Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oscars 2013: My Bestie Saves The Day

I have long craved a guest post from my best friend Kristy on this blog.  I imagined it would happen when it was meant to and not as it did: with me begging for her help as my ever-busier schedule has made it difficult to keep up.  Kristy is a hella good writer in her own right and every year her insight into the Academy Awards are razor-sharp, particularly regarding red carpet flair and faux pas..  Sure enough, she did me a solid and went unsurprisingly above and beyond by also factoring in her Oscar weekend grub from our fave hometown Lebanaese restaurant.  So, enough with the intro and on to the big show.  Without further adieu, I present Kristy's Oscar recap...and thank you again Kristy.  You are true blue.

It’s that time of year again.  The 85th Annual Academy Awards.  Interestingly enough, this year will be the 45th anniversary of my lifelong friendship with our esteemed blogger Greg. I have been “blogging” the Oscars since before the word “blog” ever existed..  Greg and I rarely lived in the same place since we were 18 years old but have never missed celebrating all things film together whether it be multiple phone calls, texts, emails or face to face banter.  After all, this is our Superbowl Sunday of sorts.  This year, alas, we can do none of the above for various reasons, so when Greg asked me to be guest blogger for The Academy Awards I was uber-excited but also somewhat perplexed. I write about glitz and glamour; not food. Greg said to me “It’s gotta be about the food.  Cook something.” This sent me into a panic.  My schedule hardly allows for fast food let alone cooking at home.  I was pondering this one day last week as I was eating lunch in one of my favorite local restaurants when I had an epiphany.  Why cook when I can feature my favorite restaurant?

 While I live in WV, my favorite local haunt does not offer traditional American items.  Chams, located on Market Street in the middle of Parkersburg, WV’s business district offers some of the finest traditional Lebanese food this side of the Mississippi. The brother and sister team of Chams Ekleman and Rizkallah Helu came to the US from Lebanon in the 80’s to begin a new journey.  Rizkallah was a high school French teacher in the Cleveland OH area for several years while his sister Chams has always cooked and been involved in the food service industry. Eventually the family came to locate in the Mid Ohio Valley and Chams Lebanese Cuisine was born. The restaurant is simply appointed because at Chams it’s all about the food.  Chams offers daily specials and all items are made fresh daily.  So on my favorite day of the year I decided to feast on my favorite selections from my favorite restaurant. I opted for a sampling of many of their best smaller dishes.  I started with the Fried Kibbe Ball, composed of lean ground beef and cracked wheat centered with more beef, onions and nuts and deep fried to luscious perfection. Crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside with enough spice to pique one’s taste buds it is my favorite version of deep fried anything party food. I went on to sample the vegetarian stuffed grape leaves with a side of Baba Ghanouj for dipping.  These rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes and chick peas are quite simply sumptuous. The grape leaves take on a sweet quality countered with the slightly spiced rice filling and can be a meal on their own but hey, it’s party night so I must indulge with more.  While Chams makes some of the best hummus I have ever eaten I must say that I prefer their Baba Ghanouj.  I think of it as hummus with a kick.  With just the right balance of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil this pureed eggplant delight has become the most addictive dip I have ever eaten. I then went on to an item new to me: fatayer.  Fatayer comes in three choices at Chams; meat, spinach or cream cheese,  and while I know that the cream cheese fatayer is melt in your mouth delicious, I chose the spinach option for something new.  Fatayer is simply bread dough filled with various ingredients.  Mine contained only spinach and onions but was far from bland.  Extremely filling and easy to eat on the run I will call this one the Lebonese hot pocket, and priced at a mere $3 it is not only a delicious lunch to go but a very nutritious one as well.  As stuffed as I was I saved my absolute favorite for last. Despite the spelling, Foul M Damas (pronounced “full” or “foal” depending on your accent) is anything but foul.  I have christened this dish the Lebanese Black Eyed Peas.  Comfort food at it’s very best, it is fava beans cooked in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and served with Chams’ fresh made pita. Foul can be eaten with a spoon or spooned into a torn piece of pita which acts as the vessel to get the beans to your mouth.  I prefer the latter but of course there is always plenty of pita left to sop up every last bite of bright yumminess which has become a local best seller on their menu. It’s hard to finish the whole serving but Chams is happy to send you home with a to go container.  I will attest that it makes an excellent breakfast food as well and always look forward to my leftovers from Chams. After all of this one would think I would be full (and perhaps foul with all that garlic) but nay! It’s my night of nights and must be finished with dessert.   I chose two pastries from their gorgeous bakery counter. One was flaky phyllo stuffed with cream cheese. The other was a shortbread- like cookie stuffed with a sweet walnut filling and dusted with powdered sugar.  While they looked and tasted decadent I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that neither was overly sweet.  The perfect ending to a perfect food experience. But hey, it’s Oscar night and we are all indulging. Who needs Wolfgang Puck?  I have Chams! 

