Restaurant Review: Zoe’s Kitchen (3.5 to 4 stars)

Our department administrative assistant left a post card invitation on my desk for a new restaurant opening on the Country Club Plaza.  So I took a short walk down the hill from the office to Zoe’s Kitchen, nestled next to Jack Stack.

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Restaurant Review: El Potro Mexican Cafe & Cantina (2 Stars)

El Potro Mexican Cafe & Cantina

2 out of 5 stars

Location:  Bonner Springs, Kansas (in the old Mazzio’s building west-northwest of the K-7/US-73 and I-70 interchange)

A couple of our friends mentioned that a new Mexican restaurant had opened recently in Bonner Springs, Kansas.  El Potro took over the old, long empty Mazzio’s Pizza building.  Terry and I made a quick trip to Nebraska Furniture Mart early yesterday evening and decided to try the cafe on the way home.

The parking lot was packed but we found an open spot near the front door.  The restaurant had no waiting area, so a dozen or so people were crammed in the corridor between the door and the hostess stand waiting to be seated.  The hostess took down our name and told us the wait would only be 10-15 minutes.  A few minutes later, one of the servers asked those waiting if they’d like to be seated at the bar for dinner and we opted to take him up on that offer.

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Restaurant Review: Accurso’s

Accurso's exterior
Accurso’s (50th & Main, KCMO)

Over the last couple of months, I’ve enjoyed taking the brief jaunt down the street to partake of a different lunch selection from Accurso’s Italian Restaurant.  Today marked my fourth return visit and the weather almost tempted me to request seating outside.  If it had been Saturday, when the forecast suggests fall-like mid-70s temperatures, I would have requested a patio table.  Playing it safe, I choose the cool environs found inside the restaurant.  I am impressed by the design and decor found on the interior of Accurso’s and the jazz standards playing in the background provide a perfect ambience. 

Accurso's interiorAfter being seated, my waiter, Scott, who has served me three out of four times during previous lunches, related the specials available.  I passed on the specials because I did not want to be saddled with a take-home package of leftovers. I imagined huge portions from what he described and I prefer something lighter for lunch.  He left me to review the lunch menu while he retrieve a drink for me.

Accurso’s $5 Lunch Menu keeps drawing me back to try something different each time.  Previously, I’ve tried their Southern Italian thin crust seven-inch pizza (very tasty, but not as crisp as I prefer).  I also liked the Spaghetti & Meatballs, adding a side salad with a house Balsalmic vinegrette for just a buck.  During my most recent visit, a couple of weeks ago, I tried the Turkey Bacon Wrap which I really enjoyed. 

Scott brought my water and saw I needed more time to decide and left me for a few more minutes.  I wanted to try the Spinach salad, but the Pasta Diavolo distracted me.  I wondered what their home-made diavolo sauce tasted like (I know what spinach tastes like).  I did a quick search on my Nook Color, using Accurso’s complimentary wifi service, to see what the common ingredients were for a diavolo sauce.  I didn’t see anything that I might not like (mainly cheesey or creamy stuff since I’m somewhat lactose intelerant).  What I did find suggested some spiciness, which I’m always ready to try.  When Scott returned to check on me, I placed an order for the Pasta Diavolo with a side salad (gotta have my greens and that Balsalmic vinegrette is really tasty).

Trying Pasta Diavolo for lunch at Accurso's
Accurso’s Pasta Diavolo

I made it about two-thirds of the way through my salad when Scott brought the pasta dish to my table. I didn’t rush to finish, as I wanted to savor the salad.

The diavolo sauce looked creamy, appearing less red than I had hoped.  I tentatively tried a couple of pennes and couldn’t detect any overwhelming cheese flavor.  I did pick up a bit of spiciness, but mildly so, warming my stomach more than my tongue as I progressed through the dish.  I finished most of the pasta, but not all of it.  I prefer not to drown or smother my pasta with sauce, but that’s just a personal foible of mine.   I left a few penne surfing on the diavolo sauce and declined Scott’s offer to box up the remainder for me to take home.  I don’t think I’ll be re-ordering this lunch selection in the future.  Not because it wasn’t well prepared and presented, but rather because I didn’t find it as appealing to my pallette as I wished it to be. 

