Sunday, October 27, 2013

Tasty Travels on the Posse Trail; Brought to You By The Letter J

Scattered amongst the non-stop madness of our recent weeks were some tasty moments surrounded by our beloved Posse gang.  The boisterous laughter and delicious food that always accompanies these outings is a powerful tonic for these stressful days.  These are some of the flavorful highlights of recent Posse hangs:

Justus Drugstore's Burgers and Beignets   - Only second in preference after making joyous new flavor discoveries is returning to some tried and true eats.  Justus Drugstore in Smithville is one of my favorite restaurants in the metro area because I think Jonathan Justus truly knows how to create a deeply satisfying dining experience with the restaurant's triumvirate of creative cocktails, informative, attentive service and truly sublime dishes.  I also enjoy the fact that you can hang outside in the all-weather patio area for a more low-key (and lower-priced) but equally satisfying experience.  I had two of my faves: that killer housemade veggie burger with Shatto cheese on fresh-baked buns that remains the best veggie burger I've ever had; and  those marvelous carrot cake beignets that Keith and I split.  It also wouldn't be a Justus visit without sampling one of those imaginative cocktails.  This night's chosen elixir was the Malus Aforethought (the name I'm assuming is a riff on an antiquated legal term called malice aforethought meaning premeditation) or as the menu moniker stated, the "cocktail geek's delight".  This concoction was a blend of Laird's applejack, Aalborg aquavit, yellow chartreuse liqueur, lemon juice, celery bitters and fresh sage.  This was our last night on the Justus patio for awhile, so this was just the perfect kind of bright and complex cocktail to sip as the crisp fall air was settling in.  It was Carl's birthday at his favorite local eatery, so all was well.

The Orange Julian-Drenched Sunday Brunch - I had long been eager to try out Brookside restaurant Julian partly due to the fact it is the favorite of our friends Ken and Renee, but mostly due to the reputation of owner and executive chef Celina Tio.  Ms. Tio is a James Beard award-winning chef who has done stints on both Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef.  The Posse gathered for a fine Sunday brunch here recently and it was quite good.  Several of us kicked off brunch with the signature cocktail called the Orange Julian: a creamy blend of Ketel One Oranje, cream, vanilla and fresh orange juice that tasted like the cocktail version of the childhood Push-Up bars
we used to get from Dink's concession stand at the county park.  Other brunch cocktails offered were the Caraway Bloody Mary and the Grapefruit Mimosa.  The childhood memories didn't stop with the libation as our gift from the chef as well as my entree was the breakfast poutine.
 Poutine is a common Canadian dish of french fries and gravy with cheese curds.  I discovered french fries with gravy at the Hi-Way Grille in my hometown as a child and it's a cozy food memory for me for certain.  Chef Tio's poutine certainly achieves comfort-food nirvana with eggs your way and a peppery gravy over the fries with Shatto cheese curds melted through.  Everyone enjoyed their dishes such as starters like the flaky bacon and scallion scones and sugary ginger doughnut holes as well as entrees like the crispy pork shoulder and the tofu scramble with roasted veggies. 
 I didn't get to meet Chef Tio on this visit, but she is one very busy chef as she has opened another eatery in downtown KC called The Collection and the menu sure sounds appealing, particularly the calamari that king-of-all-KC-critics Charles Ferruzza calls 'the best he's ever had".  Can't wait to check it out...

Japanese and Honey-Wasabi Mayo in Sushi on a Wicked Afternoon - Thanks to our show diva Kiko, I had the at-long-last opportunity to see the national tour of Wicked when it came to the Music Hall recently.  You would think there might be at least a twinge of disappointment after such a drawn-out anticipation lasting many years, but indeed, it was a gorgeous dream of a show with great songs, relentless humor and a top-notch production value.  We followed that day-glo scenario and replaced with another for our post-show meal: Drunken Fish at the Power and Light district.
 The eye-popping environment of this sushi place includes lighted crimson tables and pop art on the walls. We were seated in an oversized curved table next to the DJ booth.  Sexy trance music reverbed off the walls but wasn't intrusive, it seemed to settle with the vibe of the place.

The sushi was as sexy as the decor, especially our Starburst Roll, a colorful mix of fresh crab, Japanese mayo, shrimp tempura, avocado, masago (roe) and tamago (grilled egg with rice vinegar) that was topped with honey-wasabi mayo and a spicy sauce all rolled up in bright pink soy paper.  As we savored our sushi, it came to my attention that our Wicked experience was not over...I thought that the well-dressed diners going up the stairs next to our booth looked familiar and then one particular woman really struck me.  It was Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, the star of the production we just watched!  More specifically, it was the actress who just took over the role on the national tour, accompanied by her mother!
 She was gracious and told us it was only her second performance as Elphaba, and she was smashing.  Jolly good show it was...and jolly good sushi as well.

Jim's Kitchen - Finally, several of we Posse crew gathered at our favorite eatery...Jim Schutte's kitchen.  We visited with Carolyn and shared Dove chocolates with her before supping on some classic Jim fare: spaghetti carbonara with freshly made pasta, Ceasar salad, creamy feta dip, buttery foccacia bread and the best damn cheesecake flan he's ever made and that's saying something.