As I said earlier I typically write about movies and fashion. Now that the rhinestone dust has finally settled I offer you my humble critique of the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  As usual I took a stab in the dark in predicting the winners of the top 6 categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director and Picture.) And as usual I picked poorly going 3 out of 6. But those who know me know that what I look forward to the most is critiquing the red carpet attire so without further adieu, let’s get on with the show!
I will say that overall I was most pleasantly surprised with 90% of the choices our starlets made. Thigh high slits in the gowns were popular as were the colors red, black, white and gold. Metallics were also in.  You know if it’s shiny or blingy or beaded I’m all over it.  Needless to say there were some ladies who did less than their best on this auspicious occasion and some that frankly, phoned it in.  My top three best dressed are:
Jessica Chastain (pictured) wore a slimmer than slim bronze strapless fully beaded gown by Armani Prive, this tougher than nails Zero Dark Thirty nominee looked as if she were channeling Rita Hayworth.  Her fiery sleek hair with loose waves was the perfect feminine touch to this classic look.  She wins my Best Dressed award of the evening.
Jennifer Lawrence, looking beautiful in a sculptural Dior Haute Couture gown. The skirt of this gown was amazing and looked like it weighed a ton, perhaps contributing to J Law’s slip up the stairs (which is something I would totally do,) but she looked beautiful doing it.
Naomi Watts chose one of the most dynamic gowns of the evening.  Decked out in a silver asymmetrical Armani Prive she was the brightest and shiniest in town that night.  A BIG winner!
Now that you’ve seen the good let me give you my spin and the bad and more importantly the ugly. Top three worst dressed nominees for me are:
Brandi Glanville – The Real Housewife is a REAL MESS in this skin tight number she reportedly designed herself. The top of the dress barely reached the bottom of her boobs. And why was she even there?  Did they run out of REAL SEATFILLERS and just started grabbing people out of the glitter ghetto?
Nicole Kidman – does anyone remember when Nikki consistently made the BEST dressed list?  Her shiny black L’Wren Scott gown looked like someone painted her with hot tar and then sprinkled her with gold glitter and sequins. For someone who usually hits, this one is definitely a miss.
Melissa McCarthy – now I loves me some Melissa and I’m all for the fuller figures but this gray David Meester gown and her Valley of the Dolls hair were just a complete mess.  Melissa, you are a gorgeous woman with more talent in your little finger than any five other celebrities combined.  Given that fact why do you insist on wearing the bedsheets to awards shows.   Sewing some sequined flowers on the sleeves does not disguise the fact that this is just one butt ugly, very poorly fitted gown.  Please see Octavia Spencer for tips on what TO do. Since Brandi G isn’t a real star and shouldn’t have been there anyway, Melissa gets the award for Worst Dressed of the evening.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the host of the evening, Seth McFarlane. It was hoped that the creator of the hit animated series The Family Guy would breathe a breath of funny, fresh life into a show that has been known to be anything but fresh in the past.  The fear was that his particular brand of humor would go a step too far.  Within a minute and a half McFarlane had teetered perilously close to the edge of the darkside when out of the blue a giant TV screen appears William Shatner dressed as Captain Kirk telling Seth he’s doin’ it wrong.  And indeed he was doing it wrong.  Unfortunately we digressed from there into skits to include drug sniffing sock puppets, McFarlane, dressed as the flying nun asking Sally Field out and a full blow production number with McFarlane, backed by a gay men’s chorus singing a song entitle We Saw Your Boobs.  Unfortunately the freshman host degenerated from there and left me begging the same questions as Shatner:  What happened to Tina and Amy?  Why can’t they get Tina and Amy?  Indeed. Why CAN’T they get Tina and Amy, the hysterical hosts of the Golden Globes, the veterans of SNL?  Please Academy, next year get Tina and Amy.

