The Westside neighborhood welcomes yet another winner into its stable of tables.
Chef/owner Ryan Brazeal
Ryan Brazeal, a JCCC Culinary grad, is flashing considerable panache with his exciting new Novel. And it seems he's picked exactly the right spot to debut.
Brazeal's ready, having paid his dues apprenticing with David Chang of Momofuku, among others.
We decided to investigate. Reservations were in order as three of us hiked up the stone steps into the small house that Lill once occupied.
“Outside or inside?” our hostess asked.
It was a beautiful dusk, but we chose to sit inside at one of the only tables left.
“This must have been the living room,” said Tastebud No. 1 as we found our seats. Snuggled (read: wedged) into our table, it was easy to hear the goings-on of just about everyone in the room.
“No, that's not his daughter,” No. 1 snarked, nodding towards a May-December blooming near the window.
“Tonight, we're having a few specials,” announced our server before bringing over warm slices of olive bread. “It's from Fevere Bakery, just around the corner.”
“We'll need more, you know,” said Tastebud No. 2.
Scanning the menu, we noticed the items that underscored the novelty at Novel. No. 1 said she wasn't a fan of tripe.
“Nor any innards ... plucked from the top or the bottom.”
“That goes for veal cheeks,” added No. 2, making it clear she prefers to pinch and kiss instead of eat them.
So much for my intrepid duo.
“I'll have the chicken brick,” I said.
Both Buds stuck with the familiar.
“Arctic char, please,” said No. 1
“Diver scallops. Wait...ummm, maybe the pork chop. No, let's stick with the scallops,” said No. 2.
I was hoping someone would be more adventurous, since Novel boasts a half-dozen interesting starters. Fried pig head ravioli, chilled corn soup with a dash of seaweed and clam, crispy egg with bacon hush-puppies.
While plowing through the bread, we listened, managing to glean shards from every corner. At least people are actively engaged in their food, friends and fodder.
Novel is nothing if not a wonderful way to showcase a young chef's skill. Go to the website and you'll find Brazeal's take on his on his version of "New American” food.
Examples: Tastebud No. 1's Grilled Arctic char, beautifully presented with fingerling potatoes and trout roe in smoked cream fraiche ($21).
Or my chicken brick, precisely layered with squares of dark and white meat ($20). Finally, the otherwise confused Tastebud No. 2, who had a look of serenity with her seared diver scallops ($23).
“Honestly, I don't know when I've tasted a more flavorful dish,” she said.
“We're happy you're happy,” I said.
No. 1, finishing her glass of wine, was mum about the char.
“Fabulous,” she said nonchalantly, waving us away.
As the evening progressed, the bar, right around the corner from our table, seemed to be flooded with guests. And with the influx, came an increase in the volume.
But we were reluctant to go, because eating at Novel is like going over to someone's house for dinner. It's congenial, prone to becoming noisy and nosey, and not in the least predictable.
“Dessert? Peach cake and panna cotta,” our server suggested.
“Peach cake,” said Tastebud No. 1.
“Considering the char disappeared so quickly, please bring extra forks,” I advised.
“You wolves,” she whispered, shaking her head.
We finally surrendered our table to the hungry waiting. Noting that we didn't really want to leave, we decided to park ourselves outside and linger.
“Was it worth it?” said No. 1.
“Oh, yeah,” said No. 2. “Not too frou frou, no extreme-sized portions and definitely different.”
That's what I like to hear.
815 W. 17th St.
Kansas City, Mo.