Sama Zama: 425 Westport Rd

 Posted by at 12:45 am
Jan 242012
 

South Overland Park’s One-Bite Japanese Grill has re-made itself and set up shop on Westport road as a classy but casual joint specializing in unusual small plates, noodles and okonomi yaki, among other things. The previous tenant, Matsu Sushi, had not aged well by the time it closed a couple years back. Happily, the space (half of what Matusu was) has been completely stripped down and redesigned in a tastful, minimal style. The east wall is exposed brick, the ceiling is painted tin and a small, orange counter sits near where the sushi bar used to be. Attractive dark wood tables complement the modern chairs. The dining room is almost exclusively 4-tops and 2-tops. One seating area by the front window could perhaps seat 8.

This clean, hip decor is accentuated by the soft but noticable strains of a Sirius dance music station. It feels like they are trying a little too hard in this aspect, but at least there were no lyrics to distract me from the business of stuffing my face.

I was initially confused by their choice to name the place “Sama Zama” because it sounds gimmicky. But a quick Google search informs me that the term means “varied” in Japanese, which I admit is a perfectly acceptable and appropriate description of the menu. It takes a while to figure out what to order. There are many choices in various configurations: lunch specials, entree portions, appetizers, soups, noodles, desserts, sides and nearly all of them were unfamiliar to me. So it takes time to read and process what is being offered. My dining companion and I each ordered a lunch special which includes two dumplings and a salad with a smaller portion of the main entree. A good selection of regular entrees are available as lunch specials: ramen (spicy or regular), udon, teriyaki, and the aforementioned okonomi yaki in a number of permutations.

The raw, marinated octopus appetizer I ordered exhibited wonderful flavor: savory soy punched up with wasabe. It was presented in a small bowl and garnished with strips of nori. I found myself wanting a different preparation once I took a few bites, not because it was bad but because I grew weary of the consistency of the straight-up octopus chunks without rice or more vegetable to provide a balance of texture. Raw octopus is pretty slimy and doesn’t look very appetizing to the Western eye so all you whities out there should excercise caution if you aren’t feeling a little adventurous.

Takowasa

While we ordered the spicy ramen and pork okonomi yaki as lunch specials, we were mistakenly brought full-size portions due to an error by our server who was otherwise quite good. I honestly didn’t realize what had happened until halfway through the meal. The price difference was minimal so I didn’t make a stink and somewhat enjoyed the huge portions we received. Seeing the specials being delivered to other tables, I noticed the portions were much more reasonable and appropriate for lunch.

The okonomi yaki is a crazy thing to behold: a pancake topped with meat and vegetables topped with a fried egg.

Okonomi yaki

You can choose to further adorn the dish with bonito flakes or little fried wonton strips. I recommend the former. I was somewhat disappointed that the flavors weren’t punched up very high for something so divinely wacky in concept. The pancake portion was exceedingly gummy, leading me to believe that it had been undercooked. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be? I think it is worth getting if you have never eaten it, but I’ll be ordering differently next time.

The broth of the spicy ramen, while exhibiting plenty of heat, was similarly lacking depth of flavor. Maybe I’m just a Guy Fieri-esque Phillistine who needs every dish laden with bacon and smoke and spice.

Spicy ramen

The noodles themselves were perfectly cooked and accompanied by delicious, tender slices of pork shoulder. This is the perfect dish for frenzied chopstick slurping.

Both entrees apparently came with little fried spring rolls which, while good, were pretty typical of most better Asian restaurants.

spring rolls

I’m not accustomed to posting about restaurants when they have been open less than a week but I decided to share my thoughts here nonetheless. Because I hadn’t planned on posting, I can’t recall the specific prices of the things I ordered. I think the ramen was $13 and the okonomi yaki about ten bucks. I want to say the lunch specials are about $10 as well. I hope Sama Zama does a good business and I suspect I’ll be back to eat again sooner rather than later. While my experience wasn’t perfect, the menu has a lot to offer and there really isn’t anything like it in town.

The Sama Zama website is still under development so the place to go for info right now is their Facebook page. They are open Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Sama Zama on Urbanspoon<


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Feb 082010
 

I can’t believe it has taken me so long to visit this place.

Mural

On November 1, 2007 a gentleman with the online moniker “kansas karl” left a comment on my Suggestions page indicating I try Woodswether Cafe promising “burgers as big as your head.” My Twitter colleague @sjwaters made a similar recommendation on the spreadsheet where I keep track of these things saying great things about the reuben. Y’all know how much I like reubens right? Then late last week I received an email from a reader wondering why I hadn’t ever posted about it.

So we have three different people, using three different forms of communication, recommending Woodswether Cafe to me in no uncertain terms.

