I've eaten more than my share of good bread and butter over the years, but never to the point of nearly ruining a perfectly good dinner. That's exactly what happened the first time I dined at Piropos, the four-month-old reincarnation of the Argentinian steakhouse formerly located on a bluff in Parkville. Gary and Cristina Worden (a native of Argentina), moved their restaurant to Briarcliff Village last year, and now it's on a bluff with an even better view: a dramatic vista of downtown Kansas City.
The new venue is located on the second floor of a vaguely Tuscan-style building near the entrance to the supposedly swanky but seriously claustrophobic Briarcliff Village shopping center. I'm underwhelmed by the retail complex but wowed by the stylish Piropos, which has two entrances, including a dramatic circular staircase on the first floor that winds up to the main dining room with its vaulted ceiling, grand piano and a stunning wall of arched windows facing south toward the Kansas City skyline.
The dinner menu has changed very little, and the formal touches remain: exquisitely professional service, salads on chilled plates with cold forks (ditto for dessert service), crisp white tablecloths and a pianist playing an unexpected repertoire of show tunes. I swear I even heard the Georgy Girl theme.
I didn't request a window table on that first visit, so I focused my attention on a more alluring subject: a silvery wire basket heaped with hunks of crusty baguette, crispy slices of buttery focaccia and pencil-thin breadsticks. No less an authority than the Book of Deuteronomy informs me that man cannot live by bread alone, so I made liberal use of the delicacies that came with it: Argentinian butter and a trio of Latin American sauces chimichurri, garlic aïoli and salsa criolla served in little white bowls.
"Don't eat too much bread," warned my friend Franklin as I splashed a spoonful of dark-green chimichurri on one of the foccacia crisps. But the crackerlike bread covered in the concoction of parsley, garlic and olive oil was my undoing. And before I could stop myself, I was also spooning the pale garlic aïoli and the salsa criolla crudo (chopped uncooked sweet peppers, onion, tomato and garlic) on the bread, the breadsticks, even my fingers.
Our server had made a production number out of explaining the sauces to us when setting them in the center of the table. "And this one," he announced, pointing to the dish of criolla, "is pronounced kree-OH-zha" in Buenos Aires, anyway, where criolla translates roughly as creole and the chopped pepper dish has similarities to Louisiana-style cooked creole sauce.
"You're eating a lot of butter," Franklin said disapprovingly as I slathered another slice of French bread with the imported Argentinian spread. It seemed odd, given that we were in the heartland of the United States, to use a dairy product from Latin America, but I later discovered that it wasn't as exotic as I thought. Back in 1949, the country's then-leader Juan Perón Evita's husband complained that Argentina wasn't producing enough butter to export; in the past few years, however, international trade statistics report that Argentina's butter exports to America have increased significantly.
I didn't notice any particular taste difference, but what the hell. It was, just as James Beard believed, the greatest of feasts. Unfortunately, I was practically full before the empanadas arrived and on the verge of bursting when my dinner a plate of wallet-sized ravioli stuffed with goat, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses and drenched in a buttery-rich chili-and-carrot sauce was set before me.