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Fork and Fennel (Vive la France!)

5 Dec

Wichita and I have waited a long time for a restaurant concept such as Fork and Fennel’s to come along. When I heard that the owner of The Anchor and Douglas Ave Chop Shop was behind it, I expected good things.  The combination of a trendy French inspired menu, good craft beer selection, relaxed atmosphere, and emphasis on quality locally raised products make this a unique establishment and the perfect place to celebrate my birthday or yours.

Shrimp in Trendy Pickled Form

Shrimp in Trendy Pickled Form

Fork and Fennel is located on east Douglas in what was once a Taco Tico. Although the building still retains some of its Southwestern architecture, the inside has been completely redone with a nice modern feel to it. They even put a small bar in the front for those who want to watch their fancy cocktails being made.

The drink menu features several unique cocktails, a nice selection of bottled craft beer, and limited and seasonal release beers on tap. I sampled a couple of delicious brews, including a 10% beast from O’Dell called Dr. Acula.

The food menu is small, but packs a rustic French punch. The highlights are Coq au Vin, pork and beef steaks featuring locally raised meat, roasted bone marrow, charcuterie and cheese plates, a burger with pork belly, and sandwiches featuring cured meats.

The Crusty Italian: Delicious Cured Sausage and Baguette

The Crusty Italian: Delicious Cured Sausage and Baguette

Unfortunately on the night we visited they had a plumbing issue earlier in the day that prevented some menu items from being available, namely two of the dishes I had my eye on, the Coq au vin and bone marrow. Nevertheless we still had difficulty making our selections, so we ended up ordering the fennel salad, charcuterie plate, Crusty Italian, and the pickled shrimp.

The fennel salad was a light dish that featured grilled fennel on a bed of lettuce and herbs with lemon zest and Italian cheese. Fennel can be a strong and pungent vegetable, but in its grilled form it was very palatable. One of the more popular culinary trends currently is pickling, and Fork and Fennel’s effort involves whole shrimp that have been lightly pickled with lemons and herbs. I was disappointed the dish did not have as much pickled goodness as I had hoped. Instead of a salty and briny taste, it was more of a subtle citrus flavor. The Crusty Italian was a simple sandwich with several kinds of cured meat, cheese, eggplant spread, and lettuce. The sausage stole the show on this delicious sandwich as it should have. Some homemade potato chips were served on the side, but lacked much in the way of seasoning.

Authentic Charcuterie: Happy Birthday to Me

Authentic Charcuterie: Happy Birthday to Me

The highlight of our meal was the hardcore charcuterie plate. Included on the platter were ample servings of four cured meats, lardo, pate, pickled cauliflower, and some crusty bread. Each of the cured pork products were outstanding, the best being a fennel sausage. I believe that Fork and Fennel sources some of their charcuterie products from one of few places in the country that dry cures meats nowadays, La Quercia. The lardo, which is cured pig fat, was a rich and decadent treat spread over a piece of baguette.  Equally pleasing was the pate, which is hard to find around here. While many people find it disagreeable, I am down with it in all its pasty goodness.

I was happy to find that Fork and Fennel had lived up to everything I had hoped it would. It certainly fills a void in the Wichita dining scene and offers patrons the opportunity to experience some new flavors. While the prices are a bit on the higher side, you are paying for quality ingredients. One of the downsides is the small kitchen area, which limits how much food can be produced each night, so some of the more popular dishes are prone to being sold out. If you are looking for the closest thing to classical French cooking Wichita has to offer, go to Fork and Fennel order a craft beer and a charcuterie plate and thank me later.

Fork and Fennel 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

Bagatelle Bakery- Wichita KS

27 Oct

One of Wichita’s dining/food weaknesses is the local bakery scene. There are only a handful of places that offer fresh baked delights and one of those is Bagatelle. Located on Harry just east of Woodlawn, Bagatelle has been turning out breads and pastries for a number of years as well as serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After just one visit to this bakery/restaurant I am ready give it the award for “Most Eclectic Menu in Wichita” or “Most Likely Restaurant to serve Mexican, Lebanese, and French foods on the same day”.  Those are two categories that must be added to the Reader’s Choice Awards next year. We apparently visited on Mexican day, because the special was enchiladas, which complemented the quiches, soups, hummus, and ham sandwiches rather nicely. A bit taken back by the presence of enchiladas at a bakery I fell back on my old trusty friend, the ham and cheese croissant. I also got a cup of black bean soup for my side. Steph decided to go simple as well and ordered a turkey croissant with a side of hummus. Making our way to the decent sized seating area, we found a basket full of pita chips and well as some tasty ciabatta bread that was being offered to all customers. It looked like if we had gotten there earlier, there would have been some cake for dessert on the freebie table.

We enjoyed our generous bowl of hummus and as well as the cup of black bean soup and some ciabatta bread while waiting for the sandwiches to come out. The sandwiches eventually came out served with a simple pickle. Both the turkey and the ham sandwich came out the same with ample amounts of meat, several slices of cheese, and served on what was a very good croissant. Some people might have been taken aback by the lack of other ingredients, but it just reminded me of the way they serve sandwiches in France. When you have quality ingredients you don’t need a bunch of sauce and vegetables to get in the way.  Now I’m not saying the croissants at Bagatelle are as good as in Paris, but they are some of the better ones I have had stateside. We left Bagatelle full and satisfied with our experience. Steph was so full from lunch she actually passed up on some of the wonderful looking pastries behind the counter.

As far as the bread and pastry products go at Bagatelle, they had croissants, ciabatta bread, baguettes, and a wide variety other assorted pastries. If their baked goods menu is anything like the lunch and dinner menu I can only assume that it is rather dynamic and changes day-to-day. Similar to N and J’s, Bagatelle also offers bags of pita chips, cheeses, and seasonings. To sum it all up, Bagatelle offers a random assortment of good food, breads, and pastries at reasonable prices and they can even make you a wedding cake.

Baugatelle’s Daily Specials

<a href="http://Bagatelle Bakery 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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