So I decided to head up for lunch this past Saturday. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea since it was pretty packed. The proximity of a few vintage/thrift/reclaimed stuff shops certainly could have accounted for some of the traffic, but a lot of the dudes in this place were just regular pudgy KC white guys with Chiefs jackets and gray hair, unlikely patrons of such businesses. That said, Woodswether has quite a diverse clientèle. I sat near a family that was obviously “slumming” from Brookside or Prairie Village. These people were turning their heads, looking up and down the whole time, soaking up the ambiance with little smiles on their faces. This is a place that kids will like, and I saw a few there. A group of teenagers was taping stuff to a wall advertised as the “Woodswether Hall of Fame.”

I heard they close at 2 p.m. so I had to hurry my hungover ass up there. These hours make sense when you open the doors at 5:30 a.m. They are actually pretty common hours for industrial areas since you get to feed workers both going to and coming from work. And you get the regular lunch crowd. Upon entering I encountered a big sign that indicated that, starting this month, they would be open on Fridays and Saturdays until 8pm. The sign also promised that “adult beverages will be available.” I knew this was going to be my kind of place.

This place features hand cut fries with the skin on, diner classics like french dips, cheeseburgers and reubens, and dishes it out in a truly original environment. Jerry’s is basically an old bar with drop ceilings, cheap diner tables and a series of booths seemingly pilfered from awful chain restaurants throughout the 1980s. The floor is a nifty red and white checkered pattern and the walls are perfunctorily decorated with interesting little touches.

Woodswether Cafe

The service was a little spotty on my visit because the place was very crowded–nearly every table in the joint was taken, and the bus boy was likely out back smoking cigs and texting most of the time. But the server could not have been more friendly. She apologized for the wait (which was significant but not outrageous) and delivered our drinks and food as quickly as possible.

Okay so I’ve written 6 or 7 paragraphs without mentioning food. Well this should make up for it

Reuben

To quote Walt Bodine, “yeeeaaahhh.”

This is a really delicious, solid and large reuben sandwich. Since the ignominious demise of the New York Deli, this is the best one going in town. Fantastic light rye with plenty of caraway seed, good sauerkraut and a dressing that did not assault me with its mayonaisity. But this is actually an atypical reuben. It has a combination of both pastrami and corned beef, both of which are of exceedingly good quality. The menu does not give descriptions of their foodstuffs so this came as a surprise, but the evidence was right there in front of me and I liked it.

Skip the onion rings which were unremarkable and opt for the hand-cut, skin-on french fries. They have really good potato flavor (owing undoubtedly to the skins) and a decent crunch for homemade fries.

French Dip

The French Dip pictured above was a tad dry, but I liked the au jus quite a bit which alleviates that problem. Strangely they use a lowbrow kind of processed cheese on the sandwich. It did not bother me immensely but a good swiss would really improve it a great deal.

The menu is full of home cooking. Breakfast food is not my favorite (I’m a lunch blogger right?) but the plates I saw going past me looked mighty appetizing. The pancakes are huge, hanging over the edge of the plate. Signs around the dining area advertise fried frogs legs, catfish and shrimp available every day. Lunch fare includes pork tenderloins, Philly cheesesteaks and Italian steaks. I’ve actually never had an Italian steak–is this a KC thing? I need someone to educate me.

Apparently this restaurant came under new management sometime last year. It is frequently referred to as “Jerry’s Woodswether Cafe” but mostly I just see “Woodswether Cafe.” I’m not sure of the official name, or if it dropped poor Jerry after it changed hands. Also the mural outside spells it “Woodsweather,” so confusion abounds. What the hell is a woodswether anyway? Regardless, this is a gem of the West Bottoms. Good home cooking, a cool atmosphere, a great reuben and a full bar. Sign me up.

Woodswether Cafe on Urbanspoon

Swagger: 8431 Wornall Rd – CLOSED

 Posted by at 10:47 am
Aug 112009
 

Swagger has inhabited a nondescript little storefront on South Wornall Road for about a year but I had no idea it was there until it started to get a little media coverage around town. Swagger sits at the northernmost end of the strip mall across from Price Chopper that houses Mike’s liquors. The narrow stretch of asphalt between the entrance and Wornall appears designed for parking, but it’s used as a frontage road, sidewalk and idling area all at once. Since it’s a little awkward, you may opt to cruise down the alley and park in back. Swagger has a well marked rear entrance (insert joke here).

Let’s get one thing straight: Swagger is a bar. I popped in early one afternoon to find a typical crowd of middle aged singles and good-natured drunks. There was a small group playing pool and a few folks nursing post lunch beers at the bar. Despite the warmth and brightness of the day, it was dark inside. A video jukebox played tired tributes to classic rock artists like Eric Clapton and Three Dog Night. At any given time, half the bar is out back smoking cigarettes.

