Things I learned while visiting Kansas City, MO:
* Its neighbor, Kansas City, Kansas, is referred to as KCK.
* You are not, in fact, required to eat barbecue.
* It’s actually kind of difficult to find fountains in the “City of Fountains.”
* The museums may be small, but the collections are well-chosen.
* There are lots of great food options.
* Soccer games in 98 degrees with 80 percent humidity that end in a 0-0 tie are not the most fun thing ever, but watching two tow-headed toddlers enthusiastically belt out “God Save the Queen” is awesome.
We visited Kansas City with the express purpose of seeing a rare U.S. game played by K’s soccer team of choice, Newcastle United. Thankfully, we also have friends there or I’d have never braved the excruciatingly uncomfortable heat wave to make the trip.
On our first night, we decided to go to chef Celina Tio’s Julian. We’d seen Tio compete on both “The Next Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Masters season 3” and were unsure of what to expect. Perhaps because of this, we were blown away by the honest, simple and simply delicious food we found. With their HVAC system on the fritz, the small dining room was really hot and stale (not helped by sitting directly outside the open kitchen window), but the heat was soon forgotten as we crunched our way through smoked chicken tamales with a spicy guacamole sauce and hush puppies with harissa aioli. The chicken tamales were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and the hush puppies, while a little too bready for me, were still nice and pillowy crisp.
I ordered the evening’s special of chicken and rice and K got the crispy pork shoulder with creamy polenta. Each dish sounded deceptively simple, but each was so fresh and bursting with flavor we were stopped in our tracks. The chicken and rice dish was creamy and popped with green herbs and sweet corn.
K’s pork shoulder was rich and concentrated and the polenta was perfectly creamy. Best stand-in for traditional Kansas City bbq ever.
We capped off the meal with a light, tart and creamy buttermilk panna cotta with sweet fresh berries as its crowning glory. K had made a reservation for the restaurant online and the next day received an email from Chef Tio herself, apologizing for the heat in the dining room and the HVAC break down and making sure that we’d had a nice meal. Now *that’s* what I call service and follow-up!
The next day we visited the small, but lovely Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art where we enjoyed lunch at Cafe Sebastienne in the indoor conservatory which was like dining outdoors and enjoying the sun without the million degree temperatures. K enjoyed the pizza du jour (which, if I remember correctly had prosciutto and basil and oregano in the sauce) with an airy crust that somehow managed to also be crisp. I had a *large* portion of the fish du jour which was delicious and perfectly cooked, but has now slipped my memory as to exactly what kind of fish it was. It came with a very fresh and local veggie relish on top and sautéed spinach on the bottom.
That evening, we dined with friends at the tiny, *adorable* and homey Pot Pie. We all started with the steamed mussels. Well, almost all of us. One of our dining companions recommended them then admitted he didn’t care for mussels, but really liked to soak up the buttery brine they bathed in with big slices of bread. The liquid was divine and the mussels were lovely as well. I had trout and K had seared scallops. And, while it didn’t seem like a place that looked like the cozy back room of your country grandmother’s house could excel at seafood, the scallops were awesome.
The next day we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art after lunching at one of the city’s hippest lunch spots — Blanc Burgers and Bottles. The beer list was the size of an encyclopedia and their burger list was nearly as comprehensive. I settled on a chicken caprese “burger” (really a chicken sandwich) with balsamic sauce and tangy goat cheese. It was GIANT and I only ate half the bun, but the sandwich was pretty good.
Much more impressive was K’s choice of the $100 Burger (a burger stuffed with short ribs with foie gras sauce) and the bacon gouda fries we shared. The bacon bits were a bit too large and chewy to be supported by the fries, but suck it up, soldier … just pick up the bacon with your fingers!! Evil, evil goodness. K also really enjoyed the pickle which, he believed, was made with rice wine vinegar. And we both enjoyed sipping from the very strong cilantro pineapple margarita.
We then met up with friends from Minnesota who happened to be traveling through Kansas City at the same time and accompanied us to the soccer game. We wanted something light before sitting in the tropics so we hit up Blue Koi where we enjoyed fried tofu with sweet/spicy awesome sauce (they don’t call it awesome sauce for nothin’), amazingly fresh, sweet and popping shrimp dumplings, spicy vegetarian lettuce wraps and a few curried noodle dishes. The portions were very generous and we were all really sorry we couldn’t take our leftovers with us, but didn’t feel they’d fare well in the sweltering car before we got back to the refrigerator-less hotel room.
Ours was a brief trip and, after two museum trips, one afternoon of sweaty shopping, meals with friends and a soccer game, we headed out the next afternoon. But before we left we couldn’t resist one more stop at Pot Pie for lunch where K loved his teriyaki beef sandwich and, from my ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich I learned that one should always put fresh thyme in melty cheese.
Thanks Kansas City for the memories, hot as they were. Should we visit again, we *might* just get around to eating that barbecue you’re so famous for.