Page 2 of 3
"We envision people sitting there and hanging out, once we get our liquor license," says Williams, who is crossing his fingers that the permit will arrive by October. "After the dinner service is over, we'll let people smoke in here."
The bar on the north side of the dining room just begs to be loaded up with booze (Zin's Alex Pryor has designed the wine list), and its stools seem to await a couple of beret-wearing hipsters sharing a spinach-and-brie tart.
Instead of a traditional menu, Williams' chalkboard lists five hot dishes and five cold ones. The idea was to change the offerings daily, but two of the hot dishes have become so popular that he's keeping them for a while. Those two choices -- a succulent roast chicken and a thinly sliced New York strip -- are already among my favorite things, particularly the beautifully grilled hunk of red meat, served with a creamy mound of freshly mashed potatoes. On the night I dined with my friend Bob and the acerbic Ned, we had differing opinions on the spuds. I thought they were a shade bland but still a delicious accompaniment to the beef, lovingly ladled with a rich mushroom-and-red-wine sauce. But Ned called Williams out of the kitchen and chided him in his thickest Southern-fried accent. "Honey, my mama would have told you these potatoes need a lot more butter, salt and pepper!"
Bob rolled his eyes. "Give him two glasses of wine and suddenly he's Tallulah Bankhead."
Happily, Ned liked everything else on his plate, and by the time he stuck his fork into a steaming bowl of apple cobbler, his accent had lightened up along with his mood. "This place is like a little bohemian dive from the 1960s," he said. "They need to do some poetry readings from that little stage over there."
We paid the tab and hustled him out of there before he started reciting Ginsberg's "Howl" to the rest of the dining room. On my next visit, I brought my friends Marilyn, Libby and Bob (who smuggled in a bottle of vino). The place was empty when we walked in at 7:30, but it filled up fast. Not with hipsters, alas, but with members of the Johnson County gourmet contingent who like to eat at every new restaurant -- once -- before anyone else does.
Libby wrinkled her nose at them and launched into a long monologue about her psycho boyfriend, which was so complicated that the rest of us were completely lost by the time our server arrived with appetizers: a "fondue" of tomato and crabmeat, and a chilled rabbit rillette. Williams' idea of fondue doesn't jibe with any traditional culinary definition, but it is a lovely combination of crabmeat, chopped fresh tomato and queso blanco held aloft by a flaky tower of puff pastry. The pale rillette, a chilled paste of slowly cooked rabbit and fresh herbs, was as silken as the best pâté. "We're eating Bugs Bunny," Libby giggled as she spread a swath on bread from the nearby Napoleon bakery. Bob, who loves rabbits, simply blanched.
He perked up at dinner, lavishing praise on the New York strip -- Williams refuses to change to Kansas City strip; "That's just how I was raised," he says -- and the mashed potatoes, which tasted more buttery and peppery this time. Libby had ordered Crispy Salmon, grilled to a hint of a crackly crust on one side, then mounted on a cool summery salad of marinated cucumber, tomato, purple onions, avocado and fresh mozzarella.