Cafe Song: 7425 Quivira – CLOSED

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
May 052008

Cafe Song is now closed

Cafe Song is another entry in a rather impressive cadre of quality Vietnamese restaurants in the KC metro. I will say, however, that it is not my favorite among them.

Located near Quivira and 75th in a strip mall, it can be somewhat difficult to locate from the road. But it is a fairly sizable space with attractive, modern, but casual decor. I’ve been two times now and the place has been frighteningly empty on both occasions. The whole shebang appears to be staffed by two people: a youngish waiter with a pony tail (bad move dude) and a Vietnamese woman who does the cooking.

The menu attempts to be a little classier and more interesting than more traditional Vietnamese spots. There are at least 5 kinds of Ban Mih (basically a sandwich), but only a couple kinds of Pho (noodle soup) and Bun (cold noodle salad). They also feature wacky offering like meatball subs and hamburgers, and no, this is not the kids menu I’m talking about. The food is good here, but I’m not touching their meatball sandwich with a ten foot pole.

The food is good enough, but presentation and portions are a tad lacking. Pho comes with a whole assortment of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, etc. which is pretty typical. But the Bun dishes, usually accompanied by lovely piles of ground peanuts, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, meat, mint/cilantro, is merely a bowl of noodles with some shredded carrots and meat. Oh yeah, there is also some dried garlic sprinkled throughout which is actually an excellent addition.

So basically, it looks more like $5 meal than a $9 one.

For my money, Vietnam Cafe, Sung Son and Hien Vong are all better options. But for Johnson County, are there other Vietnamese gems out there?

So, basically underwhelming. I’ve put off reviewing this one for a while because there’s just not a lot to say either negatively or positively. I’m not one of those people who has something great to say about every meal I eat, not something bad to say for that matter. Cafe Song is nice, but I just don’t get real jazzed up about the prospect of going back often. It is not a good space to be a lone diner because it is so quiet and there’s nothing to look at except people walking into Starbucks and Planet Sub across the street. But maybe with a small group it would be more interesting.

All this being said, I’m really happy to see how many Vietnamese places there are, even in the reaches of Johnson County. I don’t think I’ve come close to visiting them all, but I will try.

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May 022008

New York Deli has closed. Read this nice remembrance at Save The Deli

It was with much joy and anticipation that I sauntered into this venerable KC establishment that bills itself as “home of the awesome reuben.” The Reuben is totally Prince Among sandwiches in my book. I am hard pressed to think of another sandwich that brings me as much joy. That being said, a good one is hard to find. I like Harry’s Country Club and especially the Peanut for a good local reuben. But I have been driving by New York Deli and heard good things about it, so I would go there regardless of reuben availability.

Though no longer owned by the original family, NY Deli has been open for 103 years! It has been at 71st and Troost for about 60 of those years, a really remarkable achievement when you think about it. I read an article from a few years back that claims it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Kansas City. And it is a very interesting place, seemingly unencumbered by the pressure of serving classic NY deli fare in a neighborhood that has changed from a far-flung Jewish enclave into a widely diverse community whose future is very much up in the air. This is my way of saying that the stretch of Troost in the 60’s and 70’s blocks have almost been completely ruined physically. Aging strip malls, parking lots, cheap billboards–it’s basically Wornall road without a lot of successful businesses, unless you count Walgreens. Well there’s also Soil Service, my favorite lawn and garden store in the city.

Anyhow, let all this suffice to say that NY Deli is a weird vibe. While there I saw a group of business-looking guys purchase an entire salami (for $40+) and a priest eating a sandwich the size of his head. The only noise in the place comes from human voices and a bank of refrigerated deli cases.

This is a place for a serious sandwich, and a seriously good one at that. The corned beef is absolutely perfect–seasoned, warmed, and sliced to perfection. Every sandwich has meat sliced to order which is stupidly hard to come by these days. There are not a lot of frills here. If you want more than bread, meat, cheese and condiment, you may be out of luck.

