Review: Farmhouse

11 June 2015

I was still relishing in the awesome lunch (those gizzards!) at Stroud’s on this final day of this long trip. Nearing the end, I was hoping for a fine meal to conclude this exhausting trek, and tonight’s choice was Farmhouse. I heard good things about this place, and when I made my trip plans this was actually the place I prioritised.

I headed out from my KCKS hotel and headed to the construction mess known as downtown KCMO. Found Farmhouse and walked in, and ordered a cocktail as I looked at the menu. I noticed it was pretty warm inside, which was not great considering how hot it was today. I ordered my dinner and asked them about the heat. Then they tell me the AC system went down today. Oh, great… You’ll see why I shot myself in the food in a few paragraphs…

I tried cooling off with the cocktail for a bit before my starter arrived, a plate of deviled eggs.

1-deviled eggs

Nothing special, a little bland to be honest — especially compared to the ones I had at Extra Virgin a few nights ago. Still, that one was soaking in unnecessary oil. Neither beat the fabulous ones I had in Macon, Georgia a few months ago at Dovetail tho… And what’s with the odd number? A missing hemisphere somewhere? And before I got these done the next item arrived.

2-duck soup

Yeah, I ordered this before I realised there was no AC. Oh well, sweat it out, right? This duck soup was okay, though a little thin and bland. I understand how hard it is to balance richness against thinness for duck soup, so not gonna sweat it (yeah, bad pun). It did its job.

But at this point I got annoyed at the service. Before I got my wine, and while I was still working on the soup, they brought my main course out and left it on the side. Not happy about this at all…

3-hanger steak

This main was listed as “365-day-aged” hanger steak… The beef ain’t bad, but it really didn’t need the lobs of butter as it has enough of its own flavour. And frankly, half of the plate was actually fries, so the amount of meat was actually limited. Good meat, disappointing plate. Looks like something you get in a hotel room service…

I felt so rushed despite the restaurant being half-empty so I decided to rush out after a quick coffee. A bit disappointed, as this was the place I really hoped for a great meal. None of the dishes came close to blowing me away, and the whole rush thing was not a nice way to have my last meal on this trip. And it really was not much food, as I don’t ever eat much fries (I do not like fries). Luckily I have a tub of gizzards leftover from lunch today back at the hotel!

Well, the trip’s coming to an end. I’m knackered. The 7 flights in 12 days didn’t help, visiting all 4 timezones in the continental United States, from California to Nevada to Washington to Idaho to Kansas to Missouri. Home in the morning, and I dread to think how much weight I put on. And worse, another torture session courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Farmhouse
300 Delaware Street
Kansas City, Missouri

Review: Stroud’s (Fairway)

10 June 2015

I’ve written about the excellent ribs I’ve had on this trip, especially the first two days I had in Kansas and the Kansas City area. But for lunch on the third and last day, I chose something pluckier — chicken. And everyone knows when you say chicken in Kansas City you are talking about Stroud’s.

I was near Overland Park on this very hot day and decided to go to the location in Fairway, Kansas — as it was a tad closer. Got there, and thank goodness the AC was working inside. Crazy hot out there… I relaxed at the bar with a beer and ordered my food. This should be pretty damn good.

I chilled out for a bit before my starter arrived…

gizzards

Oh. My. Goodness. These smelled heavenly and tasted heavenly. What are they? Gizzards! Fried chicken gizzards! These are some of the best tasting things I’ve had in ages, beautiful flavour with the texture that only gizzards give. Wonderful! This was a huge ol’ plate though, and I ended up taking half of it with me. I did manage to eat half the plate though!

Imagine if that was the chicken liver plate — now that would have given anyone gout! I didn’t have much time to breath before my main course came, which was ironically more modest than the starter.

chicken - 01

It was a 2-piece lunch meal. The chicken was good, but frankly the gizzards spoiled me with the texture. These pieces were extremely juicy and cooked perfectly. I was told that the AC in the kitchen, where they pan-fry all their birds, has not worked in weeks! Holy crap, I feel bad for the kitchen staff if it’s already horribly hot outside!

The beans were good as was the mash with the really good gravy, but I finished the pieces and about half of the sides before I was defeated. But it don’t end there, as Stroud’s is as famous for chicken as they are for this to close things out…

cinnamon roll

Oh my, what a treat, a wonderful cinnamon roll. What a lovely dessert, better than 99% of the dessert courses I’ve had this year. This was worth a trip to Kansas City alone!