This year gave us so many great choices in all categories that it was almost impossible to choose.  I’m glad to see that the Academy voters spread the love around this year with no multi-nominated movie sweeping the awards. It was nice to see so many talented folks be recognized for their respective crafts.  Good or bad the 85th Annual Academy Awards did not disappoint and it certainly gave ME something to talk (rant) about…like I NEED an excuse! But for now I’m putting away my poison pen and I’ll see ya at the movies!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Retiring Well

Always a gas to see familiar faces and catch up with good friends and so we got to do just that recently.  One of my former coworkers by the name of Joanne was retiring and so K and I joined up with some of my former bookstore cohorts to celebrate her off.  Joanne is one of those tried and true coworkers; always reliable and so damn good at her job, she made the rest of us pale in comparison.  She was finally ready to let it all go and spend some more time with her beloved husband Jim. 

The party was at Jane's and Ms. Durr was her usual consummate hostess.  I also finally got to catch but with the Divine Miss Sherry after she returned from her African sojourn.  We noshed on Jane's' bacon quiche and strawberry salad and spicy, tasty "Julie crackers" (provided by one Julie Jones)while we caught up on everything sparking our lives these days.

Spending time with this crew was as comfortable as ever.  So very good to see them all again.  Happy retirement, Joanne.  You will undoubtedly be missed. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Show Your Support For JJ's

More than 60 area restaurants will be participating in a fundraiser to benefit the staff at JJ's, who were so profoundly affected in so many ways by the horrific gas explosion earlier this week.  The fund was set up the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.  The accompanying photo is of the JJ's staff.  You can also donate by by check or money order to the following address: Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, JJ’s Restaurant Support Fund, 4049 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 204, KCMO, 64111.

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/02/22/4080901/jjs-fundraiser-saturday.html#storylink=cpy

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snowstorm Q and the JJ's Tragedy

I  have nearly pristine memories of certain snowstorms past, particularly the Blizzards of '93 and '94 in my West Virginia hometown.  Those two humdingers constituted true "Snowmageddons" to me, especially the perfect ice/snow 1994 monster.  Snowstorm Q here in KC brought a foot of snow but doesn't quite measure up, but there are familiar elements from those whiteout days of yore: thunder-snow; a state of emergency, the developing semi-truck graveyards on the interstates.  The Blizzard of '94 in West Virginia created jaw-dropping scenarios of tree-lined roads resembling great, glistening ice caverns, endless power outages and historic flooding.  Snowstorm Q is a mess for sure, but probably seems a bit extra shocking to us in KC after our balmy 2012 winter and thus-far mild winter this year.
If anything, this storm seems a heavy, gray extension of a challenging, somber week for Kansas City after the tragedy that occurred a couple of days ago.  JJ's, a beloved restaurant in the Country Club Plaza, was destroyed by a shocking gas explosion.  One person is dead, 16 were injured, the explosion is still under investigation and a favorite KC restaurant is leveled.  The actions of so many were quite heroic, from the restaurant employees who ushered their patrons out before the explosion to the firemen who arrived quickly on the scene and worked tirelessly to ensure the fire didn't spread.  JJ's was a destination restaurant known and loved by many KC residents for its Zagat-rated cuisine and Wine Spectator-awarded wine list.  I had not yet been, but JJ's was on my long list of places that I looked forward to visiting.  We have friends who lunched earlier at JJs on that same fateful day and one of the seriously injured is one of the owners of the Atlas in Excelsior Springs and is known by many residents there.  The one person who died is believed to be a JJ's server, who was also a founder of an LGBT support group at UMKC.  It has been heartbreaking to see the images of that horrific fire unfold.

My own anxiety has been a blanket as thick and deep as today's snow of late, but tragedies like this are yet another unfortunate wake-up call to remind me to count my blessings and keep my loved ones close.  I had a medical procedure scheduled for today but that was canceled due to the winter storm, so Keith and I got to have a rare snow day.  I'm thankful to be home with him; safe and warm during this snowstorm.  There's a crackling fire in the fireplace and Keith has whipped up a comforting lunch of tomato soup and grilled cheese with gouda and cheddar.  I'm sipping a cup of Willow Spring Mercantile's Hazelnut Cream coffee with a dollop of cousin Jill's awesome homemade vanilla sugar while reading an interview with the JJ's owner who is promising to rebuild. I'm grateful for all of my family and friends and that they are also safe and warm.  Stay safe out there, folks.

