“Moderno,” yes, “Italiano,” less so, but Plate, the chic, independent boîte in Brookside, is a welcome addition to KC’s restaurant scene.
When I first caught wind that an Italian-inspired restaurant was moving into Brookside, I wondered if the newbie would create competition for the neighborly Bella Napoli, just a stone’s throw away, but the two concepts could not be further from each other. Bella Napoli is a boisterous, family-oriented trattoria/coffee bar/ Italian grocery with classic Italian pasta and pizza dishes. Meanwhile, Plate is a sexy jewel box with a sophisticated urban polish. Bella Napoli is more rustic and casual. There, one of the many Italian servers might break out spontaneously in opera song, particularly if there is a birthday.
At Plate, Hotel Costes-style, euro lounge music provides an unobtrusive sonic backdrop to the dimly lit space. The chic decor consists of purple tufted banquettes of an exaggerated height, a crystal chandelier, colorful abstracts on the wall by a local artist, an open kitchen, a marble-topped bar, and a sculptural wall illuminated by a glowy purple-magenta spotlight. Compliments must go to the husband-and-wife owners, Christian and Andrea Joseph, who conceived the design for their new eatery. Plate could easily be imagined in Chicago or New York City and is perfect for an intimate Valentine’s date — prego, leave the bambini at home.
The dinner-only, 50-seat eatery debuted with a soft opening late November, and its combined bar and restaurant space has been buzzing with patrons since it opened its doors. When I dined on a cold Tuesday in early January, after the holiday frenzy, I was surprised to find the place bustling even before 6 p.m. and booked solid with reservations. Word of mouth has been so positive for Plate that the establishment is thriving even in advance of the first praises by local dining critics or the media spotlight. A word of warning, if you show up without reservations, be prepared to settle for the bar alone, which itself is quite a treat.
Owner Andrea Joseph is also the proprietor of Season + Square, a wonderfully stylish gourmet provisions store focusing on artisan regional foodstuff, spices, cocktail wares and more, located directly next door to Plate on Oak Street. Joseph comes from a veteran restaurant family, and both her experience in restaurants and gourmet wares feeds into the sleek atmosphere, service, drinks and dishes of Plate. Brian Mehl, Plate's lauded chef, comes from a respected 18-year tenure as executive chef at Classic Cup on the Country Club Plaza.
Though the restaurant bills itself as “italiano moderno,” the Italian inspiration appears to be relatively loose — inspired by the market freshness and simplicity of classic Italian cooking more than actual dishes. This is definitely not a red-sauce Italian-American joint, nor a traditional trattoria like Bella Napoli, nor even a more haute Italian like Lidia’s. There is nary a red sauce on the menu save a fettuccine pomodoro, and many of the seasonal ingredients offered at our visit in January might not be construed as Italian at all: beets, salmon, squash, Brussels sprouts and other New World fare. But who cares? In such a swanky setting with blown glass wine goblets at the table (and even the water served in dark wine bottles sans labels), an inspired cocktail and wine list, and pretty patrons abounding, why quibble about semantics? Among the diners: date-night couples, several patrician-looking older groups (the ones next to us were brilliantly dissecting local theater and, no, I was not eavesdropping, the tables are that close) and women out for a girls’ night out.
Owners Christian and Andrea Joseph
The hip menu trades in one-word headlines like “sprouts,” “shoulder” and “beet,” but, thankfully, ingredient listings paint a clearer picture. Our group started with these dishes: the roasted beets, the yellowtail crudo, and the Brussels sprouts crostini from the antipasti portion of the menu — each was delivered on elegant rectangular platters. The crostini of roasted Brussels sprouts with ricotta, a drizzle of honey and preserved lemon was an altogether delicious combination, though a bit awkward to eat, and I was puzzled that the “crostino” ended up being a soft grain bread rather than toasty Italian pane. The red and yellow scallops of roasted beets were a beauty to behold, subtly flavored with walnuts, arugula, honey, mint, orange preserve and smoked gray salt. The yellowtail crudo was buttery, lush, and enhanced by a rustic giardiniera (a savory-sweet jumble of pickled veggies, cauliflowers, raisins or similar dried fruit, and piquant black peppercorns). I would have liked to have tried the cheese and cured meats board, but at $18 decided against the splurge. Besides, plentiful pastas and entrees were to come.
