As Kansas City’s Restaurant Week enters its fourth year today, the 2013 version promises to the best year yet. With over 125 restaurants from all corners of the city participating in this 10 day dining event, there are more options than ever for KC’s dining community. In fact, this year there are over 6,000 possible menu combinations available to each of the diners in our fair city. Running from January 18th – 27th, Restaurant Week features hundreds of options from every type of cuisine the city has to offer.
With most restaurants offering both lunch and dinner options, there is ample opportunity to try as many places as you can handle. These prix fixe menus run $15 for lunch and $30 for dinner and typically include 3 courses. Ten percent of each restaurant meal served will be donated to Harvesters – Kansas City’s food pantry network. The 2012 event raised over $140,000 and provided 700,000 meals to the area’s hungry.
In preparation for this year’s event, I was privileged enough to get a sneak peak at three of this year’s participating restaurants. Earlier this week we sampled the fares of Tavern at Mission Farms, Tannin Wine Bar + Kitchen, and Nica’s 320.
The first stop on the tour was Tavern at Mission Farms. A little over a year after opening their first location in Prairie Village, the Tavern’s second location opened its doors in Leawood in September 2012. Owner Kelly Manning, along with General Manager Jason Connor have brought all the things that made the original successful to the new spot.
For our meal, we were able to sample most of the dishes on the restaurant week menu and you will not go wrong choosing from any of the hand selected items on the prix fixe dinner menu. The calamari is a wonderful way to start the meal. Banana Peppers are incorporated in with the calamari and give it a wonderful extra flavor you don’t get from the calamari alone. The main course options include a hand cut filet with blue cheese butter, grilled New Zealand Barramundi, or a pork Osso Bucco. For dessert, you cannot go wrong with the donuts. They are one of those little treasures that no matter how full you are, you’ll find room for them.
Along with well thought out menu, and perfectly cooked food also comes excellent service. A veteran of the fine dining scene in Kansas City, our server Orin took excellent care of us during our dinner. Suggesting wines that paired well with each dish is something many can do; Orin went above and beyond by also giving us some contrasting drink options that really gave an entirely new and exciting perspective on each course. It’s only something a server supremely confident in their suggestions would even attempt to do. For us it really put the exclamation point on a superb meal.
Our next dinner was downtown at Tannin Wine Bar + Kitchen where we had the pleasure of meeting with Executive Chef Brian Aaron. Located in the former spot of JP Wine Bar just south of the Sprint Center, Tannin offers over 65 wines by the glass along with hundreds of bottles. Due to Chef Aaron, there is also a focus on cuisine that highlights, enhances, and compliments the wine in countless ways.
Starting off our meal, the first course definitely set the tone for what was to come. We began with the sautéed chicken livers as well as a short rib and goat cheese ravioli. Lightly breaded and perfectly fried, these perfectly cooked livers were served with caramelized onions in a bacon pan sauce. So many times you end up with a spongy and overcooked liver that makes you question why you ordered so borderline inedible. Perfectly cooked, creamy and well-seasoned, they reminded me why I like livers in the first place. Our other introductory dish was a goat cheese ravioli in a mushroom ragout with chunks of short ribs piled on top. If you like livers, I’d highly suggest them, but if not, this ravioli will not leave you disappointed.
We followed up these starters with the pork chop and cabernet braised Wagyu Brisket. Chef Aaron told us that Tannin’s pork chop has been named one of the best dishes in the city by a recent publication and it did not disappoint. Braised in a cabernet reduction, the Waygu brisket is an excellent complement to a cold winter evening. At the end of the meal you’ll be presented with a couple of dessert options. The fresh baked, fudge stuffed peanut butter cookie could be one of the richest, most decadent things you’ll put in your mouth for quite some time. Walking right up to the line of being too rich, this cookie is something not to be missed.
Our final stop on the preview tour was last night at Nica’s 320 down on Southwest Boulevard. This was my first time through the doors since the place was Shiraz Restaurant years and years ago. Honestly we had heard some mixed reviews of Nica’s from friends who’d been in. While most of those centered around the food, they almost never complained about the flavors or taste.
The space was renovated before Nicca’s opened their doors in August 2011, and it’s been transformed into a trendy and modern spot, yet one that embraces the legacy and heritage of the 100+ year old building.
The menu is an admittedly ambitious concept described to us as gourmet comfort food. Gourmet comfort food with a blend of fusion and a number of twists. We started off with the Ménage-A-Tois, an appetizer featuring three different varieties of hummus. While often hummus is hummus, Nica’s black garlic hummus is something delicious and unique that I won’t soon forget. The red chili jam of the crab smash, a deconstructed crab cake, really tied together the blue crab, rice cake and Asian slaw. For a main course sampling we were able to try a Mix and Match of the fried lasagna noodles and sweet Thai sauce, the build your own combination of Mac & Cheese with candied jalapenos, and finally the Sinfire risotto. The candied jalapenos of the Mac & Cheese provided heat, but not in an overwhelming way that doesn’t allow you to enjoy a dish. This was one of those dishes that surprised me in a pleasantly unexpected way.
Finishing up our meal with dessert may have been the highlight of the meal. Chef and co-owner Bryan Merker hands down makes one of the best bread puddings I’ve had in Kansas City recently. The moist bread covered in a bourbon caramel sauce is worth the trip alone. The chocolate raspberry beignet was comparable to any great beignet you’d find at a top notch New Orleans establishment. My only slight complaint there was the amount of powdered sugar covering it.
All in all, our meal at Nica’s 320 surpassed our expectations and while the food is definitely homely and filling in many ways, it arrives with excellent flavors and a ton of creativity.