 My thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by the tragic fire at JJ's.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Post-Valentine's Food Coma, Brought To You By Bristol

As one who spent plenty of years alone, I am not typically one to give Valentine's Day much weight or power, despite being in a very happy relationship for the past thirteen years.  That said, we did have a small indulgence of chocolate-covered strawberries on the night itself that was more of a bright spot in a somewhat challenging day than a holiday celebration.  If I must celebrate, though, so be it...just let me strap on the feedbag and I'm ready to go.

I have become a bit obsessed with brunch of late and since K and I had won gift certificates to Bristol at our employee appreciation party, we decided to treat ourselves for a post-Valentine's mid-morning feast.  From everything I've heard and read concerning Bristol, it would indeed be just that.  Most suggest you arrive with a very empty stomach and not plan to eat again for the rest of the day.

Bristol Seafood Grill has been a Kansas City favorite for fresh seafood since 1980.  We visited their sleek, steely space in the Power and Light District on this trip.  Dark wood and subdued bottle lighting abound in the various seating areas.  We scored a cozy corner table away from the main buffet area where we ordered the house Bellinis (made with Prosecco, simple syrup and peach sorbet) and were given our buffet guidelines.  The walk to the various buffet displays reveal several interesting design elements such as the chainmail curtain labeled "Galley" that separates the kitchen from the dining areas and the shiny metallic wine display wall featuring over 600 wines and Champagnes.  The allure of this particular buffet for me is, of course, the seafood and Bristol claims to "procure the freshest seafood available".   I savored the first plate I built of fresh char-crust tuna tartare, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls, ahi tuna sushi, raw Blue Point Oysters, smoked mackerel and fresh mussels with a side of "broken wasabi vinegarette" for dipping.  I could've stopped after this plate and been more than satisfied, but there a few more lovelies to sample.

"Sample" was the operative word as K and I had agreed to go for samll, bite-size samples of everything and I'm so glad we did.  A bite of creamy lobster mac n' cheese here, a nibble of spicy shrimp enchilada there.  We even eked out a bit of room for a nibble of dessert; our preferred being the mini-cup of creme brulee.

I was astoundingly not miserable when all was said and done as I sat there across from my valentine while I sipped my cup of signature Roasterie blend of coffee.  It's hard to feel miserable, after all, when blessed with good food and when sharing it with such a striking brunch partner. I found myself sitting in that cozy corner admiring that soulmate of mine yet again.  Striking he was, looking all professorial with his cap and blazer.  Blame it on the bubbly, but I was feeling the love on this post-Valentine's day.

That is, until the food coma set in.  Zzzzzzzzz.....

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Happy Accident Brunch At Port Fonda

We and The Posse Crew were off to see a production of Hair at the Kauffman Center and were meeting for brunch first at the Beer Kitchen in Westport.  Now, if you read my post regarding the BK, you know I love me some Beer Kitchen and was anxiously looking forward to trying out their Sunday brunch.  Bummer to discover that BK was already packed and on an hour wait.  The BK host, to their everlasting credit, suggested we saunter on down the street to try out Port Fonda.  And Good Lord Almighty, we were so glad we did.

Port Fonda is a wonderland of mind-blowing Mexican food and drink that is also one of my favorite examples of grassroots-gone-wild.  Founded by chef Patrick Ryan and started in an Airstream trailer that was frequently parked in the lot next to the Reiger Hotel restaurant, Port Fonda's popularity has soared and as we were about to discover, for damn good reason.  This joint was fairly jumpin' itself when we got there and seemingly far more hipster than the BK (at least until we came in, that is).  The awesomely eccentric decor is the first to catch you eye upon entering.  Mexican wrestlers; a drawn buffalo on the wall with real arrows chasing it; a makeshift chandelier of work lamps.  I found myself browsing every inch of the place for its crazy-creative touches like the hooks under the bar that were actually jumper-cable clamps.  Our centrally located wooden and steel table was gorgeous and was stamped with the type of wood it was.  This was the mark of another local grassroots business by the name of the Utilitarian Workshop that apparently had a hand in much of the decor and they specialize in reclaimed materials.  The care that was put into the decor is equally matched by the care in service and the menu as well.  Carl and Deb and I were eager to try the impressive-looking Bloody Maria Bar.  This set-up wasn't just a peruse-the-ingredients matter, though.  This build-your-own Bloody Maria Experience begins with our server carefully walking us through Maria's menu.  First, we choose our tequila options such as Milagro Silver or "panza-washed El Ultimo Blanco" or possibly Mezcal or even a blend of both.  Then, you choose the type of salt you want on the rim of your glass...traditional, chile-infused or the inventive chicharrone salt; made from crushed housemade fried pork rinds.  Finally, we are released to the bar itself; a mini-Shangri-la of hot sauces and condiments gathered to build the perfect Maria.  Once there, I admittedly became lost in a haze of happy overkill.  A dash of habanero hot sauce here, a slice of pickled garlic here, a dusting of celery salt, a pepperoncini unceremoniously dropped in.  Yes, I even went for a crispy bacon slice and let me tell you, bacon was just meant to marinate in a wicked Bloody Maria.  Also selected were the fiery housemade Bloody Mix with a bit of the in-house salsa verde added as well.  I was blissfully overwhelmed already and I hadn't even started with the food.

