A couple of weeks ago, I walked out of one of the new restaurants in the Power & Light District — I won't be coy here; it was Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant — after dining there with two friends. I was still holding my charge receipt and mumbling about the expense. "Honestly," I said, turning to my friend Addison. "I don't want to sound like a stingy bastard, but did that meal really seem like it was worth over a hundred bucks?"
Addison and Bob stopped in their tracks, looked at me and answered in unison: "No."
Hell, I know that in this economy everything costs more — even burgers and fries. But when was the last time I got something of real culinary value for my hard-earned bucks? The following week, like a cosmic answer to my question, I achieved a kind of culinary nirvana for about $100.
I knew the food would be perfectly fine at the three-month-old Trezo Vino Wine Bistro in Leawood's still-unfinished Park Place shopping center. The menu was created by Michael Peterson, the talented chef who also oversees the kitchen at this restaurant's sister bistro, Trezo Mare in the Northland. Still, I was surprised to discover that the evening menu is a collection of truly inventive and delightful small plates, salads, pizza and flatbreads that aren't outrageously priced at all.
On my first visit, I brought along my friend Debbie and her Australian chum Alissa. The lovely Alissa looks like a film star. Her self-important first words to me: "I should tell you that I'm very much a food snob."
I cringed as I pulled open Trezo Vino's heavy glass door. This will be the meal from hell, I thought.
Happily, Trezo Vino is the perfect restaurant for pretentious foodie types as well as their less constipated counterparts. There's foie gras as well as a Kansas City strip, though no burgers or fish and chips (which seem to be recurring themes on menus I've seen lately). But Trezo Vino doesn't pretend to be a corporate chain designed for the hoi polloi. "It's kind of uppity," said a friend of mine who waited 45 minutes for a table one Saturday night. "But nice uppity."
Except for one momentary glitch, I experienced nothing but flawless service here. That glitch, I should note, took place during the lunch shift, when a well-meaning bartender (wearing a regal strand of pearls) offered me a choice of two places to sit in a nearly empty dining room: a claustrophobic deuce right next to two loud, chatty diners or a seat at the bar. Baby, I hopped on that bar stool tout de suite.
I was less uppity during the dinner hour, when the dining room was packed. I was so hungry, I would gladly have followed the hostess back into the walk-in cooler.
"What a pretty place," Deb said, admiring the curvy black granite bar, the shiny wood-beamed ceilings, the goldenrod and plum walls and the art-glass light fixtures. "This menu is fantastic," Alissa said. "Portobello mushroom ravioli with port-wine cream!"
And that's only the dish's condensed title. The menu lists a lot more of the ingredients, and it's an impressive assortment — though not for everyone. My friend Sally, a chef, ate there a few days before I did. "Each dish has so many ingredients," she reported, "that it just makes things too complicated."
Complicated, I don't mind — if Michael Peterson is tossing together the ingredients. Because most of the dishes are meant to be shared, we each ordered two things to taste and pass around. For Alissa, that meant the two fat pillows of ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, stacked atop one another with a sliver of brandy-cured foie gras and a jumble of micro-greens splashed with truffle oil. "It's extraordinary!" she said. I was a bit disappointed in the "sweet chile calamari fries," thick ropes that were crunchy but neither sweet nor chile-hot and served with warm tomato sauce. Happily, though, a superb sweet chile sauce accompanied the light, delicate crab-and-cabbage spring rolls.
The most exquisite dish of the evening was a flaming china plate containing a pretty bowl of lighter-than-air gnocchi hidden under a bubbling blanket of caramel-colored lobster-cream sauce. This affair was topped with half of a grilled lobster tail, which Alissa and Debbie split while I speared one puffy gnocchi after another. Five bites later, I was practically in a coma.
"It's decadent, isn't it?" Alissa said, noticing that I was getting woozy from so much shellfish and cream.
We figured the featured dessert, the "Chocolate Sampler," would be just as rich — and it might have been, if each of the delicacies on the rectangle plate hadn't been virtually microscopic. A port pot au chocolate, topped with an incredible homemade marshmallow, came in a wee doll's cup. The biscotti truffle was tinier than a marble. And the "flourless chocolate torte" was the same size and texture of a Keebler chocolate-covered graham cracker. All were tasty enough, particularly the dainty scoop of ganache custard, but unlike the other menu choices, the sampler wasn't ideal for sharing.
I'm not so good about sharing anyway. When I stopped in for lunch a few days later, I was happy to be getting a meal all to myself. The pearl-wearing bartender suggested one of the combo lunch deals: a small bowl of soup and a half-sandwich for $12 (including fries!), which was a terrific bargain, she explained, because a full bowl of the lobster and king-crab bisque cost $12 without the sandwich. I was game, especially because fries were part of the package. It would have been a scandal if I'd finished off a bigger bowl of the bisque, a supple mahogany soup that was as head-spinning as melted ice cream. I wasn't overwhelmed by the peppery "salmon pastrami" sandwich, generously topped with homemade sauerkraut, but it was an interesting novelty.
After such a sinful lunch, I needed something light for dessert, such as the fresh blueberries in a golden spun-sugar basket served with the white-chocolate fudge and Bailey's Irish Cream crème brûlée. As the bartender walked away with my order, I shouted at her: "Just bring the crème brûlée, dear. Hold the berries."
I didn't want anything too healthy getting in the way of the flavor of the sumptuously satiny chilled custard. And I savored each bite — including the crisp, berryless sugar basket. The fare at Trezo Vino might not cost a lot of money, but it sure as hell tastes like it does.