I took the rest of the gizzards for a snack later (and they kept very well!) and I headed on out, suddenly needing a big ol’ nap… Oh, this was excellent, certainly blows away other “trendy” chicken places I’ve been to recently including St Louis’s Old Standard Fried Chicken. Old school rules. Oh, those gizzards…I can eat those things forever…

Stroud’s (Fairway)
4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway
Fairway, Kansas

Ribs, ribs, and more ribs — from California to Washington to Kansas

One of the best part about this long June trip is checking out BBQ in different places around the country, from California to Washington to Kansas. I use ribs to assess how good a BBQ is, unlike others who use brisket. I love ribs to death, and can eat them until I collapse, so I made it a point to explore some good BBQ joints during this trip.

The first of the BBQ was from Bludso’s Bar & Que in the north part of Los Angeles (near Hollywood). This is the larger, more chic outpost of the well-loved original in Compton. I had planned to go to the Compton location the next day for lunch, but as I was driving back from the north, after giving a friend a ride back north of the San Fernando Valley, I decided to just stop off for a late take-away BBQ. So I apologise for the photo as I was hungry as hell (not eaten all day and it was nearly 10pm).

Bludsoe LA

I had a cocktail as I waited for this, but chose not to eat it there as I was knackered. Back in my hotel I snapped these pix quickly before I gulfed it down. The ribs were a nice smoky flavour, not expected in Los Angeles. Not bad at all. The brisket was good, though was a little flaky in the leaner parts. I had asked (with approval) for “fatty” cuts; ironically they were sold out of the lean cuts. Not bad, but again I have not had good brisket that came out of a BBQ shack for ages. Good though, especially LA.

I bypassed any BBQ stops in Nevada but did go for one in Washington state, specifically at Ranch House BBQ in the outskirts of Olympia, where I was the 2nd day in the Pacific Northwest. It was a shlep from the downtown State Capitol area way into the hilly forests west. I found it just off the highway.

A nice creating, with the big ol’ smoker in front. I went to the bar area and ordered a rack of ribs. Soon this came out…

ranch house olympia

Mmm, these were excellent, juicy and rich. I have to say it was a well-sourced bit of pork. I like the seasoning, but I think they cooked it up a bit poorly after the smoking. Should have grilled it harder or just not. This seems almost like heating it up under a roaster. Good, but not enough to make this long shlep from even downtown Olympia (not to mention Seattle).

I did have a nice smoked prime rib in Boise (after all the Basque fails) but I didn’t revisit the rib until I got to Kansas City. Straight from the airport I headed for Woodyard BBQ in KCKS. Again, a shack in the outskirts of town in an industrial area, you gotta love it.

You know they are serious when the other thing they do is sell wood.

I ordered a rack of ribs, my usual “test” for a good BBQ joint (not brisket, as it often disappoints for all sorts of reasons). I took a seat outside (despite the crazy heat) and chilled with a beer. Then I smelled it before it even arrived…

woodyard kcks

Smoked, smoked, smoked. As you can imagine, very smoky. A rich aroma and the exterior was fantastic, but to be honest the meat was rather dry. It was not the pork, as it was also on the rich side inside, but perhaps it sat a bit before it was served (I did arrive way after the lunch rush). I only could finish half of this as I had a busy late afternoon, but it proved to be a good snack later that night after a bit of drinking…

And finally, the next day I spent most of it in Topeka. On the way back to KC, I stopped in Lawrence, the home of the University of Kansas, as well as the well-loved Biemer’s BBQ. I had to rush back to KC so I took it to go, devouring a not-bad brisket sandwich on the road. I got back to my hotel in KCKS and opened up this baby.

biemers lawrence

Excellent smoke and flavour. After all the ribs on this trip, this was actually the best — despite it waiting an hour in foil before I got back to my hotel. It retained a good smoke and more importantly, all the flavours inside without any drying inside. Best ribs of the trip.

Of all 4 of the ribs, they were all good. As you see I prefer dry ribs, either dry-rub or smoked and seasoned. Some of the less positive aspects of them were probably due to me eating at off hours, but it was eye-opening to see how smoked ribs is approached in different areas, with different woods, techniques and seasonings.

In any case, I love ribs, so this was just a fantastic experiment.

