Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A Review of Justus Drugstore

January 6, 2010

I took a trip recently to Kansas City for a fun night and my choice for dinner was an easy one. We headed over to Smithville and dined at Justus Drugstore. It was opened a few years ago by Jonathan Justus and his wife Camille. He’s a big farm-to-table and eat-local guy. I watched a cook pour local Shatto milk straight from a glass jar into a sauce and was sold.

Though Smithville is a bit out of the way, this place is worth it. It’s in a building that use to be a drugstore operated by Jonathan’s family. It manages to have both a modern and antiquated feel to it at the same time. The bar area is where the old soda fountain used to be and some old fixtures remain to add to the ambience. It’s a bit loud, but cozy and enjoyable nonetheless.

We were lucky enough to have Jonathan’s wife Camille as our server and she was out of this world. She really knew her stuff and was fun to talk to. She seemed very genuine and even brought us seconds on the bread that she bakes in-house every day.

Now to the food. We started with an amuse-bouche of a sous vide Kobe beef croustade with a horseradish cream and unidentifiable but delicious green sauce. It was sliced thinly which helped mask the potentially mushy texture that sous-vide can produce, but was very tender and cooked a perfect medium-rare.

Next course we had salads, the first of which was a curly endive salad mustard vinaigrette, berkshire bacon ‘lardon’, breaded soft boiled egg, smoked trout roe, truffle oil. This is a “breakfast” salad with bacon and eggs. The breaded soft-boiled egg was amazing, with a golden fried exterior and a yolk that runneth over. Delicious and rich. The second salad was a goat cheese salad with Berkshire bacon wrapped local goat cheese, thyme, rosemary, white wine shallot vinaigrette, mixed greens, apple and brioche crostini. This was my favorite of the two. It was the lighter of the two, but the bacon wrapped goat cheese helped make it rich still. The vinaigrette was one of the best I’ve had, a perfect balance of sweet and tart.

The main courses were: pan seared bass filet, smoked tomato, Berkshire bacon, basil, lemon confit cream, bass/risotto cake, pea tendrils and his famous Berkshire Pork 2 ways with a grilled pork ribeye, braised pork shoulder, elderberry/Norton verjus/house sweet vermouth, cauliflower gratin, bok choy. To start with the bass, it was perfectly cooked and the risotto cake was really interesting. It was sauced well and had a nice touch of acid, which I particularly enjoy with fish dishes. I think the pork was the star though. When I first took a bite of the pork ribeye, I giggled. I’m not much of a giggler by nature, but I tasted that melt-in-your-mouth perfect pig with the Norton sauce and it was beyond words. The shoulder was also very good, but nothing compared to that ribeye.

I was stuffed, really stuffed. But with me being me, I got dessert anyway. We got the Crêpe Napoleon, which is a chocolate crêpe with pumpkin custard, Boulevard’s Bob’s 47 ice cream and pecan brittle. It was good enough, but came on a teeny-tiny little tea plate. I probably wouldn’t get dessert again because after the meal they brought out a nice warm mulled wine, which they make in house and is excellent.

8/10 – Not quite as good as Niche, but in my opinion a close second for best restaurant in Missouri.

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A Review of Taqueria Del Rodeo

November 19, 2009

This is the best Mexican place in town in my opinion.  Consider yourself disclaimed…

For those that aren’t “in the know,” Taqueria Del Rodeo (or Taco Rodeo if I’m in a funny mood) is located in the small strip mall right by El Maguey on Nifong.  It was started by a person who worked at El Maguey for several years, all the while saving and dreaming of doing it better.

I’ll be honest if not a bit politically incorrect: the reason I visited Taco Rodeo for the first time is because I consistently saw several Mexican construction workers eating lunch there, not at El Maguey.  That clued me in that there must be something good happening in there, and I wanted to check it out.

This place is small, really small. Tight quarters and kind of loud. Service is decent, they seem to operate in an effective tag-team waiter fashion. And it’s almost always busy at lunch, moderately low-key for dinner.  Cleanliness is about on par for a typical Mexican restaurant.

