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bluestem [KC]
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    Post #1 - March 19th, 2007, 2:19 pm
    Post #1 - March 19th, 2007, 2:19 pm Post #1 - March 19th, 2007, 2:19 pm
    We were there a few weeks back with our boys age 3 and 5. Stopped in for brunch at blustem a couple weeks ago and was very impressed.

    My wife got a Croque Madame, a ridiculously huge fried ham and cheese sandwich, topped with Mornay sauce and a fried egg. A terrific cholesterol-bomb of a sandwich, complemented by some pretty tasty frites. I don’t understand how someone could actually eat this entire plate of food. I was full just watching her eat half of it. Really a delicious sandwich, though.

    I ordered conservatively, the bluestem breakfast. My first choice was the mussels (Anthony Bourdain be damned, ordering mussels for Sunday brunch), but they were out. My first choice actually would have been a scallop dish much-lauded on eGullet, but for a scallop allergy. So I settled on scrambled eggs, ham, corn muffin, and sausage gravy. This was an excellently prepared breakfast also, not quite on par with my first breakfast at RJ’s (which I haven't posted on yet, but damn it was a standard bearer) but very well done all the same.

    Bluestem is not necessarily the kind of place I’d go for a comfort food breakfast, but it’s admirable that the kitchen treats the old breakfast stand-bys with such respect.

    My friend Ramiro got fried rock shrimp, which was a nice surprise for a brunch menu. Also served with frites. Very nice.

    The two boys though, scored the real coup, the French toast. Wow! This was some killer French toast. An inch+ thick (and dense) slice of brioche (“Texas toast”) that seemed soaked through like bread pudding. It was served with a killer blueberry sauce and a visually appealing egg-shaped dollop of whipped cream that actually stood somewhere on a continuum between ice cream and butter. Really terrific. I was glad we had kids in tow.

    My biggest surprise, however, was not the food quality, which I expected to be quite good. What I couldn’t believe, was that the place wasn’t full for brunch, with an overflow crowd waiting in the bar area. And this wasn’t some early meal…I think we got there between 12:30 and 1:00. All of Westport was D-E-A-D dead. Are all the brunchers at a First Watch in Johnson County? WHERE ARE ALL THE PEOPLE?

    Sorry, still adjusting to a somewhat different lifestyle. Yes, the prices are $3-4 more per person than First Watch, but for food executed this well, a unique environment, and supporting a one-off local establishment, I found bluestem an excellent brunch destination.

    900 Westport Road
    Kansas City, MO 64111
    Last edited by Aaron Deacon on March 19th, 2007, 7:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #2 - March 19th, 2007, 7:05 pm
    Post #2 - March 19th, 2007, 7:05 pm Post #2 - March 19th, 2007, 7:05 pm

    Great reviews so far. How about the usual address and phone listings usually found in most LTH reviews. Those of us who actually get down to KC every once in a while might want to check out these places based on your recs.


  • Post #3 - April 14th, 2007, 12:27 am
    Post #3 - April 14th, 2007, 12:27 am Post #3 - April 14th, 2007, 12:27 am
    Revisited bluestem's brunch on Easter.

    My wife's eggs Benedict (with ham not salmon) was absolutely terrific. I only got a couple bites, but perhaps the best I've ever eaten. I'm not usually a big eggs Benedict fan, so that's not saying much perhaps. Still...

    I ordered the merlusa escabeche...a fried than pickled fish dish (oddly, not entirely unlike this traditional Swedish herring preparation Bridgestone recently posted about. The fish was delicate and perfectly cooked. The dish in its entirety was a bit too dominated by the vinegar...I would have probably enjoyed it more as an appetizer portion. There was something sweet or nutty in their to balance the acidity, but I can't recall what it was and I thought it needed more. Still, quite enjoyable.

    The French toast was again terrific (though I preferred the blueberry to the nectarine). The pancakes had an unfamiliar taste to me, which wasn't so much to my liking. I couldn't quite place what it was.

