a warm weekend in Kansas City

spring sunlight

We spent a few days in Kansas City last weekend to visit family. After a solid month of cold rain here in the lovely PNW, we were ready to appreciate the freakishly hot weather happening in the midwest, and were not disappointed. It reached 91 degrees one day. Bliss.

wisteriaTomahawk Creek

We didn’t do a lot of chowhounding, but we did eat some good things. First, of course, was the family doughnut day. I like doughnuts all right (especially cream-filled ones), but I get really excited about finally having decent bagels.

Doughnut Day

And there had to be barbecue, of course. We ordered takeout from the local Jack Stack, and it was excellent as always. Their burnt ends are particularly great – I love the bits of smoked sausage in there. We also got beans, coleslaw, potato salad, and a weird regrettable dish they call their “cheesy corn bake” which seems to consist of corn kernels floating in a container of velveeta sauce – it wasn’t a favorite. I ate the leftover beans the next day, cold, standing at the kitchen sink with a bottle of Boulevard Pale.

leftover barbecue

One evening we wanted a little extra bite of something and a drink. We wandered into Blanc Burgers & Bottles not too long before they closed for the night, and were really pleased with the service and the food. After trying a couple of their beers on tap (not an extensive list; KC seems to be much more into bottled beer than draft), we decided to take advantage of their half-off wine special. The Pinot Grigio we ordered went nicely with the chicken caprese sandwich we split. I wish we could go back regularly and work our way through their burger menu, it looked fantastic.

BlancBlanc

BlancBlanc

Blanc

Another day we ventured into the Westport district for lunch. It was fairly quiet, as most of the businesses in that area are bars that don’t open until evening, but we had a fine lunch at the Westport Cafe & Bar.

Westport CafeWestport Cafe

I was really impressed by the bartender’s work. I got an old fashioned, which was served very simply, no ice, no fruit, just a fat strip of orange rind. Jon got an interesting drink with chai-infused something or other and a garnish of blueberries.

Westport Cafe

Westport Cafe

The food was very straightforward, but well thought-out. I got the tuna sandwich, which was a soft bun dressed with aioli, fresh spinach, and barely-seared tuna that was so tender it almost dissolved in the mouth. The flavor was good, but I really thought the texture was the highlight of the sandwich. The side salad was arugula dressed with truffle oil and thin slices of radish and Parmesan.

Westport Cafe

Jon got the steak sandwich, which was also very simple but delicious. The fries that came with it were classic bistro style and rather addictive. Nothing to complain about here.

Westport Cafe

Another place we visited in Westport was the Beer Kitchen. Again, they only had a few brews on tap, but their bottled list was extensive and interesting. Not a lot of hoppy IPAs in this town, but I did find a nice pale ale to drink.

Beer Kitchen

Beer Kitchen

Beer Kitchen

The place was deserted except for the staff, but it made a pleasant place to hang out on a hot afternoon. We weren’t hungry when we were there, but we admired some menu items like “Tur-Ducken Poppers” (with schmaltz!) and “Piggy Fries” which are like poutine with burnt ends. Good drinking food.

Beer Kitchen

Beer Kitchen

Room 39

On our last night we went to Room 39. Like many places in the Leawood/Overland Park area, this is an extra branch of a restaurant that first started up in KC proper, and maintains two locations. The restaurant was quiet, as that was the night of the KU/Kentucky game, so we almost had the place to ourselves.

Room 39

We started with an appetizer of grilled asparagus, served with a beautifully poached egg and garnished with black salt. The waitress was apologetic about the small portion size, but I thought it was about perfect.

Room 39

My mother-in-law got a small order of the gnocchi. They were pan-fried until crispy, and tossed with shiitakes and onions. I thought they tasted rather like potstickers, in a really good way.

Room 39

My father-in-law and I both got the halibut. This was a hefty entree: a large piece of halibut, cooked until crusty, and served over a substantial pile of mushroom duxelles and topped with celery and cooked radishes, with a swirl of fresh pea puree on the side. It was good, but the flavors were bold and overwhelmed the fish a little.

Room 39

Jon got a piece of bass served with spinach, microgreens and a wonderful red wine and butter sauce. Nice.

Room 39

For dessert there was espresso creme brulee, plus a memorable dish of goat cheese beignets in a pool of warm caramel sauce and topped with whipped cream. Holy cow, this was good. I opted to drink my dessert in the form of a Manhattan, but ended up having to help out with my mother-in-law’s beignets, which wasn’t a particular hardship.

