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Taste and See

28 Feb

Taste and See may be one of the best kept dining secrets in town these days. Tucked away in the old Wichita Mall on Harry St., Chef Jason Febres offers Wichitans his Latin Fusion cuisine in several unique dining experiences.

First there is the restaurant itself that is open M-F for lunch and Th-Sat for dinner. The restaurant features an open kitchen area, so diners can sit back and watch as their food is prepared. Secondly there is the “Ultimate Dining Experience”, a high-end and intimate monthly dinner with specialty themes and menus chosen by the Chef. Lastly is the “Chef’s Table”, which is a weekly five course meal with a menu chosen by the Chef, for 16 people or less. Taste and See also offers mixology and cooking classes.

Chicken Spring Roll with Tahini Peanut Sauce

Chicken Spring Roll with Tahini Peanut Sauce

We took advantage of a very good Groupon offer recently and booked ourselves two spots for the “Chef’s Table”. Finding Taste and See is a bit tricky if you aren’t paying attention, just look for a small banner hanging above the entrance.  Once inside we were ushered into a conference room, complete with large table and office chairs. At first I wasn’t sure if we were there for dinner or to watch a powerpoint presentation, but judging by the silverware and glasses I figured we were in the right place. After everyone was accounted for and had full glasses of wine, Chef Jason came in and briefed us as to how the evening would unfold. He explained his thoughts on cooking and his personal cuisine style. He also emphasized that he liked to serve small portions with big flavors, something that he thinks is missing from many restaurants in town(I tend to agree with him). On this night we would be served a five course dinner that highlighted his Latin Fusion cuisine. While he and his sous chefs prepared our meal, we would be able to watch the action thanks to a large projection screen in the conference/dining room.

The first course was a light chicken spring roll with chives and a Thai peanut sauce with tahini and pineapple juice. The

The Real Cubano=Real Good

The Real Cubano=Real Good

spring roll was good, but what really made this dish was the wonderful peanut sauce. I love traditional Thai peanut sauce and was hesitant as to how this Latin version would compare, but there was no need for alarm, because it was very good. We were left hoping that the rest of the meal would be just as creative and tasty. The second course was a small portion of the restaurant’s popular Real Cubano. This version of a Cuban sandwich was taken to 11 with the thin and crispy bread, tender pork, ham, and tangy sauce.  Any sandwich that employs multiple pork products is pretty hard to mess up in my book. The third plate was actually served in a glass, and was one of the best things I have eaten at a restaurant recently. The dish was described as a  deconstructed maki roll with sushi rice, sesame-lime

Top Dish Honors for Deconstructed Maki Roll

Top Dish Honors for Deconstructed Maki Roll

marinated tuna, and plantain straws. It was the simplicity of this dish that I really enjoyed. Just three high quality main ingredients packed with flavor and texture. The “main” course was a small KC Strip with chimichuri sauce served over a bed of  plantain and black bean paste. The proverbial icing on the cake was the fried egg placed on top of the steak. This dish had several different flavor profiles and textures going on, but they complemented each other nicely when eaten together. The plantain paste was slightly sweet, while the

Not Your Typical Steak Dish

Not Your Typical Steak Dish

chimichuri sauce offered some heat to balance it out. This was another great dish that left me wanting a whole bowl of the plantain paste. And what kind of dessert would you serve to finish off this wonderful meal? How about the rich chocolatey kind featuring Brazilian chocolate sauce and a splash of Irish creme. It was another excellent dish that featured a smooth, pudding-like chocolate sauce with bits of cookie mixed in. Marshmallow creme and some Irish creme topped off the dessert. The only complaint I had was that it was served in a tall shot glass, which did not allow the diner the ability to lick it clean.

A Decadent Finish to Dinner

A Decadent Finish to Dinner

Being able to watch your food prepared for you was a neat experience, even if it was a bit uneventful. I kept waiting for the chef to walk in and fly into some type of Gordon Ramsay-esque tirade, but it was not to be on this night.  After our dinner Chef Jason came back to check on us and make a little small talk. He was very personable throughout the whole evening.

Steph and I were both very impressed with our dinner at Taste and See. The service and food were both excellent, and for the price I wouldn’t expect anything less. The whole dinning service lasted about two hours, but that is not uncommon for a multi-course dinner. If you don’t want spend $55 a person for this experience, the regular restaurant is always an option.

Taste & See on Urbanspoon

AVI Seabar and Chophouse

23 Jul

Tucked away inside the newly remodeled Broadview Hotel at Douglas and Waco is AVI Seabar and Chophouse. Although this upscale eatery has only been open since late last year it has already undergone a menu revamp, received mixed reviews, and been subject to rumors of closure.

Refreshing Cocktails

The interior of AVI can be described as modern industrial perhaps? High ceilings and exposed duct work is fashionable these days. A large fireplace in the center adds a hominess feeling to the restaurant. Although there were plenty of tables available on the main level, Steph and I were taken to the more intimate second story for some private dining.

