Kansas City Restaurants

Grand Street Cafe, After 15 Years I Want To Break Up.

I originally posted this on Urban Spoon and Yelp, but less than 24 hours after writing my review, Urban Spoon pulled it so I am posting it here. Hopefully I’ll be able to link from Urban Spoon to this post on my blog.

Last night, dead tired after a long holiday weekend, we decided to go to Grand Street Cafe in Kansas City for a quick bite. Nothing fancy, just a couple of appetizers and a cocktail. Before I continue, I want to clarify that Kristy and I have been going to Grand Street since it opened. The staff for the most part knows us by name and we are considered regulars.

Well, last night was the last straw for me and Grand Street. Over the last few years I have watched it steadily decline as the original owners shifted the focus from an upscale bistro, to a restaurant that could make more money off of private banquet dining, and catering. The other focus of the original owners was on their Red Robin franchise in the Midwest. I can’t hold anything against them for that. Red Robin’s have a license to print money, and everyone likes to make money. What I will say is this, no matter what Grand Street has done in the last few years, it has gone from OK to just plain bad.

It used to be that more than anything else customer service at Grand Street was top-notch. Seriously good service. Even when the food was a bit off, or they were between truly gifted chefs, the service and management was always above average, and usually exemplary. Last night however marked the 5th and last time Grand Street will serve me bad food, and do so with a “what ever” attitude.

My meal, the over roasted chicken was inedible. Kristy’s meal, a Cobb Salad, was also inedible. Seriously… inedible. This isn’t the first time the food has been this bad since the most recent chef left for sunny California a month or two back. Two weeks ago my friend Paul and I both got the Grand Street Burger. Paul asked for his to be cooked at Rare Plus, I asked for mine Medium. Both came out Medium Well at best and leaning more to the Well Done side of things. It’s a damn cheeseburger for god’s sake. What’s worse is in both instances, the place hasn’t been that busy. Either way, the wait staff was fairly nonchalant about handling the incident, and seemed rather put off about trying to correct the issue.

Last night, our waiter did take care of the meals, but he didn’t return to check on us to see how things were for 20 minutes after our food was delivered to the table.  When he did come by and let us know he would take care of it, he was gone so quickly that we couldn’t even ask to speak to a manager. We had to flag down the hostess a full ten minutes after our waiter left. The hostess, walked over to the general manager, and told him we would like to talk to him. He looked at us and went back to talking to the line. I thought OK he’s busy he’ll be over in a minute or two. 15 minutes later we decided to leave. There were two managers on duty, neither one of them could make it over to chat with us about the lousy food, and mediocre service.

The thing that just kills me is, when Dennis Dicky, Thelma Oliver or Mike Lee were running the show, this never would have happened. The customer service was spot on, and the food leaving the kitchen was always prepared correctly. The servers checked to make sure things were done right, and if they weren’t they took care of it in full. There are still some of the original wait staff at Grand Street that hold up this attention to detail, and maintain the restaurants original standards, but for the most part the originals are gone and so is the quality of the place. I can’t even recommend Grand Street to people at this point. Two years ago I probably still would have.

The current menu which was designed by former chef Ian Hockenburg is solid. There are recipes on it that he brought from his previous restaurant The Mango Room. They were nice well seasoned dishes that fit the clientele without being to over the top. It worked. The problem is that they are prepared so poorly now, that in many cases they now longer work at all. Most dishes are over seasoned, or not seasoned at all. The food is never cooked to the requested temperature, and is often served cold or luke warm having sate under the warming lamps at the kitchen line for far to long.

It’s to bad Grand Street. You have invested money in renovations that have actually moved the interior  from 1995 to the 21st century, and from the look of things, when your renovations are complete the place will look pretty good. For me though, it doesn’t matter because I am done. At this point they can’t bring me back. I have given them second chances over and over again for the last few years and at the end of the day Grand Street consistently fails me.

Westside Local, What is Your Problem?

Westside Local is a place we have been eating at since it opened about a year ago. The first four or five times we went the food and service was pretty good, not James Beard award winning great but pretty damn good. I should say it was on par with a local eatery that has kind of a bar, bistro feel to it and is not trying to be a fine dining establishment. I should also say that I have always been impressed with the way Westside Local has looked, and excellent pairings of beer with your food, the selection of beers and wines, and the cocktails that they have served. The food is good, and the place has so much potential. The problem is the service.

