Fisher, who had moved to Kansas City from Martha's Vineyard, opened his tiny restaurant (it seated only 50 guests) at 900 Westport Road in the spring of 1999 to great fanfare -- and a little grumbling from restaurant professionals irritated by his bravado. He announced to one local magazine writer that his cooking style was different from what Kansas City was used to. "And his example to me," she laughs, "was that he cooked with fresh herbs, as if no one here had ever heard of that."
Fisher's good taste, however, was evident: He designed the restaurant's decor and many of its furnishings himself, and he created the menu (mostly fusion dishes, such as a filet in a Szechuan peppercorn sauce served with wasabi-flavored mashed potatoes), which was prepared by the Laos-born chef, Noy Phoumivong. But when Phoumivong was badly hurt in a car accident in April, Fisher closed down the restaurant. He planned to reopen but threw in the towel after a one-year run.
"My partners and I didn't agree on where the restaurant was going," he says. "And my wife didn't like Kansas City that much and took a job back on the East Coast." Closing his restaurant, Fisher says, "was a very emotional decision for me. I put my heart and soul into that place. But there were so many obstacles."
Now a newer world awaits the empty space. Fisher sold the restaurant to Abigail Marquez and chef Gamma Coronado (most recently a sous chef at Lidia's, where he "proved he has a lot of good energy and natural talent," says Lidia's general manager David Wagner). Marquez says the Mexican restaurant, tentatively scheduled to open on September 1, will be called XCarit -- "That's the Mayan word for paradise."
And what brave new world faces Joseph Fisher?
"I'm going to Florida to create a surf-cuisine concept based around fish tacos made with fresh fish and wonderful fresh condiments."
But Florida isn't the only place to sample "surf cuisine." Rudy's Tenampa Tacqueria (1611 Westport Road) serves delicious fish tacos, and if you ask your server at the Coyote Grill (Mission Center, 4843 Johnson Drive), the kitchen crew will whip up a wonderful dish of shrimp fajitas, even though they're not on the menu.
Fishing around for other seafood, I discovered a hickory-grilled walleye and a grilled king salmon in vermouth butter as alternatives to baby back ribs and burnt ends at both local outposts of KC Masterpiece Barbecue & Grill (4747 Wyandotte and 10985 Metcalf). That's in addition to a surprisingly delicious fried fish sandwich, prepared with cod in a crispy coating made from something that looks -- and tastes -- like hash browns. And a light and fresh-tasting salmon burger more than substitutes for the real thing, especially with a big heap of fries and some excellent barbecued baked beans.
Sometimes, just a burger and beans makes for a dish that's out of this world.