I have dozens of examples from my own employment history, dating back to my first reporting job with an alternative weekly in Indianapolis. The publisher of that long-defunct trashy tabloid was concerned that not enough readers were placing personal ads, so he ordered me to make some up. I did as he requested, including such gems as "desperately lonely hot blonde dominatrix" and "buff bi bodybuilder bottom." But a few weeks later, he complained that the readers paying to respond to the fictional ads that I concocted weren't getting any answers.
"Of course they're not going to get answers," I tried to explain to my boss. "How could they get answers from people who don't exist?"
There was a long pause before the publisher said, somewhat timidly, "Well, couldn't you be, like, their pen pal?"
Yeah, right. It wasn't long before my job didn't exist, either.
The only curveball if you can even call it that I've experienced in my role as restaurant critic for this newspaper has been the assignment to return periodically to places that I've already reviewed. But you have to be on your toes to keep up with Kansas City's ever-evolving culinary scene, where restaurants change menus, staff, concepts and chefs almost overnight. And let's not forget the places that go out of business, get shut down by the health department or simply vanish into the mist. I rarely return to restaurants that I didn't like the first time around, but going back to the good places is like paying a surprise visit to an old friend.
That's how I felt returning to The Range Steakhouse at Harrah's Casino. Five years ago, I thought the steakhouse was a real winner ("High Steaks," July 26, 2001). It's the only thing close to an upscale dining venue in the entertainment complex. The food, service and prices were terrific, considering that the entrées included a salad, a vegetable, a potato and bread. I have distinctly less affection for the greedy, clanging slot machines in the actual casino around the corner, where I've had nothing but spectacularly rotten luck, but that's another story.
There's a subtle stigma about dining at the gambling boats. I have friends who cringe at the idea of eating in such dens of sin, where people gamble, smoke cigarettes and wear cheap polyester pantsuits. One night, I couldn't find anyone willing to dine there with me, so I went to The Range solo. Some restaurants treat single diners like third-class citizens, but the staff at The Range was so accommodating, I felt like a high roller sitting in my booth, eating an excellent slab of roasted prime rib and one of the biggest damned baked potatoes I'd ever seen.
The Range has undergone a couple of small changes since my last visit, but I was pleased to see that prices haven't gone up much in half a decade. The décor is still faux Southwest: The oblong dining room is a pastiche of fake adobe and red "stone," and an airbrushed desert sunset floats over the salad bar. But the menu no longer leans to the Southwest. The servers don't offer a complimentary plate of red corn chips served with a smoky roasted poblano tapenade anymore, and the chile-cured duck glazed with ancho chile sauce has disappeared from the menu in favor of a less complicated bone-in ribeye steak "with Southwest spices."