the crab cakes to start and they were very good, with little flecks of fresh herbs mixed in with the crab, but it was the Greek Antipasti platter that made me forget all about The Drop's bruschetta. Literally, as good as their bruschetta is, it is old news, compared to this plate of slices of delicious pork sausage, grilled Halloumi cheese, fresh feta cheese and house made Naan bread toasty warm served with a side of cucumber kalamata olive topping. (If you follow me on Twitter, you know what a freak I am for cucumber.)
House made gnocchi with roasted chicken, shitake mushrooms, toasted walnuts, arugula in a whiskey butter sauce for $12.
Half a rack of lamb with truffle mint potatoes, wilted spinach and apple cider reduction sauce. $22
Pork Tenderloin encrusted in cumin & cinnamon, grilled polenta, apple slaw and a romensco sauce. $13
I asked Eddie why he had never served food like this before at The Drop. He said, from the day they opened, they had really been severely limited by the kitchen, or lack of kitchen, that they had.
Then Chef Kelli came out to the table and we began talking about her amazing food, and that's when Eddie said "What Kelli has been able to do with a hot plate, a toaster oven and a small convection oven is impressive."
"Wait, a minute", I said, "are you telling me that there is no stove or commercial gas range in the back?"
They both looked at me and shook their head, no. How can this be? The food I just had could not have come from a kitchen without a stove, impossible. Without another word, I picked up my camera and said, "show me, right now."
Behind the black curtain, is a very small T-shaped kitchen. With a medium sized walk-in, a dish pit on one side and a prep station and convection oven on the other side. By the back door, which is kept propped open when it is nice out to help ventilate a room with no hood, is the safe with a little stainless table on top and two hot plates next to the slicer. This is what serves as the range top at The Drop.
I turn to Chef Kelli and shook her hand. I said, "you are one creative, talented lady to be cooking with this set-up."
She showed me her prep list which she has to carefully organize her time around with only two hot plates in the back. She starts most things off on the hot plate and then finishes them off in the convection oven.
She talked about the fact that because they have a smaller oven, it means that only certain sized pots and pan can even fit in there.
It totally makes sense now why my friend Chef Josh Eans went bruschetta as their hero small plate . . .look at what he was working with back there. It is with new eyes, that I now have to reconsider what I thought the food at The Drop was all about. Let's just say, I now have a new appreciation for the labor it takes to turn out a beautiful plate of food like the ones I enjoyed above. Go eat at The Drop and see for yourself why Chef Kelli and Eddie deserve to be remembered.
Cafe Sebastienne - Chef Jennifer Maloney was the first Chef in Kansas City who upon meeting me, said "Yes, I read your blog. I like it very much." You could have knocked me over with a feather. I have seen Chef Jennifer at many, many culinary events over the last year or so and she is always so very nice to me, and remembers me, which I also find so flattering and kind. But, that is just the way Jennifer is, she is friendly, she is outgoing, she is nice. She also happens to be very well liked and respected by other Chefs in this town. That's because she is extremely talented and because she is passionate about using and finding seasonal food.
We became Facebook friends several months ago, and one night she popped up to chat and said: "So when are you coming to eat at my place?" See, I had confessed to Jennifer that although I had eaten her food at culinary events, I had not made it into the Kemper Museum to eat at her restaurant. Several mutual friends, who love Chef Jennifer and Cafe Sebastienne had also told me what I had been missing and encouraged me to get into her restaurant to eat. I just couldn't place the idea of this earthy Chef, with an interest in ethnic cuisines and flavors, being inside of this art gallery.
When I responded back to her Facebook chat about coming in to eat, she said, "Everyone forgets me here inside the museum." Something about that totally honest statement rang true to me and it pulled at my heart-strings. It is easy to forget those really good restaurants that are tucked away inside of a place you go to for a different reason, other than to just eat.
Eatie and I made a date and went in for dinner right around my Birthday, in fact I called this my birthday dinner when I was chatting with a friend on the phone a couple of days later. It was a Friday night, and we were seated inside the art-filled main dining room. I wondered if all of the color and movement of the artwork would be distracting or somehow too busy to enjoy our meal. But, in reality, quite the opposite was true. It was the calmest, most still room that I have ever dined in. It wasn't dead air, it was like eating inside of a library or a museum. I found it most soothing after a hugely busy, hectic week to escape into this soundless booth or cocoon. I could talk to Eatie in peace with no competing background noise and no rowdy table mates . . .I swear we could have solved world peace that night with all of the quality communicating that got done.
The people who were dining around us, and we did have many tables, consisted of a very educated, art-loving crowd. Lots of designer glasses, lots of black, lots of good wine being enjoyed while deep and meaningful conversations were going down at the table. I leaned over to Eatie and said: "I feel smarter and more educated just eating the food in this restaurant." It was like they were rubbing off on me, in a good way.
In terms of the food, we had the Soup du Jour, which was a Moroccan Vegetable Stew that was hearty and spicy and full of smoky aromas when it arrived at the table with a plate of rolls and butter.
