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"Who does eat here?" Marilyn wondered. "Convention visitors? Hotel guests?"
Mostly out-of-towners, it seems. But how could local diners forget this whirling wonderland, where chef Tim Pound's menu holds its own against any Plaza restaurant and the service is as polished as the shiny new flatware and artistic metal water pitchers? In fact, our server was almost too attentive the night I dined with Marilyn. He was so effervescent and perky that Marilyn said she half expected him to "burst into song or dance at any second." That night, I barely made a dent in the gargantuan slab of hot pink prime rib I'd ordered. The restaurant's first signature dish -- a Midwestern standard -- is still a best-seller, perhaps because it's a lot less complicated than, say, the sea bass Marilyn ordered but sent back because it hadn't been cooked all the way through.
On another visit, with my friends Bob and Martha, the dinner was more low-key and nearly perfect. It started when a much calmer server set out a metal box stuffed with slices of rustic bread and jagged bits of lahvosh with a tiny bowl of garlicky hummus. When I had dined with Marilyn, the bread had been accompanied by a button of butter and an oily sun-dried tomato tapenade. There's no rhyme or reason to which spread arrives at the table. "It all depends on what the kitchen wants to do that night," says manager Gretchen Gilmore.
The kitchen knew exactly what to do with a creamy, sherry-scented seafood bisque with a clump of fresh crabmeat floating on the surface. Same for the old-fashioned shrimp cocktail, in which four oversized pink prawns clung to the edge of a margarita goblet heaped with chunky, cilantro-tinged guacamole. And Skies' version of a spinach dip was certainly the fluffiest variation on this theme I've encountered. With bits of artichoke, chopped spinach and peppery cheese whipped together, the dip had a spicy kick and came with enough tortilla chips to feed the entire restaurant.
Skies limits its menu to seven regular entrées -- three beef, two seafood, a Rosemary chicken and a vegetarian pasta -- and three daily specials that require servers to deliver a confusing monologue (with an interminable list of ingredients). Do away with the performance and print up a separate specials menu, I say.
Bob and Martha sampled two of Pound's specials. Bob found the golden roasted chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and Emmentaler cheese moist but shockingly salty. Martha was ecstatic over a rack of lamb dusted with garum masala (the Northern Indian combination of cumin, cardamom, coriander and other spices) and roasted until it was juicy and tender. I adored my breast of roasted chicken, its crisp skin fragrant with fresh rosemary, lying on a mound of thick bucatini pasta drenched in a pungent, creamy oregano pesto.
The altitude must have made me lightheaded. Otherwise, I never would have agreed to share the multilevel wedge of ice cream nonsense called the Skie High Pie. Mocha, vanilla and strawberry ice creams and white chocolate mousse were layered on a cookie crust that was harder to crack than the Rosetta stone. I took two or three bites and tossed my spoon aside, but Martha shocked me by finishing the rest, insisting that ice cream was part of a new diet she discovered in an airline magazine.
High above Kansas City, we watched downtown twinkle with electric lights as the northern skyline settled into darkness. "From this vantage point," Martha said, "Kansas City actually looks like a real city."