They also have excellent kosher dill pickles (2 w/sandwich!) and a number of interesting items like cucumber salad, pasta salad, Kosher beef hot dogs, and chopped liver. Apparently the brisket is something special according to this annoyingly earnest youtube video.

But I have a quibble with NY Deli’s “Awesome Reuben.”

It is not grilled.

Sorry folks but unless it’s grilled it’s just a corned beef sandwich. Don’t believe me? Check out this reuben photo gallery and tell me if you see one that isn’t grilled. I can appreciate their effort to be unique but it should be called “Home of the Awesome Corned Beef Sandwich” and that’s that.

But what a sandwich. First of all it is a triple decker, and even a blowhard like me can’t get his big mouth around it (dirtiest sentence ever?). The swiss cheese is slightly aged, not the tame, pale ‘baby’ swiss hocked at price chopper and its ilk. The dressing is basically comprised of generous swaths of grainy deli mustard and mayonnaise. I had a really hard time coming to terms with the amount of mayo on the sandwich because I hate the stuff. But the whole thing was good enough that I ate the entire sandwich. No leftovers.

I need to go back and check out the baked goods, which appeared to be fairly popular. Strangely enough, they only have one kind of bagel and it totally sucks. It’s basically a kaiser roll with a hole in the middle. But some of their sweet rolls look great. I’d also like to try the hot dogs and maybe some chopped liver on a brave day.

Further reading:
From the Pitch

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Apr 252008

International Grocery/Taste of Russia has closed

This was an interesting lunch. I was driving east on 79th just beyond downtown Overland Park, heading god knows where when I saw this little spot I had not noticed before. There is a sign that reads “Taste of Russia.” Next to that is a sign that says “International Grocery.” In front of the door was a placard advertising $3.99 lunch specials with a free drink. A double-take and a u-turn later there I was. Here’s the story of how I went in pursuit of borscht and wound up with middle eastern food…

This place is absolutely nuts, and I loved it. A sign on the door in rambling, verbage described how they would honor any competitor’s coupons and would not be taken by scams or other unscrupulous business practices and so forth. Only the sign said it much less eloquently than that.

Inside was a small grocery full of all sorts of imported foodstuffs, vegetables in the sunset of their years, and items which can only be described as “knick knacks.” Very gaudy knick knacks. Anyhow, there was also a deli counter full of salamis, sausages, dried and pickled whole fish, and various other delights. But I wasn’t really getting a Russian vibe, mostly because the woman behind the counter was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

While waiting for the woman in front of me to remove 6 dozen coins from her handbag, count them, drop them, hand them over, take them back and hand them back again, I noticed that there were two tables by the front window with menus on them.

That’s right, just two tables.

I read the menu while the change-lady–who sure as hell isn’t Russian either–finally paid up. The menu was only barely making sense. “What’s good?” I ask the proprietess. “Kabobs” she replies.

Kabobs? I thought this was “Taste of Russia?” I mean, there was even a photo of Supreme Overlord Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the cash register. I asked about Russian food, and she indicated the “Salami, bologna kielbasas–stuff like that” is the Russian food. She didn’t sound too excited about it so I didn’t push my luck. I don’t want scary Russian bologna unless its prepared with love.

I ordered the kabobs.

She then told me it would take 15-20 minutes for her to prepare the meal. She disappeared behind a curtain for a long time. Someone came in the shop, looked at the menu and left. Someone else came in and talked (yelled) with the owner while she shopped. This was just too weird. I looked around the market while I waited and…hey wait, didn’t meesha post about Russian candy yesterday? Just went back and read the post and not surprisingly, he mentions Taste of Russia at the end. Is this like some kind of weird harmonic convergence? Anyhow, KC’s favorite Russian Jew is correct, there are a million kinds of candy at this place, easily 1/3 of their entire stock. I also discovered a hilarious soft drink called “Cockta” that I wanted to try but there was no bottle opener and the proprietor was hiding behind the magic curtain making my Russian kabobs or whatever. I was pretty much convinced this meal was going to be a disaster.

