I am a part of the #PitchBiteClub, a group of people put together by The Pitch to go to restaurants, taste several of their dishes and report on the experience via social media. On Wednesday, 8/20/2014 we went to Room 39 1719 W 39th St., Kansas City, MO 64111.
This is From The Pitch’s About page: Since starting as a music publication in 1980, the Pitch has grown to become Kansas City’s leading source of sophisticated information that readers know they can’t get anywhere else — whether it’s in-depth news and analysis about local power brokers; a rundown of who’s in and who’s out in the city’s spirited arts, music and nightlife scenes; or the skinny on famous barbecue joints and steakhouses.
Room 39: “A unique culinary experience, rooted in classical cuisine, inspired by tradition, infused with distinct Americana, steeped in heartland flavors & showcasing farm-to-table dedication. Kansas City original since 2004, Room 39 in Midtown continues to amass rave reviews from both traditional and social media outlets. The reason is simple, Room 39 offers Kansas City diners a taste, quality, price and experience unlike any other. Each location (Midtown – Kansas City and Mission Farms – Leawood) focuses on culinary creativity through daily menu changes and making the most of seasonal ingredients sourced from local producers.” and “Breakfast and Lunch are casual affairs with a dining room of beautifully handcrafted tables and simple yet elegant food such as our steak and eggs benedict, fresh pasta and our popular half pound burger. Dinners are more elegant but still a great value with white tablecloths, an award winning wine list and a $39 tasting menu that changes daily using our farmer driven produce and meat. The chefs of Room 39 believe the best tasting food comes from local farmers who use sustainable harvesting and growing practices ensuring the land is better off than before. “
I found Room 39’s ambiance to be casual, cozy, warm and with an industrial vibe.
I don’t know why there were 2 wooden chairs in the restroom.
The service was prompt, professional, friendly and unpretentious.
One thing that I greatly appreciated was that the music was very low, pleasant and unobtrusive. One of my pet peeves is loud music in a restaurant. It did get a little noisy in there with all the brick and hard surfaces, but we also had 2 large tables among us with a lot of talking. I think it would be quieter without us walking around taking pictures and discussing the food.
One of those guys with the words startup and entrepreneur tattooed on his résumé. One of those guys apt to co-found something like, say, a video-marketing company called FindItKC.
The chef, Ted Habiger was a semi-finalist for the prestigious James Beard award Best Chef: Midwest category in 2008, 2012 and 2014. The Pitch has several articles written about him.
Chef Habiger was extremely personable and explained each dish, with great little stories, like that the watermelon comes from Farmer Dennis Smith in Missouri who comes in, summer or winter, in sweatpants, hence his nickname “Dr. Sweatpants”. He emphasized that they were very casual, loving people and that everyone was welcome and that we would feel this throughout the meal, which we did.
It is in an interesting, funky part of town (39th Street) that has lots of ethnic and American restaurants, ice cream, boutique shops, a vegan bakery, a tattoo parlor, an independent bookstore and more and is a fun area to walk around. One thing to note, the parking around there can be horrendous so get there a little ahead of time for your reservation to allow time to find a place to park.
We had a variety to taste, but not everything they offer. The food was consistently attractively presented. People at our table gave a rating of 2 stars (only 1 entree, other people rated it respectively a 3 and a 4) to 5 stars for the different dishes. Which means that while some of the food was excellent, some could be improved.
We had bread and olives to start.
The Charcuterie plate, foie gras torchon, chicharrones, duck rillette and lamb offal pate with mustard, capers, housemade pickles and peach-jalepeno jam was good. Chef Habiger explained it to us. He said that 4 years ago they started doing a lot more with whole animals and that it was very important to him that he knew where his meat came from. As of about 2 weeks ago he was able to get all locally raised beef on his menu which pretty much meant that everything was now locally grown or raised (including Iowa, and nearby areas). Some of the trout comes from Missouri but the rest comes from the coasts. So as a result of getting whole animals, they started using more parts of the animals.
The duck and the foie gras were both excellent according to most people. I thought they were very good for not being something I would normally eat.. I thought the lamb offal was so-so, it tasted like grainy light cat food to me. The jam helped. To be honest, I personally, wouldn’t spend $21 for this plate. There is an appetizer of just the foie gras with grilled brioche, bruleed local peach and balsamic caramel for $14 that sounds better to me if you want something like this. There was another person who said the grainy mustard was the best part of it. I don’t think they were a connoisseur of this type of food either.