I’m sorry folks, the service just sucks. 75% of the times we have been the staff has been surly, or had an “I don’t give a shit attitude”, and tonight was the last straw for us. Anyone that knows Kristy and I know we out all the time. Anyone that knows me, knows I am pretty forgiving when it comes to food and service in a restaurant. It takes a hell of a lot of work to create a dining experience that works so I want to cut them some slack. But the last four times I have been to Westside Local the service has been so bad, that I’ll never go back.

Lets break it down.

The first experience was lunch with my friend Tim back in early June. The two of us arrived just past the lunch rush and decided to eat in the bar. We were 2 of maybe 6 people in the entire place. It took 10 minutes for the bartendress to return from where ever she had been, and then she acted put out that we sat in her section and she was going to have to wait on us. After placing our orders, it took 45 minutes to get 2 roast beef sandwiches. She never returned to ask if we needed our drinks refilled or replenish our water. what should have been a quick 45 minute lunch took almost to hours. There was no apology for the delay, or explanation. Only attitude.

Incident number two. About a month later when our friends Jeff and Sarah were in from Baltimore we brought them to Westside Local for dinner. While our waitress arrived promptly, she had an attitude and seemed put out that Jeff and I were going to split our first beer, a 22 ounce Racer 5 I.P.A. she seemed even more bent out of shape when Sarah and Kristy decided to split dinner. After the ladies placed their order our waitress disappeared and didn’t return to our table for almost an hour. When she did return, she managed to get a new drink order for Jeff and I but ignored Kristy and Sarah walking off before they could even tell her they wanted another drink. The icing on the cake… She was pissed we wanted to split the check evenly between the two couples claiming it was really hard to do.

Incident number three. About two weeks later, Kristy and I met her boss at Westside Local for Happy Hour. When we walked in at 5:00 PM there was no one else in the place. We stood at the front door for about 5 minutes wondering if they were even open, and finally when a chef walked out of the kitchen we flagged him down and asked him. He said yes, told us to sit where ever we liked, and said he would let the wait staff know we were there. So we grabbed a table at the front of the restaurant, between the door to the dining room and the bar, and we waited. And we waited, and waited, and waited. After about 10 minutes another group had arrived and were patiently waiting by the front door, I got up and told them they should just sit down because no one was going to seat them. Finally when we were going to get up and walk across the street the bartendress arrived strolled out of the kitchen area. She was going to blow right past us, but Kristy flagged her down. She was pissed that we grabbed her and asked to order drinks. I mean pissed. There was this whole attitude that just resonated with total loathing of our being there. We managed to get our drink order in and as she left our table, the other table of women tried to flag her down. She blew them off and strolled into the bar. 10 minute later she brought back two glasses of wine, and a beer. Kristy asked her if she was having a bad day to which she replied “Yes” and strolled off to finally wait on the only other table occupied in the place.

Incident four. Tonight we wanted to use a Groupon for Westside Local. When we got their, a total of three tables were filled in the dining room. A couple arrived right behind us, and one other party of four after that. As we sat waiting for service, a waiter took the orders of the couple and the four top and ignored us. we sat and we waited, and waited, and waited. After 15 minutes we managed to get the guy filling water glasses to take our drink order. He told us he would let our waitress know that we wanted to order food and we had been waiting for almost 20 minutes now. 10 minutes later we got our drinks, just as the couple that arrived at the same time as us got their food. Another couple was seated next to us and our waitress came over and took their order, left, brought them drinks, then came to our table to get our orders. We ordered 2 deviled eggs, a burger, and a roast beef sandwich. She left, and we waited, and waited, and waited. The eggs never arrived, but the new couple got both their meals before us. We were getting ready to walk out when the water boy brought us our food. At this point we asked for the manager.

When the manager arrived, he apologized, said he didn’t know what the problem was and told us he would take care of our meals. Good start, but this is where he dropped the ball. He never came back. He never came over and asked us how the food was. The waitress never came back to ask if we needed anything. No one ever came back to our table for more than 30 minutes. When the waitress finally came back she asked if we wanted another round, and we said no we just want to settle up, thinking we were paying for our drinks. She said she would get the check and disappeared. for more than ten minutes. Kristy had to finally get up, find the manager and ask him to help us out. At this point he said he would take care of everything. When Kristy asked him what happened?, why the bad service?, he said the waitress had worked a double today and she was a bit behind. WTF?! Seriously, she worked a double and is a bit behind? I know it’s been a while since I waited tables or tended bar, but I know from experience don’t take a double shift if you can’t pull it off. I feel bad for her for having to work 12 to 16 hours, but the rest of the staff should have had her back and the manager sure as hell should have.

