review: potential realized…

3rd Course: Wagyu Tartare I haven’t done a formal restaurant review in a long time.  Here’s one of my now-favorite restraurants re-reviewed.  bluestem (at least 10 visits)  Since my first visit to bluestem in May of 2005, I have had the pleasure of returning many times – especially now that I’ve moved back to Kansas City. Nearly two years ago, I described […]


3rd Course: Wagyu Tartare

I haven’t done a formal restaurant review in a long time.  Here’s one of my now-favorite restraurants re-reviewed. 

(at least 10 visits) 

Since my first visit to bluestem in May of 2005, I have had the pleasure of returning many times – especially now that I’ve moved back to Kansas City.

Nearly two years ago, I described Colby and Megan’s Westport restaurant as a “great potential in the making.”  Well, I’m pleased to say that the restaurant has now really come into its own.  bluestem has weathered the infantile “haute cuisine” palate of Kansas City and has solidly established itself, deservedly, as the fine dining spot in the city.

bluestem’s success is not only apparent in the daily-packed house – but also in the equally busy wine bar which is always abuzz with casual diners. I’ve enjoyed a couple of simple, yet satisfying meals at the bar. 

The dining room menu has also evolved drastically over the past two years.  bluestem (dinner only, with brunch on Sunday) now offers a prix-fixe-only format.  You can choose three ($55), five ($65), seven ($75) or twelve-courses ($100) from seven different menu sections: Caviar, Crudos and Cold Appetizers, Pastas and Warm Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Fish, Meat, and Desserts. 

Over the course of a number of meals, I have come to appreciate the Garrelt’s craft.  I’ve especially admired them for their commitment to sustainable agriculture. Most, if not all, of their produce and meats are from purveyors the know and/or trust. 

Recently, I met up with some good foodie friends and enjoyed a 7-course meal.  To say that it was splendid is an understatement.

The amuse for the evening was a simple and refreshing shot of grapefruit juice with an apple-cinnamon foam.  It tasted just as it was described.  

2nd Course: Osetra & Blini

My favorite course, always, is caviar.  The evening started off with osetra caviar decadently spread on pillowy and textbook buttery blinis with creme fraiche and shots of vodka. Could there be a better opening volley? 

I wagged my tongue over a beautiful wagyu steak tartare that came with an “egg pastis” and a baby mache salad topped with creamy taleggio cheese. The meat was silky and tender – not stringy at all – and immensely clean and fresh, yet volume 13 on the flavor dial. It hardly needed the unctuous anise-tinged pastis sauce. I was so involved with my tartare that I barely noticed the kampachi crudo served in a V-shaped bowl to my two other friends. The slices of raw kampachi bedded with Marcona almonds, verjus-ginger gelee and were dressed Girotte cherry vinaigrette.

Foie gras, always au torchon, was better than ever – the consistency and temperature was just right – cool enough to stand on its own, but soft enough to spread.  The flavor was clean while satisfyingly “liver-y.”  In this most recent incarnation, the foie gras was accompanied by pomegranate seeds and melted leeks, an unsual combination of savory and tart-sweet that worked well together.

Pastas have always been lusty and full-flavored at bluestem. This time, one of my friends and I enjoyed plump and succulent escargot with sadly under-cooked fidua, (my only gripe of the evening).  The others enjoyed what we collectively decided was probably one of the strongest courses of the evening – silky taccozette pasta mixed with shredded oxtail meat. 

The “oyster stew” was a challenging presentation: two fat East coast oysters in a shallow bowl with fried potato rounds, salty salmon roe, and braised leeks.  The server poured a warm creamy celery root puree into the bowl, tableside.  Together, the effect was a most elegant seafood chowder.  What I loved about this course was that the soup warmed the oysters without cooking them – accentuating both the flavor and the satiny texture of the plump puppies.

7th Course: Ahi Tuna

Dark red cuts of seared ahi tuna on a beds of winter vegetable ragout and rock shrimp greeted two of my friends.  A verjus broth was poured around the fish.  This was a very clean and simple dish that really showcased the freshness of the tuna.  Meanwhile, my other friend and I enjoyed a fat caramelized scallop sided by chanterelle mushrooms, cauliflower and braised bacon. This was gutsy presentation of scallops. I’ve noticed bluestem tends to pair smoky and strong peppery flavors with their shellfish (I’m a sucker for scallops). Yet, somehow, the strong smoky bacon and the pungent cruciferousness of the cauliflower managed to compliment and not overwhelm the natural sweetness of the shellfish.  Bonus!

