Sunday, February 15, 2015

An All-American Dining Experience(Happy Valentine's Day)

I must say that living your life while happy is a 10/10. I highly recommend a happy life. I also highly recommend allowing yourself to be loved. It's a very difficult thing in an American woman's life, especially for us Millenials, to really allow yourself to be truly loved. But I feel it. I feel love seeping into me. It's funny how that happens. It was a perfect and poetic time for this to happen to me for Valentine's Day at the American.

American on UrbanspoonThe American is the restaurant in Kansas City. It's the place to cut your chops as a Chef. The kitchen was designed to be a James Beard standard kitchen. The restaurant is so iconic that I don't think it'll ever go away. The American is so high on that list, so ingrained into the Kansas City psyche as the place to go to, or to aspire to go to, that it's easy to think that it won't live up to the hype. This young Chef says it does.

I didn't take any pictures at the American. The first reason is that I thought it was almost disrespectful, and almost...not right...in an odd way, to take pictures of the food, as I felt it was almost robbing someone else of that experience. The other reason is because my phone died. It died before I could even check-in on Foursquare.(By the way, if you aren't following my tips on Foursquare/Swarm, you're seriously missing out. I'm informative and hilarious.) I did make my boyfriend take a picture of me with the dessert. I'm squinting pretty hardcore because the flash was nearly blinding and the lighting in the restaurant wasn't exactly bright.

The journey itself to find the American is almost like a pilgrimage. We were staying in the Westin at the Crown Center and we had to walk through the maze of shops and escalators to find the entrance. The gilded elevator which raises you to the 4th floor, where the restaurant resides, seems to be a portal to another world. You know those fancy restaurants you see in movies, the ones with the grandiose staircases and chandaliers? The ones that you'll never, ever see for yourself? That's the American.

Walking around from the elevator to the host stand, you see before you a grand palace, while somewhat outdated (the fabric on the chairs wasn't my favorite) still had some kind of wonderful classic thing going on. A velvet-throated jazz singer's voice carries through the palatial room, respecting the four corners of a square, turning the nearly-intimidating space into the cornerstone of a man's monarchy. To tell you the truth, it would have felt lonely if she hadn't been there, singing, especially since we were practically the only ones there. I assumed that it was because it was a few days before Valentine's day, and everyone was saving it for the occasion...but B said that he rented out the entire restaurant just for us. (He didn't, but I believed him for a full 30 seconds, because that's how naive and trusting I have become.) I'm very happy I got to see it before they did their big renovations, which will be complete in March. I don't know what will happen, but I hope that I get to go again! (Maybe I can convince my boyfriend to take me for my birthday.)

Descending the staircase, the hostess leads you to your table, where she actually pulls out your seat for you. And then unfolds the napkin and places it in your lap for you. This was fancy to the point where I was oddly uncomfortable. Usually I'm quite comfortable with adapting to situations as such, but this was just weird. But nice! But still weird.

The server, whose name I (sadly) cannot recall, was so gracious and fun. The best part about him (was his name Josh? Jonas? Something...) was that he was not only knowledgeable, but passionate about food. A server, passionate about food! We even ended up talking a little bit about fresh Japanese wasabi, and how the import laws had changed over the past ten years. We even spoke about Wagyu versus Kobe beef, and he knew what I was talking about. This, in and of itself, is amazing. This really does speak volumes about the kind of people that they have working at this establishment. Chef Michael Corvino really knows what he's doing with this place.

The meal began, of course, with drinks and canapes. They were cute little shortbread cookies with quince gels and marscarpone, with brown butter financiers. B isn't quite what you'd call a foodie, and he'd never be caught dead in a place like this if he didn't know that I was so into it, and I swear I saw him sneer when he thought that every course would be this tiny little bite. After the sight of the first course, however, he began to change his tune.

We began with the King Crab, which had sliced black truffles(which he had never even seen before) and elements of turnip and passion fruit(don't knock it til you try it). To be honest, I'd never had fresh, raw black truffle slices before...only black truffle butter, truffles that had been roasted with quail, or white truffle oil, drizzled over potato or asparagus soup. I couldn't resist. I ate the first slice just on its own. I was shocked at how subtle it was...it almost seemed like paper. But the heat of my mouth somehow brought it to life, and I understood why it became an empire.

Our next course was oyster, which B had never had before. It was served raw, of course, and impeccably fresh. Accompanying the oyster was a beautiful cauliflower puree, fried quinoa(for crunch), and fresh dill fronds. I slurped it all in one mouthful, and it was like a straight-up bite of the ocean. It went down fresh, and every flavor was surprising, subtle, and expertly done.

The caviar came next, which was a beautiful sturgeon roe served on soba. Soba, for those who don't know, are basically a buckwheat noodle, which are all made in-house, and then cut to order. Fresh-cut soba is something they do in noodle-houses in Japan, and this practice immediately scored points with me for the Chef. (I mean, I know I shouldn't be impressed, necessarily...it's the nicest place in town...it should have crazy-high standards...but whatever! I'm allowed to be impressed!) The noodles were soft yet chewy, and served in an uni 'butter'/sauce that, upon tasting, I turned to B with stars in my eyes and asked "Can I just take a bath in this?" Oh, and he'd never had uni before either...but he loved it.

The abalone came next, which honestly wasn't my favorite, but B loved it. It had daikon, sliced in paper-thin sheets, with shiso, a Japanese cousin of basil. The abalone was, even though not my favorite, absolutely expertly prepared. I wish I had taken a picture of this dish, though, as it was just so darn beautiful.

