12 October 2007

Restaurant Review: bluestem

Feeling rather harried with work and home, and a bit blah in the creative writing area right now (probably also because of my oven-less home, which makes cooking and posting oh so much harder than usual), so I'm posting my review on our meal at Kansas City's bluestem, back in mid-February. Pics kinda suck (it's intimidating to whip out your camera in a place like that!), so apologies now. And luckily I wrote down this review a few days after our meal, otherwise I'd have serious trouble whipping this up from scratch right now!

First off, a few things about bluestem itself. Cody and Megan Garrelts, the co-owner chefs, come from Tru in Chicago. Their restaurant bluestem has garnered attention from several biggies – Food and Wine, James Beard Foundation, Wine Spectator. Some national newspapers (such as the Washington Post, San Francisco Gate, and NY Times) have taken note as well. Cody was named one of the best new chefs of 2005 by Food and Wine magazine, and then they honored Megan for her pastries in late 2006. That adorable food writer at the KC Star only gave it 3.5 stars, but then again… well, now is not the time to get into her misguided tastes (if bluestem put BBQ sauce on everything, it'd be automatic 5 star).

Bluestem has tons of accolades, and yet the place is so laid back. The sommelier and Megan take turns running the floor. Everyone there is excited to explain things on the menu. They treat every customer in their tiny, 14-table establishment as if they were the only customer in the place. And that alone is a reason for splurging on a meal here.

So, we make a reservation. We go to bluestem. They have this miniscule parking area behind the restaurant, we were lucky enough to get a spot there. We gave ourselves plenty of time to get to Westport, not sure on traffic, and ended up getting there 40 minutes before our reservation. Oopie. Lucky for us, the restaurant has a wine lounge. We checked in with the host/sommelier and made our way to the cooshy chairs and sofas in the bar area. Scott ordered a dirty martini and I got a Manhattan – my cocktail was dressed with imported Italian cherries rather than maraschinos. They were a dark ink-red, way way sweet and seriously tart. Already a good sign.

We finished our drinks and then were seated in the dining room. Immediately an amuse bouche was sent out - pineapple juice with strawberry foam(?). Yup, a shooter. I don't like pineapple juice, at all. This was good though, and the strawberry foam on top was insane – it tasted just like fresh strawberries, I swear you could even taste the seeds.

We ordered the five-course meal, which consisted of two "openers" and two entrees, plus dessert. We also sprang for the wine tasting menu - very glad we did this, not only cheaper than ordering a few glasses ourselves but also it didn't hurt to have the sommelier hand-choosing wines to match our courses. Scott got the wagyu tartare for his first course. I ordered the seafood chowder: crispy rock shrimp with fingerlings and pearl onions. They poured seafood puree over the shrimp et al. tableside, so the shrimp was still crispy in the soup. I've never had chowder like this before. Even though there was only shrimp in it, I tasted a million different kinds of seafood. The sommelier came with our wines, Scott had champagne and my chowder was paired with an Austrian Veltliner that was crisp and almost lemony.

Second course: Scott had the oxtail torchio, I had the foie gras. The foie gras was served torchon-style, with brioche French toast, kumquat jam, burnt honey drizzle, and sprinkled with pink peppercorns. Oh! The foie gras was cold and firm but melted in your mouth, and the sweet garnishes were perfect. The sommelier served a wine that I can't remember, embarrassingly enough – it wasn't the usual sauternes, but was similar. Sweet and tart and it complemented the foie gras well. That's the best I can remember. That foie gras was good, man. Scott's pasta was paired with an Argentinian Syrah.

Third course. I had Ahi tuna, with a ragout of winter veggies and a rock shrimp verjus fume. They poured the broth over my tuna tableside, and it turned into a creamy broth. Like magic! The tuna was just seared, my favorite way to have it. The tuna dish was very clean and fresh, the ragout and verjus did not take over the flavor of the meat which was awesome. The sommelier paired it with a nice pinot noir from Oregon, plum-y and thick and a good contrast to the freshness of the tuna.

Scott got the scallop dish – a big fat caramelized scallop sided by chanterelle mushrooms, cauliflower and huge chunks of braised bacon. He took his first bite and looked at me, all incredulous, and asked me why in the world I did not love scallops. Um, actually I'm allergic, I truly like the taste, but thanks for rubbing it in, my Darling. He said the smokey bacon and mushrooms were perfect with the shellfish. I'll take his word for it. It was paired with a Sonoma Chardonnay.

Fourth Course. I ordered the veal short ribs – the chef kept one small bone, and wrapped the meat around and around it. It was sided with turnips, fingerlings, and a horseradish devonshire. The meat was sooo good – rich and tender, like a huge veal cinnamon roll. Scott had the wagyu again, this time a striploin with smoked potato puree, tomato jam, and spinach croquettes.

We both were served the same wine, Hartwell cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley. The sommelier left the bottle on the table for us. This sucker was almost pure Cab and very, very good - earthy, dark ruby color, strong berries. And soft tannins, which I enjoyed (not a fan of those rich-tannin wines, I'm a total red wine weenie). We looked this one up online later, because we loved it and wanted to buy some for home. Alas, it retails at about 100 bucks a bottle. Yeah, probably not buying that. Ever.

On to the wonderful desserts! There were so many choices – fruit flan with coconut shortbread? Banana fritter with graham cracker pound cake? Chocolate toffee tart? After much careful thought (obviously the most important part of the meal) I went with the chestnut cake and poached pears. It was served with a frozen chestnut rum parfait as well. The chestnut cake was hefty and moist with chunks of dried orange and cranberry. Yum. But Scott won out with dessert, as usual – he ordered the baked caramel apple, which came with gingerbread cake and pistachio ice cream. The gingerbread was to die for! I was insanely jealous. He had moscato with his dessert, I had port. We can't remember the names of them either, too much fancy schmancy wine at that point. Sorry! But both were sweet and went well with our desserts.

After all that, we were full, tired, and ready to take off. But oh no! Megan, the pastry chef, sent out champagne floats for us before we left for the evening. Loved it – they were fizzy and sweet. So simple and perfect. How we found room to gulp them down is beyond me.

We ran into Megan at the hostess desk when we were leaving, and thanked her profusely (foodie nerds). And off we went, back to Lawrence and straight to bed. But man – best meal evah. That bluestem knows what it's doing. Scott and I have decided – if we cut back on spending, don't eat out as often as we're used to, we can swing this kind of outing about once every few months. Pretty tempting.

1 comment:

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