As for that monumental fare, allow me to backtrack to those aforementioned chicharrones.  The Bloody Maria bar is book-ended with baskets of this fried goodness a.k.a. the house-fried pork rinds with chile, lime and salt.  Many moons ago, my friend Connie and I would end a few evenings of knocking back brews and singing karaoke at a hometown haunt called the Hill by tearing open bags of pork rinds and liberally dousing them with hot sauce.  Strangely, this smoky setting was the only place I ever ate this...maybe they just tasted best with a beer buzz.  Here I was all these years later finding this as a house specialty and they were no less than spectacular...no buzz necessary (but not discouraged).  Next up were boundless bowls of thick, housemade chips that we dipped in a spicy Salsa Rojo and a bright Salsa Verde as well as guacamole made from fresh avocados.  My main course was a monstrous chile relleno filled with avocado, chihuahua cheese and refried beans and it was so marvelous I wanted to start from scratch and experience it all over again, bite by blissful bite.  Layered with flavor and not just ingredients, I suddenly wanted to be there every Sunday and try every chile relleno special.  Among the other dishes at the table were the chimichanga topped with fried egg and the Omelette Especial which included Green Dirt Farms bossa cheese, chorizo verde and poblano rojas with a side of crispy fried fingerling potatoes.  We all reveled in the endless deliciousness.

I had long been wanting to try Port Fonda and was so happy to have had the opportunity, accident or no. The goodwill towards Port Fonda is nowhere close to waning, either: while I was running about snapping my own pics during that brunch, the KC Star was there snapping pics of their own to accompany an upcoming review about Port Fonda.  The pic at right is a pic the Star took of me and my friend Carl choosing our hot sauces with the utmost seriousness.  The review itself is unsurprisingly glowing.  I personally cant wait to go back. I can't say anything better about an eatery than this...I not only want to return to try everything else on the menu but Port Fonda is the kind of place where I could just hang and wile away an afternoon or evening; maybe as part of their Tecate Social Club.  Now, I just need to do so before the wait at Port Fonda becomes an hour long itself because frankly, I think that's inevitable. 

Two For The Road: Snow and Co. and Garozzo's, Too

As last week wore on, I hit up a couple of local joints I hadn't hit as of yet.  One was a new kid on the block; the other a well-known tried and true favorite.  First up was Snow and Co in the Crossroads District and the second was local Italian favorite Garozzo's in the River Market area.

