Red Snapper (8430 Ward Pkwy)

 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Jun 022008
 

I couldn’t believe it when people started telling me this place was good. You know why?

The sign.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a pathetic Red Lobster rip-off joint. I mean, the font is even the same! Located just north of the Ward Parkway mall, Red Snapper sits in a newish, sterile and unappetizing strip mall that would be just as comfortable at College and Quivira. You know, the kind of place you might find, oh I don’t know, one of these?

But there I was this past week after a long hard morning looking futilely for a seersucker suit (guy at Dillard’s: “I haven’t seen one of those in 15 years!”). Since I don’t patronize creepy Christian chains or partake in food court schmutz, I wound up at Red Snapper.

Imagine my surprise when I walked in–no nautical themed murals, hanging fishnets or porthole-shaped windows. Instead I found a very classy place, tastefully decorated and airy. Two giant, round fishtanks sit right inside the front door which was a little alarming, but they are pretty cool.

The lunch menu is small, well-priced and reasonably varied. I hesitate to use the term “pan-Asian” not because it isn’t appropriate but more because I don’t really know what it means. No really, this place is totally pan-Asian. The dinner menu is much more extensive and interesting than the lunch menu. There are dishes familiar to those who enjoy Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. Maybe even a little whiff of Korea as well.

Their specialty is, well, red snapper. They offer a crispy red snapper on the lunch menu and I went for it. There is also a panko fried halibut which looked appealing as well.

The snapper was delicious. It came with a thin, light and crispy batter. Moreover it was the whole filet–plenty to eat. Unfortunately it came atop a rather pedestrian stir-fry. The assortment of vegetables was fine but the sauce was the usual nebulous brown gravy thickened with cornstarch that you find at any two-bit Chinese restaurant. Kudos for all the fresh ingredients, though. The only thing canned was the baby corn which, predictably I loathe. Landfills all over the USA are choked with decaying tons of baby corn, discarded uneaten from the plates of Chinese restaurant patrons.

Red Snapper gets props for the full bar too, although I would prefer more Asian beers than Sapporo. So I had to settle for a Heineken, the BMW * of beers.

My lunch companion had a more conventional stir-fry dish with tofu which was basically the exact same vegetables and sauce that I had under the snapper.

My instinct here is that Red Snapper is probably a better place for dinner because the menu is so much bigger and the atmosphere lends itself better to evening forays. They probably do a decent lunch business from all the folks going to and from the mall, not to mention all the office buildings down that way. But they keep it very simple, which is fine.

So overall a nice experience, decent but not overwhelming food, and a perfectly fine option if you find yourself hankering for pan-Asian grub down on Ward Parkway.


* overrated, big in the 80s, purchased by assholes

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Aixois: 251 E. 55th Street

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
Mar 242008
 

This is a pretty high profile joint, located in the Crestwood shops at 55th and Brookside Blvd. I think that most people who live in KC proper know about Aixois, or have been there a time or two because its reputation is pretty airtight. Well, it’s a well-deserved reputation because even though the clientele and the atmosphere don’t do much for me, I keep going back.

The menu is a nice assortment of classically french entrees, salads, soups, sandwiches and desserts with several contemporary American flavors for good measure. You can get a traditional french meal of mussels and pomme frittes (that’s french fries for you simple folk) which is just about the prefect lunch, assuming you have nowhere to be. It’s nice to linger a while with some company and one more glass of wine than is advisable. I’m also a huge fan of the trout, well-priced at $12 and the steak dishes are always first rate. Because of its Frenchtacular nature, there is always something interesting like frog legs or veal liver for the more adventurous diners. Basically everything I’ve had there has been well-prepared, simple in flavor and nicely presented. They have specials every day to complement the regular menu, so there is a lot of choice.

For lunch there are plenty of less expensive options–a few sandwiches, a couple good salads as well as a soup of the day. The cheese plate pretty much rules. It is not as skimpy as those at other restaurants and never fails to make me slap my palm on the table with delight. Salad and a cheese plate = tasty lunch.

