Driving up to Lawrence last night I commented to my partner in crime that the Lawrence food scene has changed tremendously since I was a student at KU over a decade ago. Back then there were barely a handful of restaurants in the entire town you’d consider as celebration restaurants. Places you’d go on a big date, birthday, or when your parents were in town and you wanted them to spend some more of their money on you. Nowadays all you need to do is walk down Mass St and you’ll see a number of great options tempting your culinary desires. This revolution came a bit too late for me, but the current residents of Lawrence are enjoying a golden age in the town’s restaurant history.
Last night we decided to stop into 715 Restaurant on Mass St. for dinner. Ducking in the front door just ahead of the monsoon arriving I immediately noticed the setting was more Chicago Chic than College Town Cool. This feeling becomes understandable when you learn that General Manager and Partner Matt Hyde came to Lawrence from the Windy City itself. The exposed stone walls, trendy lighting, and tempting hand crafted cocktails made you want to turn around and make sure you hadn’t stepped through some magical portal into a bistro off Michigan Ave.
We sat down and perused the menu to discover a number of intriguing items you wouldn’t normally see in a Lawrence establishment. Dishes like the tuna & egg pizza, braised rabbit legs, tuna spaghetti, or rabbit ravioli were just a few of the choices offered by chef Michael Beard. Both the server and their website touts Chef Beard’s desire to create simple and delicious dishes by using mainly locally sourced ingredients. This is a great idea and wonderful concept that of course is easier said than done.
So we started in by ordering the smoked trout crostini. The lemon caper aioli and trout were well seasoned and had very good flavor. The smokiness of the trout was evident, but not overwhelming. My biggest complaint was the baguette slice of bread this was served on was a bit thicker than I’d like and in a few ways dominated your bite making it more bread than you’d want. That little complaint aside I enjoyed the appetizer overall. Our main dishes arrived after a short wait and we had a number of different items to taste.
I ordered the full sized Rabbit Ravioli. My entree came with about 10 handmade ravioli. As one who has not eaten rabbit very recently I was wondering about the greasiness and gaminess of the rabbit when I ordered it. The flavor of the rabbit in this dish was very delicate and probably indicates this was farm raised and not wild rabbit. That said it was not gamy or greasy and allowed me to enjoy the flavors of the dish with the goat cheese and parsnip puree immensely. The dough of the ravioli was just a bit tough and it seemed the salt levels of the pasta water were a bit low as it could have used just a bit more punch. Overall though it’s a dish I would definitely order again.
My fellow diners ordered the butternut squash ravioli, braised rabbit legs, and roasted root vegetable salad respectively. Being offered a bite of their meals I happily indulged myself and found the roasted root veggie salad to be a delight on a rainy night. The thinly shaved and crispy root vegetables were tossed over a bed of fresh arugula and a surprisingly light garlic vinaigrette. The balance of flavors and textures in this salad made me want to order one for myself. I also tried the braised rabbit leg and found the meat to be fall off the bone tender and full of flavor. The braised rabbit dish was slightly more gamy than my ravioli, but was a well cooked piece of meat. The polenta was fairly average and under seasoned and the small side of mixed greens seemed more like an afterthought than something adding to the overall dish. The final entree of our table was the butternut squash ravioli. My partner in crime ordered the small size dish and got 5 ravioli. The butternut filling had good flavor while being smooth and creamy. The brown butter sauce was light and didn’t overwhelm the dish which was nice. It left the noodle to be the star, which I always appreciate. The big complaint with this dish was at $3 a ravioli for the $15 dish is that in Lawrence, KS you’d kind of expect a little more bang for your buck. If this was priced at $10-$11 for the small order I’d have no complaints about it.
Overall we had a wonderful time and the food was better than expected (even though I had some fairly high expectations from previous reviews and word of mouth from friends of friends). The service was timely and our server was friendly and attentive without having that hovering characteristic that annoys me with some. I hope they change over from their winter menu to more spring fare here in the near future as some of the dishes looked a little heavy for springtime eating. It’s definitely a place we’ll be back to in the future, but first it’ll be time to try the other Larry-town hot spots to compare.
3.5 Cows out of 5
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