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Krause Dining, Lawrence, Kansas

Krause Dining, Lawrence, Kansas
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  • Krause Dining, Lawrence, Kansas

    Post #1 - September 11th, 2007, 10:35 am
    Post #1 - September 11th, 2007, 10:35 am Post #1 - September 11th, 2007, 10:35 am
    I had dinner last Thursday night at Krause Dining in Lawrence, Kansas, which has been mentioned once or twice on this board. Some of you may remember Krause Dining was at the center of a heated zoning debate in Lawrence: the husband-wife team of Robert and Molly Krause wanted to serve a single-seating, prix fixe menu out of their home in East Lawrence. They got in some hot water with the zoning commission, and consequently opened a restaurant downtown that never quite fulfilled their vision. So they fought for and eventually won the zoning variance they needed—but not until going to great expense, including purchasing and renovating the house next door to satisfy one disgruntled neighbor—to serve again from their home. This is where they currently operate, and where I enjoyed a 6-course meal with wine pairings last week.

    First, the food. Unfortunately, my camera broke just days before my visit, so I have no visuals to offer. And I’ll admit I had to check my Chicago expectations at the door, because the meal certainly didn’t compare to recent experiences at Alinea or Schwa. But this isn’t Chicago, and the Krauses are doing something pretty renegade for the region.

    Our reservations were for 6:30, but when we arrived we were informed they didn’t generally seat until 7pm, so we should enjoy a cocktail on the patio or in the front room of the house. It was a hot and sticky night in Lawrence, so we opted for the air-conditioned lounge area, which we could only reach by walking right through the kitchen, where Robert stopped what he was doing to welcome us and chat for a few minutes.

    The lounge was basically the Krause’s living room, with a comfortable sofa and chairs, photos of their three children on the walls, a coffee table with magazines—you get the idea. Molly mentioned their special cocktail that evening featured cucumber-infused vodka and fresh lime: Outstanding. The drink was served in a gorgeous martini glass with heavy beveled base. The server came by with an amuse: crostini with plum, chanterelle mushroom, and pancetta. It was just a wee thing, but my friend and I agreed it was one of the highlights of the evening’s menu.

    Around 7pm we were guided into the dining room – an architectural showpiece of an addition, with glass on three sides and a metal corrugated roof. Despite a tilt toward postmodern affectation on the outside, the room was homey and comfortable inside, and we settled in for our six courses with very generous wine pairings.

    Course 1: Chilled cantaloupe soup w/ honeydew sorbet, creme fraiche, fried proscuitto, & almond oil. A cool and refreshing starter that was slightly more dessert than palate cleanser, but very nice.

    Course 2: Composed crab salad w/ tomato confit, micro peppercress, & yuzu-cucumber reduction. I found this dish delicious, but I’m a huge shellfish fan, especially late in the summer where just want something cool on the palate. I can’t say there was anything particularly noteworthy or inventive here, just a solid dish with wonderful flavors.

    Course 3: Fresh hearts of palm with pear, hazelnut, gorgonzola, and fireweed honey-quince vinegar-white balsamic vinaigrette. – Probably the weak link of the dinner. When my friend and I were trying to giddily recount our meal to her husband, this is the dish neither of us could remember.

    Course 4: Breast of squab with syrah risotto, red ribbon sorrel, and huckleberry compote. A lovely dish that arguably would have been lovelier in the chill of October rather than the high heat and humidity of early September. But a generous portion with nice depth of flavor.

    Course 5: Apple-celery granita with vanilla panna cotta, black Hawaiian salt, and sugar work. I’m not a dessert person, but this was the clear triumph of the meal. Seasonally appropriate and inventive—but not gimmicky—in its combination of cold and warm, savory and sweet. A delicately satisfying finish after the other courses. And we both agreed it could and should have been the finish, with perhaps a smaller red-meat dish beforehand, rather than a second, somewhat bulky dessert to follow.

    Course 6: German chocolate cake with toasted coconut pastry cream, chocolate curls, silver and gold syrups. This dish was a disappointment. I felt we’d eased nicely out of the meal and now had to ramp up again for something pretty bombastic, with strong enough tastes to drown out the delicacy of the flavor of the previous dish.

    If I had any gripes, they’d be these: the sweet notes tended to overpower the menu as a whole. And I felt that a small morsel of reddish meat would have rounded out the dinner nicely (it seemed that one of the regulars agreed: He shouted playfully toward the kitchen, “Robert, where’s my pork?”). More seasonal attention would have been welcome as well, as the place is ripe for local sourcing – though we didn’t see any evidence on the menu.

    But in terms of the complete dining experience, with the welcoming and visually stunning space, the encouragement to linger and truly make oneself at home, the attentive but not cloying service, the well-conceived (though I wished slightly more informative) wine pairings, and the comparatively affordable price tag (just $165 each, including tax and a generous tip), it was a rare treat, and made up for several years of forgettable meals as a graduate student in Lawrence.

    For those interested only in the dining experience, feel free to disregard the rest of this tome. But for those with any interest in the sociological implications of the whole Krause zoning controversy, here are a few lay observations.

    The very presence of such an upscale restaurant in a part of town that’s known for affordable housing, working class residents, Haskell Indian Nations University (along with a sizable Native American population), and an activist pulse, has been the cause of a good deal of angst in the area. My dining companion confessed there were certain people she couldn’t even tell we’d be going to the restaurant, for fear of being labeled a traitor.

    There are some real and legitimate concerns about gentrification in the area, and an active neighborhood organization has accomplished a great deal to preserve affordable housing and a sense of place as the rest of Lawrence grows economically out of reach for sizable populations of the community.