Jesus Christ that was a long wait, but finally the food arrived, steaming hot in a styrofoam container. And let me tell you, it was good, really good. If you had an Egyptian grandmother who was married to a Russian, this is what her food would taste like.

The kabob was very similar to the kind I had at Holyland Cafe, but came atop the most delicious rice dish I have ever had. The rice was cooked perfectly, and tasted simple and humble, complemented with nutty grains that looked like little brown squiggles, like…well, you ever seen fish poop? Anyway, there was also some chunky hummus which was surprisingly good and obviously made from dried garbanzo beans. The pita triangles were even toasted for my pleasure.

After I ate, I talked with the woman for a few minutes. She is indeed Egyptian and I couldn’t get a straight answer why there was a sign that said ‘Taste of Russia.’ outside. I asked about all the Russian foodstuffs, but she simply said “this is the international grocery, we have everything.”

This is definitely an odd experience, and I could go on and on, but I have rambled too much already. Basically, it’s a great little ethnic market that has a lot of stuff you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to try the kielbasa next time, but I can’t imagine this will be a regular stop for me, just because the awkward atmosphere. But I’m very glad I went and think everyone should pop in when they are in the neighborhood. Buy some candy.

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Jan 102008


I imagine this place is better for a nice dinner than it is for lunch. But rich people gotta go somewhere right?

Welcome to 40 Sardines a truly beautiful restaurant right in the heart of JoCo’s ridiculousness known as Town Center Plaza. Actually is at the edge of TCP but you know what I mean.

40 Sardines is the kind of place you take a client out for lunch. If only I had clients in my line of work. Or perhaps a birthday lunch for a co-worker, if only I worked close to there. Or perhaps someplace to have a nice bite and a glass of wine after a hard morning having your nails done, shopping for the kids at Vera Bradley, and purchasing a $100 cheese grater for the maid at Williams-Sonoma. That’s the lunchtime vibe here.

Not that the food isn’t delicious.

The lunch menu is pretty small for a typical lunch place, but not for a fancy restaurant. If you are up for a nice lunch, there is plenty to be excited about, like wood-fired burger, crispy short rib sandwich, and the Gala apple, maytag blue cheese, confit chicken & bibb lettuce concoction. A few things, like the ‘Olive oil poached ahi tuna melt panini’ make it seem like they are trying too hard. It’s like they are combining three trendy preparations in the hopes that ones of them sticks. The menu changes periodically–sometimes they have a delicious seared scallop dish that is not to be missed and a decent lettuce wrap plate with vietnamese dipping sauce.

The style of the restaurant gets a little lost, but it seems to lean toward the pan-asian classification. I tend to be suspicious of places that don’t have “specialties,” but generally this chef is good enough to pull it off. You won;t have a bad meal here, but it won;t blow you away. The prices are very good for what you get, everything runs between 8 and 13 bucks, but the portions are not huge. But you’ll live.

The service is the usual 20-something kiss your ass bullshit that you get at nice restaurants. They are clearly trained to make small talk, suggest dishes, wines and so-forth which may appeal to some douche bags but not this one. I have had great service there once, and perfectly efficient but semi-annoying service the other few times.

Though I’m not a big wine-drinker, it’s easy to see why folks are impressed with the wine selection. They offer a number of items by the glass and the bottle, including the unbeatable “20 wines for 20 dollars!” Usually places will have maybe one $20 bottle, but this is pretty sweet. But for lunch? not the biggest draw.

JoCo folks love this place because they feel that finally they have a really good locally owned restaurant to be proud of. No, Applebee’s doesn’t count. For my money, Il Trullo beats the pants off 40 Sardines, but it’s kind of apples and oranges. Anyhow, check it out for a pompous good time and some decent eats. If you are the meat and potatoes kind of person, it’s best to skip it.