With that caveat out of the way let’s get another thing straight: Swagger is much more than a bar. It features 42 beers on tap, seven of them boulevard beers including the lovely Tank 7. Check out the whole list here.

The menu is really something to behold. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it. It appeals to bright and bold flavor palates with higher concept versions of burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings and barbecue staples. It’s the kind of food that appeals to a grittier, down to earth crowd with adventurous sensibilities. Take the Dead Texan:

Two texas toast grilled cheese sandwiches with a 1/3 lb burger, 1 egg, 3 bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalepenos and peppercorn mayo in between

This is fine dining for bikers and metalheads and they do it well. The ingredients are high quality and treated with care. For instance they cut their own steaks, hand-bread their onion rings and use only freshly ground beef for their burgers. I wanted to try their hand cut and pounded pork tenderloin when I visited but they were out of it that day. So I opted for the Suribachi burger, a concept so absurd that I had to try it.

The process goes thusly: First they take a sizable angus beef patty and cook it. Then they dip it in tempura batter and deep fry it. It is then placed on a bun topped with pepperjack chese, spicy Asian mustard, wasabi cole slaw and hot chili sauce. It looks a little something like this:

Swagger

The photo doesn’t do justice to the size of the thing. Everyone at the bar gasped when it came out, joking that I’d never be able to get my mouth around the thing. I made a valiant effort with the eyes of the bar upon me and succeeded in getting a respectable bite of the burger.

And it was fantastic. I would have liked the beef to have been more rare–this would have catapulted it into the pantheon of fabulous local sandwiches–but the overall effect was tremendous, and quite unlike a typical burger. The tempura batter is an absolutely inspired choice. It was super crispy and light, adding an explosively salty crunch that knocked my socks off. Yes it was spicy, but not as much as I could have handled. The wasabi cut through more than the other ingredients but I really like the cole slaw as a topping.

The onion rings were simply perfect. I ate them all.

Other places masquerade as dive bars in order to promote some popular idea about their menu (the Foundry). Either that or it’s an owner’s lame attempt to recapture the excitement of a misspent youth now that he has a wife and kids. Swagger is the real deal. I don’t think they care that the core clientele (for the time being anyway) is made up of bud light swilling bar patrons. They are really doing their own thing when conventional wisdom would have them completely change the tenor of the business from its days as a simple neighborhood bar.

I’m not sure if they have table service (though I would assume so) since I sat at the bar, but I’m sure you won’t experience the typical hostess/server/bartender division of labor. As a result, I’m not sure it’s a great place to take granny to Sunday dinner but it is a good option for those looking for an excellent meal and a few drinks any night of the week.

Swagger on Urbanspoon

Mar 052009
 

UPDATE: As of Feb. 11, 2010 Blanc’s Westport location has moved to the Country Club Plaza, 4710 Jefferson St.

BlancBlanc is essentially an upscale burger joint, a nice marriage of a classic diner and a fine restaurant. The folks from the Drop who themselves have decent food, are responsible for Blanc, opening it in mid-2008 at Westport Road near Broadway. Blanc has received a fair amount of good press and has apparently been successful enough warrant a satellite location in Leawood’s Mission Farms development, which is quickly becoming the hippest mixed use residential/commercial urban lifestyle center in all of Johnson County, Kansas!

Oh yes, Blanc has a website. Go ahead, click it. Be sure to turn your speakers up nice and loud first.

Anyhow, people love Blanc and it is often crowded. They do a very brisk lunch trade during the week and the weekend evenings are pretty hopping as well because it stays open until 11pm. So I opted to pop in for lunch at a non-standard time: Sunday afternoon.

The space is quite pretty and not as sterile as I remember from my first visit. Sure, there is a lot of white furniture, blond wood and mid-century inspired decorative accents but don’t worry, it’s not like eating in an operating room. After walking in, we were led through the front room toward the back of the restaurant which is a brighter, more casual area with lots of sunlight and fewer tables.

Unfortunately the host stopped in the narrow space between the east wall and the kitchen, seating us at a dark, 2-person table right across from the kitchen door. Not only that but we had a chatty couple about four feet away on one side and the server station on the other. From my seat I could see at least two open tables, roomy and bathed in sunlight, in the back room. Sure they were four-tops, but the place wasn’t full, and it was 2pm. To add insult to injury, I noticed 2 servers wrapping silverware and counting tips back there. So they were apparently good enough for a four-top but we weren’t. To summarize, we had the single worst table in the place. No I didn’t complain and ask to move because if I’m forced to act like a dick it ruins my meal, even if I’m entirely justified. Hosts should just know this stuff, their friggin’ job is seating people.

