Since Jasper Jr. and Leonard Mirabile moved Jasper's to south Kansas City (1201 W. 103rd Street) several years ago, the restaurant's style has been much more casual and prices have been more accessible, but the cuisine remains sophisticated. Jasper's will never, ever be a spaghetti joint, although the low-key trattoria area at the front of the restaurant offers inexpensive dishes, such as a freshly grilled sausage sandwich served with peppers and onions. Dinner in the actual restaurant, which has a fireplace and windows that look out over Indian Creek, is still a fancy -- rather than formal -- experience.
An equally fancy -- and informal -- Italian restaurant is also one of Kansas City's best-kept secrets: the upscale Bugatti's at Station Casino (I-435 and Highway 210). Named for the Milanese family that created award-winning Italian race cars (which are only legend now; no Bugatti automobile has been made since World War II), this isn't a chain restaurant but a distinctive sit-down dining room, with a fireplace, white linen tablecloths, and heavy linen napkins.
Diners are treated immediately to a basket of freshly baked breads and rolls and a plate heaped with sharp, dry pecorino cheese, a salty olive tapenade, a purée of cannellini beans, and chopped fresh tomatoes.
The menu is extensive, with pasta prices comparable to Trattoria Luigi (see review, page 45); the prices for veal, beef, and chicken dishes are somewhat less costly, although one evening's special, a luscious grilled filet in a sauce of roasted garlic and sun-dried tomatoes with a broiled lobster tail, was priced for high rollers at $36.95 but was worth every penny. And the lemony Veal Milanese, with fresh, tart arugula, is definitely a winner.
On one visit the dining room was only a third full, but the large adjoining table was seated with a party of well-dressed, bejeweled men and women who bore uncanny resemblances to the characters on the TV series The Sopranos. Everyone was smoking and laughing and drinking good wine. For us, it was just like having dinner on an HBO series, and because our server was a no-nonsense, humorless guy with gigantic hands, we made sure to leave a big tip.
Over at Lidia's, another Italian restaurant that's fancy but not too formal, longtime manager Mary Simpson flew to Chicago this week to begin training for her new job with the Capitol Grille restaurant chain. Her return to open the new Capitol Grille on the Plaza (tentatively in March) will be a homecoming of sorts: The new steakhouse will take over the old Bristol space, where Simpson worked as bartender and bar manager for four years, starting in 1981.
The Bristol wasn't so fancy, but Simpson says the Capitol Grille will be, with dark woodwork and Oriental rugs.
Who said formal was gone forever?