    Service was friendly and efficient, the two young boys were treated well, and I still thoroughly enjoyed my brunch, even if not quite as impressive as the first time 'round. I believe they hiked all the prices a couple bucks too, hopefully just for the Easter menu, which is not unexpected.
  • Post #4 - April 3rd, 2008, 10:45 pm
    Post #4 - April 3rd, 2008, 10:45 pm Post #4 - April 3rd, 2008, 10:45 pm
    I had a terrific time in the lounge at bluestem tonight.

    I find it easy to believe this is the best nice restaurant in Kansas City by several orders of magnitude, though I admittedly haven't tried them all.

    I still haven't tried a full 7-course tasting menu yet, but finally had a chance to sit at the bar and sample the lounge menu this evening.

    Started with a nibble of cheese, the Drunken Goat, served with some toasted bread and caramelized shallots. A little unorthodox to start with cheese at a restaurant, but comfortable and we were hungry.

    Then ordered the parmesan truffle fries. It really speaks to the kitchen at a fine dining place when they can put out the best ham and eggs and the best fries in town. I didn't get much truffle flavor. Great on their own, also served with 5 different dips--a ketchup/Heinz 57 mix, horse radish-creme fraiche, aioli, spicy aioli, and spicy brown mustard.

    I had planned to order the duck confit, but it had another day to marinate, or something, so we both ordered, basically, a shrimp and grits entree--Spicy Shrimp Fricasee with Creamy Parmesan Grits. Shrimp were sweet and perfectly cooked, the grits were both creamy and gritty in a delightful way, and the spicy sauce made for a killer dish.

    The terrific bartender graciously poured us each a taste of a wine I'd never had, a Spanish grape called Godello (a Jorge Ordonez import called Viña Godeval) , which paired perfectly with the dish and is a recent arrival to the menu.

    Followed it up with two desserts, both a little disappointing.

    I liked the "Textures of Carrot Cake" the better of the two: "Sweet Mascarpone, Walnut Nougatine, Cinammon Emulsion, Carrot Ginger Sorbet"

    Still, I think I prefer actual carrot cake to deconstructed carrot cake, especially with the sort of casual meal we were having. I wasn't looking for an intellectual exercise, and I hate having to put all the flavors together myself. My wife found the sorbet a little to close to the baby food we currently serve our 7-month old.

    The "Rocky Road" Brownie (Nut Caramel, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Honey Bourbon Marshmallows) was more traditional, but too cloyingly sweet.

    Okay, here's the kicker though, all the above food, courtesy 1/2 price Happy Hour Tu-Th 5-7: $26. Seriously. I'm just astounded that this place isn't packed, even if it is a bit early for dinner.

    A ridiculous amount of very good food for the money.

    Of course, we upped our tab a bit with the cocktails (also a hell of a happy hour deal at $7 per). It's not $3 draws, but this place also happens to have the best bartender I've happened to encounter in Kansas City. I had a couple perfect Negronis (orange peel flamed in), Kate had a terrific house margarita and a Hendricks martini.

    The kicker...there was only one other couple in the lounge (aside from the Garrelts (chefs/owners) and their guests, also hanging out in the lounge) the whole time we were there. I don't understand that at all. It was a little cold and drizzly, and I know it's early, but still.

    Anyway, I really dig this place.

  • Post #5 - April 5th, 2008, 7:36 pm
    Post #5 - April 5th, 2008, 7:36 pm Post #5 - April 5th, 2008, 7:36 pm
    I really will have to try Bluestem the next time I am in KC. I never really wanted to when I actually lived there, because I assumed it would be another overpriced letdown, typical of Kansas City. Lately, though, I have been hearing a lot of good reports about this place, from here and at Egullet.
    Logan: Come on, everybody, wang chung tonight! What? Everybody, wang chung tonight! Wang chung, or I'll kick your ass!
  • Post #6 - April 6th, 2008, 5:36 am
    Post #6 - April 6th, 2008, 5:36 am Post #6 - April 6th, 2008, 5:36 am

    Thanks for the updated report. I'll be in KC later this month, and will very likely check our Bluestem. If I do, I'll post my thoughts here.

