“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”
Then my dinner last night at the 18th century writer’s namesake was just a dream.
I can vouch.
Tastebud and I whisked off for a visit to this relatively new West Bottoms venue on a hot but fair summer evening.
Exiting the suburbs and descending 12th Street into one of the oldest parts of KC and glancing up at the skyline, Tastebud says, “I always feel like we are lower than sea level.”
What was once home of the thriving stockyards is still full of hulking brick warehouses, though currently the area is enjoying a Renaissance propelled by a yen for affordable space.
Nonetheless, it’s a relatively quiet part of the city. Kemper Arena, Golden Ox, The Livestock Exchange stand by sedately.
Pulling up right in front of the former space occupied by this restaurant/bar, we found a parking spot effortlessly. Undeniably one of our city perks.
First glance tells us Moxie Catering owners/mates Wes Gartner and Jill Myers are happy with the space, leaving much of the saloon-style presence in place.
Upon meeting and greeting we were graciously offered the pick of tables in this room wrapped in nostalgia. Original floors, brick walls, warehouse-high ceilings and a handsome wooden bar lit softly with schoolhouse pendants.
We sunk in and admired.
Though the place was relatively calm, it was just beginning to perk.
No blaring music, just low tunes crooning. Notable since we were able to hear each other across the table, something I don’t take for granted in other haunts.
Server Karli allowed us time to educate ourselves.
“Our chef, Wes Gartner, is very good at pulling together various flavors,” she offers. “That’s why each item is thoughtfully presented, with small plates the norm instead of huge portions.”
Leading off, Tastebud indulged in a pretty pink drink designed by head bartender Ryan Miller called, appropriately enough, the Stockyard Fix. A fizz of handmade vodka, ginger, fresh juice and bitters. This was a photo op.
We ordered two starters based on a tip that simply couldn’t be overlooked, the expertly charred Vietnamese Chicken Wings and a tomato salad.
Soon the big, meaty chicken wings flew in.
“Try the nuoc cham fish sauce that’s not at all fishy and the hot chili sauce,” suggests Karli. Suspect and probably too much of both, I thought.
She was right. All six wings were summarily dipped and stripped, cucumber-watercress slaw plus fish sauce included ($8).
Following, an Heirloom Tomato salad to beat the band ($8).
The beauty of locally-sourced tomatoes is one of those rare pleasures (and not in the least an illusion). These juicy reds and yellows partnered with ruby sweet grilled watermelon, saba, ground pistachio and soft rounds of mozzarella. The entire dish underscored what summer tastes like.
At this point, both Tastebud and I were slightly bedazzled not just by the taste, but by the simplicity of each dish.
A leisurely pace brought out Gartner’s next tribute. A gorgeous mash-up of braised beets and beet greens, pea shoots, chevre, toasted walnuts and orange zest. The scarlet beets tincturing silky risotto was again more than worthy ($12).
“Wait, don’t touch until I snap another picture,” says Tastebud as I wait impatiently.
“I don’t care if it’s 150 degrees outside, I’d get this dish despite the weather,” I note. “Impossibly delicious.”
“I don’t like goat cheese,” Tastebud announces, eating around it.
“How fortunate,” I smile.
And then came the Diver Scallops, caramelized; house bacon, haricot vert, and sweet corn-shitake fricassee ($17).
Despite our landlocked locale, these soft belles of the sea were heavenly. I think Gartner must have dived down today to pluck them up himself.
Meanwhile the place blossomed. It’s certainly not cavernous but a respectable crowd filtered in — and it was a Thursday.
Were these urban locals, suburbanites ... who? I wondered about the demographic but I admired the mix, something sorely lacking in the hinterlands. People bellied up to the bar or sat in banquettes lining the wall.
We rested and observed ... but not for long.
Coffee, a French-press full from Oddly Correct, was only outdone by a plateful of little cookies baked with love by one Mr. Cool.
These spicy jewels made our mouths sing. Lime-jalapeño with orange-habañero icing, cayenne-sugarcoated snicker doodles and ginger snaps to clinch all ($8).
I inhaled to temper the spice as Tastebud offered to quell the sting with her Stockyard Fix.
“Nah, I can always handle cookies,” I say.
No rush ensued, so we lingered.
Voltaire would do the same, pinching himself, realizing this place is — thankfully — no illusion.
This is enlightened reality.
photos: Steve Puppe