Saturday, March 30, 2013

She Always Knows How To Make An Entrance

Back a millenia or two ago, I was sitting in the church choir loft rehearsing with my fellow cantata crooners when the doors to the sanctuary burst open and a young girl in a dress, no less, tumbled merrily down the center aisle bellowing something that resembled a feminine Tarzan yell.  This young ball of fire named Lydia was the new preacher's daughter and she literally exploded into our lives and stole our hearts.  Girl knows how to make an entrance.

Lo and all these many moons later, my dear friend was on her way to visit me again here in the KC area and sure enough, arrived with a flourish.  Our last mondo snowstorm was bearing down on us here and she was arriving barely ahead of it in a small aircraft owned and piloted by her new paramour John.  Arrive they did, just as the snow was about to fall. 

I met them at the Elms for the grand reunion and showed them around the Grande Dame.  I met them and my friend Kiko for dinner at local favorite Ventana Gourmet Grill.  We had discussed the possibility of a Liberty spot for dinner but Ventana made for the perfect evening and presented a great opportunity to show off one of Excelsior Springs' primo spots.  Over sips of Promiscuous red and platters of bruschetta, Thai salad, burgundy steak, broccoli alfredo and homemade mocha cheesecake we caught up and laughed despite the snow falling ever harder outside.  Lest anyone think Lyd was any less crazy, she waited until I went to visit the loo and came pounding violently on the bathroom door only for me to come out and see some unsuspecting diner Lyd had set up to "take the fall".  She was cowering in the corner, giggling maniacally like she has since childhood. 

Back at the table, it was great to see one of my dear childhood friends getting to know Kiko, one of my favorite local friends while I coerced John into indulging my geeky questions about his FBI career.  Lyd settled into her personal bliss listening to the live piano player.  Soon, I had to hit the road to get ahead of the growing snowstorm.  On Sunday, once the new foot of snow was settling we had mutually agreed to stay in our corners and as I had set up a suite, spa treatments and a bottle of bubbly with chocolate-covered strawberries for them, they were set to enjoy a relaxing day.  Monday morning, we caught up over PB&J French Toast and coffee at the Elms before we bid a tearful goodbye.

It was a over in a flash but as we live so apart, I treasure every moment I get with my favorite preacher's daughter.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

White Cheddar Fondue and A Zombie Musical, Too

We had a long overdue night out with treasured friends Ronnie and Jeff recently.  We descended on points 'round mid and downtown, doing our best to evade the Big 12 crowds in town.  We fit a fave brunch spot for dinner by the name of Grand St Cafe.  Grand St Cafe is located in the Country Club Plaza area and has been a venerable gathering spot with fine grub for over 20 years.  We had indeed been duly impressed with their Sunday brunch and were eager to give dinner a whirl.  It was as good as I'd hoped: after a satisfying Mojito cocktail for me and a Sidecar for Keith, we split a spectacular savory white cheddar fondue with Granny Smith apple quarters and thick, doughy Bavarian-style pretzels.  Dinner for myself was the house special that night; tender duck sauteed with cavatappi noodles in a fabulous sauce made from the juices of the duck fat.  It was very tasty.  Grand St Cafe has a host of delectable-looking entrees...just hit the link for their website, check out the gallery and let your mouth water!

Before the show, we stopped at the Brasserie Bar at the Westin which was connected to the Crown Center where the performance was located.  Over cocktails, we settled into some serious people-watching in the lobby.  Hotel lobbies always make for masterful people-watching and so we watched this great cross-section of sports fans in for the Big 12 tournaments and folks in for the KC Dog Show walking their prized pups.  I got the biggest pick out of seeing my home state West Virginia University logo directly over the bar entrance as part of the lobby decor welcoming all of the teams and their fans.

Soon.we were off towatch the big show; to once again bear witness to Ron Megee's latest pop culture creation.  Ronnie and I are longtime Megee groupies dating back to his Late Night Theatre days and were anticipating the latest show: Slashdance; a mash-up takeoff of 80's flick Flashdance and zombie movies.  The Coterie Theatre put it on as part of their Coterie Ignites series at the Off Center Theater and this performance space was truly decked out to look like the setting of the Walking Dead, replete with  heavy fencing, flickering lights, siren sounds and Missing posters featuring some local KC notables. The play itself was an absolute hoot and holler as all of Ron's productions are. The cast gamely performed some seriously impressive dance moves when they weren't slashing their zombie attackers. We were lucky not to get hit with too much splatter, but we were always looking for the shuffling undead to appear from various corners of the theater.  And yes, indeed, the 80's music was merrily intact and you haven't seen that manic Maniac step until you've seen it with zombies involved.  Ron Megee seriously seems to have the most fun with these colorful, madcap productions and therefore, so do we, the always, I can't wait to see what he does next.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

This Brunch Was A Real Drag

Huddled together in the frigid wind, we Posse crew dreamt of a land that was warmer, more inviting, more....colorful.  We were hungry for brunch and desperate for raucous entertainment to lift this steely-gray day.  Finally, the doors opened; we slowly made our way in, and the first thing we see is the busty, Day-Glo statuette of Hamburger Mary and we knew things were already looking up.