For the food, their chips and salsa are just ok and yes, they do the pointless beans and rice side dish with almost everything. BUT, they have REAL MEXICAN COCA-COLA MADE WITH REAL SUGAR.  All caps because it’s exciting to me and I order one every time I go.  It’s in a bottle, made with real sugar, and absolutely screams 1987.  They have decently priced lunch specials every day and I’ve tried something new almost every time I’ve been. Their taquitos are phenomenal, perfectly seasoned and fried. Their tacos have WAY too much cilantro, but the meat is cooked well and it feels like the simple, tasty Mexican street food I crave.  Their grilled chicken and steak dishes are also cooked and seasoned perfectly.  Ironically both the best and worst mole dishes I’ve had have been there too.  The only mis-step I’ve experienced was a mole that was oddly sweet, really sweet.  But, I’ve had mole dishes several other times that were home runs.  I wouldn’t steer away from it for sure.

7/10 – – Always satisfying and while not the best Mexican food I’ve had (that would be Frontera Grill in Chicago) it’s the best we have in town.

A review of Tin Can Tavern & Grille

November 8, 2009

I checked out Tin Can Tavern before the Baylor vs. MU horror show on Saturday.  I had heard good things going into it but this was my first visit. The atmosphere is interesting, definitely fitting of the name “Tin Can Tavern.”  I didn’t check out every nook and cranny, but it has a bit of a sports bar feel to go with that “Cheers” sort of atmosphere.  I was mostly looking for a large TV to plant myself in front of, which I quickly found.

On to the food!  Their menu is simple enough; there’s nothing on it that you’d look at and think, “Wow that sounds impressive/intriguing.”  It looks a step above bar food from a menu-only perspective, and has a ring of classic diner to it.  I ordered the meatloaf sandwich and fries, my friend had the grilled chicken with bacon and macaroni and cheese.  The food came quickly after ordering and the plating was simple.  I think one word would accurately sum up the taste: awesome.  The meatloaf sandwich was outstanding and I’m anxious to try the meatloaf dinner.  I’ll say up front that I’m a fan of meatloaf, however my friend is not.  He was surprised that he really liked Tin Can’s version though.  It was lighter in texture than what I’m used to, but stayed together well.  It was well-seasoned, moist and had the delicious ketchup and brown sugar glaze on it. It was served between slices of perfectly buttered and grilled bread, and it was one of the most satisfying sandwiches I’ve had. The fries appear to be made in house, cut McDonald’s size on a mandoline, blanched in hot oil and then fried crispy. They’re sprinkled with what I think is Old Bay Seasoning, and they were fantastic.

My friend is a bit of a grilled chicken connoisseur , he orders it often. His final take on it: one of the best he’s had.  Cheese and bacon made it even better.  And the mac and cheese?  It’s homemade, period.  It tastes almost exactly like my friend’s mom’s homemade mac and cheese.  It was delicious and I’m excited to have it again.  Maybe paired with the meatloaf dinner or the breaded and cooked to order buttermilk chicken I keep hearing about.

Tin Can Tavern and Grille does simple food, but they do it really really well. So many restaurants are caught up with making things sound and look good, but they forget about making things taste good. Tin Can doesn’t, pure and simple.

9/10 – I can’t wait to go again.

A review of Grand Cru

October 17, 2009

I’ve always felt it to be unfair to completely write off a restaurant after giving it only 1 chance.  I can see the argument I suppose.  After all, people from out of town staying in the Stoney Creek Inn may only be in town this once and wander over to have a bite.  Good restaurants don’t have bad days; they should be “on” all of the time.  Like I said, I can see the argument on both sides.   However, having worked in the business I guess I’m more sympathetic.

Unfortunately, more often than not this philosophy just means that I get burned not once but twice.  I had high hopes for Grand Cru when it opened.  Their location was prime, their atmosphere intriguing and their menu innovative.  I’ve now dined and been disappointed twice; I’ll lump both reviews into 1 giant complaint session here.

Both times I’ve gone, the dining room was basically empty, save for the table next to where I was sitting.  A whole dining room full of empty tables and they sit the only 2 couples RIGHT next to each other.  I’ll never understand that, it’s incredibly annoying.  The live music was terrible, simply put.  A 1-man band singing tired Barry Manilow and Dave Mathews songs blared at full-on volume level 11, singing his heart out not 5 feet from his 4-person audience. Amazingly, requests to turn down the volume were relayed and ignored.

The service was slow and uninspired both times.  It didn’t send the message that we were the server’s only table, it sent the message that we were their ONLY table.  They were pissed that it was empty as it was and I don’t know that I blame them.  However, it was obvious how they felt.  Everything seemed to be in slow motion, from water to wine to food.

