I've been waiting for The Blue Stem to open since I read about it in January in The Pitch, and they finally opened about four weeks ago. With Colby Garrelts, of The Stolen Grill fame at the helm (and his wife Megan doing the desserts), I figured it would be a unique addition to the KC food scene. In short, I think I was right. My friend and I were trying to think of something here in town to compare it to and couldn't think of anything beyond maybe some of the dishes at 40 Sardines, or maybe even some of what Cafe Allegro offered when it was still open. Still a whole different experience though, nothing to really compare it to in KC in my opinion. If someone else can chime in where I'm falling short, feel free.
It's a nice space, maybe about 12 tables, cozy but you're not sitting on top of other diners. However, if you're unlucky like we were and have a drunken party of four right next to you celebrating a birthday (YAAAAAY! CHOCOLATE! WE WANT MORE CHOCOLATE! WHERE WE GONNA GO DRINK NOW?!?! LET'S GO TO KONA!!), you might miss out on the coziness. But anyway, other than that a very comfortable room for dinner. Instead of flowers, little planters with fresh wheatgrass growing in them on the tables. The service was great, very efficient, and as non-intrusive as you want them to be. I thought maybe our server was a little too stand-offish at first, but as soon as we started chatting about the food she was as friendly as could be, very helpful and personable. If I HAD to nit-pick about something, the huge SONIC sign (that one's for you Jane, just read your 39th St. post and I strongly agree) right next door is kind of a distraction when you are sitting at the front of the restaurant. I could be wrong, but I could swear I saw the birthday revelers going over there for Oreo shakes afterwards.
BUT ON TO THE FOOD.....
I'm no wine expert, but I thought they had a great wine menu. Mostly American, with some French selections. Plenty by the glass selections and half bottles, most of the full bottles were in the 20-35 dollar range. A good selection of dessert wines too, namely the Inniskillin Icewine, I'd never seen it offered by the glass before. Not cheap, but I had to have some with dessert. They do offer a 7 course tasting menu (and a dessrt tasting menu as well, hadn't seen that anywhere before) with optional wine pairings, which requires participation of the whole table. Would have gotten that, but my friend only eats fish.
Apparently they don't have nightly specials, they just change the menu from day to day. They start the meal with an Amuse, different for each table, and we got a shot glass of Honeydew/Tarragon juice. Nice and fresh, fun presentation. For an appetizer, I got the Kumomoto oysters, which they offer warm with a Champagne emulsion and caviar, or natural. I opted for natural, which came chilled with a few micro-greens and a vinaigrette with fresh chopped shallots or garlic, can't recall. I can't speak intelligently about plates, dishes, etc., but I noticed they take special care in using different presentations for effect with several dishes. For instance, my oysters came on a very long and narrow, shallow dish, lined up in a row. Very flat, square plates for entrees. Just a cool touch, IMO.
For dinner I had the seared Atlantic salmon. Salmon is not something I normally get, but this was exceptional. It was served on top of a creamy risotto, and had French Horn mushrooms (I'd never had those, they were very meaty), braised baby leeks (I think that's what they were), crispy sweetbreads, and two very different sauces. One made from pureed fresh peas, and the other a rich veal reduction. Great presentation, and it was delicious, totally interesting. For dessert I chose the Lemon Bar Brulee. Exactly what it sounds like......the best lemon bar ever with a thin layer of brulee crusted on the top, with a few fresh raspberries, some cream sauce and a raspberry sauce. I'm not a big dessert guy, but this along with that icewine was stellar.
Can't remember everything my friend had, but he was just as happy as I was. I know he got a salad that had shaved fennel and blood oranges among other things, and for dinner a halibut dish that included things like pistachios and fennel. For dessert he got a roasted banana and chocolate tart with a meringue on top that he raved about for quite a while. They end the meal by giving everyone a homemade chocolate truffle of the day. Last night's was passionfruit.
In all, I had a great time and one of the most memorable KC meals in a long while. I don't get the feeling that Colby is the type of chef that will rest on his laurels, just knowing that he's doing something new to KC and being satisfied with that. Just the differences between their online spring menu, and the little differences in the same selections on last night's menu (for example, the sweetbreads replaced razor clams in my salmon dish, and risotto instead of truffled grits) is a good indication of that. I don't think it's any more expensive than anyplace else in town serving a "New American" type of cuisine. Appetizers and salads are 6-14 dollars, dinners are 16-25 dollars, desserts are 8.
Sorry for writing a book, but I think this place is something totally new for KC and was worth a decent level of detail. Two KC natives coming back to town after working at great restaurants in Chicago and Vegas, and opening their place their way. If you liked The Stolen Grill, this is definitely the next level beyond that in my opinion. Curious to see what other KC hounds think. I called on Friday and got reservations for Saturday, maybe because The Pitch hasn't reviewed it yet, lol.