So the long and short of it is that I got to spend my lunch hour with waitresses inadvertently brushing by my chair on their way to punch orders into the computer and print out checks about one foot away from my hamburger. The chatty couple on the other side was fully in the throes of appetizers and drinks when we sat down. Being able to see and smell the food was tortuous and their lip-smacking exclamations didn’t help much. So yeah, things were not really off on the right foot.

But they quickly got better, beginning with the monstrous beer list. I know it’s kind of a gimmick, but I like being able to try beers I am unfamiliar with, even though I lack the refined palate of others in the local food blogging scene. I ordered an Odell 90 Shilling Ale, which I had never heard of, and it was delicious. So I had two.

Our waitress, who was otherwise excellent, neglected to tell us that they could not make the burger I wanted, so I chose the “Inside Out Burger” on a whim. It came stuffed with blue cheese and topped with bacon, mustard, ketchup, bib lettuce and one large onion ring. The presentation honestly wasn’t much to write home about. Half the topppings had slid off the bun, and the paltry amount of bacon would have made Chimpotle weep.

Blanc

All anxiety ceased when I took my first two bites. I got the most insane endorphin rush because it was so salty, delicious and full of intense flavor. As I ate further I found that the blue cheese overwhelmed everything else, but I didn’t really care by then; I just wanted to eat more, eat it all.

My cohort had the mahi-mahi which was absolutely fantastic. It reminded me of some seaside places I’ve been to in Florida who do really nice, fresh grilled fish sandwiches. And that’s the beauty of Blanc–you know that they aren’t going to screw up the food. Somebody thought about each sandwich, tried it out, perfected it, searched for the right bread, the right condiments and messed with it until it was right.

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

The side dishes here are all good: the onion rings, the truffle fries (!!), and even the sweet potato fries are perfectly executed. And yes they come in widdy bitty shopping carts. They are insanely cute and I’m terrified that if I ever get drunk at Blanc I’m gonna try to walk out with one under my coat.

Oh yeah, so here’s the condiment situation:

Blanc

Aw, it’s sooooo tiny and lonely! This is an attractive little tray of homemade condiments: ketchup, mustard and some kind of chipotle aioli that I didn’t eat because, well, it’s just not for me. Inevitably I use all the ketchup and have to ask for more. The waitress, undoubtedly used to people eating all the ketchup asked if she could bring us some more before it was gone. So she brought out a souffle cup with about five times as much as the original amount. So in the end, we ended up wasting more ketchup than if we had received a normal portion to begin with.

Recently the good folks at Hot Blog on a Stick asked what type of condiment goes with sweet potato fries. I can honestly say that those at Blanc are so good as to require no condiments whatsoever. Seriously.

So I’ve written a lot of words here, and it may still be unclear what my overall opinion of Blanc is. Let me say it now: I’m just a giant smartass and I really like this place. The food pretty much rules although it is very rich, very filling and on the salty side. The service has always been good and although the clientele can be sort of douchey, the waitstaff are pretty laid back. And their lunch special is surprisingly affordable: any burger and any side for $8.

Read more:

Blanc Burgers + Bottles on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Mike’s Tavern: 5424 Troost

 Posted by at 9:24 pm
Jan 252009
 

The incarnation of Mike’s Tavern described below closed in mid-2009 but has since re-opened under new management. The interior, menu and staff have changed completely. I wrote a little piece for KC Free Press about the changes.


It’s not really fair to even write about this place. It’s not a lunch spot, it’s a bar. And frankly we should hold bars to different standards. There are no waiters, just bartenders. There are no proper cooks, just college kids who make food for extra money. There are no bouncers, just drunks who push a mop across the floor once in a while for free beer. Nonetheless I have a soft spot for Mike’s Tavern because it has been around a while (since 1965 I believe), it is one of the few decent places near UMKC/Rockhurst to get a beer, and it is really trying hard to make a go of it.

The menu is a heart attack waiting to happen: Bratwurst, Italian sausage sandwich, Cheeseburger, Philly cheese steaks and hilarious salads. Hilarious because they are basically sandwiches in disguise. Hence the Fried Chicken Bacon salad, Philly Cheese steak salad and the Italian Sausage salad.