The service borders on over-attentive. The waitstaff really milks the whole fake-friendliness schtick, and the rich brookside geezers eat it up with a spoon. Not my scene but they butt out when they need to. The wine list is extensive and the servers know their stuff. By the glass is not cheap (most glasses are $9 or so) but generally they have a house bottle for $20.

Aixois has 2 dining rooms, one in the front and one in the back. The one in the front has a more intimate feel while the main room is a little noisier. It seems like they seat the old people in the front and the families with kids in the main room. Seriously, Aixois is chock full of old people. But strangely it is also kid-friendly and I always see families in there. Normally I far prefer old people over children, but the front dining room is a little stuffy for my taste. Best of all, there is a sizable outdoor patio that offers a view of sweaty yuppies and old folks puffing along the trolley track trail.

So if you want to reward yourself for a job well-done or whatever and are ready to spend some cash, Aixois is not to be missed. I can attest to the fact that the more you go, the more you like it. And the dude who owns it is actually French which has to count for something.


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Blue Koi: Leawood Edition

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Mar 012008
 

Mission road in Leawood is becoming 39th street west.

Part of the fun of Blue Koi is its 39th Street location. It gets busy as hell on weekends. I enjoy putting my name in, giving them my cell number and hopping across the way to DB Cooper’s for a half hour of cigarettes, PBR and burn-out psychodrama. After some dumpling and noodles at Blue Koi you can stroll over to Fric n Frac or some other little joint and have a cocktail or coffee or whatever. It almost feels like a real city for a minute. But wait, I’m supposed to be talking about lunch.

Now Blue Koi has a Leawood location, just south of 103rd on Mission road. Like its older sibling, it is very popular for lunch. Don’t know about dinner. It is located in one of these weird semi-occupied mixed use developments. I think it is called “Mission Farms,” probably because it used to be a farm before they sent the old guy away with a million dollar check for his land. Anyhow it’s like storefronts with condos on the upper floors. But it basically feels like you are driving into a condo development, complete with a sign welcoming you to Mission Farms. And several of the storefronts seem like they have yet to be leased. Apart from the restaurant, it is eerily quiet in the parking lot. You know, because everyone who lives there is at work trying to pay for these places. Whoever developed this area probably had big ideas about dwelling and retail coexisting, complete with platitudes about vibrant pedestrian orientated living. But basically, you live in a condo in the suburbs above an overpriced chinese restaurant and a no-count hair salon. I’d be surprised if Mission Road has an uninterrupted sidewalk down to the new Room 39, another transplant from 39th street.

Back to basics: Blue Koi is very good at what they do. The menu at the Leawood location is pretty much identical to 39th street and the quality is similarly top-notch.

For the uninitiated, Blue Koi is a noodle and dumpling house that focuses on quality ingredients and fresh, homemade preparation. For most menu items you can choose whether you want them in a noodle soup, or just with noodles (sans broth) or with rice. It’s a nice way to offer choice without going crazy. I think that it’s pretty safe to do anything on the menu, whatever you choose won’t ruin the experience.

As I said the food is very good in both locations, but the Leawood version is super business-lunch oriented in terms of clientele. The service at Leawood was also excellent. Just like 39th street, you can also sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. While this would drive me crazy if I was one of the chefs, it’s kind of cool for diners. It’s like a people zoo.

I think this location is kind of a destination spot for JoCo corporate types who wouldn’t venture to 39th street to begin with. It’s very interesting when KC places duplicates their efforts in Johnson County, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I understand the need to expand, but it feeds into the whole mentality that Kansans are unwilling to head over to this side of the border. While many rant about it, I’m not sure it’s completely true. If there wasn’t a Blue Koi or a Bo Lings or a Room 39 in JoCo — if people were forced to come to KC to appreciate good food, would they come? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I head over to Kansas frequently to eat food. Think Oklahoma Joe’s or Il Trullo or whatever floats your friggin boat.

Anyhow, Blue Koi is great, everyone should eat there. Get the Chinese Pot Roast–it’s subtle, delicately textured and delicious with noodles. Ants on a Tree is also delicious and very popular. The dumplings? also first-rate. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to hang out in a Leawood condo development, even for lunch.

