Category Archives: Clean Plate Club

Food, restaurant, eating and drinking news.

Where is Your Favorite Hot & Sour Soup?

I have a love/hate relationship with soups that are typically offered at inexpensive Chinese restaurants. Sometimes they are obvious afterthoughts to bulk up a lunch special and aren’t very good. But some of them are great. After years of ordering wonton by default I typically go for hot and sour soup. It is a hearty and complex concoction with peppery heat and sourness from rice vinegar added at the end. Ingredients include everything from tofu to roasted pork to re-hydrated Chinese mushrooms.

I have eaten some great versions recently, notably at Lenexa’s tiny Rice House.

Hot & sour soup

Sometimes I think that the vinegar flavor is too pronounced. The hot and sour at Rice House was exceedingly well-balanced, with a very rich chicken broth that included pieces of both chicken and pork.

Another good, homemade hot and sour soup is available at Iron Horse in Olathe, which I have written about before.

Hot & Sour soup

And at a newish joint near 87th and Quivira called Fortune Palace.

Hot & sour soup

Do we have any hot and sour soup enthusiasts out there? Where is your favorite in town?

–Dave LaCrone

OMG is Gordon Ramsay Responsible for a Man’s Death?!

No.

Last week restaurant owner Joseph Cerniglia, who had been featured on Ramsay’s program Kitchen Nightmares, jumped to his death from the George Washington bridge. Cerniglia’s suicide is the second associated with the abrasive British chef, coming after a former contestant of Hell’s Kitchen shot herself three years ago.

A lot of people hate Ramsay for the lack of respect he shows people, his foul language and his generally disagreeable manner. So, as we do with smug politicians and beautiful actresses when they become tainted, we revel in the suspicion that Ramsay is too hard on contestants.

But the fact is that many people are simply troubled enough to find suicide somehow desirable. The best analysis of the situation I have read is from Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.com.

It is…entirely plausible that a person who gravitates toward being on TV and working in the intense, high-pressure world of restaurants is a person who is likelier than average to have those tendencies.

Bingo. The restaurant industry attracts some really intense people– people who can’t or won’t hold 9 to 5 jobs, people who like to party, people without the same support systems as many of us. And they work odd hours for little money and no health insurance. This amateurish profile is not airtight I realize, but it’s more compelling than the theory that Cerniglia killed himself because Gordon Ramsay yelled at him (saving his restaurant from collapse in the process).

Anyhow, if you are curious about all of this, check out the episode. It’s not posted on Hulu and can’t be embedded in the U.S. so you’ll have to click and watch it with Spanish subtitles.

P.S. For the record, I very much enjoy Ramsay’s show The F Word on BBC America. He comes across much more even-keeled, balanced and even happy. The persona he takes on in his American shows is just an exaggerated version of himself.

Greater Kansas City Japan Festival Coming This Saturday

Johnson County Community College is hosting the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival at the Carlsen Center for the seventh time this Saturday, Oct.2, 2010 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There will be all sorts of attractions and events, but I’m interested in the food. Four local restaurants will be on hand, dishing out traditional favorites: One-Bite Japanese Grill, Nara Sushi, Kaiyo Restaurant and Siki Japanese Steakhouse. Beyond food vendors, attendees can witness a traditional Japanese tea service or attend a Japanese beer and sake tasting. For those of you curious about making sushi or other Japanese favorites, stop by for cooking demonstrations from local sushi chefs.

One of the coolest attractions will be candy artist Miyuki Sugimori. Sugimori, who entertains at the Japan pavilion of Epcot Center, creates intricate little candy sculptures in mere moments during her performances.

Admission to the festival is $10 with students and children getting in for $5. Kids under five get in free.

KCPT’s Local Supper Overcomes the Elements

Last Thursday, local PBS affiliate KCPT hosted one of many food and drink-oriented benefit dinners. The action took place at the Roasterie plant, underneath a huge tent that protected diners from the steady drizzle that fell most of the evening. This was also my first visit to the Roasterie and I was duly impressed.

KCPT Local Supper

The big draw for me was the cooking of Michael Smith, Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts who teamed up to provide appetizers, dinner and dessert. While not much to look at, Smith’s Pan Con Tomate & Cured Ham starter was delicious. If I didn’t know better I’d call it bruschetta, which normally doesn’t float my boat, but the deep, rich tomato brought this to a new level.