Menu

I like the food at Mike’s well enough but the place totally fails in being able to provide a fast, efficient lunch in a consistent manner. These people don’t even realize if they have table service or not. Sure you can sit down and the bartender will bring you a menu, but you may have to go to the bar to place your order because he’s ignoring you. He’ll run a tab but you will have no idea what cost what–but it doesn’t matter because it will always cost less than it should. Rule of thumb? If you eat lunch at Mike’s just sit at the damn bar. Things will be quick and easy. And yes, there should be plenty of room for you because the lunch rush at Mike’s consists of five regulars. If you have a group, go ahead and sit at a table but don’t expect to get out of there in less than an hour.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Mike’s is perhaps the most depressing, dank, and lonely place of all time to eat lunch. Seriously it is dark, veritably empty at the height of lunch hour and it still smells vaguely of pre-ban era Basic Lights. Or maybe it’s the old guy smoking at the bar, I don’t know.

Despite all these things, Mike’s actually has pretty damn good bar food. I was a little scared when the crusty dude with the bad goatee and the limp got up from the bar to make our food, but it turned out very well. The tenderloin was well fried and put together with some degree of care. Mike’s burgers are particularly good as well. I wanted to try the bratwurst but they were out of sausage on the day I visited.

Tenderloin

You can get tots, onion rings, or fries with your sandwich, which I appreciate. What I did not appreciate, however, was the shameless flaunting of generic condiments.

Condiments

This place really should be more popular given all the students in the neighborhood, not to mention the staff of UMKC and Rockhurst. About a year ago, Mike’s underwent some renovation to both the interior and exterior which was much needed. The exterior is very nice with the addition of lamps, a park bench and some plants in the warmer months. Inside, they have removed a wall and replaced most of the tables. The men’s room is among the worst in KC but there are paper towels, soap and hot water which is all I’m looking for where food is served. The decor consists of a lot of Rockhurst gear, in addition to the usual stuff you find in bars, like beer signs and stuffed moose heads.

Bar

Check out these sweet short-shorts!

Short shorts

The staff and the owner are super friendly people. This is kind of a dive, but not a place anyone should be wary of, even at night. They will make you feel welcome without kissing your ass in the process. For a bar, that’s really all you can ask for.

This is not a place to go eat lunch when the weather is nice. But if it’s dreary and you’re stumbling down Troost looking for a beer and a cheeseburger, it gets the job done.

Read more:

Yelp

Taste: 7938 Santa Fe Dr. – CLOSED

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 132009
 

Taste inhabits the space formerly occupied by Tonic, a night-clubby joint in old downtown Overland Park. It has been reinvented as a moderately highbrow but casual restaurant with an ambitious menu. Indeed there is little to no overlap between the dinner and lunch menus.

It is a nice looking place, though a little more bar than restaurant.

Taste

For lunch they specialize in a lunch trio consisting of 3 small dishes on one plate ($11). You get to choose from a list that is impressive both in its size and selection. Nearly everything sounds delicious. Mini fried crabcake burger with spicy remoulade, Thai chili scented chicken wings with sesame seeds and spicy ginger dipping sauce, –screw it there are too many things to name, so just go look at the menu. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? That is a hell of a lot to choose from, and each item sounds meticulously thought-out and presented. As a result, the process of ordering can be a mess, particularly if you have a large group. Regardless of the size of your group, the servers have clearly been trained to provide a painfully thorough and unnecessary introduction to the menu. I am very skeptical of places where the first words of of the waiter’s mouth is “Is this your first time dining with us today?” It’s a restaurant for chrissakes, not adventureland. Stop trying to explain things and let the food speak for itself. His spiel was complete with a few recommended dishes which the The Big Book of Waitstaffery must say is a good idea in case your diners are complete idiots.

For this reason and others I would almost prefer to see less choice. That’s right, fewer available items for the Choose Three lunch special. You know why? I think the preposterous amount of specialization leads to unrealistic expectations of how perfect and delicious everything will be.

It turns out I was underwhelmed by everything tastewise. The little buns used to hold the mini burgers were too large and easily masked any subtlety evident in the tiny little patties or the condiments for that matter. If the blue cheese burger couldn’t take it, the rare piece of “seared coriander tuna steak” was utterly helpless.

Lunch trio

It turns out that I would rather have a really good full sized entree or sandwich than an overcooked miniburger accompanied by 2 other mediocre dishes. And they have those, but they are not nearly as appetizing as the small plates: Cheeseburger, steak sandwich, pork tenderloin, grilled cheese…is this the Westport Flea Market all of a sudden?

Taste

It took a little longer than usual for food to arrive, but given the nature of the menu I full expected it. The various permutations that are available to each patron are dizzying in their variety; I can see how a kitchen would be totally overwhelmed during busy times. But I certainly tip my cap to these folks for churning out this complicated menu day after day.

