Monday, November 28, 2011

The Early Bird Sushi Special

We joined two of our favorite compatriots, Ronnie and Jeff, for our latest sushi excursion. This would be the holiday version; sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and there was much to celebrate.

We gathered first at their abode, which was charmingly decorated for Christmas in grand pop-culture fashion. There was an awesome scene from the classic Rudolph holiday special and the Christmas tree featured many retro-sweet touches; including a Scooby-Doo tree-topper. Ronnie mixed us one of his sneak-attack cocktails; a seemingly cheery peppermint-chocolate martini concoction that embedded a stealth buzz that crept up later at an inappropriate say, when arriving at the sushi restaurant. Thank God Jeff was our non-drinking designated only takes one of Ronnie's evil elixirs to weave its spell.

To the sushi restaurant we did indeed go, and that restaurant was one Ra Sushi in Leawood, KS. Ra Sushi is located in upscale shopping mecca Park Place. Ra's a sleek, sexy spot next to the Aloft Hotel. Once through the doors and past the warm glow of the morphing colors of the sushi bar backdrop, we were seated at our table. We admired the crimson light fixtures that seemed to float above the Flying Fish Lounge while we perused the lengthy menu. We ordered martinis and appetizers: pineapple-cheese wontons and an item we would have ordered on name alone: the Hot Mess. This deliciously-named starter was delicious indeed: spicy rice balls topped with a King crab mix that is baked and finished with jalapeno and cilantro. We toasted to our excitement over upcoming events and to our good fortune....its 5:30 pm.

Our sushi arrived to great fanfare; plate after plate of creative goodness. Salmon and sweet onion tapas. The Ra-ckin' Roll; kani kama crab and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed, lightly tempura battered and topped with guacamole and shrimp; finished with a creamy ginger sauce, red beet tempura beets and togarashi. My personal favorite...the Viva Las Vegas Roll: crab and cream cheese topped with spicy tuna and sliced lotus root; finished with sweet eel sauce and spinach tempura bits. We sat back; sated and buzzed, taking in this ever-busier joint as we paid our bill and headed out into the night....its 6:15 pm.

We entered the tres cool Aloft Hotel which is in the design-friendly family of W Hotels. We took the elevator up to the ultra-hip lobby area; complete with billiard tables, neon-lit XYZ bar and gorgeously modern living room-lounge area. We ordered an orange martini and strolled the chilly deck that featured fabulous outdoor furniture and perfect views of the ice rink and holiday-lit shopping center. We returned to the lounge and laughed heartily over our cocktails. Ooh, we felt so achingly, I ask...

Say barkeep, where's the rest of the crowd? Don't they know, as we hipsters do, about this wonderful place? His answer:

Uh, well, its 7:00. Nothing really gets going until say, 9:00 p.m.

Okay, I really wasn't that pretentious when I asked about why it wasn't busy. Thankfully, he didn't finish his answer with "you sad, deluded and seemingly flatulent old man". I did, however, look at my orange martini and wonder if he didn't mix it with Metamucil.

Finally, we strolled over to watch the ice skaters and saunter into Paciugo Gelato where we reveled in flavors like salted nut caramel and chocolate Guinness. Ronnie tried a rose milk flavor which he commented "tasted like Grandma" which elicited giggles from the staff.

Who are we kidding? Its clearly only a short time before we are slapping on the rose milk after-shave ourselves. We took our satisfied but tired behinds to the car and headed home. Ronnie mentioned on the drive home that it seems like we should be headed to a least, I think that's what he said before he started nodding off. Once home, I thought back on this great night and smiled. I went to bed, still smiling.

It was 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: Turkey and Target Practice

Thanksgiving 2011 already kicked off with a twist, as we forfeited our typical hosting duties due to the closure of the hotel for renovations. This year, we hit the road to Jeff City; Emerilized Green Bean Casserole in hand, to share the holidays with Keith's family on a perfectly beautiful day.

That twist, we would soon discover, apparently sent Turkey Day into a Bizarro World tizzy. Our good-natured holiday intention was to come share a meal with the family and then encourage them toward a viewing of the new Muppets movie. That quaint, idyllic portrait of how the holiday should go would soon be literally blown away.

