Saturday, August 28, 2010

Justus, Blue Stem, Ernie, and Bert

During the middle of this last week, I went over to Kansas City to launch our wine distributorship in the area. Part of the "necessaries" was to eat at some of the best places in town. This led to two amazing meals- one at Justus Drugstore in Smithville, and the other at Blue Stem in Westport. Although they were both great meals, it's hard to compare them- they are totally different styles of places. Therefore, I will use the analogy of Ernie and Bert. You remember them- the two fellas that were best friends on Sesame Street, and sang songs in the tub.

Justus was Ernie.

Blue Stem was Bert.

In the show, Ernie was the more colorful one. He was more likely to get into trouble, he wore a brightly colored, horizontally striped shirt, and had an orange head. This is analogous to the experience at Justus. Jonathan Justus is an artist at heart, and it really shows in his food. It is bright, splashy, loud, and has lots of big flavors all combining toward a common goal of exciting the palate. There were things like marrow foam and goose on the menu. I personally loved the black pepper gnocchi, as well as the goose breast that I ate. My father, however, "won" the entree round by ordering the Wagyu Brisket. Freaking delicious is all you can say! The decor was modern, with lots of colors mixed with grays, and then accented by warm wood. The service was kind, efficient, and made us feel right at home. Even the bar staff was kind of wild with great renditions of classic drinks- including house-made absinthe and bitters. I would definitely go back in a heartbeat.

Like I said, Blue Stem was Bert. Bert was the trustworthy one- more of a linear thinker (he wore a v-neck sweater over a turtle neck, for God's sake.) He was a bit more buttoned up and polished. This was similar to the ethereal dinner at Blue Stem. The word that comes to mind in describing the entire experience is "refinement". First the decor- much softer feel, with tons of mirrors acquired from garage sales and flea markets, pictures of grass burning, and deep, dark fabrics and upholstery. You feel special just walking into the place. For dinner, you choose 3, 5, 7, or 12 courses, priced accordingly. Our table of 5 each chose the 5-course route. I started with a fantastic Foie torchon, followed by incredible and spicy crab folie pasta. Then came the biggest damn scallop I have ever seen in the Midwest (perfectly seared), and a duo of Pork. Yeah, I know that eating things like foie and pork at a place like this is sort of giving the chef softballs to knock out of the park, but the rest of the table ordered an array of fish, hen, salad, and tomato dishes. There wasn't a single off-flavor on the table. Speaking of perfection, I don't like to pull the whole "I have eaten at the best restaurants in the US, and know what good service is" card, but I'm gonna. And it's okay. The service at Blue Stem was absolutely immaculate. It was a really fun experience, and again, one would not have to twist my arm to go back.

So, there you have it- two different restaurants for two different experiences people may be looking for. Neither one was better, it just depends on what you want.

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