Thank gracious goodness for these Posse outings.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Life, as I know it, has been rocketing by like a Japanese bullet train.  Much of it centers around the hotel and spa that is my place of business and as such the images whizzing by me may be fleeting, but lively, colorful and delicious as well.  Non-stop change and challenges abound but it's certainly never boring. However, amid the rapid-fire chaos of daily work life has been a nagging sensation that as exciting as it may be, life was passing me by too fast.  I have many blessings in life and while acknowledging this is easy, taking the time to count and truly appreciate these blessings seemed to be an occurrence that was equally fleeting.  How many times must I learn this persistent lesson; this painful lifelong perspective study of what the consequences could be when failing to stay in touch with the people that you cherish?  One more time, at least, it seems.

Flashes of the ever-changing hotel scene sailed by at a whiz-bang pace during the past few months.  The client event in the Regent Ballroom was a palette of fall mums, sunlit marble slabs showcasing beautiful nibbles like stuffed mushroom caps with smoked potato and Gruyere and avocado and peach salsa filled phyllo cups as well as tobacco guru Corey Frisbee rolling his signature Weston Tobacco cigars.
Then there was the five-course beer dinner highlighting local brews like Schafly's bottle-conditioned Biere de Garde, O'Fallon's Hemp Hop Ale and Boulevard's luscious Saison Brett.
 The annual Tables by Design event supporting the Good Samaritan Center saw the Grand Ballroom alive with charming decor including the emerald-hued tabletop from the Buckmans adorned with lanterns and limes.

Finally, our annual employee picnic turned the Elms grounds intoa giant playground of inflatable slides, badminton courts, crackling firepits with hovering s'mores, soft pretzels with homemade dipping sauces and our spa director's ever-entertaining Pyrosapiens troupe whipping fire whips and wielding flaming fans.

As it all progressed, summer had given way to fall, leaves were floating to the earth and the perfect fall weather was getting crisper by the day.  Then one day, Keith had gotten word of something we hadn't expected: our friend Torben Klarland had passed away.  Torben and Jytte Klarland were, along with the Nelsons, one of the earliest pioneers of the downtown Excelsior Springs renaissance.  I remember very clearly their lovingly appointed yet warm and inviting Scandinavian Country shop with its little upstairs bistro.  At Christmas, it was positively magical; strung with twinkle lights and adorned with whimsical touches from their native country.  Equally enchanting was their country home where we would visit every Christmas for their Toys for Tots party.  I've detailed these parties on this blog; when friends and family would pour in all day long bearing Toys for Tots gifts, graze from the long tables of homemade desserts (like the ever-present Black Forest cake) and stroll the grounds, watching the ever-entertaining llamas.  Now, years later, many of the familiar faces at those parties were gathered at the Klarland's home again, this time at their Lawrence, Kansas home and this time in a far more somber state.  They had moved to this home to be closer to their daughter and granddaughter Beargitta and of course, despite Lawrence only being an hour's drive away, it was enough distance to help create an inexcusably long several months since we had seen them.  So here we were now, moving about another gorgeously appointed home, circling another long table leaden with beautiful desserts while Jytte and her son-in-law (and our former hotel chef) Andy busily set up platters of sandwiches and pulled pork and cucumber salad.  The scene was so familiar and yet jarringly different due to the missing presence of Torben himself. After all, as lovely as their homes and shop may have been, they were only a reflection of the boundless charm that was Torben and Jytte themselves.  We joined our good friend John (another former Elms cohort) outside and made small talk while we quietly ate our meals in the beautiful backyard with its lush gardens. I met the gentle pastor who so perfectly eulogized Torben during the memorial service with his recounting of Torben's joy in sharing a good meal with cherished loved ones and his devotion for his family.  I would also find out this same pastor made the amazing cherry, pear and apple pie we enjoyed; made from fruits he raised himself.   How fitting this seemed...the pastor's recounting of that joy Torben had for sharing meals with loved ones reminded me of my father's love of the same and oh, how Dad would have loved this pie. 
I looked at so many of the familiar faces out in the back yard and remembered more carefree times... there was Kate and Karen by the tranquil pond and my mind was alive with memories of the lively wine and scotch tastings John would host and Andy would prepare hearty fare for at the hotel...there were the Nelsons and I'm picturing us with the Klarlands in their cozy home sipping wine and telling tales...I see the Gerdes and the Mooks and I think back to all of us at the Klarland's home at that Toys for Tots party.
 These memories start to fade as Jytte joins us to touchingly recount Torben's final days with us.  Still though, the memory of Torben is persistent, that gentle joyous bear of a man who hugged us all and started many a conversation with, " I want to tell you a story...".

This day was another perfect fall day; truly stunning in its crisp beauty.  This day was also sad and telling by its emptiness; the emptiness created by that missing presence.  Torben will be missed and he left a true legacy for all of us and that's how to devour life even when it seems unimaginably challenging.  Lessons like this as well as like the one that says to not let your loved ones fade from your life are persistently present. The question remains as to whether we choose to learn from them.