Room 39

This was a really good place, I would go back.

back in Seattle

The next day brought us back to Seattle, where it was raining. It was kind of nice.

another day, another lamb burger

lamb burger

We finally got around to visiting the Copper Hog pub in Bellingham. Not a bad place at all! Large and bustling, nice decor, lots of natural light, and alarmingly polite service. Good food and beer, too. It made an especially strong impression on us after our disappointment with the Fish Tale Brewpub a couple of weeks ago.

For one thing, we got to sit by a window.

window table

The view was made extra amusing by the fact that some sort of commercial was being filmed on the premises, and groups of people wearing sports scarves were running around screeching for the camera. Even without that, though, it was a nice place to sit.

beer list

The beer selection here is pretty ace. I tried the “Copper Hog Red” made by Flyers in Oak Harbor, and really liked it. Dry and bitter, but with lots of flavor.

fish n chips

It was a forgone conclusion that one of us would get the lamb burger, and Jon won the draw. I got the fish and chips instead, and was happy enough. I was a little put out by the size of the fish fillet – most places would have cut this into two or three pieces. It was so big, and so blazingly hot, I had to eat it with knife and fork, which seemed kind of silly. The schmear of pureed peas on the side was a peculiar but pleasant touch. And the fries were fantastic – hot, salty, nicely crispy on the outside but buttery-soft inside. And served in a reasonable quantity, so I didn’t hurt myself by eating all of them. Not too much, anyway.

lamb burger

The lamb burger was excellent. It was on a good bun, the meat was juicy and nicely cooked, and it had a big blob of chevre on top and a lot of pickled beets. I love pickled beets. It was by far the best lamb burger we’ve had lately.

not all that exciting a lunch

oyster po-boy

Ever have a restaurant experience that, while not at all bad, somehow wasn’t all that good either? There was absolutely nothing wrong with the lunch we got at the Fish Tale Brewpub in Everett, but we still don’t think it likely we’ll go back. This makes me sad, since I liked the one in Olympia so much.

It’s partly the decor, frankly. I saw this mentioned on nearly every Yelp review about the brewpub, and it’s true – the place is dark, uncomfortable and strange. The main dining space feels like the breakfast room in the basement of a cheap hotel, while the sunny window in the front hosts nary a table. Did these people never hear that a pub is supposed to be cozy?

Then the food, about which I’m not really sure what to think. I got an oyster po’boy and a Caesar salad. There were lots of oysters – too many, actually, I couldn’t close the bun enough to take a bite – and the bun was a pleasant enough sourdough. But the condiment was a mean smear of mayo (maybe it was aioli, I could hardly taste it) and a small handful of greens. The Caesar seemed fresh but the dressing had almost no flavor at all. I got bored before I got full.

lamb burger & fries

Jon got the lamb burger, on the extremely enthusiastic recommendation of the waitperson. It was…meh. It mostly tasted of feta, and the meat was overcooked and rather dry, despite having a dollop of tzatziki on top. The fries were the soft kind, which I realize is a style but it’s not our favorite. Not the worst lamb burger we’ve tried, but not even in the top ten.

winterfish ale

Oh, well. The beer was excellent.

the insufficiently sauced burger

lamb burger at Lola

We recently stopped by Lola for lunch, on our way to see Pina at the Seattle Cinerama (which was amazing, by the way). We’d been to Lola for breakfast before, plus a late night run for doughnuts and grappa, but never for lunch, and I had to try the lamb burger. Because I always have to try the lamb burger.

It was disappointing. Not the lamb patty itself, which was cooked just the way I asked, or the bun, which was very nearly perfect, but the adornments, which I feel are the most important thing. They need to be interesting, but also messy and squishable so everything melds together into the sandwich. In this case there was nothing wrong with the lettuce, the grilled onion, the fabulous pickled vegetables, or the “Lola ketchup” which tasted like red pepper puree – but the vegetables were too firm to squish and didn’t fit on the burger, the ketchup was far better used as a dip for the (amazing) polenta fries, and there was no other sauce or cheese whatsoever. This is a pet peeve of mine about burgers in my home town, which never have any sauce on them and need to be ordered with a side of mayo just to get them properly drippy. Burgers should not be easy to eat neatly. I ended up borrowing a spoonful of tzatziki sauce from my husband’s plate of squid kebabs.

squid kebab

I was envious of the squid kebabs. Perfectly cooked, coated with chermoula sauce and accompanied by Greek salad and pita bread, they were some of the best squid I’ve eaten. I know what I’m getting next time we go there.

