The Good Food Gang
As we prepare to head into a new year, we get the word on the local culinary scene from Kansas City's best chefs.
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“Community” seems to be the keyword at both The Rieger, Howard Hanna’s 5-year-old Crossroads restaurant, and Ça Va, his 2-and-a-half-year-old Westport Champagne bar. Everyone seems to know your name at either venue — and every time you show up, it feels like a celebration.
The Rieger does a beautiful job of marrying elevated dishes with humble Midwestern roots. Your idea of pork and beans is not Hanna’s idea of pork and beans — with house-made bacon lardon and smoky pulled pork — and his rotating pasta creations are the stuff of local legend. Ça Va, despite its hallway-sized kitchen, puts out a Croque Madame and moules frites that would be the envy of any Paris bistro. And don’t even get us started on the Champagne list. Did we mention Hanna likes to celebrate?
What did you decide to make for this issue, and why?
I did duck cappellacci [dumplings] with butternut squash puree and chestnuts and cured duck breast. It’s a dish that shows off several great local ingredients, and it takes comforting, familiar fall flavors but introduces them in interesting ways. We get ducks primarily from HoneyDel Farm in Lawrence, and since duck is richer than some poultry, it works really well with cooler weather and our craving for heavy foods. I also love it because of its versatility — it pairs with seasonal fall items like chestnuts and squash. In this dish, we’re using the bones to make a roasted duck jus. The legs are cooked in duck fat, and the meat is used in the pasta filling, and the breast is cured and sliced very thinly and scattered around on top.
Describe your perfect day in Kansas City.
I would like to be cooking outside, over a live fire some place. I would like to be far enough out of the city to see stars, but close enough to hear the trains.
What’s your comfort food, and where do you go for it?
I have so many, but probably omelets. Caitlin [Corcoran, Hanna’s partner and the general manager and co-owner at Ça Va] makes badass French omelets at home. They’re perfect morning, noon or night.
Favorite hideout, where you don’t want to run into people?
Caddyshack. It’s not that I don’t run into people there — I know people there, and I run into people, but it’s really relaxed, and people just kind of leave you alone.
Generally, I go to KCK for tacos, but recently, I’ve been staying closer to home. Tacos el Gallo on the [Southwest] Boulevard is great, and Taco Express way out on Independence Avenue is good.
If there was a dish you could bring back to your menu, what would it be?
Lately, I’ve been missing the roasted bone marrow with crispy oysters we used to do. I had already been thinking about it, and then the picture popped up in my Facebook feed, and I was like, “That’s a good dish.”
What other chefs in Kansas City are you really excited to hear more about?
Carlos Falcon [of Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos] — he excites me. He’s working with extremely high-quality ingredients, and what he’s doing is a lot less familiar to most Kansas Citians. And Nick Goellner [of The Antler Room] — I think he’s a smart and very thoughtful cook.
How do you really feel about Yelp?
Ultimately, it helps more people find my restaurant, and overall, it’s helped more than it’s hurt. At the same time, personally, it can be frustrating, and it has made me really sad sometimes and really angry other times. Very recently, a table that was disrespectful to my staff and obnoxious and disturbing other guests and destroying our property — that we kicked out of the restaurant — left a shitty Yelp review and named their server. I don’t think people should wield that kind of power. Generally speaking, though, if a restaurant has hundreds and hundreds of reviews, and they’re mostly positive, you can trust that it’s great, and you should probably go there.
Anything you would change about dining in Kansas City?
More quality late-night options, more street food, more diversity. In other cities, there’s fine-dining versions of a lot of ethnic cuisines, and in Kansas City, it sort of feels like you’re either one thing or the other, ethnic or fine dining, and that’s kind of a shame.
What sets the Kansas City dining scene apart from other cities that are, perhaps, a little larger and a little more diverse?
I think proximity to great ingredients means that we should have great cuisine here, and we’re really lucky to have the producers we do. Beyond that, though, I think Kansas City is in this magic window of size, where we’re big enough to have diversity and competition, but we’re small enough to still know each other well and want to work together. In a bigger city, it’s likely that all my friends would just be chefs, and even then we wouldn’t necessarily help each other as much and want to collaborate as much as we do. But in Kansas City, you’re friends with people from other disciplines, and we’re all in it together. Here in the Crossroads, the energy and the excitement from artists and musicians and startups and other entrepreneurs inspire what we are doing in the restaurant scene.
It’s easy to get burnt-out as a chef. What about your job keeps you going?
Everything. It’s all exciting. There’s so much stuff I haven’t done yet and so many more things I have to say. We’re on our 24th menu [at The Rieger], and I’m nowhere near out of ideas. I’m just still completely in love with food. There’s always more to learn, more to try, and more things to get better at. It’s still just kind of magic to me what our land and rivers and forests can produce, and the farmers that bring such beautiful products to our back door make me want to try harder to show it off. Honestly, there was never anything else I wanted to do.
The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, 1924 Main St., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 471-2177, theriegerkc.com
Ça Va, 4149 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 255-3934, cavakc.com
Duck Cappellacci (Dumplings) with Butternut Squash
1 cup duck confit, picked
1/2 cup ricotta, strained
1 each whole egg
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup butternut squash puree
2 tablespoons butter, diced
Lemon juice, to taste
12 each slices cured duck breast, thinly sliced
6 each chestnuts, sliced
12-16 sprigs chervil
2 cups Durum flower
6 each egg yolks
Kosher salt, to taste
2-3 tablespoons water, as needed
Combine all filling ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping several times to scrape down the sides. Taste and adjust seasoning. It should be rich and meaty, with just a hint of the nutmeg and honey to brighten it up.
Combine all pasta dough ingredients in the Robot Coup and pulse until mixture comes together and balls up. Turn out onto a floured board and knead a few times until it comes together, then cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes so the water can soak into the flour evenly. Now knead it for 5 minutes to develop gluten so it will have the strength to roll out nice and thin but still have the right mouthfeel. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at least 20 minutes before rolling.
Roll pasta to the second thinnest setting, then cut out 12 four-inch square pieces. Put a heaping tablespoon of the filling into the center of each square. Brush the edge of the pasta with egg wash, then fold one corner over to its opposite corner to form a plump triangle. Next, take the two opposite corners of the triangle and bring them together around your finger like a ring. Push the corners together firmly so that they stick together in that shape.
Cook the capellacci in a pot of salted water at a full boil, about 3 minutes. Drain and toss lightly with a small amount of butter to give them a little sheen and keep them from sticking. In a small saucepan, warm up the butternut squash puree, add a few drops of lemon juice, and then stir the diced butter into it. Divide the puree evenly onto four warm plates, and spread it into a circle using the back of a spoon. Place three capellacci onto each plate, with the rounded sides facing out and the tall points standing up in the middle. Garnish with the cured duck breast, chestnuts, and chervil.