Roasted Beets (left) and yellowtail crudo (right)
Plate offers six seasonal pasta offerings, ranging from $14 to $19. The roasted beet tortellini with mascarpone, Parmesan and a nutty-flavored brown butter was a clever conceit and earthy-sweet butternut squash ravioli — but not enough for sharing. Indeed, all the pasta servings were elegantly proportioned — an antidote to so many grossly overstuffed American plates.
The inventive ravioli stuffed with baked chicken and topped with apple agrodulce and a light butter sauce was akin to Thanksgiving dinner — the taste notes of poultry, gravy and apple pie condensed into a bowl of pasta! The dish was utterly monochromatic but in a cool way and provided all the comfort-food pleasures one would expect of, well, Thanksgiving-themed ravioli.
The pappardelle, embellished with slow-braised pork shoulder and local asagio, was reminiscent of grandmother’s homey pot roast and brown gravy (a bit over-seasoned with black pepper on the night we ordered it) and served beside the ribbony tangle of noodles. This noodle derives its name from the Italian verb “pappare” or “to gobble up” and that our group of five did with universal approval.
When our seasoned, all-black-clad waitress advised us to try the grilled salmon entree, I suppressed a weary sigh because this is one of those ubiquitous restaurant dishes. But the salmon entree ($20) proved my favorite dish of the night. It was expertly grilled to perfection (tender but with a crispy sear) and pretty on the plate — the pink flesh of the fish set atop a painterly, bright orange streak of pureed squash and a colorful side of caponata. The grilled fillet of beef entree ($24) was also expertly executed to a perfect, warm-pink medium-rare. It was lush and jazzed up with a side of roasted sottaceto peppers. Only the bland leek risotto was forgettable on this otherwise tasty plate.
Desserts were also a bit uneven. The budino was slightly too runny to be the proper pudding consistency, though presented in a fun, layered parfait glass with gingerbread crumbles. The autumnal apple squash seed pie was warming, but its too-flimsy crust begged for a dollop of melting ice cream or house-made gelato and sprig of mint to complete it. However, the rich chocolate torte, studded with toasted almonds and served with dollops of raspberry sauce, was heavenly.
Whatever you do, do not miss out on Plate’s compact but carefully curated Italian wine or cocktail menus. The predominantly red-wine-dominated list of vino (only appropriate for an Italian restaurant) offers four choice by-the-glass sips of rosso, starting with a $5 sangoivese. The by-the-bottle wine list peaks with a sumptuous $86 bottle of Arborina Barolo from the Piedmont.
You may need an Italian culinary dictionary to translate the many native Italian spirits, bitters and fortified wines that comprise the cocktails, priced $9 to $12. Better, yet, throw caution to the wind and order up. You will not be disappointed no mater which libation you pick in your cocktail roulette. The menu, crafted in collaboration with The Campground, a private cocktail club that will soon go public with an opening in Westport, is inspired and equally appealing to men and women. The Scooter, like its name suggests, is a zippy, spicy, kick-of-a-drink employing an amaro flavored with orange peels and vanilla, a rhubarb aperitif and ginger beer. There’s also a sparkling Limone with prosecco, grappa, lemon sorbet and a sprig of mint. Brawnier drinks include the Fortune, made with Rieger KC Whiskey (one of the only non-Italian spirits on the seven-cocktail list). Like much of Plate’s food sourcing, the beer list is also regional with offerings by Torn Label, Boulevard, Schlafly and more.
The Scooter and The Spritz
With its on-point decor, service, cocktails and wine list, as well as refined dishes, I suspect it is only a matter of a few tweaks before some of the inconsistencies of a brand-new kitchen are resolved. Certainly the lofty ambitions of this creative, chef-driven, locally owned restaurant deserve a “bravo.” Best book your reservation before the buzz of this eatery spreads even further. As a sophisticated, modern bistro with a sexy vibe, this fashion Plate fills a definitive niche in our city.
Plate is located at 6201 Oak St. in Brookside. For reservations call (816) 492-5551. Plate is open for dinner only Tues.-Sat. from 5-10 p.m. with happy hour at 4 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Parking is available on the side of the street and behind the building. For more info visit platekc.com.