Bludso’s Bar & Que
609 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, California

Ranch House BBQ
10841 Kennedy Creek Road SW
Olympia, Washington

Woodyard BBQ
3001 Merriam Lane
Kansas City, Kansas

Biemer’s BBQ
2120 West 9th Street
Lawrence, Kansas

Review: The American

9 June 2015

After a fine dinner at Extra Virgin last night, I needed a drink after the insane roadworks I had to navigate through to get back to my KCKS hotel…and I had quite a few… Nevertheless, I got up with wee hangover, and I had a very, very busy day that took me to Topeka, the capital of Kansas. Having spent most of the morning and afternoon west of KC. However, tonight was a big tasting menu at one of the most raved-about places in KC, The American.

I got to The American early, despite what KCMO’s construction chaos or The Crown Center’s confusing structure can throw at me. It was a blazing hot day, and the dining room was on the warm side…even when they closed the blinds. To be honest was not a comfortable dinner with the heat, but I understand their dilemma with the air system.

I relaxed with a cocktail as they were already ready for me to do the large tasting menu. The American is a huge space taking advantage of being on several open floors, boasting excellent views when the sun is not blazing like this. Its advantages sometimes become disadvantages… I looked over the menu and played around with the winelist. Driving, so can’t do a pairing, so went with a half-bottle instead.

It didn’t take long for the first two amuse bouche to show up rapid fire.

AB1

Not bad, from the foie on the first left to the ink-tinted fried salmon skin with roe on the second right. There is certainly some creativity here. Then the next set also arrived quickly.

AB2

The next three were more simple, but also acted as a transition to the main part of the menu. The strawberry was a nice treat. I enjoyed some of my white when the first course arrived.

01-oyster

This was oyster in a nice dashi. Interesting, with strong flavours (I hate to use the “U” word but there’s that). I was advised best way to eat this was like a shot, and it worked well. Soon came dish number two.

02-pea_olive_caviar

A bit of a mixed dish here, focusing on the caviar, as well as pea and olive themes. Probably a little too much “over-chef’ing” here for my taste, just came across with no focus despite the caviar. At least the service was solid enough to serve this with a wooden spoon, kudos there.

03-king crab

Dish number three centred on the king crab, which was nice — especially in combination with some chicken liver mousse (hidden from view). The kitchen-concocted “nori” however didn’t work as the texture is a bit off. Nice dish in general, one of the best of the night. The dishes still came at a good pace, which is good, when the fourth appeared.

04-morel

I was looking forward to the morel dish, but this was disappointing. Some of them were done tempura style, but the batter was poor and the way this was presented left them soggy. The kumquat was too sharp for this dish, really just eating too much into the delicate morel — which was already flavour-damaged by the poor attempt to tempura. This was disappointing.

I took a large swig of wine after this dish as we approached the half-way mark. With more diners now starting their smaller dinners, the service slowed down noticeably. Dish number five came after a little bit.

05-king salmon

Honestly this king salmon dish didn’t work for me. The lukewarm temperature really doesn’t let the richness of the salmon shine especially with such a light preparation. It’s almost like it should have been wee more, or just untouched. It almost felt like an amuse bouche somewhere else. Sigh… After a bit more time, the sixth dish appeared.

06-gnocchi

Again, this dish didn’t work for me, the gnocchi with all sorts of things from the onion family. The kitchen-made chips again has a texture issue, and I really hate pickled ramps — the dining trend that just won’t die. To be sadly honest the best part of the dish was the charred sprig…

I had finished my half and ordered a glass of red to go along with the seventh and last savoury dish, which took quite awhile to come out. It’s gone from lightning fast to snail slow now…

07-veal

The small piece of veal was very nice…but frankly did it really need a red to go with it? I felt misled by the menu a bit, and now have a big glass to contend with into the cheese and desserts… I see creativity here, but perhaps a little poorly laid out for my taste. The eighth course was a cheese course of sorts.

08-brie_elderberry

This brie-centred dish actually made the red choice a little better, as it was very heavy. They were very much promoting the work of the pastry chef here, and they seem genuinely proud of the two coming desserts, but I was getting full, and I am not much of a dessert person. The first arrived after a bit of time.

09-angel food_strawberry

This is the Angel’s Food Cake with strawberry. Nice, but I was full and having sat here for nearly 3 hours already I was a little restless. The service has trickled to a crawl by this point, and I had to ask them to bring me coffee and the check alongside the last dessert…

10-devils food_chocolate_edited

They did, and it’s the opposing Devil’s Food Cake, with chocolate and coffee — the latter pulverised into the cake mix. Nice, but I was itching to go by this point. Sorry for the bad photo.