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Nov 162007
 

This is probably the best bbq I’ve had in JoCo not counting the illustrious Oklahoma Joe’s. It rivals Joe’s in many ways, and surpasses it in atmosphere which is pure tavern. I know, I know, Oklahoma Joe’s is in a friggin gas station what the hell is my problem? Well, simply put, the gas station gimmick just doesn’t do it for me. Certainly it is an unusual situation and makes for a good story. But ultimately it gives old JoCo people the impression that they are slumming it when really it’s a very boring and family-friendly place. I mean, the seating area itself looks like a Hardee’s (don’t get me started on Gates). They also have a very self-satisfied attitude about the gas station aspect, even selling cheesy t-shirts about it. Indeed, their whole sense of marketing is very cartoonish, gimmicky and dated. Remember the Far Side? Their shirts and packaging is in that vein. Only less funny. “Night of the Living Barbeque sauce!” OMG that’s hilarious! Joe’s reliance on oversized kaiser rolls and “specialty sandwiches” doesn’t endear them to me either. I feel a BBQ place should have a simple, modestly sized menu. All that being said, OK Joe’s has excellent barbeque and everything on the menu is tasty, but in other ways it’s just not that interesting.

Admittedly RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack has a stupid name. But the place is about the size and shape of a double wide trailer-a shack, basically. It could easily turn into a drinking establishment in the evening. For all I know it does. The interior is super casual, quiet but not awkwardly so. Suprisingly they offer table service–and it’s excellent service at that. I had absolutely no complaints about that–they were friendly, attentive, efficient, and no bullshit–everything you want in servers.
RJ’s advertises $2 PBR bottles and cheap draws as prominently as the daily specials, which makes it my kind of place.

Their sauce however is…unusual. I hesitate to say that I don’t like it because I do, but I think it may be a liability more than an asset to RJ’s great smoked meats. I just don’t like sauce to distract me and I fear that this one does. It is overly sweet, but also vinegary. It has a subtle flavor that I absolutely cannot identify. I’ll have to make a repeat visit or two to render absolute judgment on this one. Regardless, they offer regular and spicy versions which seem to have no discernable difference from one another. It bugs me when spicy is not spicy. Damn midwesterners.

The pulled pork here was great. Both the pork and french fries were every bit as good as Oklahoma Joe’s who I find overly salt their fries. The chicken however, is uninspired. I expected a kind of pulled chicken, but instead got thick slices of dry breast meat which did not fit comfortably on the bun. But that’s what I get for ordering a chicken sandwich at a bbq place. I really wanted brisket, but was feeling particularly cholesterol-laden.

It is interesting that I haven’t heard much about RJ’s before, perhaps it is a relatively new establishment? Regardless I will continue to make periodic visits to see if other visits measure up to the first one. Both times I have been there, the place was pretty dead–once I was the only customer at 1pm. Mr. Goodcents was hopping next door, though. What the hell is the matter with these people?

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Los Tules: 1656 Broadway

 Posted by at 5:35 pm
Nov 082007
 

This place gets some serious traffic in every sense of the word. This is an extremely high-profile location near 17th and Broadway and anyone cruising toward or away from downtown, the westside or the crossroads is likely to notice it. I’ve been wanting to check it out ever since I moved here. I’ve noticed that they do a good business on First Fridays, which is what you would expect. It’s not too easy to park around there, mostly because Broadway is a little wacky thereabouts. Southbound drivers are so relieved to take advantage of a little post-construction homestretch that a parking car in front of los tules is a prime target. And a northbound auto will have to make a left turn across aforementioned nut jobs to get to the place.

But enough about parking, which is a seriously overrated, oft-discussed and less than interesting topic in this town. I mean the first time I parked on westport road I spent 5 minutes looking for a no parking sign because there was no parking meter. I assumed the spot was illegal. We got it lucky here, people. Hell, at Lawrence public library you get 4 hours for quarter. Oops I’m talking about parking again.