First up is young upstart Snow and Co in the Crossroads.  K and I, along with several of our coworkers, hit Snow up for a Thursday happy hour.  In fact, my coworker Jenai won a Snow happy hour, so it was an excellent time to try them out. The interior of Snow is all sleek and modern and ultraloungey with rows of comfy chairs and sofas perfect for get-togethers like these.  Snow & Co partners with many local tastemakers like Christopher Elbow Chocolates, Roasterie Coffee, 360 Vodka, Soda Vie and Boulevard Beer, so the selections of "artful frozen cocktails" and libations are impressively creative (and creatively monikered).  Jenai chose the Limey Bastard; a tangy concoction the drink menu says "gets your UK on" that consists of  Hendrick's Gin, Thatcher's Cucumber Vodka, house-made limeade and lemonade and fresh milk. Keith tried the provocatively-named Elbow's Sexual Chocolate featuring Christopher Elbow signature spiced chocolate, Cointreau, St. Germain and milk.  My own drink was my favorite among them all: The Flying Snow Squirrel; a "hot-tail" crafted with Trader Vic's Macadamia Nut Liqueur, 360 Double Chocolate Vodka and white hot cocoa with fresh whipped cream.  It was like a warm white-chocolate macadamia-nut cookie as cocktail.  YUH-hum.  I also love that they have a drink called A Kick To The Peaches that is named for the KC Improv Theater and their Kick Comedy Theater: housemade lavender simple syrup with Prosecco and peach liqueur.  The food was quite tasty as well.  We all split one of their pizzas or"'zas'' as they are listed on the menu.  We went with the Tuscan with fresh-diced portabella mushroom caps, sun-dried tomatoes, basil and mozzarella on lavash crust.  We also sampled the   K and I then split the Four-Cheese Panini with Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Provolone and Parmesan on two slices of seasoned sourdough bread.  Snow & Co's was a bit slow that Thursday night and that was unsurprising really as it was a frigid February night.  While my warm drink was perfect for this night, the specialties are, of course, those frozen cocktails made with fresh ingredients and I could see where this place would be hoppin' in warmer weather.  The front of the business has big garage doors and I could envision a summer night when this living room-as-lounge would be very lively indeed.

Next up is local Italian powerhouse Garozzo's, tucked away in the Columbus Park neighborhood.  Before arriving at Garoozo's though, we had spent the afternoon at the Home and Garden show at the American Royal.  These shows are where Keith gets to properly geek out as he revels in the presentations, display gardens and various gardening gadgetry.  For Kiko and I who accompanied, but were decidedly less nerded out over the show, we hung on the Home side, where we tasted items like dark chocolate balsamic vinegar and sampled wines with PRP Wine International (where my raves were centered on the dark, smoky South African Cape Root cabernet).  We were certainly ready for some hearty Italian fare when we made our way to Garozzo's. Garozzo's is 23 years old and was started by Michael Garozzo. I wrote of Cascone's in my last post and Garozzos is often spoke of in the same breath....something along the vein of which one is better than the other.  Both certainly have their rabid fans and this Saturday night at Garozzos was certainly proof of that.  Very grateful that I had made my Open Table reservation when I saw the boisterous crowd, we were quickly shown to our seats.  I was soon also grateful to have been sat in a booth as one of the dining rooms looked very...um..cozy with the other diners to say the least.  Settled in, K and Kiko both kicked off with Italian margaritas and I sipped on the Rat Pack, a wicked stir of Grey Goose Vodka, Bomaby Sapphire Gin and a  pepperoncini. The drink seemed apropo with the Sinatra music playing in the background.  We enjoyed our starter was a stuffed artichoke that was stuffed with Italian breadcrumbs and topped with garlic butter.  The anticipation for Keith and I were for our main courses which were variations of the house signature dish: Checken Spiedini; marinated chicken breasts rolled in Itailain breadcrumbs, grilled and skewered.  Mine was the signature Spiedini called the Garozzo and was topped with a mouth-watering Amogio sauce of olive oil and fresh lemon, garlic, and herbs.  Keith ordered the Spiedini Samantha; served on artichoke hearts with alfredo sauce. Oh, how fabulous that Amogio on my Spiedini was despite the fact that some of it splashed into Keith's lap during its delivery to me. The server was mortified by her accident and made up for it in somewhat unexpectedly spectaular fashion.  She brought us not only complimentary Cafe Garozzos, hot after-dinner coffee drinks with unrevealed components (we guessed Franjelico -hazelnut, white creme de menthe - mint and white creme de cacao -chocolate) as well as delectable mini-cannolis that were made in-house.  There were also small packets of Shout wipes the server also brought.  We apparently were inspired by the server's spill as we found ourselves spilling and dropping everything in sight and ended up with a plethora of Shout wipes.  They worked like a charm and every restaurant should stock up on these babies.

