Bluestem Kansas City
I had strongly suggested to a client that they choose Bluestem in Kansas City while treating out-of-town guests. I saw her today, and she said it wasn't good. No one liked their food, and who ordered fish had to send it back because it reeked. We're talking a $50 per person restaurant here (average including drinks).
I'm cross-posting from a review I just posted on Trip Advisor:
My wife and I have eaten at Bluestem half a dozen times thus far and each has been memorable and thoroughly satisfying. My perspective is that of a foodie who enjoys fine dining restaurants and high quality food.
Bluestem is one of only a handful of contemporary fine dining restaurants in the Kansas City area and I feel that this restaurant stands out among all the rest. In particular, I find the use of seasonal ingredients and sustainable seafood particularly enjoyable. We find their desserts to be particularly inventive and innovative. On top of all this, the menu changes often enough to make each trip feeling fresh and new. Their sommelier is also very good and consistently pairs excellent wines with every dish. Personally, I find that the vast majority of restaurants in Kansas City lack either a real identity or the willingness to use high quality ingredients in their food. That is definitely not the case with Bluestem. Almost all the dishes I have had there were excellent compositions of flavors and aesthetics.
In regards to price, it is expensive compared to most Kansas City restaurants, but that is to be expected. The thing to remember is that dining well in Kansas City as whole is not a costly affair. Invariably when I receive the bill at Bluestem I find myself thinking about what a meal like this would cost me in Chicago or New York or Paris. Comparatively speaking, I think you're getting a very fair price.
I also have to credit the owners with expanding the restaurant, which was badly needed, and opening their lounge area. The lounge offers cheaper fare and a very chill atmosphere for enjoying some post-work, pre-dinner or pre-night-out cocktails. The restaurant is owned by Colby and Megan Garrelts. Colby is the chef and Megan is the the dessert chef. The fact that this restaurant is chef-owned means that the chefs will have a vested interest in the dining experience of their customers and that is something you won't find at most restaurants.
In conclusion, I recommend this restaurant to anybody looking for a very good meal for a special occasion or if they enjoy fine dining. It's very hard to find better in the Kansas City region.
I made it back around to bluestem with a friend. We had 5-courses each.
The Spring Pea Soup and the Duck Confit pasta remain excellent. I think, along with the Wagyu Tartare (which I revisited on this occasion, is better than ever - with pickled giardiniera and that addictive olive caramel - and potato chips!) and Foie Gras au Torchon, two long-standing favorites, deserve the status of signature dishes at bluestem. I will note that ChefCAG has changed the pasta on the Duck Confit from strozzapreti to trenne. Trenne works much better - the shape more in tune with the pieces of duck confit. One note: there wasn't any panko (or very little, if any) or dehydrated orange rind this evening, which I missed, sorely.
I was really looking forward to my "Carbonara" pasta dish. I mean, [i]pasta alla carbonara[/i] is one of those lovely things that so simple, yet manages to grab you by the scruff. Unfortunately, someone had turned the mute button on the flavor in this dish. I was quite shocked. With the exception of the bits of Berkshire bacon, which added a tiny bit of salty-sweetness, the rest of it was disappointingly flavorless. I could see all the ingredients, but they failed to register. I did like the fact that I got to beat the egg into the dish, that added some creaminess. I also loved that the pasta was perfectly-cooked. I think a heap of Pecorino Romano and some coarsely ground black pepper would help un-mute this dish. It needed more salt and spice - the bacon didn't quite offer enough. Again, the pastas at bluestem remain my least favorite dishes.
The current Halibut composition screams Spain. Well, with the exception of the butter in the sauce (I think there's butter in that sauce). A few notes:
1. Loved the linguica sausage - how can you not like smoky, salty, sausage?
2. Fish was perfectly cooked. So were the mussel, the clam, and the baby squid.
3. The white beans were undercooked - they were gritty and hard. This was more than just a little annoying. I wanted to enjoy them. Had they been properly cooked, they would have contributed wonderfully to the composition.
4. If you like saffron, you will like the boulliabaise. I do not care for saffron, but its infusion here was very subtle, and I did not mind it one bit. It figured much more in the aroma than the flavor. It was quite lovely, actually.
5. Loved the large slab of rendered celery (it tasted like celery, but the slab was so big, I think it might have been fennel, though it did not taste like fennel nearly as much as it tasted like celery) beneath the fish. It soaked up the broth and did a lovely number with the other flavors in the dish. The celery was an unexpected highlight. Can I get a clarification on this ChefCAG?
The aged Piedmontese striploin seems more focused in composition and flavor than it was the last time I was in. The tomato confit was yanked back, allowing the wonderful flavor of the beef shine more. The striploin was *perfectly* cooked. Gorgeous presentation.
My Hen dish would have been an A++ dish had the chicken been properly cooked. First, let me say the plating was heartachingly gorgeous - it was almost glowing with color. The artichoke heart wedges were tender, the other root vegetables were nice and crisp. The chicken (breast?) topped a silky bed of greens napped (I really hate that word, but I can't come up with anything better at the moment) in a flavorful pistou. This was dish showcased Spring at its best; it was so simple, yet so flavorful. In thought and composition, it was very Chez Panisse to me. The chicken was overcooked. No two ways about that. It wasn't so bad that it warranted a re-order, but it was enough to make the eating experience significantly less enjoyable. I was very sad.
