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The restaurant is operated by the Grunauer family: chef Peter Grunauer (who started his career working for the legendary disco restaurateur Regine) and his two children, Nicholas and Elizabeth. In their very European venue, the family serves food that hasn't gotten a lot of attention in Kansas City's urban core since the Salzburg Haus in the 1970s.
The menu includes all the dishes that character actor Frank Morgan rattles off, hungrily, in the 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner: wiener schnitzel, of course; a seductive and brothy (not creamy) Hungarian goulash; a soothing fritatten soup; excellent cold salads, including cucumber; and a superb apple strudel served with plenty of schlag. The service is polished, the bartenders are handsome, and the owners are always on hand to make sure this operation is running as smoothly as a Viennese waltz.
Latin Bistro and Culinary Center
6924 North Oak Trafficway, Gladstone, 816-420-9333
Latin Bistro and Culinary Center is so far removed from Kansas City's traditional restaurant destinations — the Plaza, Westport, various gas stations — that visiting it is like going to New York City and schlepping off-off-off-Broadway to see a show.
But it's worth the trip, and it requires a theatrical metaphor, too, because the Northland storefront isn't merely a restaurant. It doubles as a performance space for the larger-than-life personality of its dimpled chef-owner, "Tito Le Chef." By day, Tito (real name: Vasilio Dios) teaches cooking classes in the exhibition kitchen in the center of the dining room. By night, he prepares dinner, and he does it with such a flamboyant technique that you might call him the Liberace of pots and pans.
Dios doesn't create lowbrow Tex-Mex dishes in either the performance kitchen or the more functional one behind the dining room. His fare leans more heavily on what he insists are ancient Mayan recipes and the cuisine of the Yucatán Peninsula. Wherever they're from, his signature dishes, such as a fantastically rich chicken mole or the slow-cooked cochinita pibil, are worthy of the spectacle.
Westport Cafe & Bar
419 Westport Road, 816-931-4740
Aaron Confessori wasn't so much inspired by the bistros and cafés that he visited in Europe as by the European-style boîtes of his neighborhood in New York City, where he lived while chopping his way through culinary school. Those NYC restaurants were just as busy late at night as they were in the mornings, and Confessori thought the concept would work perfectly in Westport, where the clientele gets hungry before and after the bars and nightclubs close their doors.
The culinary influence of the Westport Cafe & Bar is, however, distinctly Parisian. Confessori's menu is heavy on traditional bistro fare: omelets and pomme frites, mussels and (delicious) bread, a first-rate croque monsieur, supple soups and a fine vegetable ravioli. The Sunday brunch — a Gallic-influenced off-the-menu affair — is one of the best in town.
The restaurant may be the first sophisticated dining room in Westport since the days of the Prospect, Zola and Metropolis. But if those three restaurants evoked the sensibilities of their respective eras, the 1980s and '90s, the new Westport Café & Bar may be the template for the successful restaurant concept of 2011: intimate and sexy, unpretentious and still welcoming, and — most important — modestly priced.
This can be a tricky tightrope act: offering superior food at prices that customers can afford in this economy. In 2010, it was a requirement for restaurants wanting to last. Will "bold but accessible" still be the restaurant-business mantra at the end of 2011? Ask me in 12 months.