Next time, a week or so down the road, I plan to try the Spinach Salad.

Ciao, for now.

Veggie Bliss with a Side of Jazzy Friends

I whirled through Wednesday like the gusty winds whipping through the Midwest the past few days.  The minute I dropped off my last rider, I rushed home, ran in the house, snatched some cash from Terry, switched van keys for car keys and flew back to the Plaza (where I had just spent eight or nine hours working).  I spent less than five minutes in the house, only having time to pet Roxy and Apollo once each and peck Terry on the cheek (as I fleeced him out of a twenty dollar bill).

When Marge retired in late January, we agreed to reconnect on the first Wednesday of March.  We met at the Eden Alley Cafe in the basement of the Unity Temple on the Plaza for dinner, immediately followed by the monthly ‘Spirituality and All That Jazz‘ concert hosted by Tim Whitmer.  I touched base with Marge late on Tuesday to confirm and agreed to meet at a quarter to six.  I should have said I’d be there by six, not before, as I barely made it back from Lansing in thirty minutes (a record for me actually).

Veggie Burger (vegan) made with carrots, celery, yellow onions, tofu, vegetable oil, soy sauce and bread crumbs, served atop a locally made whole wheat bun with dijon mustard, spicy vegan aioli, dill pickles, red onions, greens and a tomato.

We were seated almost immediately.  I had to spend some time reviewing the menu, since it had been over two years (probably close to three years) since I’d last been to Eden Alley.  I decided to try their veggie burger and for once I did NOT ask for anything to be left off (since cheese was not automatically part of the dish) with a side of Garlic Bread.  Marge and Bill ordered the same dish, the Spinach and Mushroom Meatloaf.  We snacked on various types of freshly baked breads, all of which tasted fabulous.  Our food arrived quite quickly and I devoured the delicious veggie burger, but decided not to finish the garlic bread.  I’ve had that side before and I should have remembered that I don’t care for the aoili.  None of us had room for dessert so we paid our tabs, tipped the waitor and headed upstairs for the concert.

We soon learned that the scheduled special guest for the evening, vocalist Monique Danielle, would not be performing.  Tim did not enlighten us until after the first set who had agreed to step in at the absolute last minute as a replacement.

The ‘usual suspects’ appeared on stage a few minutes past seven o’clock –  Tim Whitmer at the piano, bassist James Albright, percussionist Jurgen Welge and saxophonist and flutist Jim Mair.

Spirituality and All That Jazz
Tim Whitmer at the piano, James Albright on bass, Jurgin Welge on drums and Jim Mair on sax and flute.

First set:

I heard some incredibly stunning soprano sax solos by Jim Mair during that first set.  Just mind boggling.

During the brief pause between sets, Tim let the cat out of the bag with respect to Monique’s illness.  He got quite a few laughs when he started soliciting the audience for vocal volunteers.  After a few minutes, one woman came forward, answering the jazz altar call and blessed us with her voice – the incomparable Millie Edwards.

Millie Edwards
Millie Edwards

Second set (with very special guest Millie Edwards):

I love listening to Millie sing.  And, surprising to me anyway, her vocal range matches my own voice almost perfectly.  I had to really resist the urge to start singing along with her, since I so rarely get the chance to sing in that range (I am no soprano and never want to be one).  Her last two songs were just plain fun.

Between songs, Millie shared with us the story of how Tim wrangled her into performing last night.  That afternoon she had received an e-mail from Tim with the subject ‘Favor’ and soon discovered the nature of the favor Tim asked of her.  Her students became the real beneficiaries as she had to postpone grading papers and a pop-quiz the next day.  Millie imparted to Tim the heartfelt gratitude of her students for sparing them from the test gauntlet, at least for a day.

After the concert, I said goodbye to Marge and Bill and headed back home (for the second time in that day).  I flipped through my radio presets and caught the last song of the classic music program on KANU – one I actually recognized – a piano arrangement of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition.’  As I exited I-70 and headed north on K-7/US-73, I caught the beginning of Piano Jazz on KPR.

