end of an era…

40 Sardines
40 Sardines

Earlier today, I received the shocking news that 40 Sardines, the beloved and acclaimed restaurant opened by James Beard Award-winning chefs Debbie Gold and Michael Smith, closed its doors.

I was in such denial that I drove all the way down to 119th & Roe in Overland Park to confirm this report; all the time sure that I would find a brimming parking lot, as usual.

To my great disappointment, the parking lot was empty. The restaurant was dark.

Chef Smith left the joint venture in late 2006 to open his own restaurant, Michael Smith, which debuted July, 2007. Chef Gold stayed and took full control of 40 Sardines. Although the restaurant went through an apparently rocky transition period, my most recent visits and reports from trusted sources seemed to suggest that things had begun to re-stabilize.

Wine Dinner Setting
40 Sardines
Table settings.

Indeed, toward the end of last year, the menu read better than ever, with compelling new dishes. Execution also seemed more polished; presentations tidied, flavors aligned. There was a facile, carefree feel to the cooking that indicated Chef Gold’s kitchen had all but turned the ship around.

Even service, the restaurant’s long-standing weakness, in my experience, improved. At my last meal, the gentleman who took care of my friend and me was attentive and helpful in an non-intrusive, intuitive way. He made me look forward to my next visit.

I’m still hoping that this news is a mistake and that what I witnessed on my drive-by was just an unhappy coincidence. Perhaps, the staff had closed down the restaurant to cook at a special event off-site?

Lemon Meringue
Debbie Gold’s fantastic
Lemon Meringue Pie

If the worst is true, then I, for one, am greatly saddened by the closing of 40 Sardines. I will forever remember the special meals I’ve shared with good friends and family there over the past years.

I can’t say that I enjoyed every dish or every dinner with the same amount of enthusiastic relish. But, I will forever remember 40 Sardines as a trailblazer on the Kansas City restaurant scene – the first restaurant of its kind in our city, breaking all expectations and redefining the local understanding and approach to fine dining. It was the first to offer a thoughtful artisanal cheese plate and the first to offer a multi-course chef’s tasting, nightly. Thanks to Ryan Sciara (now owner of The Cellar Rat), 40 Sardines was the first restaurant in the city to assemble a serious wine list that was both affordable and truly approachable; the “20 wines @ 20 dollars” section was revolutionary.

And, to end this on a sweet note, I’ll never forget Debbie Gold’s famous Lemon Meringue Pie, a dessert that I’m not sure I’ll ever quite recover from.

I wish Chef Gold and her crew the best of luck. I sincerely hope this is not the last that Kansas City will see of her; she has far too much talent not to re-emerge. I look forward to hearing about and experiencing her next endeavor.

~ by ulterior epicure on March 27, 2008.

One Response to “end of an era…”

  1. I read that they were closed for “remodeling”. Any word on which is correct?

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