Dinner was buffet fare with no real revelatory dishes, but it was well-prepared and tasty for the most part. Colby Garrelts’ hangar steak was perfectly cooked and served with sweated onions. His brussel sprouts were great too.

KCPT Local Supper

Representatives from Boulevard Brewing and the Missouri Wine & Grape Board were on hand, plying everyone with alcohol. I had a few glasses of wine and recall liking the Norton premium claret and Chardonel from Le Bourgeois winery in Rocheport quite well.

The Roasterie also had a mobile coffee service trailer set up in an Airstream in one corner of the tent. Diners could saunter up to the window as if they were on the street and order coffee. This was a cool touch.

This dinner was pretty much my introduction to the benefit dinner scene here in Kansas City. There are opportunities galore to attend events like these. The ticket prices vary but are fairly high; that’s the nature of the beast. But benefits do provide an opportunity to meet other food-minded people in town and to eat good food prepared by great chefs.

Meat and Bread: The Brisket Sandwich from D’Bronx

D’Bronx on Bell is a place that would be right at home in a college town. The menu is large, varied and affordable. The vibe is casual and even playful, and the food is good.

D'Bronx

If you dig deeper into the menu than their decent approximation of New York style pizza, you can find some very nice items. For instance the brisket sandwich which consists of chunks of tender braised beef, deli style mustard and nothing else.

Brisket sandwich

It takes some balls to put a sandwich like this on your menu. And I love it. Something about a sandwich comprised of just meat and bread allows the ingredients to speak for themselves. No cheese, no tomato, no lettuce, no cole slaw, no caramelized onions–just tender chopped beef and good mustard. Like the best corned beef sandwiches at a Jewish deli, you don’t need anything else.

Beer Kitchen Has the Hard Stuff Figured Out

After hearing that Westport fixture One80 pulled a U-turn and remade itself into a sort-of gastro-pub (sorry for using that word), I knew I had to try it soon. I had eaten a lot of meals at One80 and found it mostly good, if not exceptional. The nighttime crowd was a little douchetacular and the presence of a DJ most nights seemed like they were trying to be something they couldn’t quite achieve.

So I really respect the owners’ ability to wrap it up, shut it down and open a brand new concept in mere weeks. While the interior isn’t substantively different, it does feature some nice wood accents, particularly over the bar. A series of beer taps hang from the ceiling in the back of the dining room and weird little bottle sculptures adorn the window sills.

The menu has some items reminiscent of One80, like flatbread pizzas, but also a wide variety of burgers, sandwiches and a few breakfast offerings. A real selling point are their hand-cut french fries which are just about perfectly cooked and presented. They offer six kinds of dipping sauces: Roasted Garlic, Smoked Chipotle, Malt Vinegar, Horseradish, Cucumber-Dill and Sweet Thai Chili. I tried four of them and found them unremarkable. Their homemade “old school” ketchup, however, is some of the best I have ever had. So skip the fancy aiolis unless you can’t resist.

Fries

Homemade ketchups

My short rib sandwich was decent, if not great. The meat itself had virtually no flavor and the horseradish aioli was pretty much buried by the flavor of caramelized onions. The grilled sourdough was a nice touch but the bottom was soggy by the time it came out. The homemade bread and butter pickles had nice flavor but were shockingly made with regular cucumbers and not proper pickling cucumbers. As a result they were pretty mushy in the middle. It seemed like they were cut so thickly to compensate for this.

Short Rib sandwich

The high point of the evening was probably the service which was maybe a tad overbearing but the server was extremely thoughtful, quick and free of server BS-speak. Food came out quickly, we never had to wait for drinks or anything else we needed. Beer Kitchen is obviously running a good operation. But I think some aspects of the menu need a little more work.

As this is a new concept, you are asked to fill out a comment card after dining. This tells me they are serious about succeeding and open-minded about the direction they take. You can even fill out the comment card online.

How Do You Like Them Buns?

I have eaten burgers at the Westport Flea Market twice recently, and every time I go, I complain about two things: the condiment bar, and the bun.

Exterior

Basically this is a glorious hunk of freshly ground beef delivered on a glorified grocery store bun. Some places can get away with this, and even benefit from it. Would you want a little town topic patty on a hearty ciabatta bun? No. Thin, griddle-fried burgers go well with cheap buns. But even the mini-burger at Westport Flea Market over-matches its bun.

A thicker, larger burger such as the excellent offering at Cafe Europa can stand up to more bun.