I attempted to call my daughter but as usually happens, I got her voice-mail.  So for the second time that day, I called her boyfriend, Nic, who promptly answered his phone (as he always does).  We exchanged pleasantries and I asked if he happened to be near my daughter.  Unfortunately, she was at a rehearsal (which explained why she didn’t answer her phone).  Nic realized Rachelle had forgotten to tell me she finally got a church gig.  She is now an Alto II section lead in the Chancel Choir at First UMC of Plano.  I think I need to take an extra trip to North Texas next month for Easter services.

I had a great time catching up with Marge (and Bill) and listening to lovely live jazz music in a relaxed and smoke-free environment.  Marge and I agreed to return for the May concert which features the KCKCC jazz ensembles (of which my daughter is an alum).  I look forward to seeing how the jazz program at KCKCC has progressed in the three years since Rachelle graduated.

Restaurant Review: Gyros Village (Leavenworth, Kansas)

Update March 2013:  I’m a little slow, apparently, because this restaurant closed last Summer.  I guess Terry and I should have gone back and been good patrons.

On Wednesday evenings, my husband and I grab a quick bite to eat because that night also happens to be band practice night and neither of us have time to cook dinner.  Even though practice was cancelled, we still ventured out to a new local eating establishment called ‘Gyros Village‘ across from the Leavenworth Plaza (in Leavenworth, Kansas).

I did spend some time online at lunch trying to find a website for the restaurant, specifically looking for their menu and nutritional information (since I’m actively tracking all my caloric intake as part of my GetPHIT resolution).  I easily found entries in business directories (like the online version of the Yellow Pages), but not an actual website or for that matter, many reviews.  I wasn’t too worried, though, since both Terry and I like gyros and most Greek cuisine.

We arrived at Gyros Village in the early evening (probably between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m.) and entered the small dining area (about ten tables).  We waited while a customer ahead of us received their carryout order and then were seated.  Neither Terry nor I wanted an appetizer, although I will return so I can try the Dolmades.  Terry and I ordered the same thing: a regular gyro with a side salad.  I of course asked that any feta cheese be left off my order and, if acceptable, added to my husband’s food.  I don’t eat cheese voluntarily.  I also asked that my gyro be served dry (sans tsatziki sauce).  Dairy and I just don’t get along.

Wed sunset and new moonI watched the phenomenal sunset and spied the very new moon while waiting for our order, regretting leaving my digital camera at home yet again.  I did capture the scene as we left with my cell phone, but as usual the photo did not live up to my expectations.  Our gyros and salads arrived and we began to consume them.

I must say I thought the gyros were tasty and filling.  Rather than traditional pita bread (which my daughter made from scratch when she served us home-cooked gyros over her Christmas break), the restaurant used flat bread instead.  I didn’t mind, as it securely held and delivered the gyro goodness I bit into greedily.  I would have preferred red onions, as opposed to the white ones used in both the gyro and the salad, but I’m not entirely sure what is considered traditional.  I will consult with my daughter later today.

My only disappointment in the meal came with the state of the romaine lettuce in the side salad.  The leaves had begun to turn brown, and were no longer cold or crisp.  I would hazard a guess that the romaine had been left out most of the day at room temperature.  I did not try the house dressing that came on the side, but it looked like a typical Italian sort of dressing.  Another quirk of mine: I prefer no dressing on my salad (or only my own home-made dressing).

We asked the server for a small bag to take half of Terry’s gyro home with us.  When he returned he asked us if we had ever had Greek or Mediterranean cuisine before.  Terry mentioned that our daughter had made gyros and pita bread for us during her recent visit.  I mentioned she had learned from a local couple who also teach a couple of Greek cooking classes at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  He urged us to take home their menu, which I scanned in and you can review it via this link.  And, after reading the menu more closely, I did discover that Gyros Village has a presence on the Internet.  They have a Facebook page (but nothing else).

We will definitely return to try some of their other dishes and I especially want to try their Baklava.  I ate too much gyro last night to attempt a dessert.  I found their prices reasonable and the portions more than hearty enough for our appetites.

