Two summers ago, the New York Times wrote an article about how smaller cities in the Midwest are starting to sustain not just good individual restaurants but whole groups of them, a sign of a foodie culture that is not just centered on the large coastal cities. Two of the chefs profiled were husband-wife team Colby and Megan Garrelts (below), whose restaurant bluestem opened five years ago.
Bluestem is self-described as “progressive American cuisine” and based on the Times’ article, I decided it was worth a visit. My friend Jack agreed to join me for this exploratory quest into the heart of Kansas City fooddom, which has long been perceived as beginning at steak and ending at potatoes.
Bluestem is a cozy, masculine, and somewhat under-lit place on Westport Road, on the edge of the local midtown entertainment district. Next door is a Sonic hamburger drive-in, which seems about right for what you would expect.
The bar area is loungey, with leather chairs and comfortable places to sit. The dining area is in the adjacent storefront, three floors down. There are only about a dozen tables so it doesn’t feel too loud, although I wouldn’t describe the volume as “hushed”.
Bluestem’s menu is divided into two pages. The left page has appetizers, starters, salads and soups. The right page has proteins. While you can order alacarte, fixed-price tasting menus are their specialty, with 3, 5, 7 and 12-course menus including dessert.
Jack opted for the 3-course menu and I, unable to decide on only one item from each side of the menu, went for the 5-course tasting menu. Here’s a look at what we are – sorry for the poor picture quality as I had to use a flash.
The amuse-bouche. A sweet corn panna cotta with a rock shrimp and sliver of frisee.
My first appetizer: Wagyu tartare, giardiniera (an Italian-American relish of pickled peppers and other vegetables in oils), black olive caramel and potato crisps.
My second appetizer: Orchiette pasta, bacon, peas, spinach, Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon.
Jack’s appetizer: Bay scallops, summer beets, wild arugula, corriander-champagne vinaigrette.
My first main: Seared scallop, braised bacon, bok choy, soy caramel, red miso emulsion (the foam).
My second main: Piedmontese strip steak, horseradish potato, asparagus, rapini, la quercia coppa (ham).
Jack’s main: Berkshire porkloin, smoked tomato, sweet and sour peach, vanilla jus.
My dessert: cheese plate featuring local cheeses.
Jack’s dessert: two types of chocolate mousse with spearmint ice cream.
We also enjoyed petit fours – graham cracker pound cake with toasted marshmallow and passion fruit gelee.
The food was well-prepared, quality ingredients and all. Service was attentive and the servers knowledgable. Truly, this restaurant could be located in New York, San Francisco or another major city. But my problem is with the price. While the food is very good, the price is just too high. $50 for the 3-course meal, $70 for the 5-course meal.
One thing that occurred to me is that many of the ingredients seem to be brought in from far away. On the way out, the manager asked us how things were and I asked him about this. He assured me that most of their ingredients come from five farmers within about 100 miles, but I’m skeptical. The seafood items were all from the coasts. The beef was from Texas. The passion fruit was from somewhere far away. My point is, being in the heart of the nation’s breadbasket in the midst of the summer, I’m sorry to see that there isn’t more emphasis on locality. Perhaps that would help drive the price down a bit.
Still, it was an interesting culinary adventure.
I agree the price is too high.How is the foam anyway? I have not had a dish with foam on it and I am not sure how I would like it. Hmmm…
Yay first comment!
@yang1815 – Wow, nothing better to do this late? LOL@yang1815 – The foam had a lot of flavor but wasn’t as heavy as a normal sauce.
@christao408 – O you know, just watched some American Chopper, Jeopardy, Tonight Show, and now Late Night Show. ;)Lots of flavor eh?! Hmmm…
I saw some of the pics earlier today and was wondering what the entry would be. I think it’s tough for a restaurant to keep to the 100 mile guidelines. But I do like the idea of trying to source as much as possible locally. I guess it would be tough for seafood. There was a show about several families who had to strictly abide by the 100 mile (kilometers I think – it was in Canada) rule. The first thing to go was booze, spices, flour, snacks (e.g. chips).