Since it was a special occasion we decided to kick off the meal with some $8 cocktails. Steph ordered the Orange Julius while I opted for the Mint Julep. Both drinks were quite refreshing and contained a decent amount of alcohol.

The menu covers all the typical bases with salads, sandwiches, steaks, seafood, as well as some poultry and pork dishes. Some of the highlights include a cheese and charcuterie platter(this may be the only restaurant in town that has sweet, delicious charcuterie on the menu), a croque monsieur sandwich, a smoked duck

The Extravagant Salmon Wrapped Scallops

breast, and salmon belly wrapped scallops. I was pleased to see that some actual French inspired dishes were on this menu. If there is one cuisine type that Wichita is really lacking in, it would be classic French. While most dishes will run you about $15-$30 there are several in the $8-$15 range. Since AVI is billed as a seafood and steak place, we figured we should at least try one on these proteins, so Steph went with the extravagantly named Salmon Belly Wrapped Diver Scallops. Once I saw that a smoked duck breast was on the menu that was the end of the decision making process for me. Duck breast is one of my favorite splurge dishes since it is a meat that is difficult to obtain fresh around here, unless I take up duck hunting.  The scallops were served with creamed spinach and “griddle potatoes”, while the duck came with roasted asparagus and a parsnip puree.

Duck Breast: Overcooked, But Still Delicious

While waiting for the meal, some homemade roasted garlic bread was brought to our table. Whole cloves of garlic baked into the loaf made it an impressive pre-dinner bread offering. Both of our main dishes received high marks for presentation, although I immediately noticed that my duck was overcooked. Due to the low fat content of duck it really shouldn’t be cooked past medium rare, but this breast looked to be on the high end of medium. Despite this error, it still tasted wonderful. The meat was tender, the skin delightfully fatty, and the smoky, sweet flavor was perfect. Bonus points to AVI for using apple wood to smoke the duck. The asparagus and puree parsnips were good as well, although a larger portion would have been nice. The parsnips tasted very similar to mashed potatoes. Luckily the scallops did not suffer the same fate as the duck, they were cooked perfectly. The tender salmon belly was a good accompaniment for the scallops. While we were not impressed with the griddle potatoes, the richness of the creamed spinach complimented the delicate scallops nicely.

Overall our experience at AVI was positive. We did not have any problems with the service like some have complained about in the past. Hopefully they have smoothed out the operation and will be able to remain in business. When looking for a special occasion restaurant keep AVI in mind.

AVI Seabar & Chophouse on Urbanspoon

Newport Grill

4 May

For those that think good seafood cannot be had in Wichita, I give you Newport Grill. This high end eatery located along the serene banks of Lake Bradley Fair specializes in as fresh as you can get in Kansas seafood. As you can imagine you do pay a price for the luxury of high quality seafood, but they deliver with great dishes.

Newport’s cozy dining room was crowded on the Friday night that we visited making it rather loud inside. As soon as we were seated a team of severs descended upon us, procuring carafes of still and carbonated water for our hydration needs. The refreshingly concise menu offers a nice selection of seafood appetizers, salads, entrees, and a fresh catch section. If for some reason you are not in the mood for seafood they offer “land and air” options such as steaks, pork, and pasta.

Aye Laddie it’s the Scottish Salmon

Our group started off with appetizer orders of crab cakes and calamari. While the crab cakes weren’t impressive, the calamari, served with a tasty cajun aioli, was good. For our main course I went with the Ahi tuna and Steph ordered the Scottish salmon. Newport apparently takes pride in the location from which their fish is caught, as most menu items have a country of origin next to them. So if you have a problem supporting Scottish fishermen, then you better not order the salmon here.

The Ahi tuna came served on a bed of quinoa, cherries, and delicious

If You Love America You Have to Order This Fine Hawaiian Tuna

crispy Brussels sprouts. Yes I said delicious and Brussels sprouts in the same sentence. If I’m not mistaken I believe they were flash fried then drizzled with a tangy sauce.  The tuna was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender. I was happy to see quinoa being served with my dish. It is a great, underused grain-like food that pairs well with seafood.  The salmon with ravioli was another enjoyable dish. While it wasn’t the best salmon we have ever had, it was certainly high quality. The homemade ricotta ravioli was very good with the salmon. A nice balsamic reduction sauce provided just the right amount of sweetness to the dish. Another person in our party tried the pork tenderloin and I was lucky enough to get a sample. I was very impressed with the preparation of the tenderloin, it was cooked to a perfect medium doneness and served with a sweet caramelized apple sauce.

For seafood in Wichita Newport Grill is definitely one of the top places in my opinion. They also win the award for “Proper Preparation and Cooking of a Pork Product”  for their wonderful pork tenderloin that I may have to order the next time I am there.  Although you do have to pay a premium for your meal, it’s fun to splurge now and again on some deserving food.