Once united at Keith's parent's home, we were soon off to the first adventure: four-wheeling with the kids. My first run with Tanner would literally send us careening over hill and dale and soon submerge us in a creek that was a tad bit deeper than anticipated. Eight-year-old Tanner proved quite adept at meeting the challenge and gunned us out and up the hill, where I would discover that my shoes and pant-legs were soaked. Whoo-hoo! Back at the house, we indulged in a few low-key moments....Sierra showing off her new cash register and "credit card" and the kids giving us awesome, handmade Thanksgiving presents.

Soon, I changed into sweats and new socks and found that we were off to the next afternoon activity: target practice. Uh....what? Kim and Dave had taken the conceal-and-carry class previously and had suggested some target practice in the field behind the garage. Out strolls Kenny wearing his holsters and bearing boxes of ammo. I was feeling a very heady mix of jangled nerves and strange fascination. For a guy who's typically of a more laid-back, non-violent nature, I have always been weirdly intrigued by weaponry of all sorts; both modern and archaic. I love to look at various weapons but my own personal history with them is muted. Dad took me hunting a couple of times and actually bought me a .22 shotgun that I practiced with every now and then. I didn't stick with it; sold the gun and maintained a mild wonder about weapons from then on. Having also been mugged once, I understand the violent potential weapons carry as far as criminal usage is concerned. Needless to say, when guns are brought out, I have a healthy dose of respect for them and not a little fear. This clearly was not the afternoon to bow to fear, however...

Dave, Kim, Ken and even Helen took their turns with the guns available: Dave and Kim brought their cocky-looking Glock and Ken provided .22 pistols among other guns to try out. I waited until the end and started off with the .22; earplugs firmly placed and hands shaking. It's an odd, slightly eerie and vaguely powerful feeling to shoot a gun. The noise, the recoil, the resounding echo, the shell going airborne, the residual vibration in your arm, the heady scent of all combines into a serious rush. Well, I may have felt a rush but that didn't do a damn thing for my aim. Dave's an awesome instructor but clearly I need practice and the ability to just relax with shooting...out of multiple rounds with three different guns, I only hit the bullseye once. Keith, on the other hand, stepped up to the plate and displayed some seriously impressive shooting. It literally seemed a scene out of a movie, as minutes after claiming to have never fired a pistol, he shoots round after round into the bullseye. He just grins and apologizes for never having mentioned his secret agent past. When the inevitable zombie apocalypse happens, I have a newly-found sense of calm as I have been apparently living with Dirty Harry the past 12 years.

After another four-wheeling trip with the kids, we finally gave the adrenaline rushes a break....sort of. Even the turkey prep was a little concerning as this year the bird would be deep-fried. This was clearly not Ken's first trip to the deep-fried rodeo, though. He and Dave know the pitfalls to avoid like too much water in the bird or too much oil in the fryer....which is good since it WAS fried on a wooden deck. We even coerced Helen into eating in the actual dining room as opposed to the kitchen...a first for Dave and I both. The meal was a joy from start to finish....Helen's mashed potatoes, Dave and Kim's hearty cornbread stuffing and creamy pumpkin cheesecake with Grand Marnier-spiked cranberry topping and Keith's spicy green-bean casserole were all so delicious. Helen's cranberry sauce was a treat, as well, but not as much of a treat as watching her squirm when we got her to admit that it was deli-bought. That deep-fried bird, though, was an addictive revelation....crispy skin and incredibly juicy meat...Wow. So, so good. We weren't long for the world after that meal.

It was a joyful adrenaline rush of a day; one to put various safety advocates in a state of paralysis. Whatever, was a whiz-bang of a holiday. One that even included an impromptu performance by the kids as evidenced in the following video. I'm thankful for a holiday with loved ones that was one for the record books.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ode To An Italian Sub

I have, for many a moon, enjoyed the simple pleasure of an Italian submarine sandwich. When its good, the combination of spicy Italian meats, crusty bread and oil and vinegar is tough to beat. That said, it can be difficult to find one where every element is just right. Difficult, but not impossible, as I found out on our latest visit to River Market on Saturday.