Burger

But not everyone agrees with me. My patient and open-minded dining companion at The Flea insisted that an insubstantial bun makes the beef the star. Rather than simply encasing and delivering the meat, the bun simply acts as a vehicle to absorb delicious juices. This is an argument I find strangely compelling.

I still don’t care for the condiment bar, though.

Opening a Young Coconut

Well, it seems that coconut water is all the rage these days. It is becoming popular as a restorative, preventative or re-energizing drink, depending on what you read. Having drunk the milk of older coconuts in my youth and not particularly enjoying it, I haven’t paid much attention to the impending coconut water craze.

It turns out that coconut water is very different than milk from those older, hairy coconuts (hehe). It comes from young coconuts like these, and it is revelatory.

Young coconut

You can pick up plastic-wrapped young coconuts at most Asian Markets (this one was from 888 Market) for a couple bucks. But how to open this thing? You can find instructions and videos all over the Web, but somehow I didn’t believe it would be easy. In order to document what I felt would be utter and hilarious failure, I took photos of each step of the process.

First peel the outer layer of the conical end down to the shell using a chef’s knife.

Young coconut

Next, identify the largest area between “veins” visible on the shell. On this photo it’s at about 5 o’clock.

Young coconut

Use the knife to chop into the shell. I ended up employing a comically ineffective sawing motion. In retrospect I should have used the heel of the knife blade to similate a cleaver. Oh, I guess I could have used a cleaver too.

Young coconut

When you have made a small opening, shove the tip gently into the shell. You can tap gently on the knife handle to ease it through.

Young coconut

Then gently run the knife around the rim, employing a slight prying motion. With surprisingly little resistance, the lid will pop right off.

Young coconut

I got almost 2 cups of water out of this normal-sized young coconut. The water has a delicate, floral quality that is very difficult to put into words. And the flesh is divine. With a consistency somewhere between sushi and overcooked pasta, it has a natural, subdued sweetness and a flavor quite unlike those dried coconut flakes at the grocery store. You can scoop the flesh out pretty easily with a spoon.

Young coconut

While the water and the meat are good on their own, I’m now on the hunt for recipes using either.

El Huarache opens on Southwest Boulevard

Exterior

Last weekend a little Mexican joint opened up in the old Cricket store on Southwest Boulevard and Pennsylvania with an exciting name: El Huarache. The huarache is a somewhat lesser-known staple of Mexican cuisine, one not as widely available in local restaurants as the ubiquitous burrito, taco or torta. Simply put, the huarache is an oval of soft masa dough—thicker than a tortilla—that is griddled and topped with any combination beans, cheese, meat, tomato, cilantro and onion. It’s like a super taco.

Huarache

Reminding me vaguely of the Salvadoran pupusa, the huarache offers a delightful combination of flavors and textures using staples of the cuisine. The name “huarache” comes from its shape, which is reminiscent of a traditional Mexican sandal of the same designation.

Huarache

I visited El Huarache on its second day of operation and they certainly had some kinks to work out. No less than four employees visited my table for various purposes, but everyone was open and friendly, if not overly knowledgeable about the menu (which is easily forgiven this early in the game). I had no complaints about the food however, which was speedily prepared and pretty delicious.

The real revelation of my meal was the red salsa which is thin, spicy as hell and riddled with good chile and tomato flavor. They also offer a very nice salsa verde and a chipotle salsa intended for the huarache that I found a little overbearing. I’ll be back for those huaraches though. Anyone know of other good ones in town?

Westport Flea Market Between the Buns

The latest local establishment to garner attention from a national food television show is the Westport Flea Market, which will appear on Food Network’s Meat and Potatoes on Friday Sept. 24. Kansas City has received a lot of love from shows like these over the last year as Guy Fieri, Adam Richman, Zane Lamprey and Camille Ford have all visited over the last year on behalf of their programs.

Westport Flea Market

Photo by rachel_bernadette on Flickr.

Meat and Potatoes focuses (obviously) on delicious meat dishes around the country, and this episode is called “Between the Buns,” because of its sandwich-esque focus. Naturally host Rahm Fama will dive into the Flea’s vaunted burgers, laughingly described on the website as “bargain burgers.”

While I would describe the Flea Market’s burgers as delicious but a tad overrated, I love the concept and the space. It’s a frequent Saturday lunch spot for me. It is nice that folks from out of town will get to experience a little of that charm for themselves.