Los Tules pretty much kicks ass. It has a bar and a dining room. The service is decent, and much of the food appears pretty authentic. The tacos are very cute–tiny little doubled up corn tortillas with finely chopped meat, cilantro and onions. This is good stuff. It took a little longer than I would have expected for the food to arrive after ordering, but compared to other places, it was just fine. I have a habit of ordering tamales everywhere I go. Sadly the offering at Los Tules was not among the best I’ve had, owing to a truly odd, meaty sauce and less than creamy texture. But I haven;t eaten very many good tamales anywhere. Best I’ve had was sold by a guy in Chicago who walks around from bar to bar at night with an insulated bag full of them. but maybe that was a beer-induced infatuation.

The atmosphere at Los Tules is pretty nice too. They have a nice collection of potted plants in the front window, including one of the largest aloe plants I’ve ever seen. The staff should take a hint from the Succostash folks and start using leftover water from people’s glasses to water the plants. I love that about Succotash, it makes me fall in love with the waitress every time, whoever it is.

Anyhow, this place is solid–thanks to condoChiefs/muzak and a couple others for recommending it.

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Grinders: 417 E. 18th Street

 Posted by at 8:12 pm
Sep 102007
 

Now I like Grinders well enough, but it has a really stupid name. It almost sounds like a chain restaurant in a mall food court, only it should have an exclamation point:

“Come join us at Grinders!”

or maybe “Grynders!”

This place definitely deserves a more interesting moniker.

And Kansas City definitely needs more places like this–most cities are full of them: Casual, cheap, young-ish, inventive, locally-focused, open late. You can smoke, you can have some beers, they have good and fairly interesting food, albeit a little on the lowbrow side.

It’s also easy to pick on Grinders (idiotic name aside) and it usually has to do with Stretch. Yes, that Stretch dude has apparently burned a couple bridges, whatever, I don’t know him at all. Certainly his art is not my cup of tea. Not because it’s too wacky for me, but because he clearly thinks it’s too wacky for someone like me. It’s actually a lot like the stuff my cousin was making in the 60s and 70s, and it’s just not that challenging. And that sculpture park is just plain bad. Anyway, there’s some of that crap in Grinders, including a huge, twisting metal arch near the front door. Whatever, it’s fine really.

Cheesesteak

But the place is locally owned and operated, and the employees seem happy to be there. They certainly are friendly. I wouldn’t call it the most efficient operation, but these kinds of joints rarely are. Anyway, go there, get the Philly cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz (!) and be glad you did.

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Anthony’s: 701 Grand

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Aug 162007
 

Nestled next to a small bluff at the intersection of 7th street and Grand Blvd (“of the Americas”), Anthony’s is a classic Italian joint. I’ve been here for dinner, sampled manhattans and Campari on the rocks, listened to the roving crooner sing “Volare” and eaten linguini and meatballs served by teenage Italian kids in white and black. So, i really like this place because it feels like it should.

I went in for lunch recently and had a decent experience. We were seated by a short, skinny, older woman with the largest hairdo I have ever seen. It looked like a huge, black football helmet. Very very impressive.

The lunchtime waitstaff pretty much consists of middle aged italian ladies who have been around the block a time or two. Our server was very friendly and did everything right. The lunch menu is big and doesn;t really differ much from the dinner menu. You can get pastas, chicken parm sandwiches, meatball subs, spiedini, all that stuff. Prices are ok–anywhere from 7-12 bucks depending on what you order.

The food here is not great: let’s make that perfectly clear. I don’t care what anyone says. The sauce is way too sweet, reminiscent of spaghetti-o’s. There is nothing remarkable about the way things are prepared or the way they are plated. That being said, so what? I would be disappointed if this place was too good. The reason you like Anthony’s has to do with the whole package: ambiance, music, decor, clientele, hairdos…The food is part of that certainly, just not a draw in and of itself.

Oh yeah, before I forget: Sinatra was playing in the restaurant the whole time I was there. On your way out, be sure to stop by the Virgin Mary shrine nestled in the limestone wall in the parking lot. Pay your respects, people. In summation, I would’t characterize Anthony’s as overly fast, or overly fancy. As they say: It is what it is.