I had long been wanting to experience another drag brunch, ever since Keith and I and our friend Annette attended one at a club in Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. more than a decade ago.  Hamburger Mary's has made the expereince a must-see by most accounts, so I was eager to visit.  And so here we were, watching the black drag queen in the cherry-red gown and running shoes hastily helping two servers throw together a table for thirteen and soon we were settled in.  Our server gathered drink and food orders..some of us went for the Sunday brunch buffet and others chose menu items.  Keith, Kiko and I went for the brunch paired with the bottomless Mimosas.  I see why the good folks at Hamburger Mary's say to come early...the line was already down the street when we arrived and the place was non-stop packed all afternoon.  We knew HM's slung some fine grub but the combo of said grub with the approaching entertainment would certainly explain the capacity crowds. 

Waiting in line to get to the brunch, I found myself once again admiring the decor of the bar area, especially the vintage hair-dryer lighting fixtures over the bar.The brunch itself was pretty fine; especially the filling spinach and pepper omelet the chef cooked up in front of me. I remain a big fan of their burgers in particular and would probably return to the menu on my next visit.  My compatriots-in-brunching enjoyed many of the fine menu offerings: the vegan housemade falafel patty, the Barbra-Q Bacon Burger with thick, spicy barbecue sauce and crispy onion rings, and the Fireball with with blackening seasoning, spicy Mojo hot sauce, jalapenos, melted jack cheese and ranch dressing were among the table picks.  Renee chose a Kobe-beef burger with a side of Mary's Ta-Tas, the housemade tater tots.  The Posse Crew are astoundingly tolerant of me and my food obsessions, so I felt completely comfortable asking Renee if I could photograph her ta-tas in front of her husband Ken.

The bright, colorful highlight of the afternoon was of course the delightfully over-the-top entertainment.  Hamburger Mary's collects some of the city's top drag queens and they were all adorned to the hilt.  I did not get all of their names, but they were all monstrously entertaining.  One, by the name of Moltyn Decadence, noticed Keith seemed to feel a bit awkward and took a particular shine to him; marked by lipstick marks on the top of his head.  Another whose name escapes me did a wicked good take on Amy Winehouse performing Back in Black.  The centerpiece of this colorful cupcake was of course, emcee extraordinaire Daisy Bucket; KC's premier drag mistress.  Daisy is an absolute hoot and a holler and was relentlessly funny, our ribs ached from the hyperactive laughter.  She did shots with our red-faced friend Carl and as she was aware that there were kids in the audience, she wielded double entendres like they were a stealthy ninja weapon that sailed over the kid's heads while leaving the rest of us breathless.  Daisy Bucket is the bee's taffeta-draped knees of queens, if you ask me.

Speaking of those children, I have to say it warmed my black heart to see so many kids among the crowd.  They not only seemed to be having a blast, but were the biggest tippers!   It was a sweet and sweetly off-center family affair, it seemed.....led by the most fabulous nannies ever.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Our Way-Cool Brush With SyFy's Ghost Hunters

There it was: that familiar jet-black van with the TAPS logo on it, parked in our hotel parking lot.  It was a fairly obvious clue for anyone driving through that might be even a casual viewer of the SyFy Ghost Hunters show, but still, we were sworn to secrecy until after the last day when they pulled away.  Jason Hawes, Adam Berry and The Atlantic Paranormal Society crew descended on us for a week or so and did a formal investigation.  Keith was their point man; the main rep who got to talk about the history of the Elms and be the one sitting at the table when they did the big "reveal" at the end to talk about their findings.  The TAPs crew were gracious guests and it was a kick to watch them film on premise.  I even got my own moment in the sun, as it were, and was interviewed on camera to speak about my own experiences with spirited activity.  Whether my bit makes it on air remains to be seen, but Keith will be in for sure and the experience for the Elms was crazy cool.  We can't say anything about the episode at all yet, and won't until after it airs. That said, indeed, it was very exciting to have them around for a week.

  We are talking about a possible watch party when the Ghost Hunters episode airs this summer and maybe having our good friends at Kansas City Paranormal partner with us when we do. We don't know an airdate yet, but stay tuned for further details....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Conference in New York: Culinary Geekiness and Personal Growth

The days leading up to the departure date were edged with a bit of agitation, to be sure.  I was due to attend my first work conference in upstate New York and I was fighting off a persistent and insidious case of the professional butterflies, as it were.  I had much to do before we left; a massive snowstorm had just properly snarled the week and another was preparing to descend on the Monday we were due to leave.  The origin of the agitation was self-doubt, first visit to the corporate headquarters, a part in a presentation in front of my peers, an irritating fear that I might stumble in some manner and embarrass my work cohorts at the corporate HQ.

My feared scenarios did not become reality and believe me, my over-caffeinated gray matter can create some highly inventive (and in retrospect, frequently ludicrous) scenarios.  In the end, the conference was extraordinary on many levels and I learned a great deal.  It was a particular kick to meet our partner associates at our sister hotels and to get to know the corporate team who worked so hard to host such an impressive event.  Our presentation went well and with consideration to my traveling team's struggles with illness and airline snafus, I surprisingly fared the best with regards to traveling successfully.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the conference though, but one big thing I didn't expect was to personally geek out a bit during the course of said conference.