Our two for the road were two we certainly enjoyed...can't wait to revisit both!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Random Bites: Spa Debuts, Classic Eats and Cops: the Super Bowl Edition

Wherefore Art Thou, O Confounded Cook?  Lost in a whirlwind of numbers and paperwork and the daily madness of finally getting my workplace, the Elms Hotel and Spa fully open; that would be where.  There hasn't been many extra minutes left for writing and more so, the addled mind is suffering from a bit of abject brain drain from rapid-fire problem-solving, so the blog has been hibernating somewhat as 2013 has debuted.  Happily, this doesn't mean my life has been completely devoid of meaning...or extracurricular activities, anyway.  Allow me to summarize a few of these in the form of some Random Bites:

The Elms -Speaking of that spectacular setting where I toil away, the final pieces of the renovation puzzle are finally falling into their long-awaited places.  The centerpiece of the spa is the grotto (pictured at right), a truly stunning oasis of serenity featuring rain showers, hot tubs, saunas and more of those luxurious chaise lounges that are also featured in the quiet room. The European lap pool (pictured upper left) is also open and looks so inviting and soothing that once you are there, it's difficult to muster the desire to leave.  In the food and beverage realm, Chef Cameron and his culinary staff have continued to rock some glorious dishes for the dining public, including the new buffalo chicken wrap for lunch and the bacon-wrapped quail and mushroom risotto starters for dinner.  During a recent employee appreciation party, we all got to partake of the ever-popular Sunday brunch where bakers extraordinaire Tisha and Sam featured some of their butterscotch blondies and maple-bacon cupcakes (pictured lower left).  We also experienced a unique and delicious luncheon recently....several of us participated in a "Largest Loser" contest in order to try to stay healthy in a stressful environment and the goal was to lose a collective 100 pounds.  The group did indeed reach that goal and the main winner of the contest, coworker Nazim, was top "loser" with most percentage of fat lost.  Nazim is from Azerbaijan and so Chef Cameron created an Azerbaijani menu for the luncheon in Naz's honor.  It was some seriously delectable Middle Eastern-style fare with baskets of warm naan, fabulous dolmas (stuffed grape leaves, pictured upper left), a wonderful tomato and cucumber salad and a savory stew with lamb and chickpeas.  It was a healthy yet mouth-watering way to celebrate an even healthier journey we all took together.

The Never-Ending Pursuit of Healthiness -Segueing to said healthy journey, we have embarked on cooking lighter during these post-holiday days, at least at home.  We haven't always been successful at sticking to the best eating habits, but we have signed up for another 5k run, so we need to get with the program.  We did make a hearty lentil soup from a Barefoot Contessa recipe (found here).  We've also pledged to try out some healthy gourmet pizzas and thoroughly enjoyed a flatbread Pizza Margherita version we whipped up with fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella from a recipe we found on Epicurious here.  Pizzas are a new obsession with us, so look for us to be trying some new pies.

Visiting some KC Classics -Caloric challenges always abound though, and our restaurant choices in January didn't help as we chose to hit up some local classics.  We hooked up with the Paradise Playhouse crew to visit the venerable Golden Ox, that paean to beef in the West Bottoms.  Open since 1949 and long a central location for decades of KC Stockyards action, the Golden Ox has served many a hunk of top-grade meat over the years.  The Ox also handles the catering at the Playhouse, so it was good to finally visit this amazing piece is KC history.  I savored every bite of my petite medium-rare filet and Keith loved his blue-cheese topped filet (pictured at left).  When the Ox says top-quality beef, they mean it.  Another longtime local that we visited recently was Cascone's, known for its many years of family-recipe Italian fare.  Cascones' has been open since 1954 and has been operated by four generations of the Cascone family.  Raves over the dishes abounded from us and the Posse gals throughout the night, for everything from the grilled artichoke starter (pictured at right) to my fiery Pasta Diablo to Keith's Chicken Spiedini, cooked in Italian breadcrumbs and wonderful amogio, a lemon-garlic marinade, and then topped with banana peppers.  Lucky us, it was also half-price wine night (Wednesdays), so we were pleasantly fortified with yummy Italian goodness as well as a few sips of a lovely Malbec before seeing Billy Elliot at the Music Hall (pictured at left)...and that show was divine, by the way.

Finally, a fun time was had by all at the Dickerson's Super Bowl party.  It was my kind of Super Bowl party, where great food was abundant (like the spicy bacon-wrapped, cream-cheese filled jalapenos pictured) and conversations were ongoing and boisterous until someone yelled, "Commercial!" and THEN we stopped and gathered 'round the flatscreen.  The unique part of the evening occurred before Beyonce or the blackout for us, though: our host was a former Kansas City cop and apparently was featured in a couple of Cops episodes and we were treated to a showing of these episodes at the beginning of half-time.  What a hoot seeing a younger Jim chasing after a suspect yelling, "get on the ground!"...

Bad boys, bad boys.  Whatcha gonna do...whatcha gonna do when they come for you?