  • Post #7 - April 26th, 2008, 7:25 am
    Post #7 - April 26th, 2008, 7:25 am Post #7 - April 26th, 2008, 7:25 am
    With a tentative plan to meat Aaron in the bluestem lounge for a drink and possibly a bite to eat, I arrived a little early to find that a percussionist would be performing a 7PM show with a $15 cover charge. Maybe on another night, but this wasn't what I was in the mood for, so I took a table in the main dining room instead. Aaron managed to find me, and was able to participate in 2 of the 5 course menu I ordered. I enjoyed almost everything I had, and also liked the fact that just about everything on the menu contained local, seasonal ingredients.

    Course 1:
    English pea soup with lemon creme fraiche and thyme was pure pea flavor (spelling is really important in this case, huh) and a nice reminder that spring is here. I did have one problem with the dish - there were a number of large clusters of thyme leaves which overwhelmed the pea flavor. Maybe they were meant as inedible garnish, but if so I failed to recognize that and probably shouldn't have had to.

    Course 2:
    Papardelle carbonara was served with a whole local-farm egg yolk on top, ready to be mixed in with the truffled wine sauce and chunks of smoky berkshire bacon. Hearty and enjoyable, though I prefer the classic Italian use of guanciale or pancetta, which are cured rather than smoked pork products. The smokiness of this bacon was a little too much here.

    Course 3:
    Olive oil poached atlantic halibut, brasied (spelling taken from bluestem website) artichokes, fava beans, fennel, saffron. Saffron is mentioned at the end of this rather lengthy menu description as if it might be an afterthought, which could not be further from the truth. The saffron sauce was brightly colored and very intensely flavored. I liked it a lot. Maybe "brasied" is something other than a misspelling of "braised," because I would have guessed that these artichokes were oven roasted rather than cooked in any kind of liquid. They were darkly caramelized and somewhat crunchy. I was not disappointed in that preparation at all. The halibut itself was, imo, ever so slightly overcooked. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that it was a really tiny, thinly cut portion. It's got to be tough to get the timing exactly right for something cut that small, as there is very little margin for error.

    Course 4:
    Roast “kurobuta” porkloin, spring english peas, shallots, pink peppercorn. This was the only dish that I flat out did not like. The pork must have been brined for a long time in a salty, acidic mixture, as the texture was more spam-like than it should have been, imo. It tasted a little like a Polish sausage to me. Maybe I could have enjoyed it if I had different expectations (along with some mustard, sauerkraut, and a bun)

    Course 5
    a very nice carrot cake with some sort of ginger emulsion on the side. The cake was moist and flavorful, and I liked the emulsion a lot.

    Bluestem is a really comfortable place with good food and friendly people. If I find myself there again, I'll probably stay in the lounge to order off the more limited menu, and skip the rather expensive tasting menu. It was really great to meet the legendary Mr. Deacon, who made for better dinner company than Michael Pollan's In Defense of Foodwould have had Aaron not joined me.
  • Post #8 - April 28th, 2008, 9:14 pm
    Post #8 - April 28th, 2008, 9:14 pm Post #8 - April 28th, 2008, 9:14 pm
    The pleasure was all mine, fraternization with fellow LTHers has been in precipitous decline since leaving Chicago.

    It was a pleasure to see bluestem's tasting service menu in action as well, even if I was only able to partake of a couple courses.

    I got the same soup as Kenny, and mine matched his description, though I was spared the unwieldy chunks of thyme.

    My second course was "strozzapreti, duck confit, orange, carrot, rutabaga, veal jus," basically homemaded past with sauce and a bit of meat. That may sound crude, but when I looked back at the menu just now, I had no recollection of the last four ingredients. Which isn't to say it wasn't good--a nice hand with the pasta especially--but the combination of flavors wasn't as clear on the palate as on paper.