For meats, the chef came out personally and shaved fresh Perigord truffles over cuts of medium-rare wagyu and Axis venison loin.  I can’t decide which one I liked better. While I loved the venison for its clean and slightly grassy taste, I have to admit being rendered speechless, again, by the indescribably flavorful wagyu. How could I forget how wonderfully “beefy” wagyu is when it’s grilled? The most amazing part is that the cuts of wagyu that bluestem serves never taste fatty at all… but I that much flavor couldn’t come from meat alone! This eleventh-hour wagyu campaign was enough to edge this dish into my *Best Dishes of 2006* list. 

Cheeses were all outstanding – my favorite was the cleverly named “Ewe-F-O” from
Cypress grove.  My companions all hated it, but I loved its full and funky flavor. 

After everything was cleared, coffees were poured and Megan began a shower of sweets. My “Trio of Chocolates” was good, but the least pleasing dessert for my taste preferences. I’m not a big mint-chocolate fan, so naturally, the mint-chocolate pot de creme didn’t jive with me as well.  If it weren’t for the ice cream, the “mint chocolate cookie” – mint chocolate ice cream sandwiched between dark chocolate cake crumbs – would have been equally unappealing. And, being a dark chocolate fan, the milk chocolate hot chocolate was way too sweet for me.

Thankfully, my favorite Brown Sugah Pumpkin Bread Pudding (Megan spells it with an “r,” but I think it deserves more sass!), which made my *Just Desserts 2006* list, made an encore appearance at this meal – and my friend was willing to share – actually trade for chocolate.  Slightly browned globes of meringue clinged to a spoonable spiced pumpkin bread pudding with Ceylon tea ice cream that, alone, could set me for the evening.

I also had to do my best to keep my spoon off of my friend’s Semolina Pistachio-Cranberry Cake with pistachio ice cream. I loved the texture of the cake – grainy and hefty while still retaining amazing amount of moisture.  Maybe the cranberries (and butter) helped?  Who cares.  The pistachio ice cream probably didn’t hurt either.

After desserts were cleared, a bevy of petite fours arrived on a tiered tray – pomegranate truffles, small squares of cherry chocolate cake, and fudge.  After porking my way through those beauties, Megan arrived with her famous night cap – a champagne float – the same one that I enjoyed on my very first visit. Fizzy. Simple. Classy.

Chef Garrelts and I have joked over emails how far our relationship as chef and diner has come since our first few heated emails following my first review. More recently our correspondences have been full of praise and more meaningful and agreeable discussions about food and the restaurant industry. 

Yet despite our developed friendship, I have and will not hesitate to voice disappointment on the few occasions when it has been warrented. He got an earful when a particular server was less than attentive (forgot an entire course), and he was flatly told when on one visit, my scallops were overcooked and served cold – and yes, he was made aware that my fidua was ridiculously al dente on this latest meal.  

The Garreltses, together with their indispensible Chef de Cuisine, David Crum, have really honed their skills and artistry over the past two years.  I’m happy to say that bluestem is potential realized.  I congratulate them and the restaurant’s staff for all their many achievements and accolades, which I truly believe are well deserved.  I especially congratulate them on their recent four-star review in KC Magazine.  I’m glad someone out there is paying attention.    

Keep it up, bluestem.  I look forward to my next visit!

bluestem *****
900 Westport Road
Kansas City, Missouri 64111

Rating Scale
– Miserable: What else do you want to know?

* Okay: Go there if you want edible food, you won’t die, but disappointment is possible.
** Decent: Average food. Nothing to write home about.
*** Good: Memorable. Quality food and service. Would measure up to most standards…
**** Outstanding: Charmed. A jewel of a find and hard to beat.
***** Excellent: Flawless. Seamless, ie. must be very finicky to find something wrong…
****** Speechless: ‘nough said.

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