I headed out and paid a stupid parking fee despite the validation (3 hours maximum — but they slowed down so much it went over 3 hours!), and was a bit disappointed. I see a lot of creativity and potential, but there are also a lot of holes here. Some of the plating seems a little odd, no need for these large plates which end up mostly empty. Rather mediocre. Frankly last night’s dinner at Extra Virgin was much better and more balanced.

Oh well. But overall it was a friendly and nice place, and I can see why people like it. A little tinkering and refining and this place can be one of the better tasting menu places in the Midwest.

The American
The Crown Center
200 East 25th Street
Kansas City, Missouri

Review: Extra Virgin

8 June 2015

I revisited the chaos that is Southwest in getting me from Boise to Kansas City (via Denver). Another stupid, self-inflicted delay by Southwest…why do I subject myself to them? Ugh… I got to a rather hot but at least dry Kansas City (the region has been hit hard by floods recently).

After a long afternoon, I headed to Extra Virgin for dinner. Getting there was already a headache, thanks to the horrendous construction in downtown KCMO (I was staying in KCKS). But I found the restaurant and went to have a relaxing but good meal.

With a cocktail in hand I explored the menu — and it’s far from the ordinary, with a healthy amount of offal. I was looking forward to this meal! I ended up ordering quite a lot of food, but I can always take it with me. I chilled and enjoyed the cocktail before the first of the dishes arrived.

1-cracklins

Mmm, nice pork cracklins. These were made very well, full of flavour — not like some places that create these tasteless puffs. Excellent. I switched to wine before the second dish came.

2-ear salad

Not an ordinary salad, but the arugula was graced with crispy fried pigs ears. Nice, but I wish there was more ear, and they went a little softer on the vinaigrette. Too overwhelming, and it made the too-finely-chopped pigs ears a bit soggy. They should make the pigs ears a snack instead.

In any case, with a bit more wine the third dish arrived, and this was a biggie (and the unexpected item), the duck tongue tacos.

3-duck tongue tacos

I was offered a half portion but this is one I can take with me later. I wish they made the tongue more prominent, but it seems too sauce-heavy. The shell was crumbling badly too. But overall a nice item, a good snack. Kudos for the adventurous use of duck tongues! Then for the last dish…

4-pasta morels

Mmm…morels with pasta. The sauce was a garlicky thing, so it went down nicely. I love morels, wish there was a little more of it. But a very good dish!

At this point I ordered one last glass of wine and asked for the tacos to be boxed, and I ordered a dessert of sorts — an order of deviled eggs.

5-deviled eggs

A bit too oily, that was not necessary, but a pretty good taste overall. I finished and headed out, knowing I need to fight this stupid traffic again… Overall a good meal, very edgy ideas. I like the offal offerings and the lack of compromise. Tightening up the execution a bit and this will be one of the very best restaurants in the Midwest.

And late at night you end up with even nuttier people, and I nearly got runover by a pick-up truck (with its headlights off!) driving down the wrong way of the heavily-coned downtown (I can see how he made mistake, but the lights?). That caused me to run up an unmarked curb, slightly damaging the hubcap of my rental car. Damn it…

Welcome to KCMO under construction…

Extra Virgin
1900 Main Street
Kansas City, Missouri

Not Basquing in the Boise Sun…

6 June 2015

After two rather trying days in Seattle and Olympia (mostly the former, thanks to the insane traffic and the brain-dead drivers there), I headed off for the weekend in Boise, Idaho. Huh? No, seriously, always wanted to visit as I have heard it is a beautiful place. After another ridiculously early morning flight, I left relaxed — thanks to a rare upgrade by Delta. Never thought I’d say this, but am so glad to fly Delta after the incompetent insanity with Southwest recently!

Got to Boise and it was hot and sunny. Did some sightseeing in the morning before I dropped into downtown for an early lunch. There was one thing I wanted to focus my culinary adventures on in Boise, and that’s Basque food. Boise has one of the largest Basque communities outside of Europe, and I was hoping the culinary delights were preserved. So I headed to the Basque Block near the Idaho State Capitol and Bar Gernika.