I love Wagyu! And that’s an awesome price for a 5-course! You’re having too much fun…can you adopt me and take me around with you guys? :o)
Seems to me the dining experience was very well worthy! The dishes reminds me of an episode from the Food Network! Very delicious!
Those food look so awesome!!!
The presentation is pretty fancy…
i’m also skeptical about the within 100 mile claim, but would hope they’d utilize more local (nearby farms, etc of which i’m sure there are a bunch within 50 miles) produce and proteins. a good cook equals a creative cook me thinks. i’m pretty picky, but i’d eat everything you had and at that price, it’s a steal. (which means i need to move away from here. haha.)
hm.. FOOD ^^You always have nice nice photos of food!With our global economy, sometimes things from far far away can be cheaper than where we can find them close at hand. I wonder if just using local sources will actually decrease or increase the cost. Just a curiosity.
My guess as to their pricing might have more to do with lower traffic / volume than what a similar restaurant would get in larger cities. Of course, considering it’s Kansas City, the pricing seems outrageous vs. other restaurants in town. In NYC I’m afraid I’d expect that pricing for such restaurant.
Beautiful presentation but it’s always nice when restaurants use local food. Things taste better and are more environmentally friendly! I have to imagine that Kansas City has a wealth of good locally grown food!
A bit pricey for my wallet but the attention to detail was admirable. I was surprised there wasn’t more emphasis on local produce as well. Tomotoes! the best in the country are grown in the midwest.
Just get me a bucket to catch my drool
I live in KC and have never heard of this place! I’ll have to check it out, the food looks very delicious!!
There are plenty of local (100 mi. radius) providers of meat and especially vegetables and fruits. Summer is especially ripe, if you will. There is still a huge segment of the population who are unconcerned about eating food grown/raised closer to home. I’m not certain the price would have been less with more local food, however.
I agree, too bad they weren’t using more local ingredients. We’re all going to need to learn to do that more and more I think. Nonetheless, the food looks delicious, especially that first appetizer!
Excellent photos as always. Too bad that it was so expensive to eat there. I am not particularly fond of places that are underlit. I want to see all the food I eat, in good light.
the presentation of the food was superb!…..and the foam reminds me of the new trendy way of dining…..molecular gastronomy(分子美食) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_gastronomy
I’m from IN and that is way too expensive for around here. $70 is a week’s food… Maybe in the Big City that would be reasonable… Last week my husband met a new faculty member previously from NYC. She wanted to know where the best “fresh seafood market” could be found. We had to laugh. There isn’t any “fresh” seafood in Indiana- it is all flown in either frozen or pre-cooked (unless you count the lobsters at the grocery.
@ElusiveWords – I remember reading the book by the couple out in BC who kept to a 100-km diet for a year. Interesting reading.@kenpcho – @piyapong – You think it is a good price? I thought it was a hair steep. Maybe I’m just stingy…@curry69curry – The dining experience was good, but I didn’t walk away feeling like it was worth quite so much money. Comparing it with Orris, which was about $25 per person, I thought Orris was better food.@sagicaprio – @Dezinerdreams – Yes, presentation was very nice.@ZenPaper – @jandsschultz – That’s a good question. Would assume the costs would be a bit cheaper overall, as in season food grown locally will have lower transportation costs, which are a major component of food costs. May not be the case all the time, though.@TheLatinObserver – In NYC, I wouldn’t be too surprised at this price.@TheCheshireGrins – During the summer, there really is a lot of good local produce. We also have many small farms running sustainable operations with grass-fed meats.@stebow – And, of course, the tomatoes were the local item. Ha ha!@Wangium – What color? (Bucket, that is…)@iStephanieMarie – Yes, definitely on the high end for local KC cuisine.@brooklyn2028 – The first appetizer was really nice. I love beef tartare…@ZSA_MD – Thank you. I agree, one should be able to see the food one is enjoying.@agmhkg – Don’t you find the molecular gastronomy thing to be a bit faddish?@murisopsis – Fresh seafood in Indy. Ha ha… Actually, our friend in Omaha was telling us about a very good local Japanese place which has fresh sushi flown in daily from the coast.