I can honestly say that I will try Taste again, because it is impossible to rate the place accurately based on one experience. More than that, I am eager to try a few other items. But I wish they would reign in the overzealous servers, focus on fewer, more delicious small plates, and oh yeah, get rid of the totally obnoxious tv that advertises stuff to my face while I pee.

Read more:

Taste on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Masalas: 7301 W 91st St – CLOSED

 Posted by at 4:27 am
Jan 102009
 

Don’t even try to go here on a Sunday afternoon unless you have time. The place is packed with whatever the Hindu equivalent of the “after church crowd” is. I’m telling you, it’s stuffed to the gills with Indian families hitting the buffet en masse. During the week it’s a somewhat different affair, though still largely patronized by Indians. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this is a very, very good sign.

Johnson County is full of good Indian restaurants. I’m not going to venture a guess as to why JoCo seems to have better Indian grub than the city proper, but rest assured it is true. KC has Taj Mahal on Wornall, Korma Sutra in Westport and that place on 39th street that no one I know has ever been to (any place I’m missing?). JoCo has Paradise India, India Palace, Ruchi, Touch of Asia (!), Kabob & Curry and now Masalas, which could be the nicest of them all. This is not a low-brow Indian buffet, but rather a very classy looking establishment with decor that knocks the socks off any other place in the vicinity.

Masalas

For those who haven’t seen it, Masalas is located in the old Ohana Grill building right in front of Whole Foods. It takes up half the building; the other half is clearly under renovation. Since Masalas’ windows are tinted, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought it wasn’t open yet. You can’t see inside at all, so when you approach the doorway and draw aside the heavy curtains it is like entering a secret little world. A secret world that everyone knows about, because this place is doing very good business so far.

The buffet is tucked away in the corner. Dishes are presented in fancy, shiny silver chafing dishes. Several cooks work behind a counter curiously labeled “Masala Factory.” I don’t think the choice here is much larger than any other buffet, but it does seem like there are more vegetarian options. The usual suspects appear: Tandoori chicken, pakorahs, Dal Makhani, Aloo Ghobi, Chicken Tikka Masala, a couple soups, the usual chutneys, two kinds of rice, fruit and other desserts. There was a strange chicken dish that looked just like a Chinese stir-fry that I didn’t even try. No samosas that day either.

IMG_0561

One odd omission on the buffet was Naan, the delicious fluffy bread that is a staple of Indian cuisine. I went back to my table and the server immediately brought out a large basket of freshly baked naan. They do this at Taj Mahal too, and it really makes a huge difference to have it freshly baked.

IMG_0563

I tried a number of dishes and I’ll try to remember what was what. The tandoori chicken was excellent-the only comparable tandoori appears on the India Palace buffet. Chana masala, a delicious chick pea dish was actually surprisingly spicy. I had two helpings. The sweet corn and spinach was also excellent. The ubiquitous butter chicken was way too rich for my taste, and I couldn’t finish it. I had some chicken dish (can’t recall the name) where the meat was all hacked and shredded to hell. Naturally I had high hopes, but it wasn’t all that flavorful. I remember some of the food being a tad on the sweet side. Undoubtedly the high point of the meal was the goat curry. Mind you there is a little gristle and bone to content with, but it is worth the effort to experience the slightly spicy, tangy gravy with a touch of anise flavor.

In general, this is a very good lunch buffet. The service was excellent too. When I came back from a second trip to the buffet, my dirty plate had been cleared, and I had a re-fill and a new napkin. The buffet will set you back $10, a drink another $2, but I really think it is worth the price. If the lunchtime crowds persist, it may become a slight annoyance given the availability of other quality Indian buffets in the area. But anyone who likes Indian food should try Masalas.

Read more:

Masalas Authentic Indian Diner on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Matsu: 427 Westport Rd. – CLOSED

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Dec 102008
 

A few days ago, The Library notified me that there was a book on hold for me. I had come across a review for Asian Dining Rules by Steven Shaw a while back but had frankly forgotten about putting a hold on it. In a nutshell, Shaw explains how to order and eat various Asian cuisines at restaurants. Although not perfect, I love the way the author rebukes American culture for the stereotypes and misinformation about Asian foods.

For instance, he says it is not just silly but insulting that doctors recommend pregnant women avoid sushi. He also says there is no proof whatsoever that MSG has significant adverse effects. He chastises the media for periodic horror stories about the unhealthiness of Chinese food. Aahh, I love me some controversy!

But this ain’t a book review blog. So what’s my point? Well, after reading the Japanese chapter this weekend, I was hungry for some sushi!

I’ve eaten at Matsu several times before, as well as other places like Domo, Friends, Nara, Juns and whatever that place is in Town Center. I think they are all pretty good, I just happened to choose Matsu because it was the closest place at the time.