Recipe Test: Stromboli (via King Arthur Flour)

Stromboli: King Arthur Flour Recipe

My daughter continues providing meals to her father (and I benefit as well).  One of her suggested menu items happened to be stromboli.  She called her boyfriend last night for the recipe, but he had a bad day at work so supper at the Moss Home quickly became leftovers.  Rachelle called me later while I was out at the grocery store picking up items for today’s return of the chicken pot pie.  She needed French bread to make her stromboli.  I told her I needed a minimum of three to four hours to make that type of bread.  I asked her if I could make some French bread on Sunday afternoon so she could make the stromboli on Monday.  She agreed and eventually left to spend the evening (and night) with friends.

Monday morning, I reviewed the stromboli recipe via the King Arthur Flour web site.  I placed the ingredients for the dough in my bread machine and added time to the dough cycle so that the dough would be ready for Rachelle around 4:30 p.m.  I went merrily off to work and called her at 3:00 p.m. to make sure the bread machine started on time and that the dough looked like it should.  She told me it looked great and smelled wonderful.

Our Stromboli looked very much like this one (sorry, I forgot to take a photo of ours)

I got home at my regular time and the stromboli was already baking in the oven on parchment paper on the pizza stone.  The house smelled glorious.  Within a half hour, we took the baked stromboli out of the oven and let it rest and cool for ten to fifteen minutes.  I sliced it while Rachelle heated up some marinara sauce.  We each enjoyed at least two slices, if not three.

Later, after we’d stuffed ourselves, Rachelle realized she should have let the stromboli rise before baking it.  Neither of us had thought about that and had not allowed for that second rise time in our evening dinner planning.  Next time, we’ll definitely let the stromboli rise for at least a half hour or longer.  This recipe is a keeper!

Restaurant Review: Luigi’s (Leavenworth, Kansas)

A little Saturday evening local romantic dinner atmosphere.
A little Saturday evening local romantic dinner atmosphere.

Terry surprised me by taking me out last night to a new (at least new to us) local Italian restaurant.  Located in the renovated (again) old bakery at 7th and Cherokee, across for the newly updated Haymarket Square.  I remarked to Terry that my mom used to work in the bakery decades ago (not sure if it was the 50s, 60s or 70s … and she didn’t answer her phone when I called her to ask).   We found parking within half a block of the restaurant and arrived while it was still light, although overcast, around seven o’clock.  We were seated immediately, directly across from the door we just walked through.  Remember that point, as it will become more important later in the evening.

Our waitress was young (sixteen), amusing and helpful, but we failed to make note of her name (our fault, we’re usually more astute).  I ordered a glass of the house Whit Zin (attributed to the Macaroni Grill, which I thought was odd) with a glass of ice water.  Terry ordered sweetened tea and received ice water as well.

For an appetizer, we selected the sliced Italian sausage.  We both wanted side salads, but not the normal house tossed salads.  Terry and I both prefer Romaine lettuce, so the waitress assured us we could have small Ceasar salads (sans dressing) instead of the tossed side salad.  Terry ordered the baked ziti for his entre’ and I ordered spaghetti and meatballs with marinara.

Shortly after our waitress left to deliver our order to the kitchen, a different server brought us some very hot breads or rolls with traditional seasoned oil dipping sauce.  Since I had spent the afternoon making Rustic Sourdough bread and Italian Supermarket Bread, I have to admit I prefer my own bread to what was served, ironically in an old bakery.

Before we’d even finished half of one of the rolls, our waitress brought a large circular flattened bowl-like dish with the sliced Italian sausage covered in a tasty sauce.  We almost ate all of it, although we left some to take home, mindful that our entres would be large as well and I hoped to try dessert.

Since we were at the front of the restaurant, we could watch the evening darkening outside, and keenly felt the lowering temperatures each time more guests arrived for dinner through the door directly across from our table.  The draft, while refreshing on a normally warm spring day, chilled us repeatedly throughout our meal.

Our waitress next brought our entres with apologies for forgetting our salads, which she comped us.  She was apparently quite busy or one of only a couple of waitresses working the restaurant last night.

