Saturday, August 6, 2011

Webster House Wows

Its stately form sits proudly in the shadow of the looming Performing Arts Center; a beautifully restored 1800s schoolhouse that houses lovely antiques and a very popular restaurant. This gorgeous spot was once called the Daniel Webster School and is now simply called the Webster House. On every visit to the surrounding Crossroads Art District, I would steal at least an admiring glance away toward this lovely building and always hoped to visit. Last Thursday, we finally got that opportunity and enjoyed the hell out of it.

We entered through the tall front doors to find multiple rooms beautifully adorned with striking antiques in dark-walled rooms set off by large windows topped with simple stained-glass patterns. Webster House is a truly stunning building...it was beautifully renovated by owner Shirley Bush Helzberg. I found it difficult to merely sit through dinner when I really wanted to explore every nook and cranny of this amazing structure. Luckily, the food was enough of a hit to help me set aside my distractions. The charming woman who met us at the front door directed us to the dining room up a winding staircase. The second floor features several beautifully-appointed dining rooms and a cozy bar. I was thrilled that we were seated in the dining room with full view of the open kitchen. Our server was knowledgeable and friendly. Unsure of what we were going to order for our entrees, I decided to order a couple of glasses of Borealis White Blend. The server reassured me that it was a great pick; a refreshing summer blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling and indeed it was.

We shared an appetizer of the Rock Shrimp and Grits. This was quite good; especially the spicy and filling grits. There was an "oops" moment when it came time for the entrees. I had deliberately set out for seafood this night; as I knew we would be indulging on Blanc burgers on Saturday night and was trying not to o.d. on red meat for the week. The server made an honest mistake: when we ordered; K ordered the filet and I then said, "the salmon, please". She thought that I had said, "the same, please". After my understandable surprise when a filet arrived, I soon realized that it was the happiest mistake she could have made. The filet was a bit more done than I prefer(at the WH, they ask about preferred temps for salmon as well and recommend medium, so I went with that) but the demi-glace that accompanied the filet made me literally swoon. Described as a "black truffle demi-glace", it was luscious and combined with the astoundingly tender beef....well, lets say I was torn between needing to eat my food while hot but wanting to set everything into slow motion so that I could lovingly savor every bite. Sound a bit over-the-top on my part? Maybe. Here in KC, also affectionately known as "Cowtown", a good beef dish isn't difficult to find. Some, however, such as the Peppercorn Filet with Brandy Cream Sauce at Piropos rock my ridiculous world and this beauteous beef gets added to that list. The filet came with sauteed asparagus and crispy potatoes that were good, but became merely vessels to further soak up that demi-glace to keep me from literally licking the plate. We finished off the meal with the server-suggested Chocolate Fudge Cake. K and I tend to be a tad chocoholic, so we happily indulged but this wasn't your typical hot, goopy overkill but a delicately balanced creation of rich chocolate with touches of orange liqueur and cognac. Wow.

That fabulous chocolate cake was made by the WH's new pastry chef who, according to our server, is a Vietnamese woman who trained at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Our visit was also at a time when WH was introducing a new executive chef. The chef, Matt Arnold (check out Matt's story in this entertaining article from the Pitch's Fat City blog, including Arnold's Top Chef-like audition for WH) is a native of KC but has been in North Carolina the past few years and as our server related, will be bringing a Southern touch to the WH menu. His menu debuts next week.

I should also mention that this visit to Webster House was prompted by a Groupon offer. The mere mention of Groupon seems to elicit a combined chorus of cheers and boos and I'm certain that debate will rage on. I won't get into the nuts and bolts of the ongoing debate, but I will offer these observations: We went to dinner at a relatively expensive restaurant on a Thursday night and it was not a special occasion. Webster House was packed; and not just when we arrived at 6:30 but continued to be when we left at 8:30 and our server confirmed this was due to the Groupon offer. Yes, the host business takes a financial hit on the deal, but the servers were over the moon over this level of business on a Thursday night. As for that financial hit, well, if other diners were anything like K and I, they were prompted to order appetizers, wine and dessert because of the break they had on the bill. Webster House seemed to take full advantage of the extra business by having their servers talk up Chef Matt's new menu, upcoming Sunday Brunch and the late-night menu that will be kicking off with the grand opening of the Performing Arts Center as well. By the time our server finished one particularly vivid description of an upcoming new menu item; I was ready to make another reservation right then. The technocrat part of me also dug being able to present the Groupon on my smartphone and save the paper.

We caught Webster House at what can be an extraordinarily difficult time for a restaurant; that sometimes unwieldy interim between executive chefs. Our experience was completely delightful on Thursday night, so I can't wait to go back and see what they do next.

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