More American Context

There are a million reasons why the best songs are always about fucking.  Each reason has its own parallel monologue that explains how the most pleasurable things can bring with them the most ruin.  If you can’t apply that dichotomy to food in your own life, you are an alien to me and I’m probably not going to have dinner with you for everyone’s own good.  I don’t think I’ve ever even tried to pretend I have a normal, or a healthy, relationship with food.  The shiny, happy, ubiquitous, sterile, anaerobic, parsed into oblivion foodie movement serves as a great cover for an outlier like me.  A foodie has a multi-tiered philosophy about how and why they purchase, order, eat, read and cook every goddamn thing that inhabits their tech savvy sphere of never shutting up about it.  And so do I.  But I allow myself to believe that what sets me apart from “them”, and makes me the apex predator of non-industry dining companions, is the life-long tried and tested philosophy that can be stated simply- If you haven’t let it almost kill you, do you really love it?  I’m not saying this is right.  I have no desire to brave the gauntlet through a minutia-raping hornet’s nest of really boring opinions from surprisingly nice people.  I’m just saying this is how I roll.

That is the sort of thinking that goes on behind my affable demeanor as I enjoy several hours of lone fine dining.  But there has to be some good material to get that rat cage rattling.  I’ve had enough high end meals to not feel like I have to rationalize the cost of that level of dining with a review style that has become boilerplate due to the internet.  I’ll do my best to include pictures, because I’m not a complete asshole.  But I am all about Kansas City, and Kansas City food.  Not all the food.  Just the food that really matters to me.  I know I did another write-up on The American not that long ago, but the menu has been in a state of constant change in both format and content.  I’ve been eating in the lounge quite a bit (best happy hour deal in KC), and have had the opportunity to try a lot of different dishes through the summer.  With the new fall menu, it was time to get back in for a proper meal. American October Small-1 Changes are happening. A lot of changes.  Same room, same view, same attention to service, different vibe, regeneration of spirit.  For those of us who pull up to the valet station in our 2003 Saturn and exclaim “Fucking Kevin Yoder signs? What the fuck? Oh….my bad….these aren’t my people, these are Sunday school lessons about Ronald Reagan people” like I did, you expect way more eye-rolling moments from your visit. But they never come.  Rich white people with no taste who demand to be seen will always stick to some very specific restaurants in this town, but hopefully they’ll learn how good they have it at this incarnation of The American. Those stereotypes are starting to fade a bit in order to make it a more accessible experience, but the stuff that matters remains the same.  Seriously, some things can’t change. If the level of service changed I’d be the first to abandon ship. However, even within that tightly regimented service there is a lot of freedom to inject personality into the way the menu is sold and how specific dishes are communicated.  Having servers who can be passionate about what they personally love about the food while still executing that dance….that shit is magical. American October Small-2There are recent staff changes that make a lot of sense as far as adding momentum to the evolution while guaranteeing a top tier, professional and welcoming experience.  Paige Unger Cline as bar manager, selfishly, is a fantastic choice of personnel because:  world class mocktails.  Seriously, a fresh cocktail program with that food….no brainer. And as much as I fucking HATE having to get to know MORE NEW PEOPLE AT THE RIEGER, adding Amy Smith to the guest services team is a win.  You get people who know a lot of people who happen to know what makes KC click RIGHT NOW on your staff, and sell an enthusiasm based on a very real, relevant and honest top tier experience, and you’re going to win.  A host of intangibles come together to create a solid, tangible vibe that is both inviting and exclusive….and that goodness hangs heavy in the air. A shameless junkie like me is made to feel at home. In short, go and check out happy hour and see for yourself.  I don’t dedicate sentences to shit just to try and sound impressive. I know what I’m talking about. American October Small-4

Cheese gougere, puffed buckwheat with burrata and peach preserves

A menu is a chef’s love song to you, an expression of their soul, a communication emanating from the very heart of their being and all of that shit.  You know what else a menu is?  It’s probably the single most important piece of real estate in the restaurant.  And nobody does those big ass 70’s French restaurant menus anymore….they try getting it onto a goddamn business card and hardly even use entire words much less descriptions.  So there is some pressure to get it dialed in right when you’re dinging people for a hundred bucks a pop.  Michael Corvino has tried some different variations and has taken some real risks as far as balancing innovation and keeping the old guard regulars happy over the course of the year.  I really think the current format, accompanied by a website that no longer drives like a wrecked Yugo, is very, very smart.  Two seven course menus; one eclectic and one classic…..two people can have fourteen different courses and experience the best of both worlds. Or not. Whatever.  There is a magic to getting diners to dine how you want them to, and Chef Corvino is pretty wiley in that regard.  And of course the 13 course Chef’s Experience menu, because hell yes you have to offer that if you even want to be acknowledged as a real place with food.  Spoiler Alert: I ended up getting to try pretty much everything on that lovingly appointed page.