    One thing that surprised me a little about the dishes this time around was how conventional they seemed. I like conventional dishes, but the impression I'd always had previously was that they were a little more avant-garde in their tasting menus. That's not meant as a criticism. I certainly enjoyed (usually vicarious) the new fine dining in Chicago, but that's not necessarily required (or even preferred) in my nicer meals out.

    Kenny remarked, astutely I thought, that the cooking seemed more French in style, with a bit of a contemporary twist. I think this is a fair assessment. Given the dinner prices, I was somewhat less enthused about my eventual return trip. The food is good, to be sure, but I'm not convinced I'll think dinner at bluestem is great. Again, take it with a grain of salt, since I've still never sat through the tasting menu.

    I'll hold out hope for a knockout dinner, but even if that doesn't materialize, I'm still a huge fan of what they do well. The comfortable lounge menu and killer brunch are comfort food writ somewhat upscale. The space is great, the staff friendly, the cocktails are stellar, and the price is right.

    Oh. I also went last Tuesday, met a Chowhounder and an eGulleteer (the latter by fortune) during happy hour. Four of us ate dinner for about $16. No joke. Freaking ridiculous. Among the offerings I haven't posted on above.

    A heaping pile of La Quercia meats. Seriously, this was three big piles of meat, one prosciutto, one spicy prosciutto, and one "pancetta" that looked more like lardo it had so much silky white fat. I hadn't tried La Quercia, but these were all absolutely terrific. ($6 happy hour)

    The smoked salmon, chopped finely for easy dipping, served with creme fraiche, chopped egg, capers ($3 hh) was also a terrific and generous plate.

    A huge basked of the parmesan truffle frites ($2.50 hh) and a nice portion of Wagyu beef tartare topped with a raw egg ($4 hh) rounded out our "meal." Maybe not the most balanced meal, but easily enough food for all of us.

  • Post #9 - May 13th, 2008, 8:18 pm
    Post #9 - May 13th, 2008, 8:18 pm Post #9 - May 13th, 2008, 8:18 pm
    Great reports, KennyZ and Aaron Deacon.

    I've posted a review of my latest meal at bluestem on my blog, the ulterior epicure.

    Thankfully, I didn't get the patches of thyme that KennyZ got; my soup was darned near perfect.

    I know that Aaron and I differ in opinions on the strozzapreti. I do agree that the noodles and duck confit were somewhat mis-matched in shape. But, after a couple of bites, I just cut the noodles in half, which helped move me beyond the awkward eating and onto enjoying the flavors and textures of the dish. Unlike you, however, I did find that the flavor of the veal jus, coupled with the other elements - orange in the supporting role - was a rather complex and well-played.

    As to Aaron's observations regarding bluestem's tendency toward "avant garde," I would agree as far as to observe that Chef Garrelts does seem to work beyond the box, compared to our local taste and preferences. At bluestem, you will experience flavors, ingredients, and preparations rarely encountered in our city. There's a higher level of thinking that makes bluestem so special and rewarding to me. But, I don't necessarily think that being avant-garde is mutually exclusive of good "conventional" food. I suppose, compared with some of Chef Garrelts' more daring cuisine, pea soup doesn't seem so revolutionary. But, very good pea soup is still very good. In fact, I found that course absolutely thrilling. The duck confit, as well, I thought, was a clever variation on the classic duck a l'orange.

