The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2011

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Page 54 of 124

MIDWEST Kansas City Blues No More LOCALS REJOICE AT THE ADVENT OF DRINKS-SAVVY RESTAURANTS LIKE BLUESTEM by Judy Jones / photos by Bonjwing Lee T here were times in Kansas City when we locals—and our visitors—had to choose between a good drink in a lively setting and fabulous food. Fortunately, with the trend toward quality cocktails and more innovative bar food, we’re now enjoying the best of both worlds. As a prime example, chic-ly lower-case bluestem, one of Kansas General Manager and Sommelier Jeremy Lamb ensures that bluestem’s food and wines stay happily married. City’s premier restaurants, opened in 2004 in a corner space just half the size of its current footprint. Two years later the adjacent space became available and, while the fundamental approach to fine dining did not change, the bluestem experience did—and all for the better. A cool, welcoming room appeared, a talented staff was assembled and the cocktail and bar menus were born. Van Zarr, the original mixologist, recalls, “Since we opened the lounge, just over five years ago, it has been our goal not only to make it an extension of the dining room and what we do—which is great food and atmosphere, treated simply and with respect—but also to make the lounge almost a segue into the dining room, much like the living room of your home.” The expansion enabled a much deeper and broader wine program to enhance the pairings available to those enjoying degustation menus in the dining room. Co-owner and Executive Chef Colby Garrelts, a four-time James Beard Award nominee, works closely with General Manager and Sommelier Jeremy Lamb to ensure bluestem’s food and wines stay happily married. With several nearby restaurants boasting award-winning cellars, bluestem’s clientele expect the best wines to enrich their dining experience. Local liquor codes prevent any BYOB/corkage arrange- ment, so it is up to the house to anticipate any match a customer might request to complement the oft-changing menu. “This can be a challenge,” says Lamb, a Certified Sommelier. “Colby likes to take advantage of the best ingredients available, so it is not uncommon for the menu to be tweaked even after service has begun. My goal is to have a cellar that is nimble enough to keep pace as his flavor profiles interact with the day’s bounty.” On the sweet side, co-owner and Executive Pastry Chef Megan Schultz Garrelts is equally innovative, making whimsical use of traditional sweets and savories for just the right finishing touch. Lamb rises to the occasion, sometimes with ports or late-season wines, sometimes inventing a cocktail of his own if he isn’t completely satis- fied with a more traditional pairing. The lounge at bluestem. In addition to the stellar dining room fare, the staff has created a fun, approachable lounge menu that is the talk of the town. While the lounge crowd skews younger than the dining room, it’s not unusual to find three or four generations rubbing elbows at the bar. Fueling the demand for such favorites as Wagyu tartar, shrimp and grits and mus- sels are unique cocktails grounded in tradition but always with a twist. “The cocktail menu ranges from ever-changing seasonal selections to year-round favorites,” Zarr explains, “and our staff has the knowledge and ability to whip up the bespoke cocktail of the moment, or create something on-the-fly to accompany any meal and enhance the guests’ experience—with or without food.” 54 / the tasting panel / april 201 1

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