After reading Asian Dining Rules, I was excited to partake, but still didn’t follow Shaw’s recommendations to the letter. But I will select, condense, misremember and pass them along to you here:

1. Always eat at the sushi bar. You’ll get better stuff if the chef is right in front of you. Pieces of fish have better and worse parts so guess who’s gonna get the ass end of the tuna? Right, the dudes way across the dining room drinking beer. Plus, Shaw contends that sushi is best from chef’s hand to your mouth with as little time as possible in between.

2. Order the combo platters/chef specials. Allowing the chef to decide is always the best way. This will save you some serious dough and you’ll also get the best, freshest fish.

3. Talk to the sushi chef. This is a recurring theme in the book. If you are non-Asian it really helps to get to know the owners and employees. No one knows the good stuff better than the guy touching it all day.

4. Go during off hours. This will give you time to ask questions of staff and the food will be better because they are not rushed.

These are not exclusive to Japanese/Sushi establishments, though he does offer another whole procedure for getting the very best meal at the sushi bar, promising that it would be exorbitantly expensive.

When I walked in and was seated, I passed the sushi bar only to notice a piece of sushi and a half sliced maki roll on the cutting board: no sushi chef in sight. Did he go take a leak? Did he pause for a cigarette? Having recently read that sushi should be eaten as quickly as possible, I started to get a bad feeling. Fortunately the chef returned as we sat down at our table. For a minute there I was worried that our server doubled as sushi chef.

On my meager salary, I went for the Chef’s lunch special, a good deal but still a chunk of change at $14.50. For those insane people among you who do not like sushi (and vegetarians I suppose) there are a few interesting options in the $9-10 range. The donburi in particular looked very good, and Matsu had a few different kinds.

The miso soup is great. It’s much darker and richer than that at other Japanese restaurants. They have the usual assortment of intriguing starters such as daikon pickles, edamame, seaweed salad and even tempura alligator. The salad had a nice tangy dressing, but was virtually drenched in the stuff. The flavor was strong enough that they should have used half as much.

Unfortunately the sushi looked a little limp and sad when it arrived. It tasted good and was well cut but I suspected it was not the freshest available. The pieces were also on the small side. My piece of tuna had what looked like a little soy sauce fingerprint on it. That what I get for not sitting at the sushi bar, see?

The decor here is kinda funny, sort of like what a Japanese restaurant looked like 20 years ago. Various parts of the interior are meant to resemble pagodas. . There is a wooden crisscross frame across the entire ceiling, just below a bunch of exposed duct work and some painted tin. Some tables had funny tray stands carved out of tree trunks decorated with monkeys or zebras.

Our server was very friendly and did a nice job. He was way too apologetic about interrupting us to pour tea or clear dishes. Dude, just don’t say anything and pour the damn tea. A large white man started wandering around about halfway through our meal. He was puttering in the kitchen, the dishwashing area, and periodically perched himself at the sushi bar. I got the feeling he was the owner, since was wasn’t really doing anything productive.

After this visit, I find that I prefer most other sushi restaurants in the metro, although the Westport location is convenient. I know sushi has come up in previous posts, so where do you all like to go for really good sushi? Or quick, affordable sushi?

For more info on Matsu check out this a very good Yelp review.

Read more:

Matsu Japanese on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Nov 252008
 

This is so far west in Lenexa, it might as well be De Soto. That means it’s in the middle of nowhere as far as I’m concerned. But good food is worth traveling for so when I noticed Shorthorn’s BBQ just off K-7 (I think) on 83rd Street, I decided to give it a shot.

Well, this is basically a large bar that serves food. Frankly I was hoping for a little more of a unique atmosphere, and maybe a little local color, but there is really none to be found. The restaurant is riddled with cheesy throwaway sports/beer/babe decor and features a million television sets to boot.

The lunch time trade is slight but significant; there were maybe 20 people in the place. I sat at the bar and enjoyed very good service along with a truly mediocre beef brisket sandwich and some good onion rings. The menu has all sorts of other items, from chicken strips to meatball sandwiches to mini-corndogs (!). I like that sandwiches come with choice of Fries, Onion Rings, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Cottage Cheese or Tater Tots all at the same price. Although I would not want cottage cheese with my BBQ. They also have steaks, pasta and salmon filet entrees if you want to throw away some more money.

There seems to be a crowd of regulars here. I overheard some of them talking about their drunk weekend shenanigans, which probably also took place at Shorthorns. The bartendress was very quick and friendly despite her tendency to shoot the shit with all the dudes handing around the bar.