Speaking of the food,  I mentioned earlier that when they first opened I thought their menu to be innovative and thoughtful.  After eating there twice I now see things differently.  They’ve worked hard to make the menu sound impressive but upon further review, it’s obvious that it really only sounds impressive. Take their “house signature” appetizer “Poblano pepper stuffed with a duck confit and gruyere cheese blend, tempura fried and topped with our sriracha and gruyere sauce.”  This thing is a train wreck if I’ve ever seen one.  French cheese and duck confit, a Mexican pepper and Asian chili sauce and tempura batter.  Each of the individual ingredients is a big flavor and when they’re all put together it’s a 40-car pile up.  Especially if this bastardized version of a bad chili relleno is under-cooked and soggy.  It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen on a plate.

My steak was over-cooked, the date’s chicken was somehow incredibly over-cooked and yet cold at the same time.  It tasted vaguely as I imagine chewing on rubber bands would taste and feel in my mouth.  I imagine they felt very vogue when serving steamed broccolini, except that it was over-cooked, boiled and and sitting in a large pool of its own cooking water.  Lovely.

On top of this the whole meal was incredibly overpriced.  I did my good duty, gave it 2 chances to impress and left disappointed.

3/10…it was edible.

Murry’s: Still as good as ever

October 7, 2009

Murry’s is such a cornerstone in Columbia that I think we take it for granted at times.  They are the best at what makes a great restaurant, consistency.  Their menu almost never changes, the same for their prices and at least as importantly, the owners are almost always in the house.  For more than 20 years they’ve been in the kitchen making sure that the products that leave it are up to their standards.  From a diner’s perspective, this a huge but generally unrecognized advantage.  More on that later.

Lunch at Murry’s offers any number of options.  Their cheeseburger is made from local Sho-Me Farms beef and is one of the best burgers in town.  Their fries are very obviously made from fresh potatoes and cooked to order.  They leave a little to be desired in their lack of crispness, but there’s something about that soggy homemade fry texture that is appealing.   Another great lunch option is their steak sandwich, because it’s not really at all what you think.  Order it and presented to you will be a K.C. strip on top of 2 slices of toasted bread.  Essentially for less than $8 you get a steak, and a decent sized one at that.  Does it compare to CC’s City Broiler?  No, but I don’t think that’s the point.  It’s a good enough cut of beef and cooked correctly, and the price is unbeatable.

For me, dinner means indulgence and that means appetizers and dessert.  My 2 favorite apps are the fried eggplant and the green pepper rings.  The eggplant is a julienne-cut, almost like large fries which isn’t typical for eggplant.  Topped with parmesan cheese and their peppercorn dressing (similar to ranch) this is a great appetizer to share.  As I get older though, I gravitate more and more to the green pepper rings.  I’ll be the first to admit that they sound weird!  Green peppers cut into large rings, battered and fried and topped with powdered sugar.  Powdered sugar?!  Yes, that’s not a typo.  An incredible combination of hot, crisp, tender, salty and sweet and God are they good.  At $4.25 these are a must.

I almost always order the chicken poblano for dinner and it has never once disappointed.  Somewhat spicy is the sauce, juicy is the chicken and melty is the cheese.  Cap that with some toasted buttered bread and a side of mashed potatoes and it’s still one of the more satisfying restaurant meals that I’ve found.  Desserts are also a must at dinner time.  I’ve had their pastas as well which are simple but cooked correctly and flavorful.

Their desserts are made in-house, dirt cheap at $4 a pop and above all, utterly delicious.  Get something warm and chocolatey with vanilla ice cream.  There’s almost always something that fits that description on the menu, but you may have to ask them to decode some of their more cryptic dessert names to find it.

The service is rarely great but rarely bad at the same time.  I find that often times I’m not exactly sure who my server is, they seem to operate in a team environment.  They’re knowledgeable about the dishes and beers on tap, and usually fairly efficient.  That’s really all I feel we can ask for in this type of restaurant.

As far the environment goes, it’s an eclectic mix of MU coaches, local politicians, the poor, the wealthy, the liberal and the conservative.  A virtual who’s-who of all classes, it’s a place to see and be seen. There’s often a piano player entertaining with live jazz piano, and a band plays every Saturday night.  It’s also almost always busy.  Expect to wait 45 minutes or more on a Thursday night, longer on weekends. But for this place, people will wait.  It’s rather expected it seems.  It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s cramped.  Maybe that’s part of it’s appeal.

In short, eat there; you’re doing yourself an injustice by depriving yourself of it if you don’t, and rewarding yourself if you do.

10/10 – – I’ve never been disappointed