The server we had that night, played our table just right. Just funny enough to be amusing, and yet, when we needed a serious wine recommendation he had knowledge to spare and really took care of us.
Chef Jennifer also took care of us, sending out extra entrees of short ribs with a beet horseradish cream that was bright pink and perfectly complimented the rich beef flavors.
Eatie ordered the grilled duck with poblano mole and sweet corn polenta for $24. The mole was dark and velvety with a kick of pepper. I ordered the Panko-crusted flake with roasted tomato-fennel relish and French green lentils. For dessert, Chef sent out the Pineapple Cobbler and their flourless chocolate cake. Both desserts, were outstanding and hit the spot after so many delicious entrees.
Chef Jennifer is doing amazing things, with various ethnic flavors and cuisines, inside of the Kemper Museum of Art, I say it's time to support the culinary arts and eat at Cafe Sebastienne.
Chaz inside The Raphael Hotel - I had come to the grand opening of the newly remodeled Chaz Restaurant, which is somewhat unfortunately named after a family member that owns The Raphael Hotel. I only say that because, you have to admit, it is a somewhat dated name. Images of Regal Beagle the bar on Three's Company, always seems to jump in my head when I hear that name. That and the character Larry, from the show, with his tight polyester shirts and his chains and chest hair hanging out (shudder). But as the PR/Marketing rep for The Raphael, Rick Hughey, explained to me when I put him on the spot and asked him about the name, was that the focus groups they did, actually preferred that name to others because it was international sounding and could be from any culture or country on the planet. That, I could actually see, and understand.
It also adds up when you see the creative and colorful facelift that the old restaurant has received. With bold punches of red and gold, it's kinda Asian/Moroccan, kinda glamorous Shabby Chic, kinda your Grandma's formal living room all rolled into one. The total impact to the restaurant is visually stunning.
After the grand opening event, I was more than a little surprised when, Rick Hughey, emailed and wanted to know if I would be interested in coming to eat at Chaz. The timing was great, because I was interested in understanding Chef Peter Hahn's food. As a 17 year veteran Executive Chef of the hotel, he has always been held in high esteem in Kansas City. I had also just introduced myself to him at the grand opening event, so I thought this would be a nice way to close the loop with him.
Rick Hughey, graciously offered to join me for dinner, and I gladly took him up on it as a chance to learn more about him and the hotel where Eatie and I had celebrated our honeymoon and our 10 year anniversary a couple of years ago. When I told Rick this story, he laughed and said that I would be shocked to know how many people in Kansas City shared that same story. He said many, many people in Kansas City have honeymooned at one of the most romantic hotels in Kansas City. I laughed and thought there is a story or a marketing stunt in that idea there some where. Perhaps The Raphael should stage a "love in" and invite all the couples that have honeymooned with them in the past back for a night's stay or a special cocktail hour. Something to remind them of that romantic and special night. Heck, I'd go. Why not?
So, we were seated at my favorite booth in the whole restaurant. The one with the round floral ball chandelier seen above. I really thought this table was the cat's meow, until I realized how close it was to the live music playing in the lounge. At times the music was nice ambient noise, but when Rick and I really started talking it suddenly seemed very loud.
After listening to the specials for the night, I was intrigued by an ingredient on a fish dish that he referred to as "celeriac". I thought to myself, perhaps the server mispronounced it. Then I thought I might have mis-heard it. Finally, I just had to ask the manager who had stopped by the table to chat what "celeriac" was. He confessed he was not sure either and gladly went back to Chef Peter to ask exactly what it was. He returned to our table with this piece of produce. Celery Root. Celeriac is another name for Celery Root. I had no idea.
In the other hand, the GM carried a bowl of freshly sauteed celery root for us to try it, along with a bowl of raw celeriac for comparison. How lovely? What a great foodie touch, I thought, crunching on the tasteless raw celery root, and then marveling at how the sauteed root really had the flavor and texture of hash brown potatoes. This apparently comes from the natural sugars in Celeriac, that come to the surface and caramelize. WOW! I had no idea you could saute celery root.
I ordered the fish special and enjoyed it and a piece of duck breast and oat cakes from Rick's plate. We were sharing the food and stories about our past lives. He was a most enjoyable dinner companion.
Chef Peter did come out to our table and we briefly chatted about our meal and his tenure at The Raphael. I asked him if he had everything exactly where he wanted it in the kitchen by now, and he said for the most part, but he would still like more room. Every Chef would enjoy a little more room in their kitchen and a window or two to look out of . . .people don't usually realize the hovel holes that most professional kitchens tend to be. There is no office with a view when you cook for a living. You sit in front of a tiny slit of an expo window and have a small view of the restaurant that you give your blood sweat and tears to every day.
I like Chef Peter and I like Rick Hughey very much. I wish them luck with this historic hotel restaurant and will think about my night there as being one to remember.