Yes, a handful of vegetarian restaurants are scattered around the city, but anyone who has ever polished off a plate of hummus knows that not all vegetarian dishes are low-fat. And lots of them don't taste very good, either, especially if they come from a kitchen where a zealous cook has done such a good job of removing fat, salt, sugar, and potential allergens that there's no flavor left, either.
For "spa" food, it's time for a road trip. Just a leisurely car ride away from Kansas City, in the faded glory of downtown Excelsior Springs, the old Monarch Room at the Elms Resort & Spa (401 Regent Street) has been given yet another renovation. At Adega, the once-vibrant red walls are now painted in shades of soothing ivory and celery, and the windows have been draped with plain canvas. The chef overseeing the curvy upstairs dining room is Will Elliott, who has returned to the hotel for a second try at giving the place some much-needed pizzazz.
I'd say Elliott has the talent, but is Excelsior Springs ready for his brand of excitement? A massage therapist working at the resort's spa whispered to me that most of her customers dislike the restaurant for the usual reasons: Dinners are too expensive and the food's too weird. But what can you expect? On my visit, I overheard the jowly guy in the cowboy hat at the next table giggle over the word "shiitake" as if it were something dirty. His companion thought it was funny too, but she just wanted a frozen Margarita, damn it. You get the picture.
The food at Adega isn't too expensive (the dinners run from $16 for roasted chicken to $32 for veal porterhouse). And as for weird, the Wellness Cuisine selections take up barely a page of the dinner menu. I'd call them flamboyantly creative. True, nothing could have persuaded me to sample an appetizer of green-pea pancakes, although another offering, the giant cobalt glass bowl filled with three very small "roasted sherry prawns" was a treat. Too bad the crisp little shellfish on the bed of wilted spinach weren't really prawns but garden-variety roasted shrimp in a gloriously tart chile-tangerine reduction.
The food is presented here with great drama: a salad of romaine hearts, blue cheese and bacon comes in a wavy glass bowl nearly as large as a Dale Chihuly sculpture. A dinner of chargrilled scallops with a black truffle relish was as pretty to look at as it was to taste. And the tenderloin of beef was lean, juicy and tender.
Alas, the dessert list was too weird, even for me. I found that one sure way to lose weight is to have to choose something sweet from such offerings as an apple tart with red chile ice cream, a yam custard tart or a roasted pumpkin champagne sorbet. No chocolate? Those selections made passing up dessert all too easy. I feel skinnier already.