The wine director, Jeremy, was kind enough to pour my friend and me a tasting portion of a Spanish sparkling (*comp disclosure*), "Bigaro" - Moscato meets Brachetto d'Aqui. The tartness of the Moscato really helped temper the often syrupy sweet Brachetto d'Aqui, which I generally do not care for. Imagine macerating strawberries in Moscato. It paired perfectly with my dessert, the "Fried Ricotta Strawberry."
re: Fried Ricotta Strawberry: Not sure I can complain here. Loved all the flavors. The sponge cake was *perfect* - and I actually loved that they soaked up a bit of the sweet rhubarb consomme poured into the bowl table-side. The fried ricotta was great - it was crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. It gave this fancy dish a bit of a state fair twist. The one thing that was really distracting was the undercooked rice pudding. I don't think the composition needed the rice pudding at all. And, I'm not sure that rice pudding made sense in this composition - the wonderful thing about rice pudding is that it's creamy. But, after pouring consomme over it, it becomes diluted. Actually, the undercooked rice kinda ruined some bites for me. It was hard to isolate the pudding once the consomme was poured in, otherwise, I would have just moved it aside.
Wish I had a spoon and fork for this dessert.
My friend had the Textures of Carrot dessert, the same as I had on my last trip (see upthread). It was good. No changes.
In summary, this meal wasn't the strongest showing by bluestem in the now twenty-nine times I've been. However, it certainly will not deter me from returning. I do know that ChefCAG was not in the kitchen that evening, but I'm sure he would not want me to make excuses for his kitchen on his behalf. I look forward to seeing how the menu evolves as the seasons change; that's what makes bluestem, and Chef Garrelts' cooking exciting.
Oh - the amuse this evening was particularly lovely: a refreshing grape soda. Petits fours this time included papaya pates de fruits, citrus almonds, and a wonderful five spice truffle that delivered a nice hit of red peppercorn.
Photos of this meal can be seen on my Flickr account. [http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulterior...]
I had another solid meal at bluestem recently. Spring is here, and it's showing its colours on Chef Garrelts' menu.
Here's an excerpt from my write-up at
"I’m filing a complaint. Chef Colby Garrelts of bluestem is abusing his diners.
Witness: I was enjoying a magnificent spring pea soup (a little too much), poured around an airy quenelle of crème fraîche tableside at bluestem recently when my spoon hit bottom. I reached for the straw…. THERE’S NO STRAW!!
What did the chef expect me to do? Pick up the bowl and start licking?
Of course I didn’t lick the bowl. Who do you think I am?
There were too many people in the dining room.
I just had to find new and creative ways of using a spoon, like as a pavement stripper, scraping the enamel off of the china in order to get every little drop of that velvety, naturally-sweet soup. The truly wonderful thing about that soup: it was simply green peas pureed with stock with some salt and pepper. No butter. No cream (except for the crème fraîche added at the last minute). I also found myself bobbing for those crunchy crumbles of garlicky croutons.
As good as that sweet pea soup was, the headliner of my meal was, surprisingly, the Strozzapreti with Duck Confit. I say that it was surprising only because the pasta courses at bluestem have never been my favorite (although I do remember a rather spectacular Gnocchi dish, with bay scallops and Sur-du-Lac Grana, that I had last year). bluestem’s pastas have never been bad, per se, I’ve just not enjoyed them as much as all the other amazing dishes Chef Garrelts produces. This dish changed all that.
The strozzapreti, or “priest chokers” (there are a number of explanations for the origin of the name), were nestled in a little bowl and served with a generous helping of duck confit - meat only - in a rich orange-infused sauce. It was topped with panko and dehydrated orange zest powder.
It was like duck à l’orange, but better. The dark confit meat, which was impossibly moist, stood up nicely against the full-bodied sauce, which struck a wonderful balance between sweet and savory, with just a hint of tartness from the citrus. Also, the slight (I do mean slight) bitterness in the dehydrated orange zest worked a nice edge into the otherwise rounded flavor. This pasta composition achieved a level of complexity that I have rarely encountered in past bluestem pasta dishes."
The pea soup and strozzapreti with duck confit were my two favorite dishes. But, there's also a wonderful fava bean salad worth mentioning. And, if you're a shill for scallops like I am, you shouldn't miss the current version, which is attended to by *perfectly-cooked* shrimp and Jonah crab under a cloud of Champagne foam.
I should also point out that the prices at bluestem have seen a recent increase. I believe the new schedule is 3-courses $60; 5-courses $70; 7-courses $80. I didn't pay attention to the 12-course "Spontaneous." Also, desserts, a la carte (in the wine lounge) are now $10.
*Semi-comp disclosure* - I ordered an additional course (the scallop) as a supplement. Somehow, it didn't quite make it on to my bill; the serve got an extra nice tip.
Oh, and Joe West (the erstwhile sous chef pastry) has officially left the house. He's now at Delaware Cafe, which will be opening it's doors later this month, I think. Best of luck.
I also took my wallet to dine at Bluestem. Once was all it took for me to never go back. The foods not worth the hipe. It lacks alot of balance, We had the tasting and went to Town Topic a few hours later. Just to pick up abit more filler. The second time I dined there my Scallops where brown on one side and about 75 degrees on the inside, and I like my scallops medium rare. I could go on and on but I won't. To each it's own I guess. Service is typical, layed back and slacked. I just treated like I do all the places I have dined at in Kansas City that were not worth it, packed up my money and vowed never to return. I just can't wait for the next hot spot to open so I can be seen there!
I was disappointed to hear it because it was good when I was there a while back, but I think a lot of places get kind of arrogant when they get popular. I will no go back, and will no longer recommend it, and I am in a business where I am asked for recommendations all time. Just today, I had yet another person tell me their last visit wasn't good. Sounds like Bluestem is on the way out.