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12Baltimore: 12th St and Baltimore

 Posted by at 5:56 pm
Jul 192007
 

This is the lower-rent cousin of the Hotel Phillips’ esteemed Chop House restaurant. 12Baltimore is meant to be a casual bar/lunch/happy hour spot, and succeeds mightily at least in terms of visual appeal. The place is cozy, yet big enough to handle a sizable lunch rush. The dining areas are quite attractive with natural wood paneled columns, tasteful, sparse artwork and nice soaring bar filled with gleaming top shelf liquors. Mmmm, liquors.

The menu itself seemed to offer a small but very appetizing number of options for diverse palettes. Several entree salads, a burger, crabcakes, fish & chips, shaved prime rib sandwich–all sounds like good stuff to me.

Unfortunately, our dining experience was somewhat tarnished by strangely inattentive service, and food that should have been better for the price. I ordered a chopped salad–those of you familiar with the noble classic, cobb salad know what I’m talking about. Basically a cobb for restaurants too cheap to spring for avocado. It featured romaine lettuce topped with chicken, crumbled bacon, blue cheese, hard boiled egg and tomato. Sounds great right? Well it would have been except that the chicken was deep fried. That’s right a breaded and fried chicken breast, sliced expertly and placed upon this otherwise glorious mound. What should have been a very nice meal turned into a glorified Wendy’s salad in a box.

For the second meal this week, I was not offered a refill on my overpriced little glass of coca-cola. And worst of all, we must have waited 20 minutes for our check. I don’t know why it is so hard for people to hand over the bill. true professional waitstaff do not commit this egregious error. Why? Because it gets you in and out quickly, and turn-over is the name of the game when you make a living waiting tables. But this is a problem I;ve run into at a bunch of lunch spots in Kansas City. Don’t they get it? Lunch is about speed, people have to go back to work or school or masturbating or whatever charmed life they lead. Certainly many 12Baltimore diners come from the adjoining Hotel Phillips, and those folks may not have a tight time frame. But I’m sorry, if you serve lunch, don’t make your customers wait for anything. Moreover, if you make your waitstaff wear stupid black business suit uniform-type things, at least train them how to deliver a damn bill in a timely fashion. And when they do, train them to at least acknowledge that they have made you wait.

I wouldn’t rant like this at a smaller restaurant, at least not with such vehemence. But if a restaurant is going to give off airs of being classy, it has to deliver. Experiences like this make me remember why I started blogging here in the first place. Finding good restaurants is fun, but bitching about them is much more satisfying.

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Drum Room: 13th and Baltimore

 Posted by at 2:00 pm
Jul 182007
 

I had never been to the Drum Room and had heard nice things about it. Of course the Drum sign is an absolutely essential selling point, but I found the interior to be surprisingly modern, and completley lacking in old school charm. This was actually fine since the hotel itself offers plenty of that, including a cute archival display of old hotel relics like china, room keys and photos.

Unfortunately, the service during my visit was absolutely abominable. I’m not a bad diner mind you. I typically give every server the benefit of the doubt. I;ve waited tables and I know it sucks. I know what it’s like to be busy. But this shit was ridiculous. No one was rude, just oblivious and uncommunicative. My co-diner and I stood for about 15 minutes before anyone acknowledged that we were waiting for a table. Finally we were sat and given water and the made to wait at least 20 minutes for a server to pay attention to us. I was sucking ice cubes at that point and had changed my mind about what I wanted to order at least 5 times.

The waitress was extremely friendly and apologetic when she finally noticed us, but the offenses continued. After bringing drinks and taking our orders, we never saw her again. I was hoping for a refill on my $2.50 coke in an 8oz glass full of ice, but was never offered one. The food was excellent and reasonably priced for a fancy joint. Sandwiches run from 7-12 bucks. Add in 2.50 for your drink and a small tip for shitty service and there you have it.

I was very disappointed because when I go to a nice place, I am prepared to pay more. But for that money I expect better food and better service. The staff in the Drum Room had no idea what they were doing. A guy across from us got a free meal and an apology from the chef because they screwed something up pretty bad with him. I would have been happier if they completely ignored us so at least I wouldn’t have to pay for such a mediocre experience. But oh well.

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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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