I was told by people to try to beef tongue in garlic sauce at Bar Gernika, which is only served on Saturday — which is today. I got there a little early but went to hide in the bar (most people wanted to sit outside…which is way too sunny and hot for me). I enjoyed a few craft beers alongside the dish of the day.

gernika

To be honest it was on the bland side, the meat I mean. I wish they had kept it thicker, as tongue, when sliced too thin, loses its distinct flavour. The garlic sauce was fantastic though, very heavily garlic. A little disappointed as I got out, and once again the “I can’t drink beer anymore” syndrome hit and my stomach was starting to rumble…ugh…

Nevertheless I went around town checking out various sites in the afternoon despite the heat and intense sun. I know I definitely got a tan this Saturday afternoon…

After relaxing a little later in my nice downtown hotel I headed back to the Basque area for dinner. At first I stopped at a local distillery/bar for a drink but the “halloumi” there was so reminiscent of wax I decided to go straight to dinner next door at another well-known Basque restaurant, Leku Ona.

Not a good sign, it was empty on a Saturday night. I was gonna eat at the bar, but they said full service at tables only…oookay. I moved to a table (what’s the difference, everything was empty…) and ordered and enjoyed some wine. But I waited and waited and they apologised for how long it took. Ugh…I guess they didn’t anticipate customers… Eventually my starter came out.

leku1

Hmmm…these chorizo looked way too ordinary. Very oily, not bad, but the peppers were absolutely soaked in oil. A little greasy for my taste, even though I usually love a greasy sausage. Not too happy so far… Then my main arrived way later…

leku2

Looked okay, but my heart sank when I took a taste of this, what was supposed to be tripe. It looked like they were not ready for it at all. The tripe was utterly flavourless. Obvious they cooked it rapidly, probably boiled it in water and thrown into the good-for-everything sauce. I actually abandoned this dish and closed up and left…

Oh, this was so disappointing. Food in the Basque region is so amazingly good, and this was an utter letdown after all I’ve heard about it. I guess a generation or so dilutes the interest, as does being landlocked. Still, no excuse for the horrible flavourless tripe. You know I am an offal eater and eat tripe all over the world…remember this beauty at Le Zendraglie in Napoli? Or this wonderful thing at Block 13 Beef Offal in Hong Kong? Or just recently in Madrid at La Hoja? This was just nowhere…

I was so disappointed and worn down by the heat at this point I ended up just eating a bag of popcorn in my hotel room watching inane TV… Well, at least I get to catch up on some sleep as tomorrow I’m just driving around the mountains…

Bar Gernika
202 South Capitol Boulevard

Leku Ona
117 South 6th Street
Boise, Idaho

Review: Roux

4 June 2015

I made my way to Seattle after two days in beautiful north-west Nevada. A productive afternoon, no thanks to the utterly brain-dead drivers of this area. My goodness, there seems to be universal confusion on what a 4-way stop sign is… Took ages to go anywhere in this town, compounded by heavy traffic, poor merging, and just plain driver idiocy of half the people I see yapping on their phones.

After 44 states and 46 countries, I have never seen such brain-dead drivers.

Nevertheless I fought my way to Roux for an early dinner. Now why would I go creole in Seattle? I’ve heard so many good things about this place and the menu intrigued me. I got there and sat down at the end of the counter in front of the open kitchen. A cocktail in one hand, a menu in the other, and watching the kitchen at work. Ah, relaxed…

I ordered and chilled out, enjoying the aroma of the various dishes being worked on. Not long after, my starter arrived, and it was spectacular.

frog legs

Now are these frog legs or frog legs? Not often you get ones as meaty as this, cooked just perfectly to retain its unique taste. No, frog legs do NOT taste like chicken — it does only if you cook it down and remove all its flavour! This was fantastic, in a beautiful garlic background. Oh, excellent!

I was only worried about the portion size because of these babies, and also from seeing the half fried chicken that was being served to someone I was chatting with…wow… Then my main arrived…

pork chop

Nice pork chop, brined and flavourful. I will say maybe a tad overcooked in these modern days of acceptable pink pork, but a very nice cut. The side of pea leaves and shoots were divine, may I add.

pea leaves

I love these things. Oh, this was an excellent meal after a productive if not trying day.

Now to fight the traffic back to my hotel. Oh, how I was not looking forward to this… But those frog legs will keep me hoppin’ for the rest of the evening! Excellent dinner, highly recommended!

Roux
4201 Fremont Avenue N
Seattle, Washington