squid kebab

brunch, burgers and booze

breakfast mac and cheese

The new issue of Cascadia Weekly just came out today, with a restaurant review of Sunday brunch at the Brown Lantern, written by me. I particularly wanted to talk about their breakfast mac and cheese, which is a thing of beauty and great substance (read: calories). I had to refresh my memory before writing the article, of course, so we went back recently with some friends. I believe we were all slightly hungover, as befits this sort of breakfast, and it was incredibly satisfying. Here are a few extra photos from our outing:

Brown Lantern

The decor above the bar at the Brown Lantern is fascinating – always something to look at. I’d like to hear the story behind the inflatable shark.

the Lantern breakfast

The Lantern Standard breakfast. It really was too bad about the undercooked bacon, but the tater tots were excellent. I like tater tots. Almost as much as I like mac and cheese.

biscuits and gravy

This was the biscuits and gravy. One of the ugliest platefuls I’ve ever seen, but it tasted great and there was plenty of gravy.

breakfast mac and cheese

I barely made any visible dent in my breakfast. And yet I was very, very full. I’m still impressed after watching a member of our party eat an entire plate of this.

Anyone had the breakfast burrito there?

on the bus again

Old School BBQ

It’s been a while since I first mentioned Old School BBQ, but it’s worth revisiting. We stopped for lunch on a recent trip over Stevens Pass, for possibly the dozenth time, and I really think this place is just getting better and better.

combo plate

The barbecue is Texas-style, with a good smoke ring and wonderful tender meat. I usually get pulled pork and my husband likes brisket, but on this occasion he sprang for a combo with some ribs that turned out to be excellent. The coleslaw is, admittedly, a little bland, but the meat more than makes up for it.

beans and cornbread

I’ve always loved their beans, which are served very hot and soupy with big chunks of pork. I just discovered that if you order just beans and cornbread, you get a great big bowl of it for something ridiculous like $4, and a nice piece of sweet cornbread with butter and honey. For me this is a perfect lunch. Plus you get to eat on board an old school bus, minus the smell of gym socks and all the bullies sitting in the back, and how cool is that?

Brave Horse

Brave Horse Tavern

Geez. I had meant to run this post off several days ago, but first I got busy and then the phone company helpfully cut off my DSL connection at home. Thank goodness for public wifi…

Anyway. Last week we were in Seattle again and needed an early and not too involved dinner, so we decided to try out Tom Douglas’ new place in South Lake Union (well, one of them), the Brave Horse Tavern. We showed up a bit before six and the place was already packed with people who all seemed to have gotten off of work at the same time; many were still wearing their official lanyards. The music was incredibly loud, the crowd was louder, and a rowdy shuffleboard game was in progress in the corner. Long tables filled most of the space. We pushed and shoved our way into an empty spot with some difficulty and attempted to have a conversation over the uproar.

Brave Horse Tavern

It was Fresh Hop week at the Brave Horse, and I ordered a Killer Green Fresh Hop Ale from Double Mountain. It was extraordinary – somewhat high in alcohol, although not as ferocious as some, but with a huge depth of flavor and a serious hop hit. Jon settled for his favorite Total Domination from Ninkasi. We really wanted to try some of the pub snacks (they have fried cheese curds, people!) but didn’t have time, so I settled for a basic pub burger and fries, and Jon got a steak salad.

burger & fries

I was impressed. The burger was very different from the Palace Kitchen version. It channelled a summer grill party, with iceberg lettuce, plenty of mayo and a barbecue-like sauce, and a soft and sweet bun that never quite disintegrated but got very close. I chose cheddar and grilled onions as my toppings, which were excellent with the sauce. Next time I might go for avocado. Or maybe the fried egg.

Then there were the fries, which were, let’s face it, perfect. Steaming hot, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and heavily studded with salt. I hate fries that aren’t salty enough – these were incredible.

steak salad

The steak salad was a success, too – a large piece of perfectly cooked steak, very tender, with a pile of mixed greens, stinky blue cheese, really ripe tomatoes, paper-thin radish slices, a chunk of grilled bread, and a dressing made with A-1 sauce. Brilliant.

steak salad

We are totally coming back here. I need to try those fried cheese curds. And another burger.

happy hour

happy hour

When you’ve just spent a substantial amount of time quietly freaking out about something, getting unexpected good news may well send you straight to the nearest bar to try to process the emotional reversal. Last week, after spending the afternoon at Virginia Mason Hospital and being reassured by a reliable source that my husband would most likely NOT need a horrible sounding medical procedure, we headed right for Barrio and began consuming celebratory cocktails, including one made of extremely ferocious ghost-chile-infused tequila. Plus a lot of their most excellent guacamole.