Next came another highlight, which was a roasted hedgehog mushroom with walnuts, nestled happily on a bed of sunchoke puree. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are a giant pain to prepare for the average home cook, but are well worth the effort. It's a mild, wonderfully aromatic flavor, that goes down easy, and the kumquat element, which was really fun, made it pop all the louder.

The bread course came with a wonderful apple butter that was made from local apples here in Missouri. I didn't remember much else of what they were saying because I was too busy eating it. I'd never had apple butter before. Holy shit was that good.

The steelhead trout can only be described as miraculous, as the fish was so moist and so soft, yet had such a crispy skin, it made B like fish. Read that again: it made my meat-and-potatoes Midwestern man LIKE FISH. And you know what? He ate every bit of it. He ate it with the trout roe, with the cranberry bean, with the "naked" grapes, and with the big fried leaf of dinosaur kail. I swear to God, they called it Dinosaur Kale. I remember it because it blew me away. So did the fish. I think I would have said that was the highlight, had it not been for the steak that came next.

The ribeye with black trumpet mushrooms, fresh wasabi, and huitlacoche puree had both cut and cap of meat. I will have dreams of this perfect dish. I will have dreams about that huitlacoche and its perfect umami elements. I will never have any wasabi again unless it's fresh like this. I almost contemplated killing myself right after I ate this steak, because I felt like that it was so good, I'd never be able to taste anything better. I really didn't want it to end. Oh, and B ate up the huitlacoche, even after I told him what it was. He almost kieled over from how good it was, but he kept it together during the cheese course.

Asher blue cheese is much more mild than your Maytag or your Portland smoke would be. It was served with these adorable little gingerbread croutons that were perfectly uniform, and sliced radish and walnuts. The fact that this is where B sort of "tapped out" was borderline hilarious, considering that the most mainstream taste-having man I knew just slurped down raw oyster and trout roe without batting an eye. Don't worry, though, kids. I ate his cheese.

Dessert came with a "pre-dessert" little palette cleanser, which consisted of a bright lemon-y marscarpone cream-like thing, with lingonberries and graham crumbles on top. I really just wanted a tub of that after I tasted it. But oh my sweet merciful Jesus was I happy that I held on.
I'm squinting because the flash
was crazy bright. 

Nick Wesemann is easily my favorite pastry chef in the city. He and I had actually met on several occasions before that night, so he came out at a point during our meal to say a quick hello once he heard I was here. He's seriously one of the nicest guys ever, and is now teaching the pastry fundamentals class at the Art Institutes International in Lenexa, KS. It's hard to not go on and on about my glowing regard for this crazy-talented chef, so I'll just cut myself off now and get onto the dessert.

The dessert we had was called "grapefruit" and had beautiful, fresh, perfectly ripe grapefruit supremes cut and sprinkled in and out. It had a towering whisp of kataifi and a burnt honey ice cream, all with elements of olive oil and campari...and I can't even talk about it without drooling a little.

This is, of course, not to say that the other desserts on the menu were fantastic. The 3-course dessert options are crazy-good. The banana dessert is fantastic, with elements of rum ice cream and macadamia, towering up like some kind of Zion on the plate. The Pumpkin dessert had a toasted marshmallow ice cream that tasted so straight-up like a toasted marshmallow that I actually asked the server if they could just box up a whole tub of that for me. The pumpkin cake wasn't anything to shake a stick at, either, and I must say that I would think of the maple and pecan elements for hours after. The big boom at the end of the meal came, though, in what B and I will forever refer to as: the tangerine thing.

This was our final dessert. It came in a round black raku plate, all brown and orange and full of varying textures. A nutella-like chocolate hazelnut pastry cream was the foundation for a seriously unreal experience. The crunches of kettle corn and other textures of hazelnut were perfect compliments, and the tangerine granita was so intense. B said that it was probably going to be etched into his memory for the rest of his days. I can't even begin to relay how amazing it was without using cliches of elephantine proportions, so I just encourage you to get out there and try it for yourself.

And Nick, darling, from one pastry chef to another, you are more than welcome to come up to my restaurant, and I promise to give you the same treatment!

All in all, I can honestly say that the American lived up to the hype. At $95 per person for the Chef's tasting menu, I can tell you that it was worth it, and more than reasonable for what you're getting. Sure, it's expensive, but I honestly can't tell you that it's not a justifiable expense. It's seriously amazing. The fabric on the chairs could use a little love, sure, but the food is so stupid delicious that it's like your face will be blown out the back of your head. I could seriously say that you could put this restaurant and Chef Michael Corvino's food on your bucket list and not be disappointed with the results. Everything we had was great. Everything from the service to the coffee to the last crumb of macadamia financier that came as a mingardise  with the check was nothing short of quality. You can bet that I'll be a voucher for the American for a good long time, as long as they keep on cranking out this amazing stuff.

Here's hoping that your Valentine's Day was this great. Even if my company wasn't anything short of the most charming and gracious dining partner I've ever had, I still would have loved this meal. And you can take that to the bank.
Christopher Elbow's chocolates also help
Oh, but if you don't want to fork out the big bucks for the American, a box of Christopher Elbow's chocolates will do in a pinch. I was actually sad I didn't want any directly after those desserts from Nick Wesemann...but don't worry. I ate them after a 24-hour period of digesting. They were really great.