Spring Dining

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I can’t say this spring has been one of my favorites. The cooler weather and seemingly endless rain has put a damper on my optimism for brighter days ahead. But, one thing that hasn’t waned is the spread of newly launched spring-themed menus across the metro. Revamped menus featuring lighter and more vegetable options are popping up like so many morel mushrooms. To give you a sample of what’s going on in area restaurant kitchens this spring, I stopped by three for a taste of the cuisine and a talk with the chef.

Let’s start with Jeremiah Lyman at The Reserve at The Ambassador, a spot I’ve adored for years. I was able to sample three new items from Lyman’s menu: Colorado Lamb Chops, the fish of the week, Barramudi in the case of our visit, and a stunning Insalata Caprese. “I chose Colorado lamb because it’s a regionally local product and it has a milder, subtler taste. We marinate it with red wine, oregano, and mint because they’re all spring elements,” Lyman told me. The chops are grilled and served over a homemade Tzatziki sauce and alongside house-baked garlic pita bread. I likened it to an upscale, open-face Gryo, but whatever you want to call it, don’t miss it as it’s one of the best, most creative lamb preparations I’ve had in recent memory.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t take a second to dote on the Insalata Caprese in which Lyman hand-pulls fresh Mozarella and combines it with locally-hydroponically grown cherry tomatoes and just the right combination of herbs to create a flavor explosion.

Lyman has been at The Reserve for six years, rising through the ranks to Executive Chef. He’s watched and participated as the cuisine at the hotel has steadily improved. Lyman takes pride and pleasure in developing and maintaining a scratch kitchen where he gets to put his personal mark on the menu. “When I first got here, barely anything was made from scratch. Now everything’s made from scratch. We buy a product that’s raw and we turn it into something amazing,” Lyman shared. “That’s my favorite thing about my job here, seeing the quality of the food reach this level and being a part of it all.”

Lyman is also a big part of a recent hotel expansion, which more than doubled the number of rooms, added a second kitchen, and is increasing diners and room service nightly. He loves it all and can’t wait for the next challenge. As a frequent diner, though not as frequent as I’d Iike, neither can I.

Ryan Spruhan has been around the Kansas City dining scene for a while now, cutting his teeth with James Beard award-winning chef Celena Tio first at The American, then at Tio’s independent restaurant, the late, great Julian in Brookside. After a stint as Executive Chef at the historic Elms Resort and Spa in Excelsior Springs, Spruhan is continuing his hotel career as Executive Chef of The Fontaine, which includes presiding over its fine dining restaurant, Parker.

Parker sits atop the hotel and affords diners and drinkers some wonderful views of Brush Creek and beyond. A “veteran” at The Fontaine for more than six months now, Spruhan has just inked his second menu, which consists of both Parker signature items and appetizers and entrees listed as “seasonal plates.” “I didn’t want to stray too far from Parker is and what we want it to be. So, we want to continue to identify that while at the same time capitalizing on the season and the ingredients it provides,” Spruhan said.

I focused on the seasonal plates during my recent visit, which proved a wise and delicious choice. The grilled asparagus with citrus, brown butter, and aged gouda was as good as it sounds. For entrees, I selected the Oscar Benedict, a beef ribeye served atop a spicy softshell crab and asparagus accompanied by tarragon butter and topped with a sunny-side farm fresh egg. The use of the softshell crab as the starch was a touch of genius as the dish was one of the better entrees I’ve had around town in a long time.  “I have this dish at a number of restaurants I’ve worked in a number of iterations. I’ve done it with fillets, but I’m not generally fond of fillets, so this is my substitute. If you want a good steak and you like fillets, then you’re going to like this dish,” Spruhan stated.

My wife’s grilled Pacific halibut with buttered English peas, salted radishes baby root vegetables, and “captured broth,” was equally satisfying-moist, loaded with flavor, and a textual delight with the crunchy al dente veggies.

I’m not sure what Sruhan has up his sleeve next, but I can’t wait to see. Oh, and I’ll be back for the Parker signature dishes next time.

I’m always up for a meal at Brady’s Public House. Chef/Owner Shaun Brady is one of the most talented chefs in the metro. Brady’s is known for amazing Irish/American specials, which they serve year-round, so they don’t change the menu as often as some other restaurants, but Brady tells me he loves running specials. “I like the ability to add specials depending on what we have coming in the door. I can have two or three specials every day depending on what we can get our hands on,” Brady shared. “I’m the kind of guy who when someone calls and says they only have so much, I say that I want it all. I’ll take a picture of it and share it with my chef friends in town and say, ‘look what I got.’ There’s always a nice little back and forth among the chefs in Kansas City.”

That said, Brady has added three great new items to his menu: a mushroom flatbread, a blackened salmon salad, and a chicken salad, Brady’s current favorite. “We take the chicken, brine it, then slow roast and mix it with sun-dried tomatoes, green onions, roasted red peppers, and served it with an olive oil lemon-basil dressing,” Brady said. Sounds great, and making it even better is the fact you can have it as a salad or a sandwich served on a house-made cheddar-green onion biscuit.

Spring has definitely sprung in Kansas City!

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