We rolled through KC's food emporium on a lark, really, a mere side effect of a necessary trip to a nearby Fed-Ex office. The market area wasn't bustling with overflow crowds as on a typical summer's day but still lively with shoppers and diners. We stopped by Bloom Baking Co. where we waited in line to purchase a loaf of Foccacia and a couple of sweet treats for later... a chocolate and salted caramel tart and a slice of flourless chocolate cake (both divine, by the way). Outside of Bloom, we caught our first glimpse of Carollo's Gourmet Grocery and Deli: the big guy grilling Italian sausages; rocking out to AC/DC and sending out amazing aromas wafting through the crowd to accompany his raucous laughter. These sights, sounds and smells sent us right into Carollo's. Carollo's is a wonderful Italian grocery and deli that sells incredible sandwiches and features barrels of olives, and fresh Italian meats and cheese. We both ordered the #1: Capicola, Salami and Prosciutto with provolone cheese. It was on thick, crusty bread and topped with a spicy pepper mix. This Italian sub was primo; overflowing with goodness and enough to feed us for two meals. It was served with chips and we also bought a drink.

The drink choice turned out a bit humorous for me. I ordered a Marley's Mellow Mood, which is of a line of soft drinks and teas inspired by the late, great reggae singer Bob Marley. It was advertised as an opposite of Red Bull; a tonic to soothe and relax you. I saw chamomile as an ingredient and thought that might be nice. As I was finishing my sub and drink, I realized that I was feeling very, verrrrrrry chill. I read the ingredients in full and quickly realized that valerian root and melatonin were also included and here I was at noon and suddenly quite ready to take a long nap. Proceeds for this drink go to charity. Ya, mon.....


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Random Bites: Roasted Pumpkins, Rubber Men and Recipes Illustrated

November is a month ablaze with autumnal color and packed with an all-new batch of my latest loves. These are some of the things I'm diggin' currently...

They Draw and Cook Cookbook- 'Tis the season, indeed. The holiday signage and decor are starting to appear like eight tiny reindeer but for me, in my bookstore role, its also a time when the Holy Mothers of cookbooks are starting to appear and they are lovely and legion. The Beekman Brothers Heirloom, Eleven Madison Park, Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible and many more are making for some gorgeous cookbook displays and I'm salivating over them all. I have to give special props, though, to the first cookbook from a very creative website: The Draw and Cook website and cookbook are chock-full of mouth-watering recipes illustrated by artists from around the world. The authors are a brother and sister design team and the website and book are way too much fun.

The New Yorker Food Issue- Its time, once again, for the annual New Yorker Food Issue and that's always a happy time for me. I've touted their book collection of food issue articles called Secret Ingredients in a previous post and I continue to anticipate this yearly batch of delicious food writing. This year's issue includes contributions by Jane Kramer, Paul Theroux, Adam Gopnik and one-time KC native Calvin Trillin. I love to devour this feast of words every year....and I always dig the cartoons as well. If David Sedaris had an article in this issue, it would have been perfect.

American Horror Story- As we embark on Thanksgiving and Christmas, here's a little post-Halloween fear factor..the Ryan Murphy FX fright-fest American Horror Story. Full Disclosure: I have this twisted sister of a show set up as a Season Pass on Tivo, and still didn't get around to watching a single episode until this past Thursday. Why? Because I was a bit scared of it, I admit. I don't know where everything went awry...I grew up a big horror movie fan; I relished the vintage Hammer films and dug the Halloween films. Somewhere along the way, probably with the advent of the last few years of torture porn nasties like the Saw series, I have become less and less of a fan of horror films. I have avoided the AMC series The Walking Dead like a zombie plague; I just don't dig the gut-wrenching gore and scary jolts. I love Ryan Murphy, though, if for no other reason, than I literally can't wait to see what happens next on his shows. I loved Popular ( though it was quickly canceled) and Ronnie turned me on to Nip/Tuck which was a weekly jaw-dropping WTF of a show. I remain a big fan of Glee even though it seems to be suffering a bit of what Nip/Tuck did, which was a loss of quality after the first couple of seasons. I foolishly decided to watch AHS while Keith was at a conference in New York. This batshit-crazy show scared the garbanzos out of me but was so mad bonkers I could not wait to see what they were and are going to do next. Jessica Lange as Southern Gothic queen Constance is worth the price of admission alone and beware of Constance's cupcakes and sweetbreads...yikes. Oh and yes, there's a strange man in a rubber suit running around this haunted house and he's about to be revealed on the next episode. I'm hopelessly hooked on this crazy train of a show.

