Raise a glass to these phenoms that have made the cut for our Best New Restaurants 2012. These 12 have entered the limelight with notable success. Importantly, they’re delicious, attractive and unique, and they aren’t trying too hard to be something they’re not. Talented chefs supported by equally gifted teams immerse themselves in culinary artistry on a daily basis. In other words, they’re trained to please patrons and make it all look so easy. Here’s why ...
1. Aixois Brasserie
Ooh la la!
It is odd to think that here, in the heart of the Midwest, a Frenchman and his wife would be so bold as to open not one, but two restaurants in the same town.
Well, the Langlades — Emmanuel and Megan — have decided to infuse our downtown with their unmistakable savoir faire. After all, Brookside has been graced for years by their presence.
Ask the regulars who admit there’s a certain satisfaction starting the day milking a perfectly cupped latte.
With a sudden surge in popularity downtown, we now welcome Aixois Brasserie.
The Langlades have transformed a former pizza parlor inside the Commerce Bank building into a chic, petite boite. High ceilings, wooden appointments and an élan that only the French can muster make this restaurant the perfect lunch and dinner destination.
Ruby trout, pomme frites, a terrine of silky pâté — everything you dream about is now within reach.
Kansas City, Mo.
Where? In Waldo.
Waldo, the haunt of hipsters and community loyalists, is a place where you can generally walk to the local watering hole. Long on libations but short on good food, the timing was perfect to install a place in the neighborhood with real food. Goodbye Kennedy’s, hello Remedy.
The space kick-starts with floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto busy 75th Street. It’s a pub in part, so take the drinks street-side and pretty soon you will have a slew of new friends.
Once you plow through their admirable bar list, study the menu. Chef Max Watson is building his farm-to-table reputation, finding novel ways to instill the goodness of eating local, fresh food with flair.
Start with choices like fresh beets and chèvre doused in a champagne vinaigrette, eggplant fries drizzled with honey and sea salt or old-fashioned deviled eggs. Then, the entrees tempt with a smoked bologna sandwich, cauliflower steak or sweet potato tempura. Sound odd? It really isn’t, just inventive.
This is a lively, loud place where banter and TV rule. Remedy is good for what ails you and just happens to have decent food. Welcome to the ‘hood.
500 West 75th St.
Kansas City, Mo.
Mexican cantina? Hardly.
That lovable curmudgeon, the late Andy Rooney, once gave sage advice when eating out: “Always pick a restaurant that displays the name of the owner.”
Poco’s is a notable example.
Owner-chef Lorenza “Poco” Gutierrez unfortunately passed away this past year, but her daughters, Claudia and Dana, proudly display their mom’s moniker on the corner restaurant.
Never one to gloat, Poco once said, “I don’t care about being famous. I just want people to enjoy my food.”
And that they do — in droves.
Poco’s takes its own spin, blending classic Southwestern fare with a Latin beat.
Everything simmers with a sincere nod to aesthetics. Complementing the pistachio and red interior, Poco’s food is a waltz through the senses. Beautiful, fragrant and immensely satisfying.
Her skills were honed at the Grille on Broadway before gathering up her recipes and steam to open her own restaurant.
Now in the spot formerly held by Waid’s, Poco’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Puffy fish tacos are a tribute to Poco as her daughters continue the tradition of serving the freshest fish you’ll find anywhere. But it’s the lamb, rosemary-braised, that puts Poco’s on the map — that and the expertly divined Yucatan Tacos de Puerco.
Happy Hour, Wednesday through Saturday, is the perfect time to enjoy the chips and house signature verde salsa before moving on to more.
British chef and The Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” host, Robert Irvine, was pressed into action this past August when Poco’s received a swift makeover. The crew dashed in and out, rehabbing the restaurant, elevating it from dark to light with a vibrant palette. It’s a welcome change and one that has helped update the profile that would likely please Mama Gutierrez.
Poco’s On The Boulevard
3063 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, Mo.
|Aixois Brasserie||Remedy||Poco’s On The Boulevard|
4. Magnolia’s Contemporary Southern Bistro
I do declare!
Pure dedication begins and ends at an unobtrusive stop on Cherry St., where the skillful chef Shanita McAfee is spooning.
As a graduate of Johnson County Community College Culinary Institute, McAfee’s dishes are as creative as they are delicious.
McAfee’s apple pie was her specialty as a 13-year-old, and triggered a life-long love of cooking.
Now, as proprietress of her own urban bistro, McAfee is a virtuoso of more than just pie. Now there’s a cake du jour.
Within the lemony-colored walls of Magnolia’s there’s a roll call of lovely, smooth dishes: sweet potato pie and soup, pancakes and risotto, cornbread and black-eyed peas. There’s more, however: three different types of deviled eggs, mac and cheese and, of course, grits — alone or starring alongside entrees.