Newport Grill on Urbanspoon

Larkspur Bistro and Bar- Wichita KS

1 Dec

To celebrate my birthday I decided to drag the extended family down to Larkspur Bistro and Bar for some relaxed upscale dining. Larkspur has been located at Douglas and Mosley for 20 years which means it was in Old Town before the Old Town revitalization ever started. Inside, the restaurant has ample seating, with trendy wood floors and nice original artwork dotting the walls. On the Friday night that we visited, a jazz combo was adding some classy background music. Even though they were playing a piano and stand-up bass the sound level was low enough that we were still able to carry on a conversation.

The menu at Larkspur is typical of most upscale restaurants in Wichita. It tries to cover all bases with salads, pastas, steaks, seafood, etc and of course they have the obligatory offering of hummus as an appetizer. I think you must get a tax break in Wichita if you offer hummus in your restaurant, because that would explain why 95% of restaurants serve it.

To kick off our meal we opted to go with a few orders of crab cakes as well as some fried calamari. While the crab cakes were nothing to get excited about, the calamari on the other hand was easily the best I have ever had and very impressive for Kansas seafood standards. Most of the time when you order calamari you get some tough and tiny pieces of squid, but not at Larkspur. We were served thick pieces of squid that were lightly breaded and delightfully moist. Served with a slightly spicy dipping sauce it was the perfect appetizer. For the main course I was wooed by the special of the day, Alaskan Halibut. Keeping with the seafood theme of the night, Steph went with the Linguini Scallops. Each entrée came with a good house salad as well as some delightfully crusty bread, that I believe was made in-house or at least tasted like it was.  My Halibut came out lightly breaded with a nice side of rice and veggies. Although the fish was cooked correctly I would have liked a bit more seasoning in the breading, nonetheless it was still a good meal. Steph really liked her linguini and luckily it was large portion, so I got to sample as well. Looking beyond the small, slightly overcooked scallops the rest of the dish was wonderful. The mushrooms, pine nuts, and scallions were perfectly paired with the butter-wine sauce. I would have to say it was one of the best pasta dishes I have had in Wichita.

If you are looking for a place that serves upscale food, yet would like a relaxed atmosphere Larkspur is your place. Although most dishes run in the $15-$30 dollar range you won’t leave with an empty stomach. Unlike some fine dining establishments that serve everything a la carte, Larkspur offers plenty of food with your entrée ensuring you won’t leave wanting to hit up McDonalds.

Larkspur Restaurant & Grill on Urbanspoon

Bella Vita- Wichita KS(The Trojan Horse of Fine Dining)

4 Sep

This weekend we decided to give Bella Vita a second chance visit. On our first attempt we drove all the way over to the west side only to find they had locked the doors 3o minutes before their supposed closing time. Well after a few months of trying to push that out of our minds we were up for round two.

Bella Vita is located in an inauspicious strip mall on West  St. just north of Douglas. You could call it the Trojan Horse of fine dining in Wichita. From the outside it looks like you might be walking into some retro supper club where the Saturday night special is meatloaf with brown gravy. Once you get inside though you start to get the vibe that there is something big going down. We showed up with no reservations on a Friday night(the staff told us this was a no no) and luckily were able to get a table after a short wait. Beware: They like to keep the small waiting area rather cold, so make a note to bring a snuggie to prevent frostbite while waiting. The dining room at Bella Vita is small with only about 12-15 tables set up in two rooms.  The decor of the restaurant, while nice, felt a bit dated. Fortunately the food made you forget all about your surroundings, well almost.

After being seated, our waiter rattled off the specials of the day. Although we were considering the calamari as an appetizer, the stuffed eggplant special won us over. It consisted of thinly sliced eggplant that had been stuffed with rice and peas and then fried. It was served with a delightful marinara sauce that complimented the fried eggplant nicely. Most menu items are A La Carte, so we both ordered side house salads before our entrees. The house salad comes with a lovely sweet balsamic dressing and is plated very nicely with strings of carrot and beet adorning the top. There were many tempting entrees, but in the end I decided to try the Osso Buco Veal special, while Steph went with the Cannelloni Crepes. My veal came served with a nice tomato based sauce and pappardelle noodles. The veal was wonderfully tender with the rich flavor that is expected from this meat. Strangely when I offered Steph a bite of baby cow she was a bit put off, but I eventually coaxed her into trying it. Steph loved her savory crepes. They came with a tasty Black Angus meatsauce and were topped with a wonderfully creamy bechamel sauce. We both thought the crepes were as good as those we had in France.

Bella Vita is the real deal when it comes to fine dining in Wichita. The food is top notch and perfectly executed. Although the environment is a bit lacking, they are planning to remodel in the coming months. Our biggest knock on Bella Vita was the noise level. When you combine a small dining area with a boisterous  Friday night crowd, it can get a bit loud. At one point a woman who may have polished off a bottle of wine by herself was dropping F-bombs. Rather entertaining.

Bella Vita –

Bella Vita Bistro on Urbanspoon


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