Baked Pumpkin (pictured at top left)- I have written with great acclaim about a cookbook gifted to me by my friend Kara from a Fort Madison, Iowa bakery called the Ivy Bake Shoppe. I recently tried one of their signature recipes and it was a real kick. The baked pumpkin involves roasting an entire garlic-rubbed pumpkin that has been de-seeded and filled with garlic croutons and shredded mozzarella and swiss cheese for a couple of hours. Everything inside turns into a wonderful dip for bread or crackers and the pumpkin turns a beautiful, dark roasted color. You cannot go wrong with this cookbook and this baked pumpkin is perfect for parties.

The Simpson's Foodie Episode- Finally, one of my all-time fave TV families leapt into the foodie world and I loved every minute of it. Marge and the kids decide to write a food blog called The Three Mouthkateers and the entire episode did what this yellow family does best: celebrated and skewered pop culture and in this case, foodist culture. Cameos from Anthony Bourdain and a foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey and various culinary references to Sriracha sauce, kimchi and El Bulli restaurant peppered the episode and I loved that the ending paid tribute to "Ratatouille". Apparently, some of the muckety-mucks in the food world sniffed at the episode but I thought it was most excellent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Goodbye Girl

Our girl and Nook Diva Ginny is leaving us for greener pastures, dammit, and we're not a bit happy about it....ok, fine, we will be magnanimous and wish her well, but oh, how we will miss her. Several of us gathered at local KC favorite 54th St. Grill and Bar to bid Ginny farewell Friday night. Ginny, true to form, had to knock out a thoroughly packed day before arriving at her party....after having worked one of her last shifts with her fellow book nerds, she was off to act as officiate for a couple getting married at the Nelson-Atkins. As it was the once-in-a-lifetime date of 11-11-11, it was, of course, one of many weddings happening around the planet that day. Eventually, Ginny was able to join us for her own party.

Speaking of the perfect palindrome that was last Friday; it seemed a perfect date to share my first adult beverage with one of my favorite females; one Sweet Judy Green Eyes. This gregarious gal is another one of my favorite coworkers and I've recently come to the realization that we seem to share a bit of a cosmic connection (more on this in a later post). We bonded further at the 54th St bar over a Black and Tan that we had been anticipating all day. On the other side of me were two of my favorite people; Ronnie and Jeff, whose presence I miss constantly(and whom I've made another sushi date with-yay!). The rest of the gang gradually arrived to join us over cocktails and appetizers. One by one, they came, from the sublime (the divine Miss Sherry W; soon off to Africa) to the ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Joel) and finally the guest-of-honor arrived and we moved on to a table.

The night wore on over Margaritas, glasses of Guinness, salads and nachos and great gales of laughter. It was an awesome evening of irreverent celebration of all things Ginny as she moves on to her next great adventure. We will miss our dear sister but know she's off to bigger and better things.

We love ya, Ginny girl....go forth and be brilliant.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Return To Paradise

Last Saturday, we stopped at the Elms to see the progress of their liquidation auction. It is an odd sight to see so much of the furniture already hauled out and the front desk being used as the payment center for the auction. It is all in preparation for the renovations; but odd nonetheless. So, we moved on from an in-progress site to a newly re-opened one in downtown Excelsior Springs: The Paradise Playhouse.

Originally built and operated by the Parrinos in 1999, this sleek building has been sitting sadly dormant for awhile, but with great fanfare, the Paradise Playhouse reopened to the public on this night and we were thrilled to come support its return. New president and CEO Jim Dickerson is responsible for bringing this dinner theater back to life and our friend Cress Hewitt returned as Artistic/Entertainment Director. This past Saturday night featured a classical music performance and a packed house.

This was my first visit to the Paradise and I was quite impressed..I have little experience with dinner theater but I thought this was completely charming. The Polynesian theme could make for some tacky decor, but not in this case...there were many festive but tasteful touches but nothing over-the-top.

Dinner theater is typically more about the theater than the dinner but I'm also delighted to report that dinner played far more than a supporting role here. Catered by Kansas City steak haven The Golden Ox (birthplace of the KC Strip!), there was a plethora of palatable deliciousness available: luscious Chicken Piccata, succulent Prime Rib, and tasty salmon were just a few of the many offerings. The good folks at the Playhouse lobby bar can also mix a mean Grey Goose martini to boot. The classical performance by pianist Sean Martinez and violinist Elizabeth Codd was lovely; featuring numbers that ranged from Rachmaninoff to the Beatles. This re-opening shindig also served as a benefit for the Good Samaritan Center.

It was an absolute kick to see the place packed and looking towards bright future. Break a leg, Paradise Playhouse!