I hate to say it, but I’m not going back. I won’t recommend the place, and I’m going to let everyone I know just how bad the service has been 4 out of the last 6 times we have been. It’s to bad because the place has so much potential, and it feels like it is starting to crash and burn.

Chez Elle Creperie, First Visit Impressions.

About a week ago Emily Akins posted on Facebook about how excited she was that a creperie was opening in the Westside at 17th and Summit. I have to admit, I read her post and then filed it away. Well this morning we were at Fervere picking up bread for the family Christmas feast tomorrow, and I saw the open sign across the street and suggested we try out Chez Elle instead of grabbing breakfast at Blue Bird, which was the plan, and I’m glad we did.

Open only 8 days Chez Elle occupies the first floor of the Summit Condo building at 1713.  A wonderful little place with a warm bistro style atmosphere. They are offering a variety of both sweet and savory crepes, as well as gourmet coffees, pastries, soups and salads. The dining space wraps around to the right with comfortable bistro tables, club chairs, and glowing lamps. To the left is a coffee lounge where visitors are encouraged to sit and enjoy coffee while they read, surf the internet, or do that old-fashioned thing known as have a conversation. The room is filled with comfortable chairs and sofas inviting you to stay a bit longer and relax.

This morning we sampled two of the savory crepes. The Bonjour, a crepe filled with ham and Swiss cheese, topped with scrambled egg and hollandaise sauce. The crepe was lovely. Light and airy, filled with the perfect portion of savory ingredients, seasoned so well. I have to say I wish I would have been hungrier and ordered more off of the menu. I should have ordered at least one sweet crepe for contrast, but this just means I’ll have to go back again.

As of now, the menu has 12 savory, and 11 sweet crepes. In addition they have 5 breakfast crepes and 4 salads available. Based on what I had today I’ll definitely be going back. I want  to say this right now, if you are interested, go check this place out because I predict in a month or two it is going to be packed. The space is good-sized but it is so inviting I can see it becoming a local hot spot quickly.

Chez Elle is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7:00 AM until 3:00PM, but according to the owner the hours might change after they have been open a bit longer.

Oh how I missed Mexican food in Souh Africa. A Quick Review of Teocali.

teocaliAfter spending two weeks in South Africa, I was in need of some serious Mexican food yesterday, so at lunch time my friend Tim and I ran up he hill to Teocali to take advantage of Taco Tuesday. As I was eating lunch I decided I would write a little restaurant review of the place, since I eat there almost every week, and I love the food. Plus having done without Teocali for 14 days really made me appreciate why I go there so much.

Teocali is a small Mexican restaurant located by the UMKC Dental college just off Holmes at about 27th street. Enrique Gutierrez opened Teocali in the former Firehouse Bar and Grill space He replaced vintage fire hats with aged tequilas and  chili dogs  for fish tacos and pinto beans.  It quietly sits on the West side of the street sandwiched between a law office and a concrete counter top designer. I love the place. No matter how busy they are, the staff is fast and courteous, the food come out quickly and it is never microwaved. One thing that drives me nuts about some Mexican restaurants is food that gets nuked to heat it up quickly. I know they do it to turn the tables and this means more money, but nuked food sucks.

Most of the recipes are traditional and crafted by the hand of Enrique’s mother who runs the kitchen. The Puerto Vallarta tacos, are absolutely amazing. They are probably the best fish tacos I have had in Kansas City hands down. Normally I go for the Tacos Mexicanos, which come in a variety of meat choices. I tend to go for the El Pastor which is a marinated pork that is just amazing. The marinade has just the right amount of spice and a subtle sweetness from the citrus that is used. These tacos are served like traditional street tacos from mexico with cilantro and onion. The chips and salsa are great. The chips are light and all of the hot sauces are made fresh. Be warned though, the hot sauce is made early in the week and by Wednesday it tends to be hotter since the chili peppers have been percolating for a couple of days. I have tried pretty much everything on the menu at this point and I have to say I have yet to have a meal I can say anything negative about. At times the guacamole can be a bit underwhelming but it is an experience that is few and far between. If you go I highly recommend the Taco’s, the Tamales, Carne de Puerco con Chile, and definitely the Fish Tacos. Really anything on the menu is a hit and you can’t go wrong.