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Dec 272007


This new-ish neighborhood spot is nestled in a small string of shops just west of Rockhill road. I actually think the block-long strip mall is one of the early JC Nichols projects, but I could be mixing it up with someplace else. Anyhow, the location is great, mostly because this residential area between main and troost really needs some more interesting places to eat. Noodle Shop is just far enough away from UMKC that it will likely attract more professorial types who live in the area south of the campus, rather than students. But it might be a nice change of pace from Einstein’s, Planet sub and Kin Lin which are the sad options for the struggling student.

I was really pleased to see that this is a noodle shop in the purely asian style. I despise those places that specialize in all things noodles–spaghetti, asian, mac and cheese–it’s just silly. Thankfully this place is a real restaurant, run by people who know what they are doing, and do it well. The menu is short and simple: Pickles and noodles. The pickles come in a variety of permutations, from cucumber pickles, to traditional kim chee, to daikon radish. They all have a distinctive appeal and are clearly homemade.

As for noodles, you can concoct your own assemblage from the list of ingredients or choose a specialty. The menus are essentially checklists, you just check off what you want, hand it to the server and they put it together for you. The best part of the whole experience is sitting at the counter and watching the guys assemble the meals. The two giant vats in which they cook noodles are always in action, and the chef in constantly running around slicing and dicing various ingredients that seem exotic but probably aren’t.

As far as I can tell, Noodle Shop does not have a grill or an oven. I think all the cooked ingredients are steamed, boiled, poached or similarly prepared. This is somewhat of a downer since grilled meats go so well with noodle dishes. But the pot roast style beef I had was delicious, almost the equal of the comparable noodle place Blue Koi. The pork and chicken have consistencies that may not be immediately pleasing to the palate, but if you just roll with it, you won;t be disappointed.

The chalk board behind the counter lists a dizzying array of condiments available for your dining pleasure. Everything from sriracha to yellow mustard to fish sauce to stuff I’ve never heard of are represented. There must be 20 condiments. Wow.

The best part of the whole experience is the laid-back and friendly atmosphere. The staff is extremely helpful and efficient. They are more than willing to explain various dishes, and food comes out quite quickly. The space is small and tasteful, certainly not over-pretentious. The clientele is the usual assortment of Brookside lame-o’s. As the review over at Give in to Temptation put it “the place was peppered with 30-somethings that looked like they had money.” I concur. I was the 30-something without money sitting at the counter.

Anyhow, this formerly useless strip mall is now a place where I will actually go from time to time. It’s the sort of spot that probably needs some help getting off the ground and staying viable, but if they get a liquor license any time soon, I can help them out with that.

Nov 152007

I stopped by Tienda Casa Paloma yesterday on a whim. It really looks more like a market (which is what “tienda” implies) from the outside, but they I noticed some signs on the window advertising tacos, burritos, lunch specials, etc. In the end, I’m very glad I stopped in, for I found a place with a huge menu, lots of seating, and good food.

The vibes in this place are super friendly and positive. I received an immediate greeting from the two people behind the counter, as well as some advice about what to order. I opted for green chili, the special of the day. I had heard about green chili before, but had never noticed it on Mexican menus. It always struck me as a southwest, ameri-mex kind of thing. Maybe it is, but I decided to give it a go on the brisk autumn afternoon.

Green chili is basically a soup or stew, made with a base of tomatillos, the main ingredient in salsa verde which you see at many Mexican restaurants. I understand the dish is also infused with some roasted green chilis and lime juice. The protein kick is provided by shredded bits of roasted pork and chicken. This is not a spicy dish at all, and really is rather simple, hearty and fresh tasting. The whole thing was topped with fried tortilla chips and finely shredded cheese. I really need to start bringing a camera around with me, but maybe life is to short to start taking pictures of my lunch in order to spice up blog posts.

