In keeping with the KC-centric threads of late.....
I never know whether or not to report on special event/anniversary dinners. If something sounds particularly great to someone, it's a little bit of chow torture to know it's probably not going to be on the regular menu. Also, I've never been sold on the whole idea of fixed menu special event/anniversary dinners, because for some reason I feel rushed with all of the same food coming out at the same time like an assembly line. But this Piedmont dinner changed my attitude to some extent, and there were some dishes and preparations worth mentioning.
First, as far as the potential goose-stepping server aspect of banquet style dinners, when it comes to Lidia's be sure to attend dinners in the Loft. Sometimes they do them all evening downstairs, and that's where I've enjoyed them less. Upstairs it's way more laid back and there's virtually no rush whatsoever. We got there at 7 and didn't leave until after 10. Mom was thrilled to get her cookbook autographed by Lidia, which brings up a good point...if you put a premium on getting quality time with Lidia, the loft dinners are good for that. She is an extremely gracious and charming host, and made a point of visiting with all of the tables throughout the evening. It's a much more intimate setting. On the downside, you'll be sharing a table with strangers unless you have five other people in your party. But if you're like me and hammer back a couple of Manhattans before you're seated, sometimes there's nothing as entertaining as an evening of "WASP-O-RAMA" with the who's-who in Kansas City dining.
This dinner was all about big flavors and richness, and the first thing worth mentioning is one appetizer course that consisted of warm olive oil with what I believe was an emulsion of anchovies and garlic, with fresh veggies for dipping. There's something to be said for taking a fresh green onion and coating it with anchovy and garlic. This was balanced out with a couple of other apps, but was the highlight for me.
The antipasti dish as it was listed in the mailer was seared foie gras with a squash flan. Whenever I've had seared foie gras, it usually comes with the standard sour/sweet/syrup accompaniment to set it off and I was curious how they'd prepare it. They did something very different, at least to me. Instead of anything that offset the flavors too much, they just simmered some green grapes in a simple syrup with a little apricot preserve. Three or four of those off to the side, along with the saltier liver and mellow flan was incredible. Much less of a contrast in flavor than what I'm used to, very much an autumn dish, plenty of flavor.
One of the pasta courses was listed as ravioli with capon and veal, but it reminded me of what it would be like to stuff a ravioli with roast "debris" left over from where you'd been slicing all day. Very rich, easy to overdo it, I pray they have these as part of a regular pasta tasting going forward. The second half of the pasta course was the highlight of the meal, because I had a feeling my mother wasn't going to like this any more than she liked the foie gras, and I'd get to eat most of it as well. Lidia had given a brief talk about Piedmont during the first courses, and had someone stroll around the room with a big bowl of uncooked rice that had what must have been close to a pound of fresh white truffles on top. I've had truffle oil, and fragments of black truffles in food, but I've never eaten or seen white truffles before. She had flown in from Italy with them the day before, and the aroma coming from that pile of fungi was honestly unlike anything I've ever smelled. I've heard all about it, just never experienced it for myself. It's hard to use a word like "carcass" and still have it mean it was a good thing, but it was. Lidia stood over at the prep table, shaving them for every serving of risotto herself, extremely generously. Every serving was pretty well covered completely, and the aroma of all that shaved truffle over the warm risotto basically took over the room. The risotto itself was fantastic, with big bits of onion. And from what I can determine, truffles are 99% aroma and 1% flavor. Opinions of others who had not had the experience before varied. I thought it was great, from the perspective such a distinctive aroma and the fact that it was such a rare treat.
Everything was great, but those were the big hitters for me. The main course was ox tail and short rib slow braised in Barolo, and for dessert was a hazelnut crostata that reminded me of mincemeat pie, paired with fig infused grappa. LOTS of food, even for me. Oh yeah, LOTS of wine too. The wine service gets its own big thumbs-up. Besides them pairing one of my favorite wines (Travaglini Gattinara) with the pasta courses, overall they were really, really generous with the pours, refilling glasses at least once per course if you wanted them to. With the possible exception of the Barolo that was paired with the main course, I don't think any of them were extremely high priced selections, but it was nice to be able to enjoy more of whichever ones you liked most.
I went mainly because of the Piedmont theme, and while my expectations for the food were pretty high, I was still pleasantly surprised. I don't see myself going to every one of these events, but I'm also not going to write them off due to previous assumptions. If the menu looks solid, I'll definitely be there. To friends and family, I guess I'm the ultimate shill for this place. But due to lifestyle/diet changes over the past year, I don't eat out nearly as much as I used to, so I like to make it count big when I do. Lidia's, along with a handful of other places, has become someplace I know I can count on for consistently good food and service. I'd be curious to hear how others feel about this when it comes to their regular haunts, but at least for me, I think that being a regular at a restaurant makes me judge it much more harshly than I would if I were not there as often. If it started to go downhill, rather than try to make excuses for it, I'd feel some sense of betrayal. Maybe non-chowhound folks wouldn't be able to relate to the comparison I'd draw between a restaurant and a girlfriend..."Honey, what in the hell has happened?? Is it ME? Am I expecting too much?? WHERE HAS THE ROMANCE GONE!?!". If I started having problems with my regular restaurants, I'd see if the issues could be addressed, and move on to greener pastures if they could not. And if by some chance I just have really low standards, then ignorance is bliss (talking about restaurants again here...not relationships, heh heh...but I guess that would work too...).