American October Small-5Turnip soup, espelette, olive oil

As far as the food goes, much of it exists, in my opinion…”in between”…not Asian but with plenty of Asian ingredients, not American but entirely familiar.  Ingredients that hint at massive flavors, but dialed back to insure balance.  For example, much of the time when you get a dish in which something is pickled, fermented or cured, those specific flavors are going to be what sells the experience.  They’ll dominate everything but the main ingredient.  In a Corvino dish, the flavor will be present but restrained enough to let everything balance out into a much wider flavor profile.  The sum of all the parts is the point. At least that’s how I interpret it, I could be completely missing the point. I’m not above admitting that.  Adding to the complexity is the fact that in some of the negative space left by that single flavor or technique you THOUGHT would dominate the dish is….texture. Lots of fantastic textures where something like a vinegar zing would be.   I like Michael Corvino and Andy McCormick a whole lot. They bring me food that makes me think. You do that and you’ve got a friend. A friend who believes in excess and bad decisions.

American October Small-6Caviar, potato, yogurt, egg yolk, shallot

This dish had white sturgeon roe from Idaho, potato chips, whipped yogurt, cured egg yolk, amaranth and pickled shallot. A whole lot going on in such a small dish, but in the end it was basically the greatest Dean’s French onion dip and potato chips you could ever imagine.  If you’ve known me for five minutes, you know when I break out a childhood junk food description, my heart has been touched.  I don’t throw that shit out lightly.  Ever.

American October Small-9Lobster, pineapple, coconut milk, long pepper

I see this dish and go “Hey, I’ve eaten dishes just like this! This is what things look like now!”.  Not quite.  It has a familiar plating, and it’s a damn lobster dish in a top tier restaurant.  BUT…..BBUUUUTTT….perfect, perfect poach, acid coming from the pineapple, lobster sauce and dehydrated lobster sauce, coconut milk and dried coconut.  The texture of the lobster with the fishy funk of the dried lobster sauce and light sweetness from the coconut….I’d order this a la carte, no question.  Way, way more big flavor than the presentation teases.  I’m usually purposely unimpressed by the lobster dish at the nice restaurant where people expect to get some damn lobster, so I can pretend to be too cool for that, and this was a fine sneak attack.  Damn fine.

American October Small-10Kusshi oyster, trout roe, lemon sabayon, quinoa

This would have been far less impressive if someone described it as a deconstructed fried oyster.  Nobody did that.  So it was a very good couple of bites of fish and crunch.

American October Small-13Radish, crème fraiche, agrumato, pumpernickel, watercress

No big shock, we are a radish family.  This is a favorite dish on the menu.  Whole salt water poached radishes as well as raw, dehydrated, grated, fermented, smoked and dried. Every possible texture and level of flavor…earth, crunch, heat and funk.  All players sharing the stage in a manner that hearkens back to a time of unmatched civility.

American October Small-15Foie gras torchon, vadouvan curry, persimmon, puffed black rice

This guy.  This is a good guy.  I’ve eaten my weight in foie gras a few times over, and unlike many un-American Restaurant lobster dishes, I do not tire of foie gras.  Or caviar.  However, it’s hard to find a multi-dimensional, non-traditional foie dish that isn’t trying to be too cute.  Like aerated….I mean, I’ll eat it on one of  those damn Adria style microwave cakes just to be an annoying foodie, but come on.  Here you’ve got persimmon and persimmon leather, puffed black rice in place of something like brioche, and with the vadouvan an overall spice profile that is one hundred percent sweet mulling spices, cinnamon, pumpkin, sweet potato……this is one to go buy.

American October Small-16Matsutake, sunchoke, smoke, butter

Sunchoke poached in smoked butter, matsutake both grilled and shaved raw, dehydrated sunchoke, sunchoke and matsutake puree…..this dish is a fat stack of umami.  It’s gone before you can really process it. Then you sit there wondering what the hell brought that on?  What makes you think of that specific dish?

American October Small-18English muffin, apple butter

The description pretty much says it all.  Definitely the most perfect English muffin texture you’re likely to find anywhere.

American October Small-20Chicken egg, farro verde, parsnip, sage, brown butter

For kind of a simple dish, this hits me right in my unhealthy obsession with food zone.  I’m thankful to have such a great meal, but the whole time I was eating this thing I was thinking….man, that English muffin and this dish would be the ultimate breakfast.