The green chili was very good, but not the best thing I’ve ever had. I would have preferred more meat, but basically I’m not a soup guy, so it would have been hard to overwhelm me with this dish. However, the meal was rounded out with a fantastic bottle of coke imported from Mexico, which tastes so much better than the crap we get here due to the use of sugar instead of corn syrup as sweetener. Anyone who has not experienced a real coke, go out and spend 1.75 at your local Mexican market for one. I was also happy to see a wide assortment of Jarritos sodas which were a favorite of mine when i lived in Chicago. Mmmm, tamarindo.

This place has counter service as I mentioned, which makes the whole experience very quick. My food came out to my table before I had taken off my coat and bag to sit down. Super fast. Unlike the Chartroose Caboose, the place was populated entirely by women, who i imagined were stay at home housewives in the midst of a typical day of working out, running errands, and conspicuous consumption. Entertainment was provided by two small children, who were dancing spontaneously to the jaunty mexican music being piped in, while being ignored by their parents.

As the name implies, Tienda Casa Paloma features a small assortment of Mexican foodstuffs for sale, including an enviable selection of dried chilis. The whole room looks like it is in flux, they were doing some work at the front corner while I was there. I think in due time they will get their organizational scheme figured out, because the atmosphere is just a bit weird. I ate my lunch right next to a shelf full of styrofoam plates and boxes of plastic forks.

In conclusion, I am very happy to have found this place-it’s right next to Mr. Gyro, so next time you are in the area, opt for some good Mexican chow instead of greasy processed lamb meat. Mind you, I enjoy greasy processed lamb meat as much as the next guy.

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Sep 212007

For some reason I always avoid the places on the east side of walnut. Never been to Vivace, because its name reminds me of 5th grade piano lessons. The owners probably have no idea what it means. Or maybe they do, and just have an inflated sense of how great the place is. Anyhow, nestled close by is a nice little lunch spot called Antonio’s.

Antonio’s has a menu a mile long. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because it took me 10 minutes to find a freaking sandwich without mayo on it. Mayo is disgusting. All the sandwiches are named after celebrities, which is nice but unnecessarily dates the place about 5-8 years before the present. I mean, who has hear the name ‘Ally McBeal’ since like 1999? As you can imagine the McBeal is a low-cal alternative, which is relatively funny. Anyhow, their sandwiches are really good, made with higher quality meats, cheeses and bread–this already puts it head and shoulders above most other sandwich places downtown. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

Prices are decent, about what you would expect. My last visit there I ordered a nice sized turkey sandwich with stuff on it, a bag of chips, a delicious fountain soda, and a cookie for about 8 bucks and change. Normally I would get the sandwich and nothing else which would put me in the 6 dollar range. But I just want good food, I’m not gonna split hairs over three bucks unless it tastes like crap or is served by annoying people.

Antonio’s advertises itself as a pizzeria, but I have not had the pleasure. Pizza is really not a lunch time food unless you’re talking slices. I don’t even know if they are open in the evenings, this really doesn’t seem like a dinner restaurant, but then again, nothing in the river market really does. But I’ll warrant the pizza is good here, just judging from the quality of their ingredients.

In summary, I’m a fan of Antonio’s because the selection is good and the sandwiches are made like the give a shit about what they are doing. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for. in most cities, Antonio’s would be just a good, run of the mill option, but here it outshines the rest of the crappy competition. I plan to go back often.

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Jun 282007

Dos Hombres closed its doors this week after a 3 1/2 year run. This blurb cites the poor economy as the cause.

I was actually craving some mediocre Mexican food today. Thankfully Kansas City has plenty of that. Enter Dos Hombres, a relatively mundane, whitey-looking Mexican joint in the River Market area. I always see this place when I’m down there, and choose Harry’s CC instead. Anyhow, Dos Hombres features a completely terrible name, but a decent menu of sanitized tex-mex delicasies. The place is really as much a bar as restaurant. I opted to sit at the bar, which proved to be a good call. In fact, it’s always a better option when dining alone: the service is better and you don’t feel like a loser for sitting by yourself.