However, the Goat Cheese Gnocchi with lobster, local mushrooms and nettle cream was a 5 star dish in everyone’s opinion. It had lots of creamy goat cheese, a nice sized piece of lobster and the nettle cream was light and good. And save some of your bread to soak up the leftover sauce. We all were wanting bread to get the last of it. Actually, it would be a good idea to serve it with bread. Everyone would get this again in a heartbeat. It is $13/$24. We would have licked the bowl if no one was watching.
The watermelon salad with grilled corn, queso fresco, arugula, pine nuts and jalapeno vinaigrette was about a 3.5. It was good, but not incredible and I didn’t think the corn went with it. A nut of some kind would be better in it, in my opinion and would raise the score a lot. It is $10. Since there were some vegetarians at our table, they got the heirloom tomato salad with feta, red wine vinaigrette, basil and red onion. It was sweet and fresh and everyone who tried it gave it 5 stars. It was $11 and won hands down over the watermelon salad.
We had a choice of four entrees. I had the Beet Tart with herb goat cheese, local onion, fennel-arugula salad, herb oil and Rancho Gordo spiced popcorn. It seemed to me there were some tomatoes under the beets but I could be mistaken. I actually don’t like beets in general but this proved me wrong. It was very good and light and made a nice vegetarian dish. I thought the spiced popcorn did not add to the dish but other people liked it. I would give it about a 4.5. I would definitely have it again, but it was not very much food and may not be enough if you are very hungry. Also, at $22.50 it was a bit pricey for the portion you get.
The Wild Sockeye Salmon with sauteed kale, mushrooms, poblano-corn fritter and cilantro creme fraiche was rated a 3.5 to 4. Both thought it could use more sauce and each thought theirs was slightly overcooked or a little dry.
The Duroc Pork Chop with summer vegetable succotash, tasso, fried okra and Crum farm grits looked really good to me (I didn’t try it) but the person having it gave it a 3 and said the pork chop could be more tender. I forgot to ask how the fried okra was – I love fried okra.
And the last entree was the Locally Raised Grilled Steak with smashed Thane potatoes, Mexican elote and chimichurri. Again, I didn’t taste this but the person who had it said that the steak was way too charred and all he could taste was the char, as if it had been cooked correctly and then put on again to char. It had dark black char lines on it. He said the potatoes were excellent though. He gave the steak a 2. Two other people also had it. One also said theirs was too charred/overcooked and the other said theirs was very good. So it got a range of 2 to 4+. I think the intense charring was from the grill being too hot. Or maybe it was put on a too-hot grill afterwards to get the char lines. Either way, it detracted from the steak.
We also tasted most
of the desserts. I won’t go into detail on all of them but my favorite was the
Lemon curd tart with housemade ricotta and hyssop syrup. And several people liked the Peach and blueberry bread pudding with mascarpone ice cream best (I liked it too) and the Churros with guajillo chocolate sauce. To me the churros were fine but I don’t care for a spicy / jalapeno chocolate sauce. It didn’t taste like chocolate to me and that was what I wanted. I was not enamored by Melon Gelato and Coconut cake, I thought it was rather tasteless. The Almond cake with blackberry puree was very good, but too dry. I would replace the whipped cream with ice cream on this dish and it would be great. I think I saw a review where there was ice cream with this once upon a time. I know Chef Habiger changes things around a lot.
The Sweet Corn ice cream with Homemade Caramel Corn was very good. I would have liked more of the delicious caramel corn.
I was surprised at the lack of anything chocolate and no creme brulee. Something chocolate-y and rich would make a nice addition to the desserts and I love good creme brulee.
I definitely would go back for the goat cheese gnocchi, the beet tart and the lemon curd tart, although I might skip the beet tart and just get large goat cheese gnocchi, simply because I wouldn’t want to spend tha
t much money. And I would certainly be open to trying some of the other entrees myself to see what I personally thought. One caveat with
my review is that I’m not used to spending this much for food so I am little pickier about it.
All in all it was very good and with a little tweaking, could be excellent. I know that chef Habiger constantly does new dishes and/or new ingredients with existing plates. The Pitch Bite Club was, in everyone’s opinion, a great success and I know we all look forward to more.
Becky Carleton, a librarian at the Johnson County Library in Kansas challenged me to name ten pieces
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