American October Small-21Red abalone, black trumpet, devils club, miso, seaweed

This abalone is shucked and beaten in a methodical manner and then poached in clarified butter.  Devils club is a ginseng that adds an earthy/herbal tone and mermaid’s hair is the seaweed that the abalone eats, along with leek roots.  This is a very textural thing, unique and hard to describe.  A dish I liked a lot and can’t point to a specific reason why.

American October Small-27 Sablefish, Brussels sprouts, beets, horseradish, grapefruit

There isn’t really a substitute for a perfectly cooked piece of fish.  Dense, oily black cod can stand up to a little bit of abuse compared to leaner fish, so having this level of finesse makes it a special dish. Bonus- a little brandade tortellini.  Sweet, salt, fat and earth.  Fish course is a win.

American October Small-28Akaushi striploin, white elf, winter melon, celeriac, nasturtium

The steak is seasoned with salt and espelette pepper, with a celery root puree, white elf mushrooms and winter melon cooked with honey, yuzu and vinegar.  A chef’s tasting is generally going to end with a this type of meat course.  Perfect execution of flawless ingredients.  While I can’t make any predictions, I have a strange feeling that before long Chef Corvino will venture further into the dark side and put together a tasting that really shakes up this traditional conclusion. Maybe it will be short lived, who knows.  Evolution just demands that kind of experimentation when you are bringing your very personal signature vision to the menu.  There’s always the lounge and a la carte menus…the steak doesn’t have to disappear or anything, but I’m pretty sure there are a variety of different ways to take this experience totally outside the box while still honoring the format.

American October Small-30Decade cheddar, pale ale pretzel, pickled honey mustard

Best cheese courses in town.  I don’t know why composed cheese courses aren’t everywhere.

American October Small-31Yogurt panna cotta, garbanzo cookie and mango foam

American October Small-32Sesame semifreddo, mochi, grape jelly, buckwheat cake, concord grape slush

I’ll just go ahead and say it.  I’m pretty sure that, at this point in time, right now in Kansas City, Nick Wesemann makes my favorite desserts.  Rockstar level is basically the bare minimum, in my experience.  Then you have examples of his work that just go to a whole other place.  The steamed honey cake dish I wouldn’t shut up about earlier this year is a prime example.  Then this thing.  It’s just crazy.  At first, you get that super sesame flavor along with an almost acidic hit of semi-fermented concord grape and don’t think you like it, then one second later…..it’s totally genius.  It’s a peanut butter and jelly dish, but not.  In short, so I don’t belabor the point, he is very good at making gorgeous compositions that are a gift to the plate, and you want to just destroy them like a starving fat man at a pie eating contest.  When I’m waiting to dig in to one of Chef Wesemann’s desserts, sometimes I feel like I understand the anticipation a serial killer must feel.  That’s high praise.

American October Small-33Dulcey cremeux, macadamia sponge, caramelized banana, coconut puff, banana-rum gelato

This is a great dessert. It’s pretty perfect as far as flavor and texture, and would be the rockstar choice of a lot of top dessert menus. But if I ate this menu again I would request two of the grape and sesame dish.  I’d start a Wesemann newbie out with this one and gradually ease them in to the deep end of the pool.

American October Small-34Gooey chocolate cake, burnt sugar ice cream, olive oil

I literally drove like a drunk after this one.  It was a surprise addition, and from what I understand may appear on the lounge menu, but don’t quote me.  You’re basically drinking a very rich chocolate cake with warm olive oil poured over the top…not unlike a souffle, but richer to a point where you are using the ice cream to cut the richness.  You are using. The ice cream. To cut the richness.

The American has always been a special occasion kind of place.  It has always been a place where you are guaranteed great food by a respected and talented chef.  I don’t have a history there that allows me to compare the food that is happening right now with what has happened over the past ten or twenty years in order to draw parallels and sound like I actually know what I’m talking about.  I’m just a guy who finds something he really likes and takes it too far. The best way for me to break it down as simply as possible is to say that when I’m spending a lot of money, special occasion money, on a meal it has to deliver on every level for me to go back, much less ramble on and on about it.  A historic room with a view, flawlessly choreographed and deeply knowledgeable service, and food with a distinct signature that I think I could pick out of a lineup of dishes at any point, yet have no idea what it will look like six months from now.

American October Small-19

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Categories: Fine Dining, New, The American

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2 Comments on “More American Context”

  1. January 15, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    “This would have been far less impressive if someone described it as a deconstructed fried oyster. Nobody did that. So it was a very good couple of bites of fish and crunch.”

    YES, QUEEN.

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  1. The American’s new First Friday lunch & other weekend possibilities | Recommended Daily - November 7, 2014

    […] pastry chef Nick Wesemann for this week’s review and a local food blog, Hunter S Fishback, dived into the tasting menu (click through for the droolworthy […]

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