The staff is a crew of professional servers. What does that mean? Well, these people know what they are doing for sure, but they also exude that air of worldy crustiness that is unique to the service industry. Many restaurants in this town don’t feature what I consider true food service personnel, but Dos Hombres has ’em. These people are used to moving fast, serving drinks, and talking shit with the best of them. No, it’s not rough and tumble or anything, it just seems like these folks are truly making a living being waiters and waitresses and not just pulling extra cash for looking cute or screwing the owner.

Anyhow, the food as I mentioned is not altogether authentic. The lunch menu is decent and affordable however, and I found the pork in particular to be very tasty–likely homemade and not dumped out of a cryo-vac Syco bag. My food did come topped with grated parmesan cheese–undoubtedly an effort to “class up” the entree. But really it was just disconcerting. I mean, freeze-dried cheese out of a shaker is hardly impressive, people. Anyway, I was served very quickly and the bartrendress was quite adept at making idle chatter. I was out of there in less than 1/2 hour, which is quite good for a sit-down joint.

In short, this is a surprisingly good option simply because it is efficient. The food is fine and the portions are large.

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Tarantino’s: 601 McGee – CLOSED

 Posted by at 6:32 pm
Jun 202007

This is what I’m talking about. I’ve passed Tarantino’s a time or two but never gave it much thought. Thanks to the suggestions by a couple readers of this blog I decided to check it out. Tarantino’s is situated on 6th and McGee, basically overlooking the highway to the north and the buildings down by the river. It’s a classically urban setting in which to enjoy a bit of lunch. Not too slick, not too gritty. It’s basically across McGee from Gland Slam Liquors, in case you want to pick up a pint of Popov vodka on your way back to work. It’s like a vestige of what KC looked like before 6th street was an actual city road and not a glorified highway feeder.

I arrived shortly after the lunch rush proper, and as a result the staff failed to bring a menu or wipe the table for 5 minutes or so. Uh oh, I thought, we have another John’s situation on our hands. But two waitresses noticed me eventually, and made up for the small wait with excessive quantities of friendliness. The primary waitress didn’t make me wait to place my order. For that, I’ll also forgive the short-shorts with “Team Pink” written across the butt.

The restaurant is quite small, maybe seats 40-50 people andthey seem to do a nice business. The patrons were mostly a middle-aged, white bunch of people, though i saw a couple teenagers as well. This is the kind of place where you will find well-heeled businessmen, secretaries, construction workers, and housewives all having lunch together. At least half the people in the place were regulars whom the waitresses called by name. The bearded gentleman next to me wearing overalls and carrying a 64oz plastic coffee mug was one of them. They brought him an iced tea without him needing to ask.

And jesus, the food came out in a hurry. The menu offered all sorts of Italian favorites–sandwiches, pizza, calzones, pasta, spiedini, sausages–and a number of daily specials as well. Except for pizza, I don’t think anything on the menu was over $7. They also serve several kinds of beer. At least one lady was smoking. No one cared. I opted for a meatball sub. After all, any self-respecting italian joint worth its salt will know how to dish out a decent meatball. And decent it was.For 6 bucks I got a nice sized (but not outrageous) sandwich, a bag of chips, and a pile of dill pickles. Sodas were only a dollar, so I got out of there without spending more than $10. And the meatballs had all the hallmarks of being homemade. That’s all I ask.

Moreover, my check was brought promptly, and I was out of there about 15 minutes after I walked in! This is incredible for table service. Depending on where you are, it shouldn’t take folks more than 10 minutes to walk there from Main Street, so a 1/2 lunch is a distinct possibility. Best of all, a friendly gent walked by everyone’s table to make sure the food was ok. I assume he is the owner. This is a nice touch, though I have definitely seen it done badly. Sometimes overly attentive service can seem disingenuous.

This place knows how to do it right: Good food, fast, friendly service, interesting clientele, good prices…I don’t know what else to say. Tarantino’s is going on the regular rotation.

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