Prices range from around 7.99 to 10.99 depending on what you order. The portions are large and the prices are right. They have daily lunch specials and they have a happy hour that runs from 4 to 6:30 Monday through Friday. If you go at lunch time, do not be surprised if you have to wait for a table. There is usually a line but it tends to move rather quickly and it is easy to get in.

Teocali

2512 Holmes St.
Kansas City, MO 64108

Phone: 816.221.4749

Hours:
Mon. – Sat: 10:30am to 10pm
Sun.: Closed

Just East of Hallmark in Crown Center and North of Truman Medical Center

R Bar in the Kansas City West Bottoms

R BarAcross the street from the Golden Ox, and just down from the Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms is a fantastic little spot. R Bar. The destination is not typical and neither is the food, a hip urban environment and an upscale menu in the middle of what used to be the Kansas City stockyards. I have to admit that when I pulled up out front I was a bit surprised. The venue ( which occupies the former Sutera’s restaurant space ) seems a bit like a dive, but when you walk inside you enter an oasis. A long thin room with exposed brick walls and a bar that runs almost the entire length of the place. At the front there is a small low stage for live music (jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, Thursday through Saturday). The main wall is punctuated with a large metal “R” in shades of blue and orange, all of which helps to create an atmosphere that reminds me of San Francisco or New York. There is a definite older urban vibe here and it is the polar opposite of the power and light district. It feels like the West Bottoms, old and vibrant with an update appeal. When you enter, be sure and check out the photo to the right of the door by the stage. It is a saddled horse standing by the bar while the bartender looks on.

Former American Restaurant chef, Alex Pope has created a small but complete menu of medium and large plate items featuring “innovative seasonal” foods. The menu feels like it is still under going revisions with some items having been replaced with new and or updated recipes since they opened. Last night I had grilled octopus with fingerling potato lemon parsley and tomato vinaigrette, and funnel cake with a honey reduction to start. Yes funnel cake. It worked well, the menu items tend to pair sweet and savory  flavors through out. For my main course I had braised lamb with grape leaves, eggplant puree, butternut squash, capers, and raisins. The lamb was divine, tasting more like pot roast than lamb. tender and filled with flavor, matched perfectly to the textures and flavors of the squash, raisins and capers.

Other menu items included a smoked pork belly, chicken fried sweet breads, risotto with seasonal vegetables, mussels and roasted peanuts, roasted free-range chicken breast and smoked hanger steak. Prices range from 10 to 25 dollars.menu

I say go check it out, and give it more than one try. They are new and still finding their way, but if this is any indicator of what is to come the R Bar is going to be a great new addition to the local restaurant scene.

Dining out, and the Real Desperate Housewives of Mission Hills.

room39Last night was Kristy’s birthday dinner. She had been wanting to go to Room 39 for the last few weeks so we made reservations for 7:15, checked out the latest menu online, and headed out to Room 39. When we arrived there were just a few couples in the place. A man and his wife having an anniversary dinner, an 8 top at the back with two thirty-ish young women drinking wine, and a couple at the front by the windows having a casual dinner. Now this is where the interesting part of the evening begins. You see the 8 top at the back of the place, was about to turn into “The Real Desperate Housewives of Mission Hills.”

We had been in the restaurant about 15 minutes, our cocktails had just arrived and we were trying to decide if we should do the 4 course Prix Fix tasting menu, or go À la carte. As we looked over the menu, more thirty-ish women began to arrive at the table in the back. As they did the volume went up and the behavior went down. This group of women became so loud that everyone in the place was looking at them. One gentleman, (the man who was having the anniversary dinner) even asked them if they could tone it down a bit. Lets just say the response he got from the ring leader was a definitive NO. The ladies had three bottles of wine on the table, and a bottle of champagne, and it looked like there was no end in site. Now I understand that in a small space when a group of people are together and having a good time that the volume is going to go up. The thing is as the volume went up the level of maturity went down. And as the maturity level went down, so did the manners and respect for anyone else in the establishment. They truly became a mirror image of the god awful women that are shown in the Real Desperate Housewives series on Bravo. and they seemed to enjoy the fact that they were acting like juvenile, spoiled, ill mannered, demanding debutants.