Then we went to Volunteer Park and sat together, enjoying the view.

Volunteer Park

Satay

tiger

A friend and I were in Seattle for a lecture last week and wanted something interesting and affordable to eat ahead of time, so I did a little research and came up with a newish place called Satay in Wallingford. I adore Malaysian food, and have had very little of it since Mandalay Cafe unfortunately closed and was replaced by Tilth, just down the block on 45th. Satay isn’t nearly as fancy as Mandalay, but I appreciate that they’re keeping it simple: a few kinds of satay, two noodle dishes, curry, roti, and curry puffs. I’ve been twice so far, and I’ve already tried over half of the menu.

satay and laksa

On my first visit, my friend and I split an order of the chicken satay and a bowl of laksa, plus one roti with curry sauce. The chicken was fantastic, with great grill taste and plenty of lemongrass. The accompanying slaw was flavored with herbs and coconut, and there was a large pile of rice to help sop up any leftovers. Despite all that, the real star was the roasted peanut sauce, which was the best and most interesting peanut sauce I have ever eaten in my life. I wanted to spoon it on everything.

The laksa was very good as well: a deep bowl of egg noodles in rich broth, it was nicely decorated with fried tofu (a favorite of mine) and large prawns, with some bean sprouts and cilantro for garnish. I would have liked more vegetables, but the flavors were excellent. The roti was like a flat croissant, dripping with fat and incredibly flaky – I loved it but I’m going to make sure I’m good and starving before I order another one. The dipping sauce it came with was, oddly, a ladleful of vegetable curry, complete with potato chunks. Strange but tasty.

Yesterday my husband and I went again, as we wanted a quick lunch before a medical appointment, and we tried both the beef and tofu satays, plus a curry puff, all of which lived up to my hype from the first visit. The beef was flavorful with tamarind, but sadly did not come with peanut sauce. Fortunately the tofu did. I thought the tofu was really interesting, it was deeply marinated with hard-to-identify seasonings and was nicely crispy around the edges. The curry puff was good, too – basically a deep-fried samosa stuffed with vegetable curry, dangerously thermal.

Satay

The place is run by extremely nice young men, and the general ambience is comfortable and casual. It’s quick and cheap, and they have Tiger Beer in the fridge, for which I have a strange fondness. I look forward to trying the rest of the menu very soon.

Seb's

Aaron's hat

It’s not often we have the chance to eat breakfast in Vancouver, since we usually just get up there for lunch and dinner, then head home – but last week we went up with some friends and spent the night. The hotel breakfast looked more than a little dour, so we walked to a place I’d read about – Seb’s Market Cafe on Broadway.

Seb'ssuper mario

A very pleasant spot out on the wastelands of Broadway, Seb’s is a combination market/deli/bakery/restaurant/catering business. Their menu offers a strange melange of options, from a simple plate of toast and scrambled eggs (with or without caribou meat), to elk medallion eggs benedict, to lamb shanks with apricots. I’m pretty sure it’s the only place I’ve been that listed elk steak as a side dish. For breakfast.

eggs, tomatoes, spinach and toast

fruit plate

I had fried eggs with spinach, grilled tomato, potatoes and toast. I adore eggs with tomato and spinach, so I was quite ready to appreciate this, but I was a little sad that the spinach seemed to be plain, reheated frozen spinach with no seasoning, and the tomato was barely heated, let alone grilled. The eggs were perfect, though, and the toast was a really nice flaxseed bread. We had overindulged a bit at Vij’s the previous night, so the vegetables were welcome no matter how they were done. By the same token, one of our party got the fruit plate with yogurt, which she was very pleased with, as well as a carrot-ginger-celery juice (she asked the waitress about the yogurt, as it was so tasty, and the response was “It’s just good, pure yogurt, eh?” – I love Canada). The other two split an eggs benedict with crab and havarti sauce, plus a glass of cucumber-spinach juice. They reported that the biscuit was excellent and the cheese sauce extremely good with the crab. The coffee was good, too.

bread

It was a fine place for breakfast, especially for the slightly-hung-over. I’d love to come back and try more of their menu sometime when I’m really hungry.