We stayed at host and sister hotel The Woodcliff Hotel and Spa.  The good Woodcliff folks were impeccable hosts; the staff friendly and my room was quite nice.  What would truly capture my attention early on in the conference, though, was the food.  I was looking forward to the Woodcliff cuisine as I had heard great things about new Exec Chef Carlo Peretti.  Our first night was a welcome reception is a hospitality room and the imaginative appetizers served there already snapped me to attention: salami cones with artichoke mousse, peppered maple bacon skewers, crab cakes topped with a carrot salsa, tamarind chicken sliders.  These delicious bites paired with local wines and brews (my favorite being the malty Rohrbach Scotch Ale) certainly sparked my interest in seeing what other fine goodies might be in store. While my cohort Tom was already demonstrating his Southern hospitality and refilling everyone's glasses, I was nursing an even greater anticipation for the eats during the remainder of the conference.  The next morning I would get to meet the charming Chef Peretti when he prepared an excellent vegetable frittata for me during breakfast.  After I complimented him on the food the previous night, he cheekily replied with that unmistakable English accent, "yeah, we get it right once in a while". 

That next night, my geek level was raised considerably when I learned what our team-building event would be: a visit to the New York Wine and Culinary Center in nearby Canandaigua.  What a way to bond with the corporate family...a kickoff wine tasting of New York state wines (my fave being the Finger Lakes Lamoreaux Landing Estate Red NV) lead by native Parisian Thomas and his American assistant Ryan, followed by a team cooking event in a cavernous exhibition kitchen.  I was paired with a corporate colleague and she and I made Chorizo-stuffed clams and chopped salad (pictured below).  Each team made a different dish and we served it all up as one magnificent meal at the end: in addition to the clams and salad were an amazing Beef Tenderloin with a Red Wine-Onion Reduction Sauce, Barley Risotto with Wild Mushrooms (perfected with an added glass of rose'), brussel sprouts with caramelized onions and a maple creme brulee for dessert.  My coworker tried to sell the idea of the creme brulee with added brussel sprout inside, but we weren't biting, to say the least.  The night was made complete when I returned to my room to find that night's amenity...fresh, house-made cookies with a bottle of local Pittsford Dairy milk (Pittsford Dairy also have a Kahlua Mudslide ice cream that is to die for) on ice. Way to end a brilliant night with the warm-fuzzies, Woodcliff.

The following night was the awards dinner at Woodcliff and while I was looking forward to whatever goodness Chef Peretti might create, I wasn't prepared to completely geek out again. The evening was very hush-hush, but we knew it would require more formal dress.  The first clues happened when we returned from our all-day conference to our rooms to find the latest classy amenity...two chocolate-covered strawberries resembling tuxedos with a split of Mumm's Champagne on ice. We met in the lobby, only to be led into a dark corridor where I realized our next clues as we stepped onto a red carpet and I saw a poster for Fellini's Roma.  Could it be?  Had I just sacrificed my own Oscar get-together with friends back home while I prepped for the conference only to be led to a makeshift Oscar party at the conference itself?  Indeed, the imaginative folks at the Woodcliff along with some corporate planners had created a magical environment with an Academy Awards theme complete with passed hors d'eoeurves, celebratory Cosmos, deep burgundy draperies, sexy red lighting and abundant movie posters....even mini-Oscars on the cocktail rounds.  Entertainment was provided by the smooth sounds of the crooning Swooners, awards were given, gratitude abounded and of course, the dinner was marvelous. The starter was a pillowy, delicious shrimp and lobster ravioli followed by a tasty Asian green salad with colorful watermelon radishes.  The main course was a wonderfully flavorful 'surf and turf' of  braised short rib of beef with a lobster tail.  Each course was paired with a New York State Wine.  Dinner was marvelous through and through but the gobsmacking wow factor of dinner for me was the stunningly artful dessert; a surreal landscape of sweetness including a triple layer mousse, vanilla bean and pistachio gelato and caramel and coffee truffles with a cloud of spun sugar on the side.  There was also a creme brulee with a date inside...if I didn't know any better, I would have thought it in honor of my coworker's brulee-with-brussel sprout creation from the night before.  This gorgeous dessert had me photographing it from every angle; exposing my food nerdiness once and for all to see, investor and owner included.  Instead of being shamed for being ridiculous, my new corporate family members were actually posing their plates for me by this time, just like my friends back home do.  As for Chef Peretti's earlier comment as to "getting it right once in a while", well, whatever, and your team (including one whom is clearly a genius of a pastry chef) hit it out of the park every time.

On the snowy haul back to KC on the last day, I reflected on this conference, where I not only learned so much about being a better associate but also how to grow as a person as well.  Facing and overcoming fear and self-doubt and even having a fine time to boot were just the inspirational tonic I needed.

This blog represents my personal opinion and is not written by or sanctioned by the Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewaters Hotels.