Shrimp and grits is a standout, as are the red velvet waffles Evangeline or the white chocolate blueberry bread pudding. Sweet tea, which is rare in these parts, is a staple.
You get the gist.
There’s no pretentious feeling in McAfee’s pulpit. She’s in charge and smiles when folks ask just how she manages to deliver such tempting dishes.
Expect the South to rise once again, both at lunch and dinner. It happens to be at Magnolia’s.
Magnolia’s Contemporary Southern Bistro
2932 Cherry St.
Kansas City, Mo.
5. Port Fonda
It was just a matter of time before this kitschy food truck worthy of all the buzz would find a new brick-and-mortar home.
Previously, owner-chef Patrick Ryan was hyped into the stratosphere for the food and passion served out of his shiny Airstream. Dishing downtown, the food was so tempting and the lines so long, he decided to set up shop in Westport.
And now Ryan’s Port Fonda bounces to a raucous vibe in an industrially chic spot you’d think only hipsters would enjoy.
It’s loud, sure, but it’s the menu that’s memorable.
Ryan’s taken his skills to the heights with all the favorites he managed on wheels. Only now, there’s a simple interior with high ceilings and lots of conviviality, despite the fact that there’s hardly a soft spot to quell the noise. Nope, you just have to buck up and go.
Go for the Panza (pork belly), off-the-cob grilled sweet corn, fried oyster, pork shoulder and braised beef tongue tacos. Then dive into some Mejillones Veracruzana or wood oven-roasted mussels.
The chips and dip dance with flavor and spice that only Ryan could concoct.
4141 Pennsylvania Ave.
Kansas City, Mo.
6. El Salvadoreño
Got to give downtown Overland Park kudos. What was once just a sleepy strip not worth a nod is now a vibrant slice of suburbia. You can get the perfect piece of pie, practice your sun salutation at the yoga studio, fill up on fresh veggies from the farmer’s market, take a cooking class and now enjoy food from El Salvadoreño.
If the temptation to sit outside on a spring or summer morning entices, this is the place to feel tropical. Not many people are familiar with Central American food but this family-owned restaurant is a good place to start. Suffice it to say, it’s the pupusa — masa tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese or meat, that are coveted. The curtido or slaw, a confetti of chopped cabbage and carrots bathed in a puckering vinegar dressing, is scooped liberally and accompanies just about everything.
Breakfast, all day, is terrific. Eggs, plantains, refried beans, corn tortillas — it’s a refreshing switch from biscuits and gravy.
The sampler platter, a roundup of Salvadoran favorites, includes a beef pastel (basically a meat turnover or empanada) a bean, cheese and chicharao (chunks of deep-fried pork) pupusa, a chicken tamale, fried yucca, and an enchilada. Just $10.99
A must try? The flan. Heavenly.
7926 Santa Fe Dr.
Overland Park, Kan.
|Magnolia’s Contemporary Southern Bistro||Port Fonda||El Salvadoreño|
7. Providence New American Kitchen
With flavor fit for a President, Providence New American Kitchen, appropriately located in the President Hotel, is a bully pulpit.
This handsome restaurant exudes an unpretentious ambiance decked out in reclaimed barn-wood and amber pendant lighting.
Providence is a laid-back, thoroughly Midwestern dining room that owner Ron Jury and his team did a fine job spiffing up. The likes of Sinatra, Eisenhower and Truman once frequented the Drum Room, steps away. With that kind of history, they would feel right at home in Providence’s homey atmosphere.
The Providence has Eric Carter shepherding a solid crew, including executive sous chef Jon Soileau, bar manager Brock Schulte and general manager Rick Brook. No frou-frou here. Carter and his team know what hearty means, delivering a sturdy meatloaf, glazed BBQ pork belly and a host of other stick-to-the-rib fare. Before a night cap, be sure to have Alejandro Diaz dazzle you with his extraordinary desserts.
When the President beckons ... go! That’s an executive order!
Providence New American Kitchen
1329 Baltimore Ave.
Kansas City, Mo.
With so much Power & Light shining on downtown, one of the newest ventures is Affäre — a deliciously sophisticated turn by the talented chef Martin Heuser.
If you were lucky enough to catch his masterful menus at the Westin, Heuser and his wife Katrin are now designing contemporary German-inspired plates in their own haus. This drives Heuser to create highly conceived fare from his native Deutschland.
Some diners will have a sense of déjà vu: Heuser spiffed up the space formerly occupied by Bar Natasha. Gone is the swank — it’s been replaced with linen cloths on the tables and local art on the walls.
Heuser is keen on delivering small plates as well as large. Not only are they luscious, they’re lovely. You just may want to take a moment and decide if this cuisine could be art — scallops bathed in foie gras hollandaise, greens bedded into “edible soil” and elk loin blushed with juniper berries.
The food at Affäre is another benchmark for Kansas City, giving you one more reason to drive the extra mile to dine ever so elegantly.
