Well, we made it through January, my least favorite month of the year. And now here’s February, equally dismal, but shorter and with a night in the middle that gives us the chance to celebrate with someone special. You can go the standard route: a sentimental card, a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, or you can do that AND treat your significant other to a terrific meal. But where to go? I thought I’d never ask. After some contemplation, conversations, and canvassing, I came up with these Kansas City-area options for great food served in an amorous environment.
Story by Dave Eckert
THE DINING EXPERIENCE AT THE KAUFFMAN CENTER
It’s hard to believe so many people are still unfamiliar with this wonderful restaurant inside The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Executive Chef Laura Comer and General Manager Phil Carey preside over something really special-a hidden gem. Not only is the cuisine local, seasonal, fresh, and outstanding under Comer’s direction, but the beverage program is equally excellent. Comer, a former art student and pastry chef, crafts her dishes as an artist approaches a canvass, and Carey follows suit with some of the most creative and delicious cocktails in the city along with a well-chosen wine list.
The room itself is minimalist, which puts the emphasis on the real star-the view! The restaurant is replete with a full wall of floor to ceiling windows providing diners glorious views.
“It’s quiet, intimate, and it’s still kind of hidden, so a lot of our diners keep it as their own private secret,” Comer shared on recent visit. “Plus, the fact that the room is so sleek and modern without a lot of decorations allows for the food to be the focus. It’s a blank slate- our artistic palette that we can play around with. I love that.”
Who wouldn’t love three delicious, beautiful, locally sourced courses for $37? It’s one of the best meals and values in town and the two don’t often go hand-in-hand. The Dining Experience at The Kauffman Center is open on most performance nights. You do not need tickets to the show to dine in the restaurant. They will be serving their regular Winter menu on Valentine’s Day, but Comer says she will be providing diners some of Sous Chef Selena Smith’s amazing chocolate truffles at the end of their meal as a special treat. I had one and they are indeed special.
KROKSTROM KLUBB & MARKET
The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but if you want authenticity, creativity, and damned fine food and drink, you need to head to Midtown’s Krokstrom Klubb & Market. At Krokstrom, Executive Chef and owner Katee Mclean and General Manager and owner Josh Rogers have created a unique experience in our fair city-a comfortable and quaint dining space where people can gather to sample authentic Scandinavian cuisine, wash it down with specialty cocktails and a host of Scandinavian beers, then purchase something special and uniquely crafted from the market to take home.
“Krokstrom is meant to evoke a feeling of family. We built the space to feel like you were visiting a lovedone’s home. Our menu is based on the traditional home cooking of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland,” Mclean shared. McLean says some of her favorite menu items are the juulestoplia, a Finnish bread cheese topped with cloudberry jam, shaved fennel, and radishes. and the smoked trout potato cakes-both starters, along with entrees such as Swedish meatballs and a 1970’s-inspired chicken casserole called the Flying Jakob.
For me, what makes Krokstrom romantic is more than the room. It’s also the pride and passion Mclean and Rogers put into the space every day. You can smell, taste, and feel that when you dine here and that is truly romantic. On Valentine’s Day, Mclean will be serving both the regular menu and a pre-fixe menu with specials. The pre-fixe menu can be ordered with or without beer, mead, and cocktail pairings.
I really admire Kartrin and Martin Heuser’s modern take on classic German dishes. Martin does the cooking while Katrin runs the front of the house and curates the wine list. Both do an excellent job. Martin’s dishes are consistently creative and flavorful, and Katrin’s wine selections not only compliment Martin’s cuisine but elevate it.
The restaurant occupies a large, open space, but the room can be sectioned off to create smaller, more intimate, environments. That’s something that evolved over time. “When we first looked at the room, it was too big for us. We wanted something much smaller, but we liked everything else. So, we created individual spaces so people could choose not only where they sit, but the type of environment they prefer,” Katrin Heuser commented.
The front of the restaurant is separated by a bank of curtains. It’s open with lots of room between tables. The back of the restaurant has a lounge area on one side and a series of booths on the other. The booths are close together, creating a much cozier environment, which Katrin says some people like and others do not. Affare’s multiple spaces are among my favorites in town and so is the cuisine. Where else can you get escargot soup, smoked octopus risotto, or a venison jagerschnitzel topped with a fried egg? I tried all of those on my last visit and they were all excellent. I’m also a big fan of Affare’s Thursday night multi-course menus where the cuisine is tailored to the season and the availability of local products.
For Valentine’s Day, Katrin tells me her husband will be crafting a four-course menu for $75 with wine pairings available for an additional charge. Menu highlights include the aforementioned snail soup, a beef cheek au daube, and a passionfruit mousse!