Terry eating baked ziti at Luigis
Terry eating baked ziti at Luigis

Terry’s baked ziti looked delicious, and he ate most of it, but he spent quite a bit of time looking for the ricotta cheese, one of the ingredients listed in the menu description for the dish.  He finally gave up looking for it and asked the waitress about it.  She apologized but couldn’t answer the original question.  Terry told her she didn’t need to apologize, as it wasn’t her fault.   Besides the missing ingredient, the dish was a bit bland for Terry’s taste.

My pasta entre was also bland, but I always douse most pasta dishes with crushed red pepper.  I feel justified doing this as the one true Italian I know (a co-worker of many years) does the exact same thing when we’ve shared a lunch as a group at any of the local Italian restaurants within walking distance of our offices at the Plaza Library building.  While I liked the flavor of the meatballs, Terry thought them bland.  I only ate a few bites, anticipating taking most of my entre home to enjoy with my fresh baked Italian bread on Sunday afternoon.  Besides, I wanted to try a dessert.

Our salads finally arrived and I cleared my palette grazing on Romaine lettuce and mediocre croutons.  Terry was confused by the style of house Italian dressing, which looking like a vinaigrette-y French variety.  The waitress explained it was a tomato based Italian.  I smirked at him because I always eat my salads dry, unless it’s my home-made dressing or a raspberry vinaigrette.

As she was bringing our doggy bags and clearing away our dishes, we asked for the dessert menu.  She named off a half-dozen varieties of desserts, all of them with cheese of some sort: various varieties of cheese cakes, tiramisu, cannoli and something else I can’t remember that also had cheese, probably marscapone, stuffed into it.  I sighed.  No dessert for me.  Terry ordered the strawberry cheesecake  and only took a couple of bites home with him.

We enjoyed our night out, mostly because we didn’t have to drive twenty miles, we didn’t have to fight the crowds at the Legends and we spent some money in our own home town supporting a local business.  We will be back to try some other items on their menu, and hope for either milder weather or a spot farther from the front door.

Not by Bread Alone

Decadent describes my husband’s first pecan pie.  See for yourself.  You’ll have to take my word on the richness of the flavor though:

Chocolate Pecan Pie
Chocolate Pecan Pie

Terry didn’t provide me with a link to the recipe.  When/if he does, I’ll update this post.

I thought to try a new Italian bread recipe, just for the chance to bake with my Italian bread pan.

I made a mistake, however, in reading the ingredients and used two tablespoons of sugar instead of just two teaspoons.  I may have to try again today. My other modifications to the recipe are listed below in bold:

Dough

  • 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (Kroger’s Organic All-Purpose Flour)
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour, or 1/4 cup dried potato flakes
  • 1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (my mistake … I used 2 Tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water (1 cup only; I also used 1/2 cup sourdough starter)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

Topping

  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water; or substitute Quick Shine
  • sesame seeds

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, stir together all of the dough ingredients till cohesive. Knead the dough for 5 to 8 minutes, until it’s smooth and supple, adding more water or flour as needed.  I used my Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook.  I let the water, sugar and yeast proof for 5-10 minutes in the bowl while I measured out the other ingredients.
  2. Cover the dough and allow it to rise for 1 hour, or until it’s doubled in bulk.  I let it rise for about 90 minutes (mostly because I was preoccupied watching a movie).
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface and divide it into two pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth 16″ log. Place the logs into the two wells of a lightly greased Italian bread pan, cover, and let the loaves rise until very puffy, about 1 hour.  I love my Italian bread pan (see photo above).
  4. Brush the loaves with the egg wash (or spray them with Quick Shine), then sprinkle heavily with sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for about 25 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown. For the crispiest crust, turn off the oven, prop the door open, and allow the bread to cool in the oven.  I brushed with an egg-white wash and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds.  I also scored each loaf three times with my razor-sharp lame.  Again, I misread the directions and baked at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.  I spritzed the oven every five minutes with water from a spray bottle to encourage a crispy crust.  I also let the loaves cool in the oven.

We enjoyed some home-made baked Italian sandwiches courtesy Terry’s early life experiences working for his father at the Grinder Man in Wichita, Kansas.  Terry’s dad conceived, owned and operated several Grinder Man sandwich shops in Wichita during the 70s and 80s.  Sadly, only one remains open now.