As the show at the back proceeded, our first course arrived. I had a simple salad  with roasted beats, and cucumber. Kristy had gazpacho with herbed flan. Both items were flavorful, but totally unenjoyable due to the ladies at the back. As we finished our first course the decision was made to leave, and we informed the waiter that we were going to go. He apologized for what was going on and asked us to stay so that we could at least speak to the manager. He disappeared into the back and a moment later the manager was by our table. He apologized for the noise and the ladies behavior but said there was nothing he could really do about it. I kind of see his point. He has a table of 8 all of whom are going to spend about 100 bucks each on food and drink, which offsets the 2 or 3 couples that are put off by the deb’s acting out. On the other hand I still think he should have told them to quiet down, grow up, and have some respect for the other paying customers.

On a positive note, Room 39 bought our drinks, and gave us a gift certificate because they really want us to come back, and I know I will. I like the place to much. the food is just amazing.

So we left, and decided to go to Michael Smith, and this is where it all gets really really good. We showed up with out a reservation, and Nancy said no problem. She got us a great table at the front of the restaurant. As always the place was calming, and refined. We each got a glass of the St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, and began to look over the menu. Since it was almost 9:00 PM we decided to split a dinner and skip any kind of starter. At a certain point, your appetite just begins to fade. We asked both our server and Nancy for recommendations and ultimately decided on Pancetta wrapped veal ribeye with
oyster mushrooms, eggplant purée, roasted figs & pistachios. Let me just say right off. Oh My Freakin’ God. This was so good. I am not a huge fan of eggplant, but that purée was insanely good. There were hints of tomato, scallion, and garlic in it that just made the flavors pop. The ribeye was cooked to perfection, and the pancetta was crispy, not limp like the typical bacon wrapped fillet that you typically get when you eat out. The mushroom and fig, were a perfect compliment to the meal. It was just so good.

Now this is why I love going to Michael Smith, and the companion Extra Virgin across the hall. Michael, Nancy and the staff are just the best. Last night Smithwhen Nancy found out it was Kristy’s birthday, she insisted on getting us desert and a glass of champagne. It was a great way to end a crazy evening. We decided to try the home made lemon pound cake with house made orange marmalade, and cre´me fresh. Paired with the champagne it was a perfect way to end the meal. On the drive home we were saying we should have gone there in the first place.

Jaywalkers

IMG_2113On Rainbow about half a mile from my house is a dive sports bar called Jaywalkers. Now before you get all uppity and say, “Oh great just what we need is another dive, sports bar.” Let me tell you it’s not bad. My only gripe with the place is that they let you smoke at the bar inside. Now with that said, I like the place, and here’s why.

First off they have amazing burgers. I mean they aren’t the best I have ever had but the are big, juicy and the selection is large including one named “The Sweet 16”. 16 ounces of beefy goodness with all the fixings and tater tots. Yes Tots, we’ll get to that in a minute. Now if you eat the the sweet 16 in less than 30 minutes you get your picture posted on the wall of fame so the world can bask in your glutenous glory.

“Not for the faint of heart! Do you think you can do it? Finish your whole meal (dine in only) and join the Sweet 16 Club!!! Two juicy 8 oz patties equaling ONE FULL POUND of Certified Angus Beef, American cheese, lettuce and tomato all in a pretzel bun makes this the bad boy of all burgers in Kansas City!   $12.99
(FYI consuming this much beef may make you sick, which is not our fault… We warned ya!)”

I had a classic burger with cheddar and bacon. It was cooked to perfection and not dry at all. A half pound burger that I couldn’t finish. They said half pound but I’m thinking it was more. for a side I got the ranch dressing seasoned tater tots. All I can say at this point about the tots is “Saweeeeeeet baby Jesus!” tasty tasty good. The tots come in plain, or a variety of seasonings. Overall the menu is bar fair but it is good. They offer everything from salads to dogs, with daily lunch, dinner, and drink specials.

According to our waitress, All the food is made from scratch daily. The staff were warm and inviting and they have enough TV’s to watch any big 12 sporting event in style. While I won’t become a regular, I will be going back. It feels like a great place to watch KU basketball this year.

By the way they have Free State Beer on tap. I on the other hand had a frosty cold Schlitz draft.

Atmosphere 2

Food 3

Beers 3

Overall 3

http://www.jaywalkersbar.com/index.php