1911 Main St.
Kansas City, Mo.
9. The Reserve
It’s not unusual to catch your breath as you step into the swanky Ambassador lobby. The hotel, newly refurbished in post-modern chic, is Mad Men-gorgeous. It’s only after you exhale do you realize the same effort has been infused into The Reserve restaurant. It’s been so long since hotel dining was something to look forward to, but Kansas City’s latest endeavor is a refreshing boost.
Once you stop gawking at the décor, you can concentrate on the compendium of Cold, Simple and Hearty dishes executive chef Geoffrey van Glabbeek has created for his “room.” Here, even the drinks are beautiful. Chilled gazpacho shooter anyone?
This is a place to discover – tell all your friends it could be Oz. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, but if you’re feeling a bit bon vivant try the double-chocolate pancakes sauced in vanilla cream, or the stacked egg croissant oozing with gouda, bacon and sided with fries. Want more? How about a lobster corn dog? Now that’s moxie.
The Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel
1111 Grand St.
Kansas City, Mo.
|Providence New American Kitchen||Affäre||The Reserve at the Ambassador Hotel|
10. Sama Zama
Unless you’re an aficionado of Japanese dialect, it’s probable that you won’t be able to pronounce anything on Sama Zama’s menu.
Luckily, owner Erika Koike, ever the consummate hostess, is patient and always happy to explain exactly what’s cooking. Koike’s enchanting small restaurant in Westport is similar to One Bite, her former location in Johnson County.
Sama Zama (Japanese for “variety”) pushes the envelope into a fresh, new world. Izakaya features small dishes of original family recipes and Koike’s own creations. Okonomi-Yaki is akin to a pizza, only topped with a fried egg. The goyza, or pan-fried dumplings, are mouth-watering, as is the Ebi Sando Age (deep fried jumbo shrimp and cheese).
This intimate restaurant is meant to feel like you’ve just stepped into a bistro in Tokyo. It’s sleekly modern, hip and comfortable.
Koike wants to broaden the boundaries reaching into the heart of the Midwest with Japanese soul food. She’s even selling her dips and sauces online and in a number of food outlets around the city.
Sama Zama provides a fresh, new taste for our on-the-hoof environs. Koike is pleased that people are experiencing something different and more adventurous. All the more reason to give this urban eatery a try.
425 Westport Rd.
Kansas City, Mo.
11. Sweet Siam
Shall we dance?
That’s how you may feel after a visit to Michael Brillhart’s modern Thai restaurant. Brillhart spent years as a kitchen manager in Birmingham and Atlanta so he’s familiar with the back of the house. But, since moving to Kansas City and opening a place of his own in Lenexa, this Shawnee Mission East grad is captain of his own exotic ship.
His philosophy is simple: “Serve good food, reasonably priced, with honesty and efficiency.”
He employs Thai chefs who insist on growing herbs in the outdoor garden. It’s comforting to know the lemongrass was just harvested.
Once you get past the rainbow bar, Sweet Siam’s menu begins with a slew of tempting appetizers: notably the fresh Basil Rolls, Yum Woon Sen and the ground pork with hot chili peppers Nam-Sod. Move along to the breast of duck distilled in a satisfying basil broth or Ka Proud Lamb split into char-grilled chops. Yellow, green, Panang and red curries are plentiful, each hovering around $11. The pan-fried or steamed snapper, a house specialty, shouldn’t be overlooked. Sweet undertones in sauces and spice prevail at this small bistro. Perhaps nowhere more masterfully realized than in the coconut cake that Brillhart proclaims “is the best in the city.” Who are we to argue?
7809 Quivira Rd.
12. The Jacobson
Mix, match and share.
A.D. Jacobson once ran a heating and plumbing outfit in the building now subdivided with LuLu’s Noodle Shop. Currently it houses the latest place to mingle and indulge.
The Jacobson, or “The J” as managing partner Michael Werner calls it, is a recent opening in the trendiest place to feast on New American eclectic cuisine.
That translates into before- or after-event downtown dining where diners can choose from a variety of spreads or perhaps roasted marrow bones, espresso-spice rub country ribs, grilled Scottish salmon or the Yard Bird (a Cornish game hen soaked in buttermilk).
The Jacobson, helmed by chef John Smith, formerly at 801 Chophouse, plans on keeping the kitchen humming until 1 a.m.
And to capture that wee-hour craving, try the Dutch Baby — a signature item similar to Yorkshire pudding. Or the tried-and-true sugar, butter and flaming Bananas Foster.
As for style, think cleanly contemporary; expect sexy yet comfortable. Granite, fire, waterfalls, cinder blocks — a sure recipe for success in this latest addition to the Crossroads.
2050 Central St.
Kansas City, Mo.
|Sama Zama||Sweet Siam||The Jacobson|
photos: Brooke Vandever, 8183 Studio, Jason Dailey