Basically this is the kind of bland bar and grill I always wind up at when I’m at a conference by myself in a strange town and desperately want a meal and three beers. Sure Shorthorn’s is locally owned and maybe a little rough and tumble when the farmers get their drink on, but I’m sure it succeeds because people just want a close place to eat, drink and chat up a divorcee.

There is really very little to eat out this far west, so Shorthorn’s does the trick if you need to grab a quick lunch. But I would not go out of my way to eat here.

Avenues Bistro: 338 West 63rd St.

 Posted by at 5:49 pm
Oct 262008
 

Avenues Bistro is a classy neighborhood establishment on the high rent corner of 63rd and Wornall, one of my least favorite intersections to walk or drive through in the entire city. There’s nothing quite like impatient, entitled white people trying to avoid the indignity of waiting for anyone to do anything before barreling their Honda Pilot right on through. Anyhow, those very same white people often end up at Avenues Bistro for lunch. The other day, I was one of those people.
Avenues Bistro
This is a really nice looking restaurant. There is a bar/lounge area up front that gets a little sun, and is a tad more laid back than the dining room proper. If you go to Avenues for lunch, I would opt for the bar. Something about lunch makes me crave sunlight and noise. The dining room looks perfect for dinner: no windows, comfy chairs, a soothing color scheme.

Looking at the menu I became very excited. There were a lot of things I wanted to eat. Avenues offers a ton of fresh entree salads, sandwiches, soup and entrees. The menu is combination of old fashioned bar and grill fare and more contemporary light dishes. The whole affair is heavy on seafoods and chicken which is actually a welcome sight. But of course you can still get a meatloaf sandwich, hamburger and the now ubiquitous “Cuban” sandwich. Here’s the full lunch menu from their website (PDF).

The wine list is pretty interesting too. It’s very conversational in tone, with lots of exclamation points in the descriptions, and some of the most unfunny puns I’ve ever read.
cheesy wine list
The cheapest glass of wine you’re gonna get here is a $7 grenache, but damn it’s good. I’m not very knowledgeable about wine, but I feel like these sommeliers know their stuff. There are four people here responsible for the wine list. Four!

Back to eats, here’s what I ordered: “PROSCIUTTO, BRIE AND PEAR: Thinly Sliced Italian Prosciutto, Imported Brie Cheese, Fresh Pear Slices, Baby Greens and Sweet Peppadews on Grilled Brioche Bread. (9.95)”

Doesn’t that sound awesome? You want to see what it looked like?
Avenues Bistro
That’s right, it looks like a grilled ham and cheese from Denny’s! Seriously, this sandwich was not well-executed. Brioche bread=texas toast. Needs a baguette. Pears should always, always be ripe before you slice them and put them on someone’s sandwich. Ick. This sandwich should not have been grilled. Prosciutto loses most of its delicious power when moderately heated. Then it turns into toothsome, greasy glorified ham. And yes, I’m an idiot for ordering it, but it sounded so good!

And I can barely talk about the fruit salad. Take a look at the photo. I think it may have been ordered already prepared, or frozen. I really don’t want to talk about it.

My dining companion opted for the shrimp nicoise salad which looked very pretty, tasted good but was generally uninspired. The shrimp was overcooked and moreover seemed as if it had been prepared earlier in the day, not grilled to order. Excusable at some places, but not here.
Salad
But I’m saving the worst culinary offense for last, the so-called pommes frites. I’m not going to get into pissing matches with people about the difference between pommes frites and regular french fries, but suffice it to say that there are rules you follow for the luxury of charging me $5 for potatoes.

1. Use fresh potatoes
2. Slice thinly
3. offer interesting dipping sauce(s)
You get bonus points for serving them in a cone.

If you break any of the above rules, these taters better be goddamned good.

Well, they got the dipping sauces right.
"Pomme Frite"
Now, call me crazy, but doesn’t that seem like a pile of run of the mill US Food Service frozen french fries that this place has the audacity to call “pommes frites?!” I know this is only Kansas City, but this borders on shenanigans.

I was ready to love this place. The menu is pretty well thought-out and nearly every item was appealingly described. But decisions like crappy fruit salad as “fresh fruit,” frozen french fries as “pommes frites,” and white bread as “brioche” come from the top. It’s not even worth complaining about our server who told everyone she waited on that he had made “an excellent choice.” Annoying, but not uncommon at nice restaurants. Somebody is just plain cynical if they think they can get away with these other hijinks in the restaurant business.

This place isn’t going anywhere because people clearly like the food and the atmosphere. And I’m willing to believe that some other menu items are good. But if I want European style bistro fare, I’m going to Aixois a mere 8 blocks away.

Don’t take my word for it, read more:

Avenues Bistro Brookside on Urbanspoon

Yelp