JASPER’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT
I don’t know anyone in the city, save residents who’ve just moved here, who don’t know about Jasper’s. Jasper Mirabile, Sr., virtually invented fine dining in Kansas City at the original restaurant on Wornall Road, which opened in 1954. After operating in that location for more than 40-years, in 1996, the family decided to sell the property and build a new restaurant on 103rd Street just east of State Line Road. The very next year, Jasper Senior died. The family continued, opening the second Jasper’s, which, under the guidance of Jasper Mirabile, Jr. and his older brother, Leonard, is one of the most popular restaurants in the city.
“Jasper’s has always had the reputation for fine service and cuisine. The restaurant is dimly lit, there are beautiful comfortable booths and candle lit tables. This just makes for a romantic setting,” Jasper told me recently. “Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year where we serve over 600 guests. It’s become a Kansas City tradition to dine at Jasper’s on Valentine’s Day!”
TANNIN WINE BAR AND KITCHEN
Located in The Crossroads district, Tannin is one of my favorite places to grab a glass of wine. As a wine bar with a constantly evolving list of wines by the glass and bottle, Tannin is excellent. But it is also an underrated eatery. The cuisine, in the hands of Executive Chef Pablo Munoz-Sevilla, has never been better.
The space has always been high on my list. Tannin is intimate. You can grab a seat at the expansive bar or at a table on either side of the dining room. The best digs, in my opinion, are the four booths in the back of the restaurant. It’s almost like dining in your own private space.
As for Valentine’s Day, Tannin will be featuring a special multi-course menu on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 14th, 15th, and 16th.
CORVINO’S SUPPER CLUB & TASTING ROOM
I’m loath to admit it, but I have yet to visit Corvino’s, so this recommendation comes from many of my foodie friends and associates. Corvino’s combines two concepts under one roof-a larger, family-style Supper Club, and an intimate, 18-seat Tasting Room. The foodies say both sides are great, but the Tasting Room is the place to be for a romantic evening.
In both spaces, Chef/Owner Michael Corvino and General Manager/Owner Cristina Corvino work their magic. Michael, who’s culinary career includes stints at such impressive restaurants as The Mansion on Turtle Creek and The American, crafts insightful, personalized dishes, while Christina manages the restaurant and curates the wine list. Michael told me he’ll be adding Valentine’s Day-inspired dishes to the Supper Club menu and says the Tasting Room menu will have some Valentine’s Day flavors as well.
LE FOU FROG
Tucked away at the east side of The River Market, Le Fou Frog has been considered one of Kansas City’s finest French restaurants for decades. A classic bistro with a bar side and a restaurant side, the room is dark and cozy.
For a generation now, Chef/Proprietor Mano Rafael and his wife, Barbara, have been dishing out elegant French cuisine under soft lighting in a relaxing atmosphere. Barbara, a Kansas City native, met Manu while working as a part-time bartender in a New York City restaurant owned by Manu and his brother. Barbara was pursuing an acting career. She didn’t get that career, but she did get a husband and a European-style restaurant, which, she says, is the key to its romantic nature. “The dining room with its banquette seating and close tables is how restaurants in France look and feel. People who have been to France tell us it makes them feel like they’re back there,” Barbara Rafael told me. “What’s more romantic than dining in France?”
For Valentine’s Day, the Rafaels are taking romanticism to a “30 Shades of Gray” level. “The menu is amped up with aphrodisiacs and written in a very racy manner. We’re giving our guests blindfolds that they can use in the restaurant and take home. We consider ourselves the foreplay for the evening,” Rafael shared. Alrighty then!
PIERPONT’S AT UNION STATION
One of the most physically striking restaurants in Kansas City, Pierpont’s has long been a destination for diners, romantically inclined or otherwise. The 30-foot-tall mahogany bar sets the tone for what promises to be a memorable evening. Named for railroad baron, J.P. (Pierpont) Morgan, Pierpont’s is the epitome of casual elegance. Service is always outstanding: the cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh seafood and prime steaks, is solid, and the ambiance is among the best in the city. As I wine lover, I should also mention that Pierpont’s wine list, with some 300 selections, is excellent.
For Valentine’s Day, Pierpont’s is offering a three-course menu for $68 per person or a four-course menu for $75 per person. There are options on both menus to add wine pairings.
So, there you go, eight great spots to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2019. Oh, and don’t forget the card, flowers, and chocolates.
Editor’s Note: Most of these restaurants offer small, intimate spaces, so their special dinners often sell out quickly. Don’t be angry or frustrated if you can’t get in on Valentine’s Day. After all, you have 364 other nights to experience that romantic dinner, and now you have a list of restaurants to check out!