During my kaleidoscopic career in the newspaper business I spent a few years as a restaurant critic. Once a month or every six weeks or so – along with whatever other writing or editing I was doing at the time - I analyzed meals and experiences at Kansas City restaurants. Every now and then I’d write about food experiences during travels elsewhere (Washington, D.C., Seattle, Paris, an American Royal barbecue immersion). I mostly enjoyed chowing down during a period, not so long ago, when Kansas City was increasingly being led forward by a new generation of creative chefs and food-and-beverage professionals. I can’t deny that restaurant writing and the most hedonistic and self-conscious aspects of the scene sometimes resemble a kind of food porn. So be it. Who doesn’t really like a sexy picture of an assemblage of desirable pleasure on a plate?
I suppose a similar thought occurred the other night more than once during a three-hour dinner in the Corvino Tasting Room. This is the fixed-price, multi-course menu that unfolds out of the view of the sometimes raucous main dining room, or Supper Club, at Corvino and within whisper distance of the kitchen. (Along with four generously sized four-top tables, two counter stools offer ringside views of cooking and chef-ing in action.)
My experience at Corvino had been limited to a dinner, some drinks and some late-night noshing off the attractive (and attractively priced) menu that kicks in at 10 p.m. Food was always good, or at least interesting. Service was sometimes surprisingly ragged. Some recent staff turnover seems to indicate the place is still finding its way. But with a foundation based on Michael Corvino’s exquisite and exciting approach to food, its future is highly promising.
I didn’t intend this post to be a review. But I will say that of the dozen dishes put before us, from the opening amuse bits to the closing sweets, not a single false note occurred. There were rich and tempting notes of chicken liver mousse and foie gras. Sweet and savory danced a pas de deux all night long. An oyster topped with a melon granita and chile, was an early, winning example of the dynamics of texture, color and palate-enlivening sensations that Corvino revels in. I would return to his kitchen if only to savor another bowl of the corn pudding, bedded down with chanterelle mushrooms, trout roe and a dusting of buckwheat. The “main” dishes included a succulent King salmon and a plate with two contrasting cuts of ribeye. After opening with a glass of Champagne (Jacquesson 740), I asked sommelier Ross Jackson to suggest a bottle to carry my table of four through the middles and mains. The Burgundy “Les Bons Batons” (2014), by the female winemaker Ghislaine Barthod, was light, slightly earthy and perfect.
The Tasting Room, to be sure, is not an everyday experience. It’s a special-occasion place, where you should expect to drop a couple of bills per person. Or more. Much more. (We skipped an optional caviar plate and a $50 upcharge for A5 wagyu – the highest rated and rarest version – on the beef plate, though I’m sure there are plenty of big spenders who’d spring for either experience.)
Kansas City’s dining scene continues to expand and excite. With its prominent place in a food-centric vortex of the Crossroads Arts District, Corvino clearly is a trend setter. Its lovely gray-hued main room – the space designed by a top-shelf architecture firm, Hufft Projects –includes a thoughtfully made stage for musicians, a rarity, but a welcome one, for restaurants. Here’s hoping my spheres of food and music friends will continue to happily collide there.