    As I stated in my blog post, the striploin dish didn't present the most convincing combination of flavors, though the striploin itself was wonderful. The tuna dish was my least favorite. It was superbly executed, but I found the "egg drop soup" sauce a bit clumsy; heavy on the sweet and the soy.
    “Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”
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  • Post #10 - July 29th, 2009, 10:32 pm
    Post #10 - July 29th, 2009, 10:32 pm Post #10 - July 29th, 2009, 10:32 pm
    As part of a culinary outing in KC, I had a dinner at bluestem last weekend. Our meal was excellent. Ingredients were of superior quality, the manner in which they were combined was innovative and risky (and mostly successful), and the technique was deft and precise. I can't say that it exceeded my expecations because -- based on what I already knew about chef Garrelts before our meal -- they were pretty high, but the experience was completely in line with them.

    bluestem is located at 900 Westport Rd. in Kansas City, MO

    Amuse of Compressed Watermelon with Crum's cherry tomatoes and Murray River flake salt
    Great components throughout but the fennel blossom and stem were, in my mind, the signature elements of this dish, flavor-wise. They delivered a distinctive, aromatic note.

    Bay Scallop with Crum's heirloom beets, prairie birthday arugula and coriander-champagne vinaigrette
    This was the one combination that didn't work for me, for a couple of reasons. Even though I enjoyed the bay scallops and the beets individually, I personally couldn't appreciate their flavors together. The combo was more discordant for me than complementary. Also, even though the onion element on this plate was relatively small, it was a bit overwhelming.

    Chilled Tomato Gazpacho with cucumber, onion and white gazpacho emulsion
    The inner workings . . .

    Chilled Tomato Gazpacho with cucumber, onion and white gazpacho emulsion
    Gazpacho being decanted at the table. In addition to the ingredients listed above, there were also bits of toasted nuts (almond?) and grapes in this explosively-flavored, yet balanced dish. This may have been my favorite dish of the night because the chef's manipulation took me to a totally new place. It was still gazpacho but I was tasting it in a way that I never had before. The elements were distinctive individually but came together as gazpacho with every spoonful.

    Walu with Rancho Gordo vaquero beans, artichokes, lemon-verbena broth and botarga
    This shot was taken right before the broth was added at the table. A great dish, with immaculately cooked fish and a sensational broth, which provided an acidic counterpoint to the fish's fattiness. The firm but creamy vaquero beans added a wonderful textural element.

    Piedmontese Beef with rapini, white asparagus, wild local chanterelles and La Quercia coppa
    This dish was sauced at the table. It was very flavorful and minerally, and something on the plate -- either the white asparagus or the (potato?) puree beneath the beef -- carried a subtle hint of truffle.

    Sous Vide Peaches with oatmeal streusel cake, cream fraiche, ginger gelee, caramel-peach foam and gingersnap wafer
    Here, the cake, the peaches and the wafer were all delicious without being overly sweet but I had trouble picking up the flavor notes in the foam. Still, I'd count this dish as a success.

    Chef Colby Garrelts
    After dessert, chef Garrelts came out to the dining room and said hello to the group.

    Petit Fours
    Not sure exactly what these were because I was away from the table when they were served but I think they were shortbread, passionfruit gelee and a very buttery-licious sandwich cookie. As full as I was, I really enjoyed these mini sweets.

    This was a distinctive, memorable and enjoyable meal and one that I'm so happy to have finally experienced. Nearly every chef I talk to in Chicago has nothing but positive things to say about chef Garrelts. It's clear to me that those who've worked with him like and respect him immensely. Those who haven't tell me they would love to experience eating at bluestem. After this meal, I would certainly recommend it . . . and you can definitely count me as a fan.

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  • Post #11 - September 27th, 2010, 9:50 am
    Post #11 - September 27th, 2010, 9:50 am Post #11 - September 27th, 2010, 9:50 am
    We've been into the happy hour on a weekly basis. This is a lounge with some solid eats! The tar tar, chopped salmon and cured meats are great. Heirloom tomato salad also tasty but now out of season. If still hungry, try the cheese mac thing and you'll be done. Avoid starting with it as won't want anything else. Have tried about 2/3 of the menu and need to go for the rest. Drinks a good deal too.

    We usually leave surprised by the relatively low bill. When eating somewhere else that is subpar for $50, we regret not going to bluestem.