    So Krause Dining has become something of a symbol and a dividing line: a symbol of new—and not altogether welcome--money and sensibilities coming into the area. And a dividing line between those who’d encourage economic investment, and those who’d see signs of investment as the slippery slope to gentrification.

    There’s something of a perception that the Krause’s bought their way into a zoning variance, and though I’ve heard much evidence to the contrary, it’s difficult not to notice the difference between the building they call home (and work), and the modest quality of the surrounding houses in the area (where many of my friends in Lawrence live) -- which is not to say East Lawrence hasn’t become a magnet for architectural experimentation. The neighborhood’s catty-wampus lot sizes and street wall orientations have led to some maverick new construction, but far more common is somewhat deteriorating housing stock that stands in direct juxtaposition against Krause Dining’s architectural boldness.

    I think, for me, as a person deeply committed to social justice issues, particularly those around affordable housing, it comes down to one question: is the new business (or resident) a good neighbor? Is it interested in integrating with the existing fabric of the neighborhood, or in colonizing an area to its own ends? In this case, and from fairly limited exposure, I’d argue that the signs are looking good.

    The Krauses have shown a deep commitment to becoming part of the surrounding community. They send their children to the local public school, which is easily the most racially and socio-economically diverse elementary school in the city. They also recently instituted a “community dinner,” with a price of just $30 a head, with the express purpose of drawing nearby residents to the table. And they frequently donate food to social justice fundraisers in the area.

    All in all, I find myself excited by what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. They seem self-reflective about what and how they ‘mean’ in an area that’s been typically marked by disinvestment but also a very strong sense of community. During my meal as I enjoyed it, and in the things I’ve gleaned since leaving, I find myself rooting for the Krauses and their provocative culinary experiment.

    Next time folks are taking a junket to Kansas City, I encourage a detour to Lawrence for Krause. I’d be interested to hear what others have to say.
  • Post #2 - September 11th, 2007, 10:19 pm
    Post #2 - September 11th, 2007, 10:19 pm Post #2 - September 11th, 2007, 10:19 pm
    Great report, ChristyP. Thanks!
  • Post #3 - September 12th, 2007, 5:51 am
    Post #3 - September 12th, 2007, 5:51 am Post #3 - September 12th, 2007, 5:51 am
    I grew up in Lawrence and look forward to going back again. Since my parents live just outside of Kansas City, I can make it one time.

    Maybe we can have a LTH dinner there with the KC contingent.

    Raw meat should NOT have an ingredients list!!
  • Post #4 - September 12th, 2007, 9:26 am
    Post #4 - September 12th, 2007, 9:26 am Post #4 - September 12th, 2007, 9:26 am
    Here's a link to some pictures of Krause, albeit a different menu.

    Incidentally, ulterior epicure has lots of stunning photos on that flickr, both of KC dining, and fine dining around the world. Great stuff.

    He also writes about stuff on his blog, and posts occasionally on Chowhound and eGullet.
  • Post #5 - September 29th, 2007, 8:56 am
    Post #5 - September 29th, 2007, 8:56 am Post #5 - September 29th, 2007, 8:56 am
    As Chrsity's dining companion, I'd like to add a few comments regarding the Krause zoning controversy.

    First of all, keeping my dinner at Krause's a secret from a couple of my friends had as much to do with economic guilt as it did my worries of being labeled a "traitor." Recent good fortune on the job front for both my husband and myself ennabled me to splurge on a dinner at Krause's. It was a decadent evening for me, one that most of my friends can't indulge in.

    As for the zoning controversy, one friend was on the forefront of the battle against the Krause's, but some context needs to be added. Recently, a developer built high-end condos ($450K+) in the neighborhood, and his promises of a park were fulfilled by inclusion of a manicured, landscaped corner of the parking lot. It was a deep insult that set the neighborhood against anything the smelled of gentrification. The Krause's zoning requests came amid further developer controversy of more expensive condos going in, as well as city-approved zoning for a four-lane street that would cut through the quiet, residential neighborhood. Residents were worried these changes would push out our lower-income neighbors, many of whom have been here for three and four generations. My friend is a tireless advocate for the underdog; she is also a gracious and accepting neighbor once the dust has cleared. There is no ill will on her part toward Molly & Robert Krause.

    As an active member of this community, I can attest to the value of Molly & Robert's work here. Molly spearheads an important fundraiser for our public school. Robert has been voted onto the board of the neighborhood association. They shop at the one locally owned grocery store in town, and their carpenter lives in our neighborhood. They made a generous donation of Molly's desserts to our neighborhood Martin Luther King Day celebration last year. Even though a dinner at Krause's is beyond the reach of most here in the neighborhood still, all of the residents I know attest that they are indeed good neighbors. We're happy to have them.

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at Krause's. The cucumber gimlet and the celery-infused granita w/ panna cotta were highlights; the german chocolate cake made me wish I could drop in to Krause's for dessert sometime after a lighter meal (it was sublime). I was completely charmed by the architecture; to be able to pass through the kitchen to see the Krauses at work was, for me, the best part of the experience. I look forward to visiting again, and I'll be sure to bring my husband with me next time.
  • Post #6 - September 29th, 2007, 8:36 pm
    Post #6 - September 29th, 2007, 8:36 pm Post #6 - September 29th, 2007, 8:36 pm
    Earlier this month, my wife and I got to visit this restaurant. It is a real gem in the "culinary wasteland". While it is not up to Joel
    Robuchon standards, it is really good, especially considering the price difference.
  • Post #7 - September 30th, 2007, 10:21 am
    Post #7 - September 30th, 2007, 10:21 am Post #7 - September 30th, 2007, 10:21 am
    Why is it necessary to compare someone cooking in a house in Lawrence to World Renowned places/chefs?
    I guess I don't get